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Politics Two law firms to represent soldiers and veterans who said they are suffering from side effects of mefloquine

A photo and boots of Master Corporal Clayton Matchee and other soldiers placed on the front steps of Parliament during an anti-malarial drug mefloquine rally on Sept. 19, 2017, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Military veterans who were ordered to take the anti-malarial drug mefloquine while on deployment and believe they suffered harmful side effects are being urged to sue the federal government for compensation.

Two different law firms are about to commence legal action.

Howie, Sacks and Henry (HSH), a personal-injury firm based in Toronto, is preparing to launch individual suits on behalf of any current or former member of the military who was required to take mefloquine on any deployment and believes he or she has experienced a debilitating impact.

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And Larmer Stickland, lawyers based in North Bay, Ont., plan to soon file papers in a proposed class-action suit for veterans of the Somalia mission of the early 1990s who were part of an improperly conducted clinical trial of the drug.

A suit launched in 2000 on behalf of the Somalia vets was dismissed in April because it took too long to be heard. But Justice Robbie Gordon, the Ontario Superior Court judge who threw out that case, said in his ruling that “dismissal for delay does not preclude a subsequent class proceeding by another representative.”

Larmer Stickland has found another lead plaintiff and is preparing to proceed.

HSH, meanwhile, is collecting names of potential clients, along with their medical records, and intends to begin filing statements of claim early in the New Year.

“We’re going to launch a lawsuit on behalf of each individual member or veteran who was forced to take mefloquine and is now facing brain injury issues due to the neurotoxicity of the drug that they were never warned about,” said Paul Miller, a partner with the firm. “This could include the people who were in Somalia, and anyone who has ever taken mefloquine.”

By taking the government to court as individuals as opposed to being part of a class action, plaintiffs have the opportunity to give direct instructions to their lawyer and to have their own day in court, Mr. Miller said.

The military did not respond to requests for comments about the lawsuits.

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The Canadian Forces conducted a review of the drug in 2016. It concluded there is no evidence that mefloquine causes long-lasting problems. But the military also decided at that time that alternative drugs were the preferred options for soldiers who deploy to countries where malaria is a risk.

Health Canada updated the warning labels for mefloquine that same year to emphasize that certain side effects can persist for months after the drug has been discontinued, and may be permanent in some patients.

Soldiers who have taken mefloquine have complained about a wide range of mental-health issues including depression, aggressive behaviour, poor concentration, social isolation and suicidal thoughts.

Earlier this year, a U.S. army sergeant blamed the drug for his massacre of 16 villagers in Afghanistan in 2012. In 2017, the Irish government settled a case with one of its former soldiers who says he was suffering the neurological effects of having consumed mefloquine.

And, in this country, veterans have asked the government to reopen an inquiry into the 25-year-old killing of a Somali teenager by Canadian soldiers who were taking the drug.

John Dowe was in Somalia with the Canadian Forces when the teen was beaten to death. He says he is aware of both legal actions and says the two sets of lawyers will compare notes to ensure they do not overlap each other’s work.

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Mr. Dowe says he is still dealing with the effects of the mefloquine he took in Somalia, on top of his post-traumatic stress disorder which has some similar symptoms including hypervigilance, anxiety and insomnia.

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