Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ex-soldiers sue Ottawa over radiation exposure

Canadian Cold War Soldiers sue government over radiation exposure

Ex-soldiers sue Ottawa over radiation exposure
Janet French, Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SASKATOON -- Former soldiers the Canadian military once sent to stand as close as two kilometres away from nuclear explosions have launched a class action lawsuit against the government of Canada.

Regina lawyer Tony Merchant filed the statement of claim in federal court Tuesday on behalf of what he describes as an estimated 1,000 "atomic human guinea pigs," who were sent to the U.S., Australia, and islands in the South Pacific between 1946 and 1963.

There, soldiers were exposed to huge doses of radiation that caused radiation sickness and, later, cancers and untimely deaths, the suit claims.

The statement of claim also alleges the government was well aware of the harmful effects of radiation when the military volunteered its soldiers to be unwitting test subjects.

"I really feel that we have been deserted," says Bob Henderson, a High Level, Alta., man who is one of the plaintiffs named in the suit.

"We served our country with pride, with dignity, and most of all with honour, and the government has done absolutely nothing for us. I doubt that they ever will."

Once a member of Lord Strathcona's Horse, Henderson was assigned to survey atomic explosion sites for radiation. He was present for an estimated 25 nuclear explosions.

During the blasts, he stood in what was described as a "safe area" an estimated eight kilometres from the explosion sites.

"The light is unbelievable," he said. "I could see through my arm. And the two gentlemen behind me, I could see through their heads."

The soldiers would be decontaminated, then climb right back into dirty trucks covered in fallout from the explosions, he said. Radioactive particles were all over his clothes, on him and in him, he said.

No one ever did medical tests to see if the radiation had affected him, he said.

He later developed cancer of the kidney, then the bowel. He had heart attacks and cataracts, and both of his daughters developed cancers in their 20s.

Merchant says it's hard to say why the Canadian military would volunteer its soldiers for such tests. However, he said, if U.S. had resorted to using nuclear weapons in Germany, troops would have had to move into the area immediately after the blast to capture anyone who remained alive.

"They had to know the huge damage that would be done, but they still wanted some knowledge of the effects," Merchant said. "What is particularly troublesome is we were doing things with the Canadian troops that the American troops weren't even doing."

After an uproar from American soldiers also on site during the tests, the U.S. government in 1990 awarded $75,000 to each exposed soldier.

Merchant said any Canadian involved in the tests should get at least $150,000 in compensation from the government. The people who got sick from radiation, or the families of the soldiers who died, are entitled to more, depending on individual circumstances, he said.

Jim Huntley of Calgary said he, other veterans and their widows resorted to the class action suit when their pleas to government for recognition and compensation went without responses.

Huntley was sent to Nevada in 1957 for top-secret "training" exercises. Equipped with nothing but his regular military uniform, he watched at least six blasts detonate. He was knocked over by shock waves, and one trench he sheltered in collapsed.

The statement of claim alleges the government sent Huntley to Nevada to test the effects of radiation on humans.

"Scientific personnel, dressed in white ‘space suits,' ran ticking Geiger counters up and down Huntley's body," it says. While senior officers were decontaminated, Huntley and his platoon were cleaned off with straw brooms.

Huntley was 18 at the time, and didn't worry about the blasts because officers told him the radiation "will go away with the wind."

In 1982, a colonel admitted to Huntley he'd been overdosed with radiation and advised him to be tested regularly for cancer, the claim says.

"What makes me mad is these politicians today can stand in front of you, and say, ‘You were done wrong. Somebody should have looked after you,'" he said. "They've admitted it, but they're not doing anything about it."

Jay Paxton, press secretary to Minister of Defence Peter MacKay, said Tuesday the Government of Canada is aware members of the military participated in allied forces' nuclear weapons testing.

"We recognize that this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with the utmost care and patience to ensure that it is handled properly," Paxton wrote in an e-mail. "Our goal is to find an acceptable resolution that honours those who have given so much for this country.

"All those who serve their country -- past or present -- deserve the respect, admiration and care of a grateful nation."

Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Given that my step father Dale (NMN) Jennings TSGT Retired USAF was a survivor of the above ground experiments at the Nevavda test sight, and some of the Pacific Island tests/detonations, he was a radio operator on B29s and other aircarft they used to fly thru the Mushroon clouds to gather raw data, Dale endedup with three different kinds of cancer that was covered by the RECA act, the government program that paid the veterans 75,000 dollars, Dale never saw a nickle of it, it was aproved in 1999 and he died in September 2000 and he felt if he filed for the money they would take it outof his AF retirement. That is one of themain reasons he never filed for Veterans benefits, they would have just taken away his AF retirement in excghanfe for any veterans compensation dollar for dollar, he saw no advantage for the frustration of fighting with the VA to get what he already had. I fillu support the Canadians used in these nuclear tets.

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