Part 4: Some viewers may find this disturbing.
In the wake of what would come to be known as the “Somalia Affair”, the government ordered a commission of inquiry into the matter. It would be chaired by Justice Gilles Letourneau, who was a judge in the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. The commission’s mandate was:
involving an investigation into and a report upon the chain of command system, leadership, discipline, actions and decisions of the Canadian Forces as well as the actions and decisions of the Department of National Defence in respect of the Canadian Forces’ 1992-93 deployment to Somalia.
The commission was established by Order in Council 1995-442 in March of 1995 and was to have its report prepared no later than December 22 of that same year. The date was ultimately extended and public hearings were to continue until March 31, 1997. Despite this, the commission was still not able to complete its original mandate, having been shut down before it was able to hear evidence which would have ultimately changed the final outcome.
The decision to end the commission was the final controversy in a process that had been steeped in it from the beginning. The decision was viewed as being politically motivated, and would only fan the flames of suspicion of a cover-up which had ignited during the course of the inquiry. The short-lived Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Jean Boyle would end up resigning in disgrace after it was revealed that he had altered documents that had been released to the media.
Of particular importance to this story however, is the fact that the inquiry hadn’t been given the opportunity to hear more evidence relating to the role that mefloquine may have played in the mission. This was addressed in the final report of the commission, which was released in 1997, and is summarized in the report’s executive summary on page 39.
These excerpts are taken directly from the summary:
Some suggestion has been made to this Inquiry that mefloquine caused severe side effects, including abnormal and violent behaviour, among some Canadian Forces personnel in Somalia. We were not able to explore fully the possible impact of mefloquine. This would have required additional hearings dedicated specifically to the issue, which time did not permit. However, we report here our general findings about mefloquine and its possible impact on operations in Somalia. It is clear that mefloquine caused some minor problems in Somalia, as might be expected from a review of the medical literature. We learned of several incidents of gastro-intestinal upset, vivid dreams, nightmares referred to by soldiers as “meflomares”, and inability to sleep following the use of this drug. Side effects — or at least the minor side effects, and possibly also the major side effects — appeared to be most pronounced in the 24 to 48 hours after taking mefloquine. If mefloquine did in fact cause or contribute to some of the misbehaviour that is the subject of this Inquiry, CF personnel who were influenced by the drug might be partly or totally excused for their behaviour. However, for reasons described more fully in Chapter 41, we are not able to reach a final conclusion on this issue….
It is evident that further investigation is warranted before any firm conclusions about the role of mefloquine can be drawn.
Despite numerous calls for the inquiry to be reopened in order to address the mefloquine issue, the government does not seem to be inclined to do so anytime soon, and there is a growing sense that it would prefer this entire matter simply went away.
As was noted in the executive summary, personnel who were influenced by the drug might be excused for their behaviour. This is critical for those who believe, as I do, that Clayton Matchee and Kyle Brown should have their names cleared for their role in the torture and death of 16 year old Shidane Arone. These two men have had a lot of blame piled upon them, both for the events in Somalia and the subsequent disbandment of the Airborne Regiment. This blame needs to be removed, and their reputations restored.
As the number of prescriptions for mefloquine rose during the 1990’s, so to did the reports of adverse effects attributed to it. An ever increasing number of these reports began appearing in the literature, and stories in the North American news media were implicating mefloquine in a number of violent incidents, including murder/suicides.
In the wake of the war in Afghanistan, a number of horrific incidents have taken place in the United States and Canada involving mefloquine veterans, prompting calls for further investigation of the drug or for an outright ban on its use.
Then, reports began to come in from abroad, as military veterans from around the world began to come forward to tell of their own experiences with mefloquine. Current and former soldiers in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and several other countries had been experiencing the same symptoms as vets from the U.S. and Canada.
In life, there are times when all you can really say about something is “that’s just the way it is.” We say this in those moments over which we have little control and it is often said whilst dining on the proverbial shit sandwich.
It never dawns on you as you’re signing on the dotted line, but from that point on the government has complete control over you, unto death. The precept of unlimited liability doesn’t really have a static definition, and it can be stretched to whatever lengths governments see fit. Putting your life on the line for your country isn’t always like it is in the movies. Sometimes, the camp cook is in as much peril as the guy in a rifle company, or a clerk could face a greater danger sitting at his desk than a tank commander would on the battlefield. All too often, soldiers lives are put in greater peril by their own superiors than by the enemy they are up against.
Godparent of an (orphan?) disease
In the United States so-called “orphan” diseases are those conditions affecting fewer than 200,000 people nation-wide. In Canada, the equivalent is referred to as a “rare” disease and are those which affect one in twelve Canadians, two-thirds of whom are children. Because of their rarity, these diseases often receive little attention or funding for research, and in Canada quinism receives appallingly little attention (like none).
While quinism is certainly treated like an orphan disease at this moment, to classify it as one would be premature. Because the drug has been taken by tens of millions across the globe, there is a very real possibility that the number of people who now suffer from quinism may number in the hundreds of thousands. This highlights the great need for education and awareness efforts worldwide.
Although a growing number of people have come to realize that they have quinism, very few have received an official diagnosis. One of the reason for this is that in order to male the diagnosis, the patient’s complete medical history must be looked at, and it must be determined if in fact the patient even took mefloquine to begin with. This is then followed by a number of tests which can take months to schedule and complete, and many times patients have to travel significant distances to take these tests.
It can lead to a growing frustration among many veterans who ultimately just give up, bogged down by the system, and further traumatized by the machinations of a relentless bureaucracy.
For those with quinism however there is hope, and it comes in the form of Dr. Remington Nevin. He’s a retired Army Major who served as Preventive Medicine Officer, and has spent the last ten years dedicated to the research of the adverse effects caused by anti-malarial drugs. Chief among them for Nevin, is mefloquine.
Dr. Nevin is board certified in Occupational Medicine and Public Health and General Preventive Medicine by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners.
Dr. Nevin’s groundbreaking research has been published in a number of prestigious journals, and he is recognized as a leading authority on the subject. He is also the executive director of The Quinism Foundation, a non-profit organization he helped found. It’s mission is to support and promote research and education on quinism, and his efforts have given a sense of hope to tens of thousands across the globe. His efforts thus far have helped save countless lives.
Dr. Nevin was first to publish clinical descriptions of the permanent toxic syndrome of brain and brainstem dysfunction caused by the use of mefloquine, including limbic encephalopathyand neurotoxic vestibulopathy, and has collaborated on the first review of the drug’s adverse effects published in the forensic psychiatry literature, and the first case report of a U.S. military veteran awarded service-related disability compensation for long-lasting adverse psychiatric effects from the drug.
His work is far from over, as there is still a great deal of research to be done, particularly when it comes to finding a treatment or cure for quinism. Dr. Nevin is also leading the charge in the fight for public awareness of the disease and is a passionate advocate for its sufferers.
Your donation would mean a great deal
The Quinism Foundation was officially incorporated a mere 15 months ago, but it has made some great strides since then. While research is important part of the foundation’s work, a great deal of effort is being made in the areas of education and public awareness.
Right now, an untold number of people that could be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, are suffering from quinism but don’t know it yet. Some might have dismissed their symptoms, while others have been misdiagnosed, perhaps with PTSD. As a result many have not been given the proper medical treatment, which has resulted in a number of suicides, as well as the deaths of several innocent victims.
For many, finding out that there is hope for a situation they had previously thought hopeless, is enough to to pull them back from the brink and give them some of the answers they’ve spent years looking for.
Your donations can literally help save a life and restore hope in someone right now.
Coming up, in the 5th and final installment: Litigation and legacy.