Canada’s Diplomatic Staff Abroad Must Monitor Mysterious ‘Acquired Brain Injury’

OTTAWA — The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs has advised personnel stationed around the world to watch for mysterious symptoms of illness following unexplained health incidents among diplomats in Cuba and U.S. personnel in various countries.

In September, Global Affairs Canada began briefings with senior officials at headquarters in Ottawa, all heads of missions abroad and partners from other federal departments working in embassies, a briefing note says. recently disclosed.

On Oct. 7, a broadcast message to all Global Affairs staff was released, outlining symptoms and how to report concerns, says the memo, prepared in November for Melanie Joly, who had just been sworn in as the last minister. of Foreign Affairs of Canada.

Canadian diplomats and family members stationed in Havana, Cuba, have reported difficulties since 2017, including headaches, memory loss, inability to concentrate, cognitive and visual problems, sensitivity noise, dizziness, nausea, trouble sleeping, mood swings and nosebleeds.

Fifteen Canadians have been confirmed diagnosed with “acquired brain injury”, according to Global Affairs.

Several U.S. personnel who worked in Cuba reported similar health issues, commonly referred to as Havana syndrome. More recently, symptoms have been reported among US personnel in Washington, Austria and China.

“There is still ongoing media coverage of unexplained health incidents experienced by U.S. government personnel overseas, which has understandably raised concern among Canadian government employees around the world,” the memo said. November in Joly.

The Global Affairs staff briefings were done out of “great caution and to meet our duty of care obligations,” the note adds.

The RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service sent similar messages to their personnel, according to the department.

CSIS has offices located in some Canadian diplomatic missions.

Canadian diplomatic staff said to watch out for mysterious illnesses. #cuba #diplomats #cdnpoli

“In accordance with Global Affairs Canada protocols for responding to any unusual events affecting Canadian officials abroad, CSIS has notified its employees accordingly,” said intelligence services spokeswoman Keira Lawson.

Global Affairs spokeswoman Patricia Skinner declined to say whether any new cases had been reported by staff since the department’s 2021 health symptom briefings.

“For privacy and security reasons, we cannot comment on details of ongoing investigations, individual cases, or specific security measures,” she said.

Ongoing Canadian and American investigations have not determined the cause of the illnesses, although theories have varied from sound attacks targeted by an adversary to spraying pesticides.

Given the unusual health incidents in Cuba, in April 2018 Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana were not accompanied by spouses or children.

In January 2019, Global Affairs halved its diplomatic footprint in Havana. Since then, the department has increased the number of diplomats, not yet at full strength, to enable the mission to respond more effectively to the consular needs of Canadians in Cuba and to advance Canadian foreign policy, trade and development, Skinner said.

“Global Affairs Canada intends to increase the number of Canadian diplomatic personnel in Cuba in due course,” she added.

Departmental records obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act indicate that the move to more comprehensive staffing in Havana was temporarily halted last March due to the emergence of a possible new case of the syndrome.

“Depending on the situation, we may explore additional health and safety measures that would allow us to move forward with increasing the footprint, or we may consider other options,” notes read. internal staff for a managers’ briefing on March 5.

Skinner declined to say whether the possible case had actually been confirmed by testing.

Eight Canadian diplomats and their family members who mysteriously fell ill while serving in Cuba are suing Ottawa in Federal Court for millions of dollars in damages.

Paul Miller, an attorney for the families, said in an interview that at least one other diplomat who served in Cuba — possibly one whose name was not mentioned in the department’s March 2021 memo — will soon be added to the trial.

Miller said some sick diplomats “don’t want to get involved in prosecuting their government” given the possible adverse effects on their careers. “And that last person took a while to decide to join.”

Diplomats say the Canadian government failed to protect them, hid crucial information and downplayed the seriousness of the risks. The government denies wrongdoing and negligence and wants the court to dismiss the action.

Skinner said Global Affairs continues to maintain a safety and health protocol to immediately respond to any unusual events or health symptoms affecting Canadian diplomats and their families.

The RCMP did not release the findings of their lengthy investigation into the health issues.

Pamela Isfeld, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, said she hoped there would be a resolution to the puzzling episode.

“I share everyone’s frustration – there just doesn’t seem to be a close conclusion to this investigation.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 23, 2022.

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