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Stop-smoking drug to blame?

Military man quit it, then went on rampage

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Some say Champix can have bad psychological side effects. Health Canada has issued advisories on it.

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Some say Champix can have bad psychological side effects. Health Canada has issued advisories on it.

A Canadian Forces member who terrified his girlfriend and neighbours in a violent outburst may have gone free after trial due to the possibility he was having side-effects from a stop-smoking drug, court heard Monday.

The military man, 29, was arrested in October 2011 after causing a major scare inside and around his former Olive Street home.

He assaulted his then-girlfriend, shot up his TV, then turned up on his neighbour's property brandishing two guns -- one pointed at their kitchen window.

He had no pre-existing mental-health concerns or history of drug use and had qualified for a restricted-firearms acquisition licence. Due to the nature of his job, he legally possessed several guns and kept them in lockers at home.

He was meticulous about their care and storage and brought them out only at appropriate times, Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Shawn Greenberg was told in an agreed statement of facts.

However, three days before the incident, he didn't consult his doctor before stopping Champix (varenicline), a smoking-cessation drug some allege can lead to serious adverse psychological side-effects and has been the subject of Health Canada advisories.

'I'm a normal, law-abiding young man who had been taking prescription medication and had consumed alcohol'

Things came to a head on the night of Oct. 12, 2011 after he'd been sleepless for days and had consumed three or four drinks while watching a marathon of The Unit, a military-themed TV show.

His girlfriend said he'd appeared fine during the eventing, then she heard him smash his scotch glass.

She went to see what happened and found him with his shirt ripped up and bits of it strewn around the room.

"He was incoherently talking about nuclear weapons, guns and the state of the country," the statement of facts said. "At first, she thought he was joking around, but it eventually became clear to her that he was not joking."

The woman managed to get out of the house after being shoved several times. The fracas continued until she was able to get away.

"It was like he thought he was a character in the show The Unit and he was acting it out," she told a preliminary inquiry. "She also indicated that she has seen the accused drunk on many occasions, but has never seen him act like this."

After she left, the man had the first of two encounters with his neighbours. In the first, he showed up at their door "wobbling and babbling." He left and came back 20 minutes later to pound on their door, yelling and screaming.

Looking out the peephole, they saw him in their driveway armed with two guns -- one pointed right at their kitchen window. They hit the floor and crawled, terrified, to call 911 for help.

Police took him into custody after a short foot chase and found him in possession of a Glock handgun. A search of his home revealed six firearms and ammunition strewn about, along with the shot-out TV and a bullet lodged in the wall by a window.

The home was in "complete disarray." He told police he remembered little of the event but admitted drinking.

He entered guilty pleas to simple assault and for a weapons offence.

Given the possible effects of the Champix on him, the Crown stayed several charges he faced that involved having to prove "specific intent."

"There was a very real prospect that he may have been acquitted," prosecutor Mike Desautels said.

He might have argued the rarely used legal defence of automatism -- that he was oblivious to his illegal actions -- and won, Greenberg was told.

The Crown is seeking a year in jail for the man. Defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk is seeking a suspended sentence, noting the man has engaged a "host of counselling" and other supports since he was charged and released on bail. He was prescribed Champix after agreeing to take part in a military "butt out" campaign aimed at preserving the health of soldiers, Sawchuk said.

His former girlfriend had also taken Champix but stopped because of "adverse reaction," Sawchuk said. "What's frightening about this is that anyone who wants to quit smoking can go to the doctor and get prescribed this," he said. "But anyone could be a potential victim of the side-effects that are quite frequent."

The telecommunications linesman apologized profusely in court to the victims. "I'm a normal, law-abiding young man who had been taking prescription medication and had consumed alcohol," he said. "For that, I'm sorry to every person I hurt and scared that horrible night."

Greenberg will sentence him later this year.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2014 B2

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