Final deadline approaches for Shannon class action claimants
Ruby Pratka, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Time is running out for hundreds of former residents of Shannon who were potentially exposed to tainted drinking water decades ago. People who lived in a large sector of Shannon between April 1995 and 2006, including in the former CFB Valcartier married couples’ quarters, may be eligible for as much as $128,000 through a class action lawsuit – if they submit an initial claim no later than 11:59 p.m. on July 15. If eligible claimants have died, their heirs can collect on their behalf.
Jean Bernier is a co-founder of the Regroupement des citoyens de Shannon (RCS), a citizens’ group which has been fighting to obtain compensation for residents exposed to the water since the contamination first came to light in December 2000.
Bernier explained that a carcinogenic chemical called trichloroethylene (TCE) was used as a metal-degreasing agent at the defence research facility at CFB Valcartier and the nearby arsenal, starting shortly after the Second World War. When the arsenal was sold, its subsequent private owners, including SNC-Lavalin, kept using the chemical. Used TCE was buried in lagoons on and around the base, and the colourless liquid leached into Shannon’s groundwater. In December 2000, SNC-Lavalin tested a well belonging to one of its employees in Shannon and found worrisome levels of TCE. According to Bernier, the son of the employee whose well was tested worked at a garage owned by a town councillor.
“The young man … told the councillor, the councillor told the mayor, and that’s how the people of Shannon found out,” said Bernier. “More tests were conducted, and we went from one well [showing elevated TCE levels] to more than 150 wells, pretty quickly. All the while, people were drinking that water, cooking with that water, breathing in steam from that water.”
In February 2001, Bernier and a few of his neighbours formed a committee, the RCS, that took the Department of National Defence (DND) to court for its role in the tainted-water scandal. In July 2021, after nearly two decades of back-and-forth in the court system, including a failed appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada by DND, an appeals court judge gave RCS and its lawyers a year to find as many claimants as possible. That deadline was later pushed back another year.
A full list of eligible addresses can be consulted at recoursshannontce.com, but advocates worry that the website, local media and word-of- mouth networks aren’t enough to reach the estimated 400 remaining claimants.
For much of the past year, veteran and former Shannon resident Ed Sweeney has been part of a team of “claims hunters,” spending countless hours trawling the internet and phone directories to reach claimants. Many military families have moved multiple times or split up in recent years, making claimant tracking a challenge. “I was hired because of my military background … civilians sometimes take no for an answer, but I don’t,” Sweeney said. “I can tell [a veteran], ‘I don’t care if you’re no longer speaking to your ex; in 1995, she was your military wife and she was raising your kids and she drank that water, so you’re going to give me her number.’ The government has the means to track you down if you owe them money, but in this case, they’ve made it hard because they don’t want to have to pay…so we have to get this message out. At midnight on July 15, that’s it.”
Sweeney and Bernier emphasize that each claimant must file separately – married couples can’t make a joint claim – and that claims can be initiated by the deadline even if claimants don’t have all the necessary supporting documents on hand.
If you believe you or someone you know is eligible for compensation, visit recoursshannontce.com or contact the law office of Charles Veilleux & associés at 418-527-5257 as soon as possible. Proof that you lived at a given Quebec address for a given period can be obtained on demand from the Régie d’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) or the Société d’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ).