Canadian soldiers allege anti-malaria medication left them with intense rage, suicidal ideations
KINGSTON, ONT. -- Richard Schumann always wanted to be a soldier.
Sitting in his bungalow in Kingston, Ont., his eyes light up when sharing his memories of being a child with a dream.
“I think I was probably about four or five. It was always a dream of mine to join the military,” he said.
Schumann’s answers about his childhood, his early career in the reserves and then his deployment to Afghanistan are cautious because he knows in this interview I will take him to places he has spent the last decade trying to forget.
I met Schumann last spring at a town hall in Kingston, organized by Toronto law firm, Howie, Sacks and Henry, which has launched unprecedented legal action against the Canadian government and the Department of National Defence.
The allegations: That soldiers in Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan were left with serious and long-lasting side effects from the anti-malaria drug they were forced to take.
Mefloquine, sold under the brand name Lariam, was considered cheaper and more efficient because it only needed to be taken once a week, instead of daily. But the soldiers allege they were never told that the drug would leave them struggling, years later, with intense rage, memory issues, ringing in the ears, violent night terrors and suicidal ideation.
In a statement to W5, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said, “We take the health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces members very seriously. The Canadian Forces Health Services Group will continue to monitor the scientific evidence… and any future scientific research will be thoroughly reviewed and incorporated in our policy when appropriate.”
Schumann has never spoken publicly about the impact the drug has had on his life. And when he told me his story that day in Kingston, Ont., it sent him on a downward spiral. In email conversations afterwards, Schumann told me it had undone months of therapy. And yet, Schumann decided he wanted to take part in the W5 documentary titled "The Guinea Pig Soldiers," believing it was his duty to inform Canadians about the drug and to hold the government to account.
To prepare for the interview, Schumann underwent intensive therapy in the days before we set up our cameras in his home. He had doctors and loved ones on standby to help him process reliving his nightmares, right after our interview was completed.
In a steady, powerful voice, Schumann told us his story: “It wasn't the Taliban that was going to kill me. It was damn near me that took my own life. Because of a God damn drug that they chose to poison us with."
Schumann is among almost 900 soldiers from three missions, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Somalia, who have signed on to the lawsuit, alleging that the Canadian government and the defence department “has and continues to, willfully deny and conceal the risk posed by Mefloquine.”
“Change needs to happen now,” Schumann tells me.
“And I guarantee you there will be more unanswered suicides because the government refused to own what they have done.”