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Stop-smoking drug likely contributed to soldier's violent outburst, judge rules

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Health Canada has issued advisories on Champix's negative side effects.

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Health Canada has issued advisories on Champix's negative side effects.

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 also 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 role the drug Champix played in the concerning 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 didn't remember what he'd done to get there.

Prosecutors ultimately offered a plea deal after concluding there was a serious possibility many "specific intent" gun charges he faced could not be proven because the soldier may have been he in the involuntary throes of side-effects of a combination of Champix and some 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 first.

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 that data they examined had "several characteristics" that gave "scientific weight" to growing evidence that 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 take 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 would 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.

The neighbours he terrified also support him and didn't want him to lose his job, Greenberg said.

"(His) superiors in the Canadian Forces are supportive and want him to continue to serve in the armed forces," she wrote. "He has been described as an exemplary soldier with a promising future ahead of him. That would be destroyed by a term of incarceration."

Under the terms of a prior court order, the soldier can only possess weapons when supervised by superior officers.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 8:06 PM CDT: Clarifies the terms of the conditional sentence.

10:00 PM: Fixes medication name

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