Trudeau says diplomats in Cuba suffered 'real' health problems
CTVNews.ca Staff with a report from Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier
Published Thursday, February 7, 2019 10:24PM EST
The day after Canadian diplomats who got mysteriously sick in Havana filed a $28-million lawsuit against the government, the prime minister spoke up for the first time to say that the health impacts they have experienced are “real.”
The acknowledgment comes after two years of these diplomats and their families trying to be taken seriously and assisted in receiving proper medical care for their symptoms by the government that sent them to serve abroad.
“There is no question that the health impacts on diplomats in Cuba have been visible and real,” Trudeau said on Thursday. “We’ve been taking it very, very seriously from the beginning and we will continue to take very seriously the health and safety of all Canadians who serve anywhere overseas.”
These comments come after the group went public with their case, alleging in the statement of claim filed in federal court: “Canada has actively interfered with the ability of the plaintiffs to seek appropriate and necessary medical care for their injuries.”
The diplomats and their families -- who had concussion-like symptoms triggered by an unknown cause -- say they held on to the belief that their government would take care of them.
“The facts are we were not a priority,” one diplomat told CTV News. “The facts are we were not invited at meetings, the facts are we were not offered all of the health care that was possible and available to us.”
Diplomats and their families fell ill with a wide range of mysterious symptoms, including unexplained dizziness, nausea and sudden fatigue. Some woke up in the middle of the night with serious nosebleeds.
Most diplomats were seen by doctors at Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital, but they say they were never given the results of their tests. Others were seen at Dalhousie University, where they are part of a research study. But, to this day, no therapy has been provided.
Some children who were in Havana with their parents are still suffering from what’s now known as “Havana Syndrome.” They are struggling in school and some are falling behind in their classes. In one case, a nine-year-old girl struggled to walk down the hallway in the dark because she had no sense of her surroundings.
“I cannot describe to you what a distress it is for a parent to not have any answer for the symptoms your child is going through,” a diplomat with children in Havana said.
Desperate for answers, two diplomats and their families flew on their own dime to a medical centre at the University of Pennsylvania, where two dozen American diplomats with the same symptoms were being treated. The university even offered free treatments to the Canadians.
But that didn't happen.
“They were planning and scheduling more tests for us and suddenly we were told there was going to be no more testing,” a diplomat said.
The Americans treated at the University of Pennsylvania have shown signs of recovery.
One diplomat still posted to Cuba was sent with his family to a medical centre in Miami, where other American diplomats were being treated.
“Within hours we were diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury,” he said.
The American doctor recommended that the diplomat’s two children not return to Cuba. But Global Affairs overruled the doctor and the children and their parents returned to Havana.
Fighting back tears, the diplomat said that his wife hasn’t been able to work since the strange symptoms began.
“She's not the same person that went to Cuba,” he said. “She can't remember things. She’ll pick up the phone and wonder why she picked it up. She'll go to a mall and then she has to call me and find out why she's there.”
Asked if he feels betrayed by the government, one diplomat replied: “Disillusioned.”
Trudeau said that the federal government is continuing to work with local authorities and the RCMP “to determine what is the source of these sounds, or this issue that they are facing.”