The Canadian government is keeping silent on if Ottawa plans on following an American announcement to financially compensate U.S. diplomats afflicted with mysterious symptoms first noted in Cuba.
Last week, the U.S. State Department announced they would be cutting cheques for embassy workers afflicted with the so-called “Havana Syndrome” — a series of symptoms ranging from ringing in the ears to long-lasting cognitive impairment suffered by American and Canadian diplomats who’ve worked in both country’s Cuban embassies since 2016.
Those payouts, payable to both current and former State department workers and family members with “qualifying injuries,” will range between $140,000 and $187,000, depending on injury level.
Inquiries made Monday morning to Global Affairs Canada (GAC) by the National Post on whether Ottawa was planning something similar went unacknowledged by press time.
Pamela Isfeld, President of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) — the union representing Canada’s 2,000 active and retired members of the diplomatic corps — said what her members are most interested in right now are answers.
“Let’s get to the bottom of what this is so that we can figure out what the best way of helping people is, and so that we can do what we can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” she said.
American and Canadian diplomats in Havana first started noticing mysterious, and so far unexplained, symptoms about six years ago after hearing odd chirping or ringing noises, with some describing sensations of rapidly changing pressure typically felt in cars with partially rolled down windows.
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Complaints were suffered both by diplomats and their family members, including young children.
As word of the illness grew, cases began popping up around the world, seemingly targeting diplomats in China, Russia, Taiwan, Colombia, Germany and Poland.
Earlier this year, CBS News reported government employees in Washington, D.C. had complained of similar incidents as far back as 2019, including at least one on the grounds of the White House.
Assessments released earlier this year by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded the symptoms were not the result of a hostile attack by foreign powers, despite some officials — including agency director William J. Burns — previously describing the incidents as “attacks.”
Last year, a senior Canadian diplomat told the Ottawa Citizen he’d suffered measurable brain damage after two postings in the Cuban capital.
The diplomat, speaking under a condition of anonymity, said that he was finally rotated back to Canada in Jan. 2019 after his symptoms — which included dizziness, memory loss and cognitive impairment — got so bad even simple tasks like remembering access codes proved impossible.
Isfeld said, if anything, the Havana Syndrome opened up valuable lines of dialogue on the health of Canada’s front-line foreign service workers.
“This has really brought to light some of the systemic gaps in health care for people abroad, in their ability to deal with some of the really challenging things that can come up for people in the foreign service,” she said.
“But in the meantime, we’ve got members and their families still suffering with this.”
While PAFSO has nothing to do with the $28-million lawsuit filed against the federal government in 2019 by Canadian Havana Syndrome sufferers, lawyers for the plaintiffs report a similarly glacial pace as they wind their way through the courts.
“It’s painfully slow,” said Paul Miller of Toronto law firm Howie, Sacks & Henry, who said the flow of documents and information from GAC hit a number of logjams, including the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The federal court is giving some deference to the government, which I understand from a logical point of view, but I’m getting annoyed because I and my co-counsel have clients to answer to who are still suffering, and their kids are suffering.”
Many of his plaintiffs are young professionals in their 30s and 40s who, thanks to their symptoms, have had their future career prospects either severely hampered or curtailed altogether — not to mention those with children suffering from the same ailments.
Among the National Post’s questions in Monday’s inquiry ignored by Global Affairs Canada were updates as to how many Canadians are suffering from the Havana Syndrome — unofficial sources put that number at 17.