07/28/2015 01:15 EDT | Updated 07/29/2015 09:59 EDT

Valcartier 1974 Grenade Explosion Survivors Mistreated: Ombudsman

The report comes 41 years after a live grenade was mistakenly mixed in with inert explosives in a training exercise.

MONTREAL — Gerry Fostaty was five steps away from the entry to the barracks at CFB Valcartier on July 30, 1974, when a grenade exploded inside, triggering widespread carnage that would leave a lasting impact on dozens of people.

The 18-year-old platoon sergeant was shielded from the blast by his commander who was standing in the door frame, but more than 130 boys sitting cross-legged on the floor were not as lucky.

"It was an absolutely horrific scene,'' Fostaty said in an interview from Toronto on Tuesday.

"The room was full of smoke, people lying on top of each other. There were boys covered in blood, screaming. The majority of people in the room were covered in blood and flesh — they were covered in their friends. It became (my) job to get those boys out of that room.''

The tragedy, in which six cadets died and 65 other people were injured, resurfaced as a news story Tuesday when the Canadian Forces' ombudsman released a blistering report into the treatment of those who survived the blast.

Gary Walbourne said cadets who suffered psychological and physical trauma from that day at the Quebec City-area base were not given the long-term care that regular Forces members received.

He concluded it was "unfair'' that cadets — who did not hold status in the Forces — were unable to receive care similar to what was offered to full-fledged military members who were also injured in the tragedy.

He recommended the injured cadets be assessed medically and offered a reasonable care plan as well as "immediate and reasonable'' financial compensation.

The report was sparked by complaints he received in 2013.

The six cadets who died were between 14 and 15. Of the other 65 people injured, 62 were cadets.

The youngsters were passing around what were supposed to be inert explosive devices in the presence of members of the Forces. The live grenade was mistakenly mixed in with the devices and a cadet — after being told he could pull the pin — triggered the ammunition.

"Everyone was told not to speak of it again and they didn't,'' said Fostaty, who wrote the 2011 book, "As You Were, the Tragedy at Valcartier.''

"These were exemplary cadets and they were sent to the camp for a leadership course. They felt they were members of the military.''

In his interviews with injured former cadets, Walbourne learned they were told to not talk about what had happened.

It was only after ex-cadets "started to make connections'' on social media that they learned military members were given long-term care while many of the cadets weren't, the ombudsman added.

He said "at least 53 per cent'' of the cadets who witnessed the blast or who were injured by it "still seem to be suffering from physical and/or psychological injuries.''

His report concludes that "it goes against the principle of fairness to provide assistance, compensation and benefits to one group of individuals and to ignore the other ... and the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence should have done more to assist the young boys who were under their care.''

Defence Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement Tuesday he "accepted the ombudsman's recommendations.''

"I have therefore directed the Department of National Defence, in line with the ombudsman's recommendations, to offer assessments to all those who have been affected by this incident to determine the physical and psychological care they require,'' the statement said.

"Based on these assessments, we will ensure that the affected individuals have access to health care and compensation, where appropriate.''

Fostaty said he is happy the government is accepting the recommendations but he also expressed some caution.

"This is an election year and the election is three months away,'' he said. "We're hoping it won't be forgotten once the election takes place.''

Walbourne said he is conducting a full review of the cadet program to ensure that future members injured on bases receive proper long-term care "and to have a look to see if there is any other (situations) of cadets being treated unfairly.''

He said he expects his review of the program to be completed by the end of this fiscal year.

With files from Pierre St-Arnaud

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