Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

July 28, 2015 10:00 ET

Military Ombudsman Concludes that Former Cadets Received Inadequate Treatment and Compensation after Tragic Accident in 1974

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - July 28, 2015) - Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

The Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces (DND/CF), Mr. Gary Walbourne, released his report today into the treatment of Army Cadets affected by a deadly grenade explosion which occurred at a Canadian Forces Base Valcartier (Quebec) cadet summer camp on 30 July 1974.

The incident claimed the lives of six cadets aged between 14 and 15 and injured dozens more.

Eighteen members of the Reserve Force, one member of the Regular Force and 137 army cadets between the ages of 13 and 18 were present when inert (dummy) explosive devices were passed around the class. A live grenade was inadvertently mixed in with the inert devices. A cadet asked the instructor if he could pull the pin on the grenade. The instructor assured the cadet it was safe to do. Seconds later the grenade exploded killing six cadets, injuring 65 others.

Victims were rushed to the base hospital; the more serious casualties were stabilized and then transported to nearby civilian hospitals. In addition to the six deaths, one cadet was left permanently and totally disabled. Several other cadets were left with permanent disabilities such as the loss of an eye, pieces of shrapnel in their bodies, loss of hearing, and/or psychological trauma.

This serious incident sparked several investigations. A 1975 Coroner's report ruled that the deaths of six cadets were attributable to negligence. The military also held a Board of Inquiry immediately after the explosion. Cadets who had witnessed the explosion were ordered to testify, and subjected to questioning that implied they were being considered potentially responsible for bringing the live grenade into the classroom.

Background

The Office of the Ombudsman first received a complaint regarding the matter in April 2013. An additional 51 complaints were received over a three-month span. The main themes of the complaints related to access to medical care for long-term injuries, lack of assistance to the most vulnerable who were still suffering, recognition from the Government of Canada for its responsibility towards the victims, the need for a formal apology, and financial compensation.

The mandate of the Ombudsman does not extend to investigating events that occurred before the Office was created - June 15, 1998 - unless the Minister of National Defence deems such an investigation to be in the public interest.

The compelling issues and perceived discrepancies in treatment and compensation prompted the office to recommend to the Minister of National Defence that he grant permission to conduct a pre-mandate investigation into the matter. Former Minister of National Defence, Rob Nicholson, agreed on May 5th 2014.

Objectives of the investigation

Our objective was two-fold: Determine whether those present were treated in a fair and compassionate manner based on the standards in place at the time of the incident; and determine the present-day responsibility, if any, of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces to individuals who were affected by the tragic event.

Findings and Recommendations

The Ombudsman's Office found that of the cadets who survived the explosion, many sustained - and continue to suffer from - physical or/and psychological injuries; however, the cadets did not receive assistance on par with what was offered to the military members who were also impacted by the incident.

The report concludes that it goes against the principle of fairness to provide assistance, compensation and benefits to one group of individuals and to ignore the other, and states that the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence should have done more to assist the young boys who were under their care.

The Ombudsman therefore recommends that:

  • Under the authority of the Minister of National Defence, the Department of National Defence immediately offer assessments to all those who claim to have been adversely or permanently affected by this incident to determine the physical and psychological care required and, based on these assessments, fund a reasonable care plan; and
  • Following the full assessment and definition of the long-term needs of the affected individuals, and in order to ensure that they are treated in a way that reflects Canadian values, it is recommended that the Department of National Defence, under the direction of the Minister, award them an immediate and reasonable financial compensation in line with jurisprudence in similar situations.

Quotes from the Ombudsman

"Many of the affected cadets for the 1974 grenade incident were left with long-lasting and life-altering injuries for which they received inadequate treatment and/or compensation.

The manner in which cadets were made to testify as if they were adult Canadian Forces witnesses (they were neither) before the Board of Inquiry into the incident left many young cadets feeling responsible, distraught and further traumatized.

While 1974 legislation may have limited the possible courses of action, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces still had a responsibility to the children who were under their care. More should have been done.

With the exception of the immediate medical care received at the time of the incident, cadets were not assisted nor compensated under any Department of National Defence policies or regulations in effect at the time.

Many of those interviewed stated that their parents did not launch claims against the Crown on their behalf due to a lack of knowledge or the financial means to 'take on the big Government machine.' Therefore, for many years, they felt they had no recourse but to continue to suffer in silence.

Cadets do not hold any status in the Canadian Forces, thus making them ineligible to receive any compensation and benefits that would be afforded to members of the Canadian Forces.

To provide assistance, compensation and benefits to a group of Canadian Forces members who were either directly or indirectly affected by the 1974 incident, yet not provide similar support to the young boys who were under their care and present in the barracks during the explosion, goes against the principle of fairness. The most vulnerable group affected by the incident was also the least supported.

I will be launching an independent review of the current Canadian Cadet Program later this year. Its objective will be to identify any issues of unfairness and make recommendations as to how the program could be improved."

- Mr. Gary Walbourne, Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces

- Ombudsman Report An Investigation into the 1974 Valcartier Cadets Grenade Incident

Contact Information

  • Jamie Robertson
    Director of Communications
    Office of the Ombudsman for the
    Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces
    613-992-6962
    Jamie.Robertson@forces.gc.ca

    Jennifer Pelley
    Senior Communications Advisor
    Office of the Ombudsman for the
    Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces
    613-995-8643
    Jennifer.Pelley@forces.gc.ca