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Foreign minister raised troubling U.S. report on ‘Havana syndrome’ with Cuban counterpart

Click to play video '‘Nothing prepares you for that,’ says Champagne on frantic push to get Canadians home' ‘Nothing prepares you for that,’ says Champagne on frantic push to get Canadians home
WATCH: ‘Nothing prepares you for that,’ says Champagne on frantic push to get Canadians home – Dec 20, 2020

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says he raised with his Cuban counterpart a troubling new report by leading U.S. scientists that found the most plausible cause of ‘Havana syndrome’ is directed, pulsed microwave energy.

In a year-end interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Champagne said he takes seriously the duty of care he owes to Canadian diplomats serving the country abroad and that suggested he hasn’t ruled out further action if Canadian officials advise it.

“One of my first duties as the minister of foreign affairs is the duty of care to our diplomats around the world, and certainly I take that very seriously,” he said, adding the conversation with the Cuban foreign minister took place several days ago.

“Obviously this was raised. I’m still waiting for our Canadian officials to assess that report, which was commissioned by the United States, which points in one direction.

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“Certainly in light of that, we will take appropriate actions.”

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

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences issued a long-awaited report earlier in the month 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.

Global News has confirmed officials from Global Affairs Canada briefed the scientists leading that report three times, and focused on research from Dalhousie University in 2019 that suggested pesticide exposure was one possible cause of the symptoms.

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

The American report dismissed that as a possible cause, saying the symptoms and the circumstances just didn’t line up, and that directed, pulsed microwave energy was a more plausible fit with the reports of strange, sudden noises and sudden onset of feelings of pressure experienced by diplomats.

Those sudden noises and feelings of intense pressure were an area of focus for the U.S. scientists as they weighed possible causes, but the report’s leading scientist told Global News they were told those largely did not happen to Canadian diplomats who reported symptoms.

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“They told us that in a few cases there were such manifestations, but in most cases, by and large, this did not happen,” said David Relman, a professor of microbiology and immunology with Stanford University and chair of the standing committee of scientists commissioned by Congress to advise on the issue.

Documents obtained by Global News show, though, that in June 2017, Global Affairs Canada officials who were briefing diplomats being posted to Cuba amid reports of strange symptoms specifically noted that Canadian diplomats on the ground were reporting “strange sounds” and “feelings of pressure.”

So far, Global Affairs Canada has said only that it is “assessing” the report.

Officials have so far refused to provide updates on the state of the ongoing investigation into what’s become known as ‘Havana syndrome,’ or explain why — if the cause is pesticide poisoning — Canadian diplomats posted to Cuba remain prohibited from bringing spouses or dependents with them.

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“I’m very concerned for them and what they have gone through,” Relman said of the Canadian diplomats who continue to suffer unexplained and lasting symptoms.

“I’m also concerned about the possibility that there will be future cases, and that we won’t have solved the problem of how to identify and address and respond quickly and effectively to cases like this when new cases arise.

Champagne said he shares some concerns about sending Canadian diplomats to Cuba.

“Until we know the causes — if there’s a risk, that is concerning to me,” he said.

“That’s always a tough decision that you have to assess. But fortunately, I think we have some of the best experts, people here who advise me on security and health and safety to make sure that — with the deputy minister — we make the right decision when it comes to deployment of diplomats abroad.”

Click to play video 'Canadian embassy staff warned to stay silent on ‘Havana Syndrome’' Canadian embassy staff warned to stay silent on ‘Havana Syndrome’
Canadian embassy staff warned to stay silent on ‘Havana Syndrome’ – Oct 25, 2020

Champagne also addressed questions about how the government is dealing with the risks posed by China as the regime continues its arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, which officials in Beijing have repeatedly linked with the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.

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He suggested the federal government recognizes a need to shift its approach to China as it increasingly ignores international rules and attempts to use coercive diplomacy to get its way.

“China is changing. So our foreign policy needs to evolve,” he said.

“China 2020 is not the China of 2018 or ’16. It’s not just a metaphor — it is the realization of colleagues around the world. I do speak with foreign ministers on a daily basis, and everyone is facing the same issue … We’ve seen a more coercive diplomacy.”

Champagne said the government is focusing on finding ways to work with allies and partner nations to make it clear to Beijing that this approach will not succeed.

He also added the incoming Biden administration south of the border will be “good for Canada.”

“I think we’ll see more stability and predictability in that relationship.