Probe sought on Agent Orange use in Ontario

An Ontario man is calling for a federal inquiry into the alleged use of Agent Orange by CN Rail as method to control weeds during the 1970s.
Dave Collins says he was asked to spray a substance he was told was Agent Orange along rail tracks in the 70s. 3:08

An Ontario man is calling for a federal inquiry into the alleged use of Agent Orange by CN Rail during the 1970s.

Dave Collins, who worked for CN Rail from 1972 to 1989, says in the '70s he and members of his crew applied what they were told was Agent Orange to control weeds along the rail tracks.

"We would cut this brush and as we were doing it there would be half a dozen men cutting ahead and one or two would stay behind with this chemical and a brush and a can," he said.  

Collins says the chemical would soak their hands and splash on their faces but he says there was no mystery about what it was.

"It was just through general knowledge among the staff and the supervisors that it was the same agent that was used in Vietnam — that it was Agent Orange." 

Collins says they were never warned of the dangers of exposure. He was in his early 20s at the time and thought nothing of it. Now 61, he has terminal cancer and his family has nagging questions. 

"When we got news of his tumour we were told that it could be linked to environmental exposure and we wondered, what has Dave been exposed to in his lifetime," said his wife, Debbie.  

'Implications are enormous'

In Ontario, the government has launched a probe  into the use of Agent Orange after former forestry and hydro workers came forward saying they had been exposed.

However, Collins wants Ottawa to look into the use of the defoliant since CN Rail was a Crown corporation when he worked there.

"We know that it was used in hydro, we know that it was used in forestry, we know it was used in airports," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. "It would make sense they were possibly using it on the rail lines. The implications are enormous."

Angus raised the issue in the House of Commons on Tuesday but didn't get the response he wanted from federal Transportation Minister Chuck Strahl.

"I'm not aware of any involvement with Transport Canada from 20 years ago but certainly I will take this question under advisement," Strahl said.  

The federal government has investigated the use of Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, offering compensation to those who were exposed and became ill.  

Collins says he just wants answers.

"The four gentleman I started with on the railway — each one of them stayed until they received a full pension and retired," Collins said. "And before any one of those [men] reached the 18-month mark of their pension they were all dead — and they all died of cancer."