LEVIS, Que. - Armed with little more than a sleeping bag and a few pillows, a former soldier who says he was poisoned while serving overseas started a hunger strike on Saturday outside the riding office of Canada's veterans affairs minister.
Pascal Lacoste blames his declining health, including chronic pain and a degenerative neurological disorder, on depleted-uranium poisoning he believes he contracted in Bosnia in the 1990s.
The 38-year-old Quebec City resident began fasting at noon Saturday and vowed not to eat again until Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney recognizes that he and other soldiers were contaminated with depleted uranium.
That would allow Lacoste to be covered for the decontamination treatment he requires at a U.S. hospital, he said.
"I had a big breakfast this morning and now I won't eat or drink water, and I'm waiting for the minister's decision," he said in a phone interview. "I'm ready to fight for justice."
The Veterans Affairs department maintains it's unlikely any Canadian soldiers were contaminated with depleted uranium because few, if any, ever came into contact with it while in service.
In a statement, Blaney's spokesman Jean-Christophe de le Rue said that specialists are available to help Lacoste.
Blaney is planning to meet with Lacoste on Sunday, he said.
Lacoste chained himself to his SUV outside the minister's riding office in Levis, Que., across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.
When it gets cold, he plans to take a break inside the vehicle.
Caroline Gregoire, Lacoste's roommate and friend, said she has rented a room nearby to help.
"He will never be alone," she said. "We have everything ready, with pillows and sleeping bags."
Lacoste said he hopes to help other military vets who might be poisoned with depleted uranium but don't even know it.
His doctor said tests have shown he does have an unusually high level of uranium in his hair — but an independent radiation expert questions the reliability of the testing.
Concern that soldiers may have been contaminated with depleted uranium has been a controversial topic for years.
Major international bodies, like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, have published reports saying there is no scientific evidence to link depleted uranium to health problems.
According to Veterans Affairs, tests performed a decade ago on around 200 returning soldiers did not find any toxic levels.
Depleted uranium, a leftover of uranium processing, has been used to make some types of munitions and military armour.
The dense, low-cost metal was used in conflicts such as the Balkans and the first Gulf War, where Canadian troops were on the ground.
It is only believed to be harmful if dust from spent ammunition or damaged armour is ingested or inhaled.