Protesters seek Agent Orange inquiry

By Diana Graettinger,
Posted May 19, 2009, at 9:08 p.m.

ST. STEPHEN, New Brunswick — About 30 protesters from both sides of the international border marched from the town square to the office of Greg Thompson, the Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, to present their demands for a public inquiry into the spraying of toxic defoliants at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in past decades.

Victims who were exposed to Agents Orange, White and Purple when they were at Gagetown, near Fredericton, should be helped, whether they served in the Canadian or U.S. military, an American participant in the protest rally said Tuesday.

The New Brunswick army base has long been used to train Maine National Guard troops.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange there for a few days in 1966 and 1967 to get rid of vegetation and facilitate artillery training. Other defoliants, including Agent White and Purple, were sprayed between 1956 and 1984. Those sprayings were not done by the U.S. military.

The defoliants contain high levels of the chemical 2,4,5-T, which is linked to a number of health risks and which forms cancer-causing dioxins as it breaks down in the environment. Agent Orange was used during the Vietnam war.

Richard Pelletier Jr., a service officer with the American Legion, was at the rally in support of American and Canadian veterans who at one time trained or were based at CFB Gagetown. Pelletier, formerly of Madawaska, trained at Gagetown in the late 1970s and now lives in Framingham, Mass.

“The Americans that sprayed are as guilty as the Canadians that sprayed,” he said. “They both are guilty. Basically you are supposed to do your job and take care of our veterans,” he said of the two governments.

In 2005, Pelletier told the Bangor Daily News that large sections of the base were barren of vegetation but did not look as though they had been logged and that the air was frequently dusty.

Before the start of Tuesday’s rally, Nova Scotia Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer demanded that a public inquiry be held to look into all of the defoliant agents that were dumped on the area, not just Agent Orange.

“It is those people who are now suffering the various cancers and diabetes and all the other things that are causing premature death, unfortunately, and this is what a public inquiry would look into. Who is responsible? How much was sprayed? Where was it done? Were the men and women serving in Gagetown and surrounding civilian communities advised that this was happening? And then what is the government going to do?”

So far the Canadian government has paid $20,000 Canadian to each veteran exposed to Agent Orange.

But Stoffer scoffed at that amount. “What the government is focusing on is the Agent Orange itself, which is the 1966-67 spraying which they indicate that the Americans are involved in. But what a public inquiry would show is that it is much more than Agent Orange — it is all the defoliants that were sprayed from [1956] on until 1984.”

During the rally, members of the Military Widows on the Warpath, the Agent Orange Association of Canada and Agent Orange Alert of Canada, among others, addressed the crowd. After that it was a short walk down Milltown Boulevard to Thompson’s office.

Thompson’s media spokesman Richard Roik said there are no plans to hold a public inquiry. He said the issue has been studied to ascertain if there were any health risks. The most recent study was done by Dr. Dennis Furlong.

“He is a former minister of health and a reputable health care professional, and the good news is that the base is safe and that the vast majority of people have not experienced long-term health issues,” Roik said.

Roik said late Tuesday that Thompson was returning from a trip to Afghanistan and unavailable for comment.

When Thompson took over as minister of veterans affairs three years ago, the Conservative government concluded that those people affected by 1966-67 sprayings deserved to be compensated.

As of May 11 of this year, 3,809 had applied for compensation and 2,343 had been approved and each given $20,000 Canadian, Roik said.

CFB Gagetown is one of Canada’s largest military bases.

bdncalais@myfairpoint.net

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http://bangordailynews.com/2009/05/19/news/protesters-seek-agent-orange-inquiry/ printed on December 29, 2014