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ACVA Committee Report

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Supplementary report of the NDP on Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: a Family Purpose

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention – Strengthening Recommendations:

The genesis of this report came out of the committee’s previous study on service delivery.  The testimony heard during the previous study highlighted the urgency and critical nature of the impact of mental health on the veteran community.  Testimony heard during the study on mental health and suicide prevention underscores the need for improved access to mental health care for veterans. 

New Democrats believe that the testimony heard and outlined in the report Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: a Family Purpose warrants the following recommendations:

The NDP recommends that Veterans Affairs Canada fast-track its study of dog therapy by taking into account international research, and implement a dog therapy program with national standards.

The NDP recommends that Veterans Affairs Canada make available training in military sexual trauma to all OSI clinics personnel, and ensure that each OSI clinic has at least one staff member with training and experience in treating military sexual trauma. 

Mefloquine and its Impacts on Mental Health:

The Minister’s office requested that the committee also look at Mefloquine as part of this study. This supplementary report highlights some of the testimony heard on mefloquine and strengthens the recommendations made by the committee.   

During the committee hearings New Democrat members heard many witnesses describe their experience with mefloquine and its impact on serving CF members, veterans and their families.  The testimony also highlighted significant flaws in the mefloquine clinical trial in which Canadian military personnel participated.  Witnesses testified that they were not provided with a choice about which anti-malarial drug they could take, and that the adverse effects impacted their sleep and behaviour. Testimony outlined a picture of the significant long term impacts of mefloquine as seen by their health care providers and the veterans themselves. 

Dr. Remington Nevin highlighted the shortfalls of the supposed Canadian drug trial for the anti-malarial drug, mefloquine:

One important point I think we should emphasize is that Canada's first experience with this drug was part of a safety study that was conducted in the early 1990s and through which the Department of National Defence gained access to large quantities of mefloquine for use during the early months of the Somalia mission. It was not a licensed drug in 1992 and into the first weeks of 1993 when many service members started taking the drug and deployed to Somalia.
The Department of National Defence's access to that drug was contingent on participating in a safety study that should have informed the licensing of the drug, should have informed the content of the product label, should have informed physicians of the side effects that would be experienced with regular use of that drug.
You ask what studies were done. The study that should have been done on military personnel was not done, and the drug was licensed without the benefit of what, in retrospect, probably was very important information.[1]

The Auditor General, in 1999, issued a report that underscores the testimony of Dr. Nevin and highlights the failures of the drug trial[2].  

Veterans who took the drug described their experience regarding informed consent,  veteran Jason Roy Hoeg who was deployed to Uganda in 1996, out lined his experience: “When we were given this drug, we were told it was to be the only antimalarial that we would have on our deployment. We were told to read the instructions that accompanied each box of pills, but no one mentioned the adverse side effects that this drug might cause.”[3]

Another veteran, Hervey Blois, who served in Somalia, stated: “I was never told what these known adverse effects were, nor was I ever told to discontinue the drug if any of these adverse effects developed.”[4]

The committee heard further testimony that on the day a battalion took their dose of mefloquine the collective impact of the side effects and nightmares that followed were referred to as “mefloquine Mondays”.[5]

Marjorie Matchee, the wife of veteran Clayton Matchee, shared her experience of how the drug affected her husband before he left for the mission in Somalia. Days before his departure he told her “We have to take this drug for malaria. … I tried to get used to it, but I don’t think I am ever going get used to this shit. You see things when you sleep. You see it in the daytime too. You can’t shut your eyes to it.”[6]

Several witnesses expressed that they felt dishonour regarding the disbanding of the Airborne Regiment in the Somalia mission. Claude Lalancette, a veteran of that mission, stated:

Mefloquine was issued as an anti-malarial drug. This is where I can retrace the root of my mental health issues. … To this day, I feel the shame of the closure, ... Most of all, I feel shame because I put blame for the closure of the regiment on two individuals who are innocent: Clayton Matchee and Kyle Brown are victims.[7]

Another veteran, Corporal John Dowe, shared with the committee what he saw the night the Somali youth Shidane Arone died. His disturbing eyewitness account is critical as it highlights important details and the potential impact mefloquine might have had:

