Timeline: The fight for Agent Orange compensation in N.B.

Although it was revealed in the early 1980s the Canadian government had allowed toxic defoliants to be sprayed New Brunswick, the fight for compensation didn’t begin until 2005.

Soldiers and civilians who suffered from debilitating and fatal illnesses as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange sprayed at CFB Gagetown are still battling the government for compensation.

Even though Ottawa unveiled a $95.6-million compensation program in 2007, certain criteria have prevented the families of victims from receiving the payout.

The following is a timeline following the fight for Agent Orange compensation in N.B. 


1956 – 1984 – Department of National Defence (DND) documents obtained by the Agent Orange Association of Canada reveal defoliant spraying took place at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown over 28 years. The herbicides sprayed included the so-called “rainbow herbicides” or commercial versions of the compounds. Among those defoliants sprayed were Agent Orange, the most notorious, Agent Purple and Agent White (also known as Tordon 101).

1957 – 1958 – Provincial utility NB Power used Agent Orange to remove plant growth near power lines. 

1962 – 1971 – The U.S. military sprayed approximately 75,000,000 litres of defoliants such as Agent Orange on Vietnam, as well as parts of Cambodia and Laos, during the 11-year war. The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 4.8 million citizens were affected by defoliant spraying, which led to hundreds of thousands of children being born with birth defects and deformities.

1966 and 1967 – U.S. military carries out testing of Agent Orange and other defoliants at CFB Gagetown for a combined period of seven days (three days in 1966 and four days in 1967). This period of testing would become the focal point for a landmark compensation deal reached almost four decades later. DND says the American tests were controlled and took place in a 200-hectare area of the base.

1981 – The defoliant tests conducted at CFB Gagetown become public knowledge. A group of former NB Power employees organizes the Sprayers of Dioxin Association and eventually wins a battle for compensation from the Crown corporation.

1985 – Canada bans use of tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), a element of Agent Orange.

October 2004 – The widow of Ret. Brig-Gen. Gordon Sellar , who commanded the Black Watch* regiment at Gagetown during the U.S. testing period, reveals the federal government acknowledged exposure to Agent Orange and other defoliants in awarding her husband an unprecedented medical disability pension. Sellar died Oct. 1. of leukemia, weeks after he received his first benefit payment.

*On November 11, 2005 the New Glasgow Evening News reported of the 800 Black Watch members who were exposed to Agent Orange at Base Gagetown, 300 were already deceased.

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June 2005 -New Brunswick MLA Jody Carr calls for an independent inquiry into the spaying of Agent Orange, Agent Purple and other defoliants at CFB Gagetown during the 1950s and 1960s. Carr said the inquiry should be focused only on testing conducted at Gagetown, but he recognized spraying was carried out in other areas of the province and Canada during that time. Government and military officials meet with former soldiers and others concerned about the effects of defoliant spraying at Gagetown.

August 2005 – In light of mounting claims for compensation – nearly 700 by this point – and the filing of a class-action lawsuit, the federal government announces an “action plan” to address the concerns of veterans and those who lived in communities near CFB Gagetown.

October 16, 2005 – The Agent Orange Association of Canada forms. The group advocates for “accountability, justice and compensation” for people affected by defoliant spraying at the base. 

August 2006 – Independent researchers, hired by the Canadian government, declare that dioxin levels in the ground at CFB Gagetown did not pose a health threat to people working at or living near the base.

September 2007 – The federal government announces a compensation package for veteran and civilian victims of Agent Orange spraying. The government guidelines stated claimants must suffer from specific conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Those ailments included: Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, respiratory cancer, prostate cancer, chronic lymphatic leukemia, multiple myeloma, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne and spina bifida in children born to exposed individuals. The applicants must also have lived in a five-kilometre radius of CFB Gagetown during the 1966 and 1967 U.S. testing periods.

The ex-gratia payment would amount to $20,000 per applicant, for a total of $95.6 million. The compensation program was set to expire in 2009.

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January 2009 – The government say 60 per cent of the 3, 000 compensation applicants had received their cheques.

April 1, 2009 – Members of Military Widows on a Warpath – a group battling the federal government to change the criteria for Agent Orange compensation, hold a protest in Fredericton as the deadline for claim application officially passes.

June 2009 – Veterans Affairs confirms 3,837 compensation applications had been submitted: 2,492 applicants were successful, while 1,004 claims were denied. The department said it paid out $49.8 million, or 50 per cent of the compensation deal. Greg Thopmson, then-Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, said in 2008 the federal government would keep any remaining funds that were not paid out.

October 2010 – By this time, Veterans Affairs had paid out 3,137 ex gratia payments of $20,000 each or a total of $62.7 million.

December 2010 – Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn announces Ottawa would extend the deadline for a medical diagnosis and for claim applications until June 30, 2011. The feds lifted the requirements an applicant still be alive as of February 6, 2006 and that a claimant must have a medical diagnosis made prior to that date.

Dec. 22, 2011 – Veteran’s ombudsman Guy Parent slams the federal government’s handling of compensation claims by the families and caretakers of those who were exposed to Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. Veteran’s Affairs denied the $20,000-ex gratia payment to primary caregivers.

“The definitions used by Veterans Affairs Canada would not withstand public or legal scrutiny. This is nothing short of scandalous,” Parent said.”One wonders how many other individuals have been denied the ex gratia payment unfairly.”

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Dec. 30, 2011 – After much public outcry, the federal government changes its stance on awarding compensation to 30 families of Agent Orange victims. One widow, Pauline Kelly, lost her husband of 50 years but was originally denied compensation because he passed away in a nursing home and she was no longer considered a primary caregiver. She’ll receive the one-time, tax-free payout in the New Year. 


*With files from The Canadian Press, Postmedia News, Brunswick News Inc., This Magazine, MacLean’s and Government of Canada

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