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Last Updated

03 Jan 2003

Source: Reuters, April 11, 2002.

Canada Military Drops Anthrax-Vaccine Court Martial

By Kanina Holmes

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The controversial court martial case of a former Canadian soldier who refused to take an anthrax vaccine ended on Thursday after the military decided to drop the proceedings.

The director of military prosecutions determined that it was not in the public interest or the Canadian Forces interest to proceed," said Captain Bruce MacGregor, a spokesman for the Department of National Defense.

Mike Kipling, a former sergeant, was charged by the Canadian Armed Forces in 1998 with failing to obey an order after he refused to be inoculated with the anthrax vaccine.

Kipling had been about the embark for a mission near the borders of Iraq, where stockpiles of the potentially lethal bacteria had been found.

Kipling, a 26-year veteran, said he was concerned about the long-term side effects of the vaccine, which was not licensed for use in Canada. Kipling said previous shots had made him feel ill.

The Department of National Defense tried to court martial Kipling in 2000, even after he became a civilian.

Canada's top military magistrate quashed those proceedings, accepting Kipling's argument that his human rights had been violated.

The military appealed that decision, and in January of this year, won the right from a civilian court to retry the 47-year-old former flight engineer.

MacGregor said Thursday's decision to not proceed came after reviewing the evidence to determine whether it supported a reasonable prospect of conviction and was in the public interest to continue.

The military's policy on public interest includes looking at the age of the charge, how frequently it crops up among members and its impact on discipline.

"I guess the reason they didn't go to trial was that they were scared of losing," Kipling told Reuters from his home in Winnipeg. "I'll consider this a victory."

Hundreds of U.S. soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf in the 1990s have reported getting sick with symptoms of the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome. Many blame anthrax vaccine.

The Defense Department has charged about 350 military personnel who rejected the series of shots with refusing to obey an order.

The military tribunal in Winnipeg heard that some batches of the anthrax vaccine, manufactured at a U.S. plant and given to Canadian troops, were nine years old, unsterile and incorrectly labeled. Canadian military lawyers said there was no scientific proof the vaccine was unsafe.

Kipling's lawyer said that even though the case is now closed, it could still have far-reaching implications.

"I don't think now that any member will be forced to take a vaccine. I don't think they've done it since Mike Kipling and I don't think they'll ever do it again as a result of this case," said Jay Prober, Kipling's lawyer.

A statement by the Department of National Defense on Thursday said it remained prepared to order mandatory vaccinations when required by operational circumstances.