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No jail sentence for soldier’s violent rampage

Judge gives credence to argument stop-smoking drug was factor

Research has indicated Champix can be linked to spontaneous thoughts and acts of aggression.

DEBRA BRASH / POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES Enlarge Image

Research has indicated Champix can be linked to spontaneous thoughts and acts of aggression.

A Canadian Forces soldier who became violent after he abruptly quit taking a stop-smoking drug has avoided jail time, along with a career-killing criminal record — if he keeps his nose clean.

The corporal, 30, abruptly went on a rampage in and around his Olive Street home on the night of Oct. 12, 2011.

He confined and assaulted his then-girlfriend, shot up his television and went to a neighbour’s home while brandishing guns he legally owned given his position in the military.

At the heart of the case was the issue of the role the drug Champix played in the events.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Shawn Greenberg ruled this week the soldier’s "bizarre behaviour" was "likely induced" by the drug.

Aside from a conviction stemming from a bar fight years ago, he had no history of violence or aggression, mental-health concerns or addictions issues.

He’d also qualified for a restricted firearms-acquisition licence and was meticulous about their proper storage and care, court heard.

The soldier said he remembered nothing of what happened that night.

He spent eight days in jail after his arrest, a time he called "the scariest days of his life" because he didn’t remember what he’d done to get there.

Prosecutors offered a plea deal after concluding there was a serious possibility many "specific intent" gun charges were unprovable due to the possibility he was in the involuntary throes of side-effects of a combination of Champix and liquor at the time of his outburst. They still sought a year-long jail term, a position Greenberg rejected.

"There is strong evidence that the medication he was taking to stop smoking was a contributing factor to his behaviour," Greenberg wrote in her 11-page sentencing decision.

The soldier had used Champix before to quit smoking successfully for four months, said Greenberg.

After moving to Winnipeg, he started smoking again and resumed taking the drug in another effort to quit.

Three days before his outburst, he stopped taking it without consulting his doctor.

In reaching her decision, Greenberg reviewed a 2010 clinical study regarding varenicline (branded as Champix in Canada) and its side-effects.

The study’s authors concluded the data they examined had "several characteristics" that gave "scientific weight" to growing evidence the drug "is associated with unprovoked acts and thoughts of aggression/violence toward others," her decision states.

Based on this, Greenberg said she seriously considered nullifying the solider’s guilty pleas but ultimately elected not to.

He’s long since put himself on the path of rehabilitation by quitting drinking and taking alcohol-abuse counselling, she said.

She handed him a year-long conditional discharge, with requirements he get counselling as directed by probation officials and not drink nor take Champix. If he follows the rules for the year, he will not have a criminal record.

Jailing him now would be "detrimental" to the recovery he’s made and ruin his military career, said Greenberg.

His ex — who remains his friend — described him as a "very caring and heartfelt man" whose behaviour that night was completely out of character.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, June 20, 2014 at 6:20 AM CDT:
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