Eight Canadians sickened in mysterious Cuba incidents, RCMP leading investigation

Eight Canadians fell ill in 2017 as a wave of mysterious ailments have struck diplomats in Cuba, officials in Ottawa say .
Eight Canadians fell ill in 2017 as a wave of mysterious ailments have struck diplomats in Cuba, officials in Ottawa say . (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

The RCMP is leading the investigation into what is causing a mysterious range of symptoms among Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba over the past year.

Meanwhile, eight Canadians stationed in Cuba are confirmed to have fallen ill, while three diplomatic families opted to return to Canada last summer over the situation, which officials describe as uncharted territory.

In a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, senior government officials said that of the 20 Canadian diplomatic households in Havana, 10 asked for testing because at least one of their members reported feeling unusual symptoms.

A total of 27 individuals were tested and 19 were cleared by doctors. The remaining eight received further medical treatment and have since returned to work or school.

READ MORE: Canadian officials wondered if Cuba staff imagined symptoms from mysterious attacks

Canadian officials were asked by Americans in March 2017 whether they had received any reports of strange symptoms among Canadian diplomats and their families similar to what was being reported by American embassy staff in Havana beginning in December 2016.

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The Canadian government then asked embassy staff in April 2017 if anyone had experienced anything strange, and reports of mysterious symptoms began rolling in through that month and into May 2017, and the chief medical adviser for Health Canada arrived in June to meet with individuals at the embassy and begin conducting assessments.

The level of staffing at the Canadian embassy in Havana has not changed in light of the mysterious circumstances.

The briefing comes one day after a senior aide to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a Senate subcommittee that “Canadians have withdrawn some of their personnel” from Havana. The Senate subcommittee was convened to examine what American officials have billed as attacks against their diplomatic staff.

READ MORE: ‘Canadians have withdrawn’ some personnel from Cuba, US officials tell attack committee

The U.S. yanked more than 60 per cent of their embassy staff late last year, citing ongoing concerns that officials cannot guarantee the safety of staff.

As Global News has reported, emails released under access to information laws show that Canadian officials were scratching their heads back in April and May after reports began emerging of Canadian diplomatic staff and their families reporting a strange range of symptoms dating back to May of last year.

Symptoms include headaches, nosebleeds, loss of hearing, loss of balance, and loss of short-term memory. Some individuals have reported feeling waves of pressure or hearing a noise akin to someone shaking thin sheet metal.

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Click to play video: 'Secret “sonic weapon” could be giving diplomats in Cuba brain injuries'
Secret “sonic weapon” could be giving diplomats in Cuba brain injuries

WATCH ABOVE: Secret “sonic weapon” could be giving diplomats in Cuba brain injuries

A total of 24 American diplomats and their families have been affected by symptoms. A further 18 American tourists say they felt something strange on the island.

Many of the Americans reported hearing strange noises similar to the high-pitched screech of crickets or nails on a chalkboard.

Some said the noises they heard were so loud they were woken from their sleeps.

Canadian officials said Wednesday that while they cannot rule out foul play, they have no evidence to prove that anything untoward took place and undisclosed security measures have been added to protect diplomats and their families in Cuba.

There are no advisories being issued to warn Canadians against travelling to Cuba. There is no plan to amend that.

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READ MORE: Rex Tillerson says Cuba still risky despite FBI doubts over sonic attack

When asked why the government felt confident that Canadian tourists are not at risk, an official said that because there is so little information available, no one knows if whatever is happening to the Americans is the same thing that is happening to the Canadians.

The source of the strange symptoms has stumped officials since the first reports of the illnesses emerged from the Americans in December 2016 and Canadians in early 2017.

Officials said the investigation is looking at all possibilities, including the use of infrasound or ultrasound beams, as well as contaminants in air or water.

Click to play video: 'U.S. senator says no evidence of ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba'
U.S. senator says no evidence of ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba

WATCH ABOVE: U.S. senator says no evidence of ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba

Initial reports said the American individuals affected felt their symptoms after hearing the mysterious noises and their  reports sparked questions over whether some kind of weapon using sonic waves might be involved.

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However, there is no country or actor currently known to have such a device, the Canadian official said.

READ MORE: U.S. launches high-level probe of Cuban health attacks on diplomats

A report published by the Associated Press on Monday also revealed doubts among Federal Bureau of Investigation officials that the symptoms being reported were caused by a sonic attack.

That report by the FBI’s Operational Technology Division reportedly said there was no evidence that sound waves could harm an individual’s health, but did not examine other theories for what might be behind the attacks, some of which point the finger at Russia.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who convened the Senate committee held on Tuesday, echoed that theory in his questioning of State Department staff appearing there and said the culprit was like, “Someone who wanted to cause friction between Cuba and the U.S. government.”

“If it wasn’t a rogue element within the Castro government, perhaps it was a third country,” Rubio said. “Which country would want to disrupt U.S. presence in Cuba, and the logical answer is Russia.”

Rubio then raised what has become known as a Cold War medical mystery involving the aiming of low-level microwave beams by Russia at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the 1960s.

The investigation into the effect of those beams was called Project Pandora and sent American scientists with the Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) on a hunt to try and uncover whether it was possible for microwaves to cause the reports of fatigue and confusion among staff at the embassy and whether the beams could facilitate mind control.

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That bombardment ended in 1979.

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