Canadian diplomats who were posted to Cuba are suing their government, claiming that it failed to protect them and to respond robustly to a mysterious illness they acquired while stationed in Cuba.
The illness, known as Havana Syndrome, has affected dozens of American and Canadian diplomats posted to Cuba, some of whom have come down with symptoms like memory loss, sleep disturbance and nosebleeds, after saying they heard a strange high-pitched sound.
The suit, which was filed this week in a federal court in Toronto, says the Canadian government has been too slow to respond and did not provide sufficient medical treatment after diplomats and their children were targeted in 2017 by strange “debilitating attacks” that resulted in brain injuries without any evident physical trauma.
Paul Miller, the lawyer representing the 14 diplomats, spouses and children who are suing, compared the attack that preceded their illnesses to “a science fiction horror film.”
He said the plaintiffs were seeking 28 million Canadian dollars in damages.
“It is a tragedy that the diplomats and some of their kids will have lifelong trauma because of these attacks,” he said.
The plaintiffs are identified by pseudonyms “because of sensitivities related to their work, the nature of the injuries and the concerns expressed by Canada relating to the same,” according to the suit.
The murky circumstances of the illness have drawn international speculation. Neither the United States nor Canada has determined a cause, leading to speculation that some kind of microwave weapon could be involved.
Last month, the Canadian government said it would withdraw half of its diplomatic staff in Cuba after another employee fell ill from the condition, which it said had affected 14 Canadian employees, spouses and dependents.
So far, 26 Americans have been affected with similar illnesses, according to the State Department.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland declined to comment on the specifics of the case. But she said that she had met with some of the diplomats affected, and that their health and safety was a priority.
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“It’s a privilege to serve Canada around the world, but it’s also really hard, and it’s something that whole families do,” she said. “I’m really concerned about them, and they have Canada’s utmost sympathy and support.”
One Canadian career diplomat who is party to the suit, said that her family’s lives had been turned upside-down. The diplomat, who requested anonymity because she still worked for the government, said that while stationed in Cuba in 2017 she suddenly fell ill with debilitating headaches, which she initially attributed to stress.
After hearing about the American cases of Havana Syndrome, she said she connected her symptoms to high-pitched noises that had been coming from her backyard.
She said her 10-year-old daughter had been affected as well, waking up with a heavy nosebleed and later suffering headaches that forced her to miss school.
She said the Canadian government had waited for months before seeking treatment for the diplomats and had prevented them from warning other colleagues who were to be posted to Cuba.
The diplomat said the emotional trauma of suffering from a mysterious illness had been exacerbated by the feeling that the government did not believe them.
The suit contends that, despite knowing the risks after similar attacks on American diplomats in 2016, Canada continued to send its diplomats to Havana. It accused the government of playing down the seriousness of the situation, leaving victims to “contend with the rumors that they were faking it.”
The plaintiffs also contend that the government restricted the information they could share with doctors, and tried to stop the University of Pennsylvania Center for Brain Injury and Repair, which had been studying the syndrome, from testing the Canadians.