Ombudsman Message: Ongoing Risk to Cadets

MESSAGE FROM THE OMBUDSMAN (10 March 2017)

Ombudsman Responds to the Announcement on the 1974 Valcartier Cadet Grenade Incident

 

Yesterday, the Minister of National Defence announced a compensatory program for those cadets and non-emergency worker first responders affected by the 1974 grenade explosion at CFB Valcartier that left 6 cadets dead, and countless more with physical and psychological injuries. The events 43 years ago were tragically overlooked for far too long. That is why, in 2014, I asked the then Minister of National Defence for pre-mandate authority to open an investigation on the issue. That permission was granted and I submitted my report to the minister one year later. The recommendations calling for access to healthcare, especially mental health care, as well as compensation were accepted and the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces set to work on creating the most appropriate suite of benefits possible. What was announced yesterday goes a long way in bringing closure for so many on this painful and tragic event.

As stated in a previous message that after completing my investigation, I asked my team three fundamental questions: If a similar incident occurred in over 40 years later, what has changed in policy and regulations to ensure a safe and secure environment for these individuals? Have we made the system of compensation less complex should a tragedy strike while they are wearing their cadet uniforms? And, is the system fair and equitable? The answers were not clear.

An investigation that I launched in late 2015 and published in January of this year revealed, amongst other things, that a significant insurance gap exists between Cadets and Junior Canadian Rangers and the Canadian Armed Forces. I believe that this gap needs to be filled immediately. Yesterday, I had hoped that the benefits and services announced for those affected in 1974 would be complemented by a program for existing cadets and Junior Canadian Rangers. It did not.

While a firm believer in the cadet program, I am not sure I understand the Minister’s assessment of risk within the cadet program.  While grenade training may no longer be part of the program, cadets do participate in the handling and firing of firearms.

Cadets also continue to ride in Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs), fly in gliders, and learn what it takes to go out to sea. Unfortunately, accidents do happen and in certain circumstances, the Government has been, and, is even being sued.

The Ombudsman’s office is an evidence-based organization and through our daily interactions with our constituents, as well as the department, we are made aware of these circumstances.  My latest report on cadets is based in evidence and I believe that my recommendations are easily implementable, and I hope that they are in the near future.

If the organization has evolved and has been rendered much safer, logic would flow the cost of a comprehensive program would be quite low to implement. Let’s do the right thing.

 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

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