Federal government to pay compensation to cadets injured in 1974 grenade accident
The federal government will cover the medical expenses for dozens of former cadets injured in an accident where a grenade exploded during a training lesson in 1974, killing six teenaged boys.
It comes after last year’s report by Canada’s military ombudsman, which ruled that the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence did not provide adequate treatment or compensation to victims after the accident.
An order in cabinet dated June 21, 2016, but only made public today, authorizes Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to pay for health care services for “any cadet who was in the room when the explosion occurred” as well as any “non-professional first responder, who on that day, was not a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
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The accident happened when 137 teenagers were given dummy explosive devices during a supervised class at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier on July 30, 1974.
Among the supposedly safe devices, however, was a live grenade. One of the cadets asked for permission to pull the pin and an instructor assured him it was safe to do so.
Six boys aged 14 and 15 were killed and more than 60 others were injured.
Michel Juneau Katsuya was 14 years old when the grenade exploded just a few feet away.
“You basically got out wearing body parts of your friends on you, on top of the smell, the noise, the sound, the flash…everything sort of imprinted on your memory,” he told CBC News.
Cadets ordered to keep incident secret
The armed forces ordered the children not to talk about what happened, which Juneau Katsuya says exacerbated the post traumatic stress disorder many of the cadets experienced.
It was only in 2013 that a former cadet complained to Canada’s military ombudsman Gary Walbourne.
Last summer Walbourne issued a report describing how many of the former cadets continue to suffer from psychological and physical injuries and that “the cadets did not receive assistance on par with what was offered to the military members who were also impacted by the incident.”
Walbourne recommended the Department of National Defence fund the former cadets’ health care and award financial compensation.
Defence minister apologized to cadets
As a party to the negotiations, Juneau Katsuya says the government has agreed to cover medication, psychological counselling, medical supplies such as hearing aids and medical treatments.
“Not everybody had the shrapnel removed from their body and the shrapnel might move, it might cause more damage or more problems,” he says.
In addition to seeking help for damage to his ear drums, Juneau Katsuya says he plans to see a counsellor and will need help with his hearing aid. Other blast victims also recently received letters of apology from the defence minister and chief of the defence staff, which has helped several men with the healing process.
“Some people like me have tried to bury it as much as possible,” Juneau Katsuya said.
Juneau Katsuya says talks about a financial settlement are ongoing, but he and several of the other former cadets have faith the government will finally get things right, 42 years later.