Madam Speaker, I am raising an issue today in our adjournment proceedings that I originally raised on November 17 during question period.
As an MP, I often reflect on what it means to serve this country. Base Gagetown is located in my riding of Fredericton, and it is with a great sense of pride that I represent so many people who are also serving our country as current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
There is a distinct moral, social, legal and fiduciary covenant between Canada and the active and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I am here this evening, because I am convinced that the government is not upholding its obligations to those who have sacrificed themselves, their health and their well-being.
I want to draw the parliamentary secretary’s attention to a group of brave, driven and hard-working citizens in my riding who call themselves Brats In The Battlefield. They are veterans, children of veterans and private citizens who live in close proximity to our base. They are also victims of the application of pesticides and herbicides in accumulation at Base Gagetown over decades, and they are seeking answers. These individuals have lost too many of their loved ones already. Many are fighting a new battle of health as they confront cancer and other diagnoses that can be linked to chemical exposure. They deserve justice.
An independent public inquiry to address exactly what was used and in what quantities would help to uncover the answers these people have been seeking. The government confirmed in a response to their petition that all federal and provincial regulations were followed at the time other than in a few specific cases, but this is not good enough. In fact, it is outrageous. Policies have evolved over time, because we know more about these products than we once did. We need to apply current scientific knowledge to decisions that were made over the last 70 years, so that citizens can know with certainty what they were exposed to and what ongoing risks to their health they face.
If the government wants to take seriously its role and responsibility, it would convene a fully independent public inquiry that would make recommendations in relation to the application of pesticides at CFB Gagetown and its surrounding communities from the 1950s to the present day, well beyond the two-year window that was previously studied.
A fact-finding project was at one time convened, followed by a health-risk assessment conducted by the chemical industry itself. It should come as no surprise that those affected find little solace in these reports. Furthermore, the public inquiries act clearly states that an independent commissioner must be appointed, and that was never done.
The mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada is to support the well-being of veterans and their families. This is an obvious component of that mandate. Members of this brave group not only feel let down, they feel walked on and locked out of the democratic process.
Having been born and raised in Oromocto myself, I know that the base is part of our identity. It is the heart of our community’s economy. Those who have served there, and their families, deserve justice. I am calling on the government to do the right thing and take a long, hard look at what happened at Base Gagetown, at our ongoing use of herbicides and pesticides and what risks we are willing to take when it comes to human health.
I can only pray that these Canadians will still be alive long enough to receive the acknowledgement they deserve and to find peace in the hope that it will never happen again.
Madam Speaker, remembering the sacrifices of veterans is one thing. Responding to their current urgent needs is another.
If I may, here is a list of presumptive diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, some of which Canadian veterans and their families are grappling with: chronic lymphatic leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, chloracne, respiratory cancer, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, early-onset transient peripheral neuropathy, porphyria cutanea tarda, type 2 diabetes, and spina bifida in offspring of exposed individuals.
Agent White and Agent Purple were also sprayed in my community, along with glyphosate and DDT. Citizens were told these chemicals were just about safe enough to drink. Workers cleared fallen brush with their bare hands, fresh after a spray, while the children played in smoke clouds behind the application trucks. The contracted companies wanted to save a few bucks by cutting corners and increasing chemical concentrations. Now it is these citizens who are paying the price.
Will the government do what is right? Will it uphold the duty of care for veterans and their families? Will they undertake—