Cadets hurt in 1974 Quebec military base blast to receive compensation: Kenney
The Department of National Defence says it will work to ensure that cadets injured in a 1974 grenade explosion at a military training camp in Quebec get the care they need.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney made the announcement Tuesday, after the release of a report into the fatal explosion at CFB Valcartier.
In his report, Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence Gary Walbourne concluded that the surviving cadets were not fairly treated after the incident, and deserve compensation.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Kenney pledged to help the survivors.
"I recognize that those who directly witnessed or were injured in this accident may still be suffering and I am committed to ensuring that they get the help they need," he said.
Six cadets between the ages of 14 and 15 were killed in the explosion, which occurred on July 30, 1974, at a cadet summer camp.
On that day, 137 teenaged army cadets were present when inert explosives were passed around the class. A live grenade was among the devices being handled.
A cadet asked one of the instructors if he could pull the pin on the grenade, and the instructor told him it was safe. Seconds later, the grenade exploded, killing six cadets and injuring 65 others.
In addition to the dead, one cadet was left permanently disabled. Many suffered permanent disabilities, including loss of an eye, loss of hearing and psychological trauma.
The incident prompted several investigations, and a 1975 coroner's report ruled that the six cadet deaths were caused by negligence.
Immediately after the explosion, the military held an inquiry, where witnesses, including the cadets, were ordered to testify and were subjected to questioning.
Walbourne said the treatment of the cadets immediately after the blast compounded their distress, with many feeling that they were being held responsible for the deadly accident.
"The military Board of Inquiry's approach was inappropriate for dealing with young boys, and left many of the cadets feeling responsible, distraught and further traumatized," he said in the report.
He also said that under the National Defence Act, cadets are not considered members of the Canadian Forces. As a result, the injured cadets were not eligible to receive assistance equivalent to what was offered to members of the Canadian Forces who were also present on that day.
Walbourne noted that many of the cadet's families had to cover medical costs themselves.
“Today still, these individuals need and deserve an opportunity to access mental health care and to be compensated for their injuries,” he said in the report.
The report recommended that affected cadets be assessed to determine what kind of physical and psychological care they require.
It also recommended that the Department of National Defence award them "immediate and reasonable" financial compensation, once their long-term care needs have been determined.
He noted that while it may not have been the intention of the department and the Canadian Forces to place cadets in a "legal-void via their non-military status," the way the cadets were treated is "inexcusable."
"While 1974 legislation may have set the stage for the decisions taken at the time and limited the possible courses of action, it does not clear National Defence and the Canadian Forces of their responsibility to the children who were under their care," he said. "More should have been done."
In his statement, Kenney said the affected cadets will soon be offered physical and psychological assessments.
"Based on these assessments, we will ensure that the affected individuals have access to health care and compensation, where appropriate," he said.
The minister apologized that it took 41 years to finally address the tragedy. He added that he hoped that the government's actions would finally bring the victims "some measure of comfort."
'I'm one of the lucky ones'
*Warning: Graphic descriptions are included below*
Michel Juneau-Katsuya was one of the cadets who was injured in the accident, sustaining shrapnel wounds to his body.
He still remembers horrifying details from the moments immediately after the grenade went off, sending several of the cadets falling to the ground.
"We were piled up one over the other, and a big smoke started," he told CTV News Channel. "But when the smoke disappeared, we were literally covered with the body parts of our friends -- hair, skin, blood."
He said the treatment of the surviving cadets in the aftermath of the accident was reprehensible.
"At that period of time, we were treated as the possible culprits," he said, noting that some suspected that it could have been a terrorist attack. "They were trying to find out what took place, looking and pointing the finger at us."
Juneau-Katsuya, who went on to have a career in the RCMP and CSIS, now heads up a security firm based in the Ottawa area. He said he is thankful to have survived the explosion relatively unscathed.
"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said.