September 19, 2007

Agent Orange compensation package

“The politics of perjury”
Veterans Affairs Minister announces Agent Orange compensation package.

Chris Arsenault
Published Thursday September 20th, 2007

Amid much fanfare last week, Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson and Defense Minister Peter MacKay unveiled a long-waited compensation package for some victims of Agent Orange spraying at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

Art Connolly, the Vice President of the Agent Orange Association of Canada and a veteran of CFB Gagetown, says the package is part of a campaign to "bewilder, bedazzle and confuse." The government expects to compensate some 4,500 soldiers and civilians who worked on or near the base between 1966-67, when U.S. military planes sprayed Agents Orange, and its more deadly cousin Agent Purple, on 83 acres at CFB Gagetown.

Veterans and others suffering from specific aliments, as determined by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, including: Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes are eligible to receive around $20,000.

"Money isn't the issue," said Jim Cadger, a retired military radio operator who suffers from heart problems, diabetes and gout that he blames on chemicals sprayed at CFB Gagetown when he was stationed there between 1961 and 1970.

"We want a full public inquiry to find out who from the government and the chemical companies was culpable for this injustice," Cadger said.

Cadger isn't sure if he will apply for money under the Conservative's compensation program. The application form itself is 22 pages long and Cadger is more interested in an upcoming class action suit some 3,000 soldiers and civilians have launched against the government, Dow Chemical and Monsanto Chemical, the companies who produced Agent Orange.

"I think the compensation plan deserves a seven out of 10," said Jody Carr, the Conservative MLA for Oromocto, a town near Base Gagetown. "Did everyone get what they wanted - no. But it's satisfactory, I guess," Carr said.

"Restricting payment to a few weeks in 1966-67 is dishonest," said Tony Merchant, the lawyer representing victims in a class action lawsuit.

Between 1956-1984 the Canadian military sprayed 1,328,767 litres of chemical defoliants on 181,038 acres of Base Gagetown, according to declassified cabinet briefings obtained by [here] through an access to information request. Thus, Canadian officials are responsible for exponentially more spraying than what the Americans tested. Yet, only people who came into contact with American spray planes are eligible for compensation.

In classic Canadian exceptionalism "they [the Conservatives] are just concentrating on the 400 or so litres sprayed by the Americans," said Art Connolly.

The United States Congress banned testing of Agent Orange in 1966. That's why the American military tested the chemicals in Canada; to circumvent pesky domestic legislation. "If it wasn't permitted to be tested in the U.S., why was it tested on us, without our consent?" wondered Wayne Arthur Coady, a Gagetown veteran.

In 1985, Dow Chemical payed $180 million in an out of court settlement to American veterans who were poisoned by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. However, the company still miraculously denies that Agent Orange is poisonous.

While the Conservatives set aside $96-million for the compensation package, lawyer Tony Merchant is "willing to bet they'll only pay out $16 to 18 million because there are so many specifics about qualifying." To qualify for the program, veterans and civilians need to have exhibited Agent Orange related health conditions prior to February 6, 2006 - the date the Conservatives took office.

"Requiring illness to manifest itself before 2006 is ridiculous," said Merchant. "Who ever heard of a program that ends on a date because that's when the Conservatives got elected?"

"If this isn't about politics, why did they use the date the Conservatives took office?" added Cadger. "Were there no other governments before this? 'Canada's new government' don't get me started."

When in opposition, Greg Thompson stood up in Parliament on June 14, 2005 and asked Bill Graham, then minister of national defense: "When is it [the Federal Government] going to act and compensate all victims, not just some?" By any stretch, Thompson changed his tune: many victims will doubtlessly be excluded from the current package.

In an interview, Peter Stoffer, the NDP Veterans Affairs critic, called the package a "cop-out by the Conservatives" and a "slap in the face for veterans" because of limitations placed on who can receive compensation and the lack of an independent public inquiry.

"This is the politics of perjury at work," said Stoffer.

On June 27, 2005, Greg Thompson told Parliament that "Only a public inquiry will bring out the complete story."

"We are still pushing for a public inquiry," said Connolly.

Design and hosting by Fair Trade Media