David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
The Defence Department has cut down on its use of rodents and pigs for research and experiments but says realistic instruction for its medical personnel still requires live animals to be wounded during training and later killed.
In 2018 the department used 882 animals, such as mice, rats and pigs, for training and experimentation, down from the 4,000 animals used in 2009, according to figures provided by the Department of National Defence and government records obtained by Postmedia.
The animals are used by Defence Research and Development Canada for assessment of emerging chemical and biological threats and by military personnel for what is known as “live tissue training,” according to a 2016 briefing for Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance.
In such a scenario the animals are anesthetized and then wounded. Military medical staff treat the wounds in order to gain experience. After the training the animals are killed.
“The Department of National Defence currently uses live tissue where necessary to provide advanced military medical training for specific operational requirements,” the department stated in an email to Postmedia.
But the DND is trying to reduce the use of animals as much as possible by using different experimental techniques and making use of simulators that can replicate a human patient, according to the 2016 briefing note. That has allowed for the drop to 2,000 animals in 2015 from 4,000 in 2009, the documents noted.
“The life-saving experiences, confidence and skills acquired by our young medical technicians using live tissue remain critical components of their curriculum,” Vance was told.
Various animal rights groups have been trying over the years to convince the DND and Canadian Forces to stop any kind of testing on animals and to use the simulators instead. The Animal Alliance of Canada has an on-going letter-writing campaign to try to convince Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to put an end to using animals.
The organization noted that Canada is one of the few NATO nations that continues to use animals. Most NATO countries are using high-tech simulators which, unlike animals, accurately mimic human physiology and anatomy.
In its response to Postmedia the DND stated that it is “actively working to assess and validate the effectiveness of simulation technologies as part of our objective to find equal or superior alternatives to live tissue training in casualty care training.”
It noted that Health Canada regulations stipulate that new drugs or medical techniques can't be used on humans without going through pre-clinical trials “that scientifically test their efficacy and toxicity using non-human models.”
The Canadian military has a long history of experimenting on animals, exposing them to various chemical and biological warfare agents and more recently developed weapons.
In the 1980s the use of animals became controversial after details of a number of military experiments were made public. Monkeys were used at defence facilities in Suffield, Alta., for experiments involving nerve gas antidotes. In 1983 researchers at the University of Ottawa made headlines after their experiments for the DND on dogs became known. Twenty specifically bred beagles were exposed to high levels of radiation to make them vomit. They were then killed and their organs removed for study. The DND research was aimed at finding a cure for nausea.
In 2012, Defence Research and Development Canada subcontracted testing of a new taser projectile to a U.S. university. The projectiles were fired at pigs, according to documents obtained by Postmedia outlining experiments on “conducted energy weapons.”
That same year, a study in the journal Military Medicine revealed that Canada was only one of six NATO countries still using animals in its experiments.