‘They need to take this seriously’: Diplomats urge action after Havana syndrome report

Click to play video: 'Canadian embassy staff warned to stay silent on ‘Havana Syndrome’'
Canadian embassy staff warned to stay silent on ‘Havana Syndrome’
WATCH: It's been three years since dozens of staff at the Canadian embassy in Havana, Cuba were afflicted by the "Havana Syndrome" — a mysterious illness that gave them concussion-like symptoms. – Oct 25, 2020

The Canadian government must take seriously a troubling new U.S. report that directed energy is the likely cause of what’s become known as ‘Havana syndrome,’ says one of the diplomats suffering from it and the union representing foreign service officers.

It comes as Global Affairs Canada continues to refuse to provide any information on the state of its own investigations into the cause of strange and lasting symptoms suffered by diplomats and their families who were stationed at the Canadian embassy in Cuba between 2016 and 2018.

“They need to take it seriously,” said Diplomat Allen, one of the diplomats involved in the lawsuit under a pseudonym, which Global News has agreed to respect.

“This is something that has affected us and may affect us for the rest of our lives.”

READ MORE: Canadian officials warned staff bound for Cuba to stay silent on ‘Havana syndrome’

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The U.S. National Academies of Sciences issued a hotly awaited report over the weekend that determined “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible” cause for the strange, lasting symptoms reported by dozens of Canadian and American diplomats who served in Cuba.

The report said there had been an “early failure” to detect and investigate the cases, which have spurred a range of theories ranging from pesticide poisoning to the malicious use of directed energy weapons by a hostile foreign actor.

While the report’s authors note they cannot say conclusively whether the pulsed energy came from a weapon or another source, “the mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others.”

And although the authors noted they were not able to access the full range of relevant data because of concerns about national security and privacy, they urged those with higher security clearances to do more in-depth study to determine the source of directed energy.

Diplomat Allen said the report failed to acknowledge that Canadian diplomats and their families also reported hearing strange noises — he has previously described hearing a “screeching, metallic” noise from inside his family’s residence in June 2017, then experiencing their first symptoms.

But he said it also confirmed for him a long-held suspicion that suggestions from Canadian officials that the symptoms are merely psychosomatic or that pesticide exposure could be to blame are off the mark.

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“Way back in the beginning, a doctor that saw us in Canada … he said that your injuries seem more to do with electromagnetic than audio,” Diplomat Allen said.

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“When the theory about pesticides came out, it just didn’t make sense at all. The crickets — any theory that came out, nothing stood out like the possibility of microwaves,” he continued.

“That’s what I’ve been thinking the whole time, and this just confirms for me.

Click to play video: 'Freeland won’t comment on lawsuit by Canadian diplomats in Cuba against Ottawa over mysterious health issues'
Freeland won’t comment on lawsuit by Canadian diplomats in Cuba against Ottawa over mysterious health issues

Diplomat Allen and 14 other plaintiffs made up of diplomats and their families stationed in Cuba between 2016 and 2018 are suing the government in Federal Court, alleging officials failed to protect diplomats and ignored warnings that something wasn’t right.

Documents obtained by Global News under access to information laws appear to corroborate those claims, with hundreds of pages of internal government emails and memos making it clear that Global Affairs Canada was warning diplomats bound for Cuba to stay silent about the emerging risks.

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Briefing notes prepared ahead of sessions with outgoing diplomats in the summer of 2017 also showed officials did not inform staff that Canadian children had also been hurt by the effects.

Diplomat Allen’s children were among them, as was his wife, and he says the family continues to suffer from nosebleeds, dizziness, and other neurological symptoms that physical therapy has failed to treat.

The fact some of the diplomats have been blocked from accessing their early medical tests done in the U.S. adds weight to the possibility something serious is at play, said Paul Miller, a partner at Howie Sacks and Henry LLP and one of the lawyers representing the Canadian diplomats and their families.

“There’s a feeling of betrayal that they have with the Canadian government,” he said.

“You can’t get their records for national security reasons now … if the government is going to rely on the theory of pesticides, where’s the national security interest?”

“If it’s pesticides, what’s the big deal? If it’s a radio frequency attack of some sort — big deal.”

The U.S. report authors said chemical poisoning and several other theories appeared unlikely, emphasizing instead that the government needs to act to better protect diplomats and personnel serving abroad from any future exposure to directed, pulsed energy — whatever the source.

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The recommendations included introducing more comprehensive baseline medical testing for diplomats, putting emergency health protocols in place, and training staff on what to look for and how to respond if they suspect they are experiencing exposure to directed energy.

So far, Global Affairs Canada says only that it is “reviewing” the report.

READ MORE: Ottawa reviewing new report that ‘directed, pulsed’ energy behind Havana syndrome

But the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers says they want a meeting with Global Affairs Canada to discuss what the report means for Canadian diplomats, and to get a clearer picture of what the department plans to do to better protect its staff.

“Although we are not in a position to gauge the scientific conclusions of the report on our own, we do feel that any progress towards identifying the cause of Havana Syndrome is good news,” said Eric Schallenberg, spokesperson for the union.

“From our point of view, the core issues here lie in the ongoing health and safety of our members – some of whom continue to suffer the after-effects of what they experienced in Havana, and others who remain posted there.”

While Global Affairs Canada has put baseline testing in place, Schallenberg said the union wants to make sure nothing is overlooked that could protect other diplomats from similar suffering.

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“We have asked to meet with Global Affairs to get their assessment of the analysis and conclusions in the report, along with their plans for follow up and mitigation measures based on them.”

Global Affairs Canada upped the risk rating for the embassy in Havana in 2018.

It is now an unaccompanied posting, meaning diplomats posted there cannot bring their families with them — a designation shared by postings in places like South Sudan and Iraq.

Miller said that continued ranking speaks for itself.

“If it was pesticides, why would the risk be that high?

Click to play video: 'Canada pulls families of diplomatic staff from Cuba after mysterious health symptoms'
Canada pulls families of diplomatic staff from Cuba after mysterious health symptoms

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