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Mefloquine and ‘Somalia Affair’ raised as part of Saskatoon sexual assault trial

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The spectre of a controversial antimalarial drug given to Canadian soldiers starting three decades ago emerged earlier this month in a Saskatoon courtroom during the waning days of a sexual assault trial.

Mark Donlevy was previously found guilty at Court of Queen’s Bench of sexually assaulting a woman he met online in 2004. As the Crown and defence were making sentencing submissions to Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown last week, the former massage therapist’s military past was brought up.

Donlevy’s defence lawyer Alan McIntyre gave a character sketch of his client, describing how he was raised in Saskatoon, is now married, has no criminal record and has contributed to his community and country.

McIntyre then mentioned that Donlevy had served in Somalia in 1992, and had been given an antimalarial drug as part of that mission. Donlevy had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, adding that the drug had exacerbated that condition.

That drug, he later said, was mefloquine.

It was the first time during the trial that Donlevy’s military background had been raised. No expert witnesses had been called at trial, and no medical or military records tendered.

It was also the first suggestion that the antimalarial may have been an element influencing his behaviour.

The mention of mefloquine raises issues that still haunt the Canadian military today: Did the drug affect the soldiers who were given it as part of a clinical trial? Are those effects still felt today?

The Somalia Affair

In December 1992, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was sent to Somalia to help with a United Nations humanitarian mission. Four months after they arrived, a Somali teen named Shidane Abukar Arone was beaten and tortured to death by Canadian soldiers from the 2 Commando unit.

One of the two soldiers eventually charged in Arone’s death, Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee, of Saskatchewan, was later found hanging in his cell, and suffered irreparable brain damage as a result of the suicide attempt.

The Somalia Affair marked one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s military history, leading to court martials, a public inquiry and the disbandment of the Airborne regiment in 1995.

CAF veteran Dave Bona crossed paths with Mark Donlevy in Somalia. (CBC News)

It came out at the time that the soldiers in Somalia had been given mefloquine as part of a clinical trial before their deployment. Questions about whether the antimalarial may have played a role in the soldiers’ violent crimes were raised at the inquiry — but it wrapped up before those questions were answered.

Matchee’s wife has alleged that mefloquine drove her husband to « madness » and played a role in the torture.

Dave Bona, another Airborne veteran who has pushed the federal government to help soldiers who may have suffered side effects from mefloquine, remembers Donlevy being in Somalia with 2 Commando.

« I knew him in passing, through the junior ranks. You hung out with your own crew: I hung out with the 3 Commando guys, he was with the 2 Commando guys, » he told CBC News.

« He was pointed out to me in the junior ranks club, sort of, ‘Hey, there’s another guy from Saskatchewan.' »

Changing views

It’s taken almost three decades for the government’s views on mefloquine to evolve.

In 2016, Health Canada took a significant step in regards to mefloquine, said Cathay Wagantall, the Conservatives’ Veterans Affairs critic and MP for Yorkton-Melville in southeastern Saskatchewan.

« Two years ago … Health Canada quietly updated our monogram on [mefloquine] to include far more detail about serious problems that could impact an individual. Heart problems, mental problems, nervous system problems, » she said.

« Those symptoms or reactions could occur at any time, and may actually last for months or even years — and some may become permanent. »

Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall says Ottawa should be doing more to let soldiers who took mefloquine know about the drug’s potential side effects. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

In response to the growing scrutiny around mefloquine, the Canadian Armed Forces launched a review of the drug’s use, publishing a report in June 2017. Ultimately, the Forces found that while there is no evidence to suggest mefloquine causes long-term adverse effects on human health, it should not be prescribed as a first option for soldiers being deployed to malaria-affected regions.

Two other commonly prescribed antimalarials — Malarone (AP) and doxycycline — are now considered the preferred options.

Dr. Remington Nevin, a Vermont-based physician and military veteran, is at the forefront of research on mefloquine. He has studied the chronic effects of the drug, especially as a contributor to criminal behaviour, for more than a decade.

« In general, these cases involve an individual committing criminal acts some time distant from their exposure to mefloquine. Until recently, it was not felt it could not have any plausible, long-term effect, » he said.

« What does tend to occur is that individuals will suffer from delusions that may be seemingly mild, but could be sufficient to inform behaviour that could be criminal. These could be criminal delusions, these could be grandiose delusions. And the individual might otherwise seem fine, but they still could labouring under the effects of these mild delusions. »

Nevin said he’s not aware of any cases where the courts accepted mefloquine use a defence in a criminal case, even as a mitigating factor.

Donlevy case returns next month

Donlevy is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 15. Justice MacMillan-Brown may address whether his PTSD and mefloquine exposure were mitigating factors in her sentencing, or she may not touch on it all.

Donlevy, however, is not done with the courts.

In February 2019, he’ll stand trial at Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench on 11 counts of sexual assault alleged to have happened in his home between 2009 and 2016, when he worked as a massage therapist.

It’s not yet known whether his lawyer will again raise his experiences in the military, or mefloquine, as part of the defence.

Wagantall knows nothing about the specifics of Donlevy’s conviction and outstanding allegations. But she said she’s « absolutely not surprised » that a former Airborne member exposed to mefloquine is now before the courts facing serious criminal charges.

The drug damaged people and they need help, she said.

A first step, she suggested, is for Ottawa to contact soldiers who were given the drug and let them know of possible long-term effects, emphasizing that it is different than PTSD.

« We have a situation where, for years, 20 years, mefloquine was the go-to drug for our Canadian Armed Forces. They were required to take it, » she said. « And we know that it does potentially have this huge impact on people.

« And there’s been no communications to them to say, ‘You know what? If you are having any of these symptoms, go see your doctor.’ Because it mimics PTSD to a certain point, and that’s what they have basically been diagnosed with. »

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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