In the case of Shidane Arone, he had been caught about 15 times before. He was a repeat offender. Things were much more tense at that time . . .[W]e were told in our orders groupto rough up the prisoners and send a message, to throw them back over the wire and make them understand we meant business. Does that give licence to Master Corporal Matchee? Of course not.[8]
Shidane Arone was the prisoner in the bunker. … When I went inside the bunker, he was there with Kyle Brown, who was off to the side. Master Corporal Matchee was holding a wooden baton in his hand. … I was the lowest rank, … but he called me over. . .  [W]ith the wooden baton he lifted up Shidane Arone's head and I saw a bruised and bloody face. The lips were swollen; the nose looked somewhat busted.
… I didn't expect that the prisoner was in any sort of dire condition. … [M]y mind was thinking he just wanted to show me or tell me that we had a prisoner.  I guessed.  I didn’t really know why I was there. Then he looked down, Master Corporal Clayton Matchee, who had just finished showing me the prisoner, and all of a sudden he [Master Corporal Clayton Matchee] started whacking Shidane Arone across the thigh with the baton, and he started swearing and saying “Fucking spiders” – I apologize for my language – and he started beating the baton on the legs and moving backward and then turned around to the rear of the bunker, continually smacking that baton against the sides of the wall of the bunker. There were no camel spiders there.
What I experienced was Clayton Matchee in a state of hallucination, in a state of psychosis, in a state of severe aggression. Because he had turned around and was preoccupied with these camel spiders – and this all happened in a matter of seconds – I saw my opportunity to leave. … [I] started walking the hell away. … I just wanted to go back to bed. […]
After 58 minutes . . in my cot in my bed space away from the bunker . . . I couldn't sleep. I was still somewhat in shock over what had happened…
I saw a group of guys coming out and standing around that bunker that I'd been to an hour or so before. They were trying to revive Shidane Arone, who was now completely prone on the ground, unresponsive. They threw water on top of him, trying to revive him. They could not.
I knew Clayton Matchee prior to the tour, so I have the ability to understand exactly what state Clayton Matchee was in at that moment, and what was going on. His beating camel spiders that weren't there is absolutely hallucinogenic and so was the psychosis of the rage he was in.[9]

Later in his testimony, Mr. Dowe expressed his impressions further:

Master Corporal Matchee experienced psychosis, hallucinations, and uncontrollable rage, which, being impaired by a drug and enabled by an unlawful order, put him over the edge. When he came to and realized what he was facing, what was happening with him, it was too much, and he tried to commit to suicide.
Kyle Brown faced the opprobrium of an entire nation. He was the scapegoat for the entire tour. … Kyle is having difficulty trying to come to grips with all of this. He wants to be happy. He understands that there's a lot out there today that will speak a lot greater to what he had to suffer that night and what he continues to suffer to this day.
Absolutely, Clayton Matchee's family have indeed, I believe, suffered the most because he's not entirely lucid to understand what's going on with him anymore. It's Marj, his wife, and it's the Matchee family, the mum and the dad, and the community, all of them, who have had to wear this.[10]

The NDP is surprised that research was not conducted to determine any possible link between mefloquine and the actions of our military personnel in Somalia overall, and also more specifically the possible impact on the actions of Master Corporal Matchee and Private Brown. As Dr. Remington Nevin explained to the committee:

The Somalia commission of inquiry really revolved around the central issue of the effects of unusual behaviour. The commission was terminated before the plausible effects of mefloquine in contributing to that unusual behaviour were fully investigated. I think we know now much more about those effects than we did even at the time. So there could be some utility to reopening the investigation, in light of our new understanding of the dangers of the drug and also what has subsequently been learned about the inappropriate use of mefloquine as an experimental drug during the early months of that mission. [11]

The NDP believe that a more thorough study should have been conducted to better identify the true impact mefloquine could have played in on this tragic episode in Canada’s military history and on the veterans who, feel the effects of this drug to this day.

In her brief to the committee, Val Reyes-Santiesteban, blames mefloquine for the suicide of her son, Corporal Scott Smith, in Rwanda on Christmas Day in 1994.[12]

The NDP recommends that the Government of Canada mandate an independent body to establish or rule out any connection between the mefloquine taken by Canadian CF Members and the tragic events that lead to the death of Shidane Arone in Somalia.

The NDP further recommends that the Government of Canada, initiate a study to determine the long-term neurotoxicity of mefloquine and report its findings back to parliament by December 1, 2018.

[1] ACVA, Evidence, 25 October 2016, 1720 (Dr. Remington Nevin, As an Individual).

[2] Auditor General of Canada, April 1999, “National Defence and Health Canada:  Non-compliance with conditions and inadequate monitoring with respect to the pre-licensing use of an anti-malarial drug.”

[3] Mr. Jason Roy Hoeg, Brief, published 20 February 2017. 

[4] Mr. Hervey Blois, Brief, published 27 October 2016. 

[5] ACVA, Evidence, 25 October 2016, 1110 (Dr. Elspeth Ritchie (As an Individual). 

[6] Marjorie Matchee, Brief, published January 16, 2017. 

[7] ACVA, Evidence, 27 October 2016, 1540 (Mr. Claude Lalancette, Veteran, As an Individual). 

[8] ACVA, Evidence, 27 October 2016, 1650–55 (Mr. John Dowe, Advocate, International Mefloquine Veterans’ Alliance).

[9] ACVA, Evidence, 27 October 2016, 1650–55 (Mr. John Dowe, Advocate, International Mefloquine Veterans’ Alliance).

[10] ACVA, Evidence, 27 October 2016, 1725 (Mr. John Dowe, Advocate, International Mefloquine Veterans’ Alliance).  

[11] ACVA, Evidence, 25 October 2016, 1720 (Dr. Remington Nevin, As an Individual).

[12] Ms. Val Reyes-Santiesteban, Brief, published 16 January 2017.