John is a Canadian veteran who describes himself as “a commando, a boxer, an activist and a humanist.” He spent ten years in the Canadian Forces, from 1990-2000, reaching the rank of Master Corporal. In 1993 John deployed to Somalia with the Canadian Airborne Regiment and was a first-hand witness to the controversial events that became known as the Somalia Affair, in which members of the unit who were subjects in an unethical drug trial committed numerous acts of violence against local civilians while experiencing the psychotic side effects of mefloquine. These included the aftermath of the beating to death of Shidane Arone by Clayton Matchee. Following Arone’s beating, Kyle Brown, the longest witness, commented to John, “This is not who I am, John.”
Like many others, John experienced severe personality changes after taking mefloquine. He was eventually misdiagnosed with a chronic illness and released under the controversial ‘Universality of Service’ policy – a flawed Release Policy still in effect today. Years later in 2008, he would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His final posting was at the Royal Canadian School of Infantry, attached with the Small Arms Training Cell testing a new Small Arms Training System being introduced into the military. After leaving the military in 2000 John taught English for 3 years in Korea, married in Thailand and backpacked the world with his spouse, then settled in Toronto in 2005. In recent years he has helped to establish various start-up businesses, then took on the role of full-time advocate/activist once he learned about the neglect in Veterans Affairs, the mefloquine controversy, and the unresolved impact of the unethical Somalia drug trials on former members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, including Kyle Brown. Listen to his recent interview below.
Despite mefloquine being a known neurotoxicant, John believes that the role this drug played in the Somalia Affair and the disbandment of his former regiment are yet to take the proper place in the historical record. The injustice of this, the scapegoating of his former brothers in arms, and the continued use of mefloquine in the Canadian Forces to this day, have prompted him to become actively involved in advocacy for Canada’s mefloquine veterans. He was also instrumental in the recent establishment of the International Mefloquine Veterans’ Alliance. John recently wrote this perspective on those events:
“It is my belief that the effects of the drug mefloquine has not borne full account in the tragic circumstances of:
- Shidane Arone’s death.
- The wrongful imprisonment of Trooper Kyle Brown.
- The misplaced opprobrium, shame and subsequent disbandment of a proud historical Airborne Regiment.
- The chronic effects on reasoning and decision making in my daily life.
“As a member of 2 Commando, The Canadian Airborne Regiment, I was one of the soldiers who witnessed the psychotic reaction of Master Corporal Matchee, and was ordered by him to remain and observe the carrying out of a standing, unlawful order. I carry with me the weight of that event to this day, and am haunted by it every day. In Brian Bergman and Luke Fisher’s piece titled appropriately enough ‘A night of Terror’ (Maclean’s, March 1994 ) the authors ominously wrote how ‘Canadians may never know the full story of what happened that March night of the 16th … they will almost certainly never understand why some members of Canada’s elite military force behaved so abominably.’
“I believe I now understand why. Like the piece mentioned above, we in the Commando also called March 16th ‘Fright Night’. Then again, we called every Tuesday night that nickname – it was the weekday of issue for mefloquine. I have just recently connected with Trooper Brown and we have spoken at length. Prior, we had been separated after the incident for 21 years through his imprisonment, life, and other circumstances. Further, the psychologically dissociative symptoms from PTSD – and the lasting effects of mefloquine – conspired to prevent our meeting and subsequent discussion to break-down these events and grasp all the variables.
“Time’s objective lens and new positive, supportive facts have also highlighted the need for further investigation. It is therefore my intention, with the full support and co-operation of Mr Brown, to determine all causal factors involved in the play of actions of that frightful evening. Many families’ lives, military careers and no less than the full honour of a disbanded Canadian regiment, are owed