Veteran dressed as Santa stages Agent Orange protest
The Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY — Winston Harris staged a one-man protest in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs office on George Street, Tuesday.
The Gulf War veteran was expressing his frustration over the office’s treatment of a friend suffering from the effects of Agent Orange poisoning.
“For years and years, he has been refused appeal after appeal on his issue with Agent Orange,” said the Whitney Pier native, who was a soldier in the Gulf of Arabia from 1990-91.
“I’m here to bring awareness to the public that there are still veterans out there suffering from Agent Orange, mustard gas and for depleted uranium poisoning, which I have from my service over in the Gulf War.”
Dressed as Santa Claus, Harris held an empty sack during his protest. He’s hoping it will contain at least one cheque before Christmas for a friend from Sydney Mines who served at Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, N.B., while the American military was testing Agent Orange and other defoliants in the 1960s.
Peter Stoffer, the federal NDP’s Veterans Affairs critic, has been in contact with Harris and others who have expressed similar frustrations with the handling of defoliant spraying in Gagetown.
“Many people right now are suffering, not just from Agent Orange, but many other chemicals that are out there,” said the MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore.
“These men and women and the civilians in the surrounding community were sprayed upon in order to get rid of the defoliants, in order to eliminate brush and grass along there so the military can operate in its fashion. The people were never told what was happening.”
Stoffer wants a public inquiry to investigate spraying he said took place between 1956-84 and long-term benefits for people affected.
“That’s why I’m glad to see people are holding DVA’s foot to the fire and people taking the cause up and saying to the government “You are wrong and we are not going away.” I’m proud of them for doing that,” said Stoffer.
“What I’d like to say to the public out there is put the pressure on Veterans Affairs Canada because there are soldiers out there who won’t come out and or can’t speak for themselves or think it is not right to do so,” said Harris. “I’ll fight for veterans’ rights because someday someone is going to have to fight for mine when I am unable.”
He said similar protests were planned Tuesday at various locations across Canada.