Nfld. & Labrador

Mount Pearl teenager sent home from cadet camp because of food allergies

Faith-Ann Warford's summer camp experience at CFB Gagetown was cut short after only a few days, after staff decided they couldn't accommodate her allergy to eggs.
Faith-Ann Warford, second row, second from right, pictured here in happier days with a different group of cadets. (Submitted by Jason Warford)

A Mount Pearl family is crying foul over a cadet summer program's allergy policy, after Faith-Ann Warford was sent home from camp because staff couldn't accommodate her food allergies.

"It was absolutely crushing, I can't even describe the feeling. It was just heartbreaking because I'd been looking forward to going to camp ever since I found out I was going," said the 15-year-old.

Warford had been enjoying the Argonaut Cadet Training Centre at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick for only a few days, when she was told she had to pack up and go home last week.

Faith-Ann Warford, seen here taking part in an annual ceremonial review for cadets. (Submitted by Jason Warford)

Warford was enrolled in the centre's six-week physical fitness camp. It was her third year taking part in a cadet summer program in the Maritimes, but her first at the Argonaut Centre. 

Warford's father said the enrolment process has been the same for each camp, with health forms submitted ahead of time and approved by staff. Jason Warford said those forms fully detailed his daughter's severe allergies to eggs, peanuts and shellfish.

"We were assured that she'd be taken care of, there'd be plenty of options for her to eat from," he said.

But that assurance was shattered after Faith-Ann phoned, crying and defeated, to say she was coming home

"She was very devastated, and she said 'Mom... I can't be a great cadet, I can only be a good one. That kind of takes the wind out of your sails, right?" he said.

EpiPen not enough

The Warfords both say while Faith-Ann carries an EpiPen — a disposable needle for emergency allergic reactions — she has never had to use it.

"I just find it really unfair, because I've been independent with my allergies for as long as I can remember now," said Faith-Ann, adding there were other cadets at the Argonaut Centre who also carried EpiPens for their food allergies.

The military - the word 'accommodate' isn't in their vocabulary.- Jason Warford

Jason Warford said when he called looking for an explanation, the chief medical officer said the egg allergy was too much for the kitchen to handle.

"He kept saying, 'I'm not comfortable having her here with those allergies, we can't accommodate it here,'" Warford said, pointing out campers with peanut allergies were being allowed to stay.

"The military — the word 'accommodate' isn't in their vocabulary. They don't accommodate anybody."

Decision 'not taken lightly'

The camp's commanding officer said every camper is assessed on an individual basis, both before the cadet arrives and once they're on the ground.

"This decision is not taken lightly, but is done in consultation with the medical staff and the food services provided," said Lt.-Col. Bob Mackay, adding a physician and registered nurses are part of any medical decision.

"I do regret that the young cadet did get returned to unit... we felt it was in the cadet's best interest to return home."

The camp's commanding officer says it was in Warford's best interest that she return home. (CBC)

Mackay declined to specify if other cadets had food allergies needing accommodation, citing privacy concerns.

He said there's no blanket policy on allergens, with each cadet being assessed on an individual basis.

About 1000 cadets will spend part of their summer at the centre in Gagetown.

"While we endeavour to accommodate the dietary needs of our cadets, it can be challenging to ensure an allergen-free environment."

'I want all kids included'

Jason Warford said his family still hasn't received an adequate explanation for what happened, but that this experience has ramifications that reach beyond his daughter.

"There's no kid that should be disqualified or discriminated against because they have an allergy," he said.

"All our schools do it. She plays on multiple sports teams, everyone's very accommodating when you go away. You go to restaurants every other day."

Faith-Ann Warford, second from right, says she still loves cadets, although she doesn't agree with being sent home. (Submitted by Jason Warford)

Warford said the camp in particular should be well-equipped to handle allergies by 2016.

For her part, Faith-Ann said she won't part ways with the cadets over the issue, although she wishes it were different.

"I still love the program with all my heart, and it's just disappointing that it had to happen. I guess they had to do what they had to do, but I just don't agree with it."