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Jan McColm sits with photos of her late husband Jay Lumiere who died of lung cancer in 2019 – the same day he was formally notified by VAC that he’d won his 10-year fight on his seventh appeal for compensation for his exposure to Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown – in her apartment in Halifax on Jan. 30.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

A Canadian investigation on the historical spraying of herbicides, including Agent Orange, on a New Brunswick military base used data and analysis that was biased and incorrect, according to a recent Maine legislative commission.

Ottawa’s fact-finding probe, released in 2006, concluded that the chemicals were not at levels that would harm the health of most people who lived and worked at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, and only those directly exposed were at greater risk of developing adverse health outcomes.

But the final report from the Maine commission, which studied the impacts of exposure to harmful chemicals on U.S. service people who trained at the base, called for the state to review the Canadian investigation to determine whether existing data should be reanalyzed or entirely new studies be conducted.

It also petitioned the U.S. government to provide access to medical benefits to members of the National Guard who trained at Gagetown and had been diagnosed with an illness associated with exposure to herbicides or dioxins.

In 1966 and 1967, the Canadian government permitted the U.S. military to use the base, near Fredericton, to test a number of herbicides that included Agent Orange, Agent Purple and Agent White, which were deployed during the Vietnam War.

The report, released in February, has renewed calls for Ottawa to hold a public inquiry into the use of herbicides at the base, the largest military training facility in the country.

Some Canadian veterans and their families have long insisted that the federal investigation played down the harms caused by exposure to herbicides at Gagetown. Ottawa compensated thousands of veterans for possible exposure to Agent Orange, providing ex gratia payments of $20,000 to 5,002 veterans between 2008 and 2012.

The 10-person Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission, which heard presentations from U.S. government officials, veterans and a biomedical scientist late last year, is highly critical of the federal government’s investigation.

“The commission … finds that the data and analysis within those reports is incorrect, biased and based upon, in some cases, incomplete data and poor study design – at times exacerbated by the rapid period in which these reports were required to be conducted and issued,” wrote Senate President Troy Jackson and House Chair Ronald Russell in the final report.

The commission also looked at the Canadian military’s own defoliant spraying program, which took place from 1956 to 2004 at Gagetown. During that time, the military applied a total of 24 different herbicides made up of 14 active ingredients that have two known manufacturing impurities, dioxin and hexachlorobenezene, according to the 2006 federal government-commissioned investigation.

The base also had permits from the province from 2004 to 2019 to spray a glyphosate-based herbicide, a widely used Health Canada approved pesticide. Glyphosate is classified by the World Health Organization as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The Maine commission report decried the Canadian government’s refusal to release the underlying data used in its investigation, saying it “undermines their scientific credibility and usability.”

Commission member Jan McColm of Halifax, appointed to the panel as a family member of a Canadian veteran exposed to Agent Orange in Gagetown, said the group’s work has raised urgent questions that need to be answered by the federal government through a full public inquiry.

“We need to look at our own country and look at what’s been going on with some honesty,” said Ms. McColm, whose husband, Jay Lumiere, died of metastatic lung cancer at age 74 in 2019.

Open this photo in gallery:

Jan McColm sits with a photo of her and her late husband Jay Lumiere, who died of lung cancer in 2019.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

“If there’s nothing to hide then why not? It suggests to me there’s something they don’t want to be uncovered.”

National Defence spokesperson Magali Deussing said recently that the 2006 investigation ordered by her department along with Veterans Affairs Canada and Health Canada was “intense and fulsome.”

She said that given the comprehensive nature of the investigation, “an additional inquiry is not planned at this time.”

Ms. Deussing said DND has retrieved documents in support of the federal government investigation for a Maine researcher and is working to provide others.

The Canadian investigation found two instances of spraying of Agent Orange in 1966 and 1967, and notes that “all herbicides used at Base Gagetown were regulated and used in accordance with all federal and provincial regulations and scientific policies at the time.”

The two active ingredients in Agent Orange are highly carcinogenic. The herbicide has been linked to 14 diseases including prostate cancer, bladder cancer, type 2 diabetes mellitus, Hodgkin’s, multiple myeloma and respiratory cancers.

The investigation included studies that found dioxins in the soil but said levels posed no risk to human health. Water sampling didn’t exceed government safety guidelines. And tissue tests of fish and freshwater clams didn’t reveal high doses of dioxins.

Canadian biochemical engineer Meg Sears, who is chair of advocacy group Prevent Cancer Now, testified at the Maine commission that the fish study was flawed, and the data manipulated. Dr. Sears says her own analysis of the same data revealed that fish downstream of the base had two to four times the reported dioxin levels.

“The exposure estimates in the Canadian report are not reasonably accurate,” Dr. Sears told the commission last November. “We can see evidence of the manipulation of data, of inappropriate scientific methods in the only study done by Canada that looked at levels of contamination on site.”

Dr. Sears said Gagetown, covering more than 1,100 square kilometres, is still highly contaminated with dioxins.

Ms. McColm said she joined the Maine commission to raise awareness about the difficulties in getting compensation from government for exposure to the herbicides. Her husband applied for the ex gratia payment while living in England but was told he missed the cut-off date.

Over the course of a decade, he fought eight appeals before he was finally granted an entitlement for pain and suffering caused by ischemic heart disease and lung cancer, both of which are linked to Agent Orange exposure. He received a letter from Veterans Affairs Canada notifying him of his entitlement amount on the day he died.

“At least he died knowing that he had been successful. But so many people aren’t,” said Ms. McColm.

Ms. Deussing said the Government of Canada is “steadfastly committed to ensuring that all those who may have been affected by the past use of registered and unregistered herbicides at Base Gagetown receive the support that they need.”

The Maine commission said it believes that a re-evaluation of the Canadian government’s investigation would show a connection between herbicides containing dioxins and harmful effects on human health, similar to U.S. government findings in other cases. Those include Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides, and service members exposed to environmental hazards such as burn pits.

Gary Goode, chair of Brats In The Battlefield, a Canadian veterans advocacy group, presented Canadian military documents to the commission that showed widespread use of herbicide spraying at Gagetown over decades. Mr. Goode, a cancer survivor who lost one of his lungs, served at the base at the time Agent Orange was tested and received the ex gratia payment.

“Successive governments expect they can sweep this under the rug when people are dying from some of the same diseases people died from in Vietnam,” said Mr. Goode, who has long called for a public inquiry, during an interview from his home in Fernie, B.C.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she’s encouraged to see Maine take an independent look at the use of chemicals at CFB Gagetown – an approach she has long advocated for in Canada.

“Even at this late a date it would be good to have a public inquiry,” said Ms. May. “The people exposed in Gagetown – to the extent that there are of survivors of this – deserve justice.”

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