These diplomats are suing Canada over the mysterious brain damage
they got while stationed in Cuba
It’s dubbed the Havana Syndrome and its cause is unknown.
Tamara Khandaker, VICE Canada Newsletter
A group of Canadian diplomats and their families who all sustained mysterious brain damage while posted to Cuba are suing the federal government, alleging that they failed to help them.
Since 2016, Canadian and American diplomats have been experiencing symptoms that neurologists say are similar to those of a concussion, including dizziness, nosebleeds, headache, nausea and confusion. It’s been dubbed the Havana Syndrome and its cause remains unknown.
The claim alleges that over the past few years, the diplomats and their families have been “targeted and injured, suffering severe and traumatic harm by means that are not clear.”
So far, a total of 14 Canadians and more than two dozen Americans have reported experiencing symptoms. As a result, the US embassy in Cuba has cut its staff to a maximum of 18 people, down from over 50. Last month, Canada slashed its staff in half, from 16 to eight.
The suit, filed in Federal Court on Wednesday, said the government didn’t warn the diplomats about the health risks associated with working in Cuba, took too long after they began to show symptoms to remove them from their postings, and that Ottawa “actively interfered” with their ability to get proper medical care.
Not only “were the diplomats prevented from considering the true risks of a Havana posting to their own health but they were also denied the opportunity to protect their children, and must live with the knowledge that they may never fully recover,” reads the statement of claim.
The plaintiffs, who aren’t named in the statement, include five diplomats, two of their spouses, and seven children. They’re seeking $28 million in damages.
“My brain just doesn’t work the way it used to,” one woman, whose name hasn’t been revealed, told CTV.
“My kids are having nosebleeds,” said another. “My youngest son is passing out for no reason.”
One diplomat told Radio-Canada that he and his wife and children were all diagnosed with brain damage in June of 2017.
"My wife, she isn't the same anymore. She has gaps in her memory, headaches, problems hearing. She picks up the telephone to make a call but forgets why, enters rooms without reason. She can't concentrate anymore," he told Radio-Canada.
While scientists, police, intelligence agencies from Canada, the US and Cuba have been studying the phenomenon, they still haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms. Some theories include that the symptoms were caused by a sonic attack or an energy weapon.
The Canadian government has not commented on the lawsuit, but Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Wednesday that the affected diplomats have Canada’s “utmost sympathy and support.”
The diplomats, however, allege that Canada “downplayed the seriousness of the situation, hoarded and concealed critical health and safety information, and gave false, misleading, and incomplete information to diplomatic staff.”
The diplomats say the government also failed to have them tested at the University of Pennsylvania, where there is a research program dedicated to studying the Havana Syndrome, despite promising to do so. Only four Canadians, including two adults and two children, got tested at UPenn because they paid for the visit themselves, according to The Globe and Mail.
Canadian diplomats were notified in September that they could all be tested at Dalhousie University in Halifax, after the government decided to fund a study there in August, the Globe reported.
The diplomats say the Canadian government took too long to bring them back from Cuba, while the US withdrew most of their non-essential staff in the fall of 2017. Canada gave staff the option of coming back in either April or November of 2018, and waited until January 2019 to remove half of its staff.
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