- Ex-warrant officer Matt Stopford has suffered since his
duties in Croatia, including the loss of vision in his right eye. - Norm
Betts, SUN The Canadian military thinks a soldier debilitated by mysterious
ailments was not a victim of possible PCB-contaminated sandbags while peacekeeping
in Croatia, but was being poisoned by his own men.
- In an extraordinary letter dated Aug.4 and hand-delivered
to retired Warrant Officer Matt Stopford, Brig.-Gen. Patricia Samson, the
Provost Marshal of the Armed Forces, writes: "Information has recently
come to light that indicates you may have been the victim of systematic
ingestion of naphtha gas during your tour to Croatia in 1993."
- Samson, the military's top cop, goes on to say it is
"alleged," and that the allegations "have some credence,"
that "minute amounts ... of naphtha gas were covertly put into your
coffee on a regular basis by other servicemen over an extended period of
time ... the majority of your time in theatre."
- She urges: "I implore you not to make this information
public at this time," because a "criminal investigation"
is being "vigorously" pursued.
- Stopford, living alone in Peterborough, says the letter,
delivered by Capt. Vince Mancini, Operations Officer of the National Investigation
Service (CFNIS), told him it was considered too sensitive for the mail
or phone and that as well as naphtha gas in his coffee, battery acid was
probably put in his food.
- Stopford says: "He seemed surprised at the contents
of the letter, and when I said I didn't believe it, he said: 'I thought
you'd say that.'"
- Mancini then asked what Stopford knew of the memorandum
removed from soldiers files to the effect that they had possibly been exposed
to bauxite-filled sandbags contaminated by PCBs.
- Stopford, once a super-fit soldier with no history of
malingering or medical problems, is a physical wreck following duty in
Croatia. His stomach is a mess, he bleeds from the rectum, his bones and
joints constantly ache, he's gone blind in his right eye, and has difficulty
breathing. Some days are worse than others, but all are bad.
- This, in a soldier who played on the army's national
soccer team and who recalls, "I could run 20Ks without breathing hard."
- One veteran of Croatia, who asked not to be identified
because he fears military retaliation, said: "It's inconceivable that
his troops would try to harm Stopford -- he was well-respected by subordinates,
by his peers and by his superiors. An excellent soldier, and a fine man."
- Retired Col. Michel Drapeau, former director-general
of DND's Executive Secretariat, says in 34 years in the military he's never
seen anything like this. "It's incredible, the letter maligns Stopford
as a leader and soldier by suggesting his men tried to 'frag' (kill) him,"
he says. "The letter is also an indictment against the soldiers of
his platoon. It is simply astonishing that the Provost Marshal would make
such allegations in a letter while a criminal investigation is under way
in what's a case of attempted murder."
- In her letter, Samson urges Stopford to tell his doctor
about possibly being poisoned, while "imploring" him not to go
- "I've thought about the letter, which really upsets
me," says Stopford. "It is so totally ludicrous that I decided
to go public. I've spoken to other guys in my platoon -- a lot of them
are sick since Croatia -- and they say they haven't been contacted by the
- One would think they'd have been contacted before telling
Stopford his men had tried to poison him.
- "In Croatia, Stopford's leadership was saving lives,
not risking them," one soldier said, unwilling to be identified.
- (As an aside, I've never known the Canadian military
so fearful of reprisals from above if they speak up -- in itself revealing.)
- "I know my men, the guys I served with, and if anyone
was out to get me, I'd have known it," says Stopford. "Besides,
how could you drink coffee with gasoline in it and not know? Gasoline floats
on water. As for battery acid in my food -- it makes no sense."
- Scott Taylor, publisher of the military magazine Esprit
de Corps and co-author of the book Tested Mettle, which first exposed the
possibility of Stopford and other soldiers being exposed to PCB-contaminated
soil and bauxite in sandbags in Croatia, says he was told yesterday that
"the whole 13th floor of DND (the executive floor) was in a flap over
this letter whose contents they weren't talking about."
- Stopford commanded a platoon of the Princess Pats in
Croatia involved with filling sandbags with possibly PCB-contaminated bauxite.
A memo put in every soldier's file by medical officer (Navy) Lieut. Eric
Smith to this effect was mysteriously removed from files.
- "Someone shoved a copy of the memo under my door
when I was a platoon commander in Calgary," says Stopford. "I
checked with my platoon and they'd all signed the memo, which had disappeared
from their files. So I made photocopies and gave them to the soldiers,
and told them to hold on to them and not put them in their files."
- Stopford was commended for his leadership in Croatia
-- one of the cool heroes of fighting in the Medak pocket against invading
Croatian military. Ironically, he saved lives rather than put troops at
- He feels he can no longer trust the army. "I'm fighting
Veterans Affairs for a disability pension, and I don't trust army doctors
who just gave me medications and said my sickness was all in my head. My
civilian doctor took me off medication, and I'm now seeing specialists
-- a toxicologist, neurologist, psychologist, rheumatologist, stomach doctor
and the like."
- As for his own troops trying to poison him, he thinks
the army is trying to absolve itself from responsibility for Croatia. "I
think they were hoping I'd snap -- lose it and go off the deep end. Otherwise
why would they tell me before they had fully investigated the case?"
- Commented one officer: "They're saying, in effect,
that Matt was such a son of a bitch his men wanted to kill him."
- Stopford lives on only his army pension, yet has the
same spirit of independence and personal pride he had as a soldier: "To
say I'm disappointed in the army puts it mildly. Instead of sending a doctor
or someone to help, they send a cop who says my own people were trying
to kill me. That's hard to swallow."
- Stopford is expected to hold a press conference in Ottawa
today concerning the Provost Marshal's extraordinary letter.
- Brig.-Gen. Patricia Samson was unavailable for comment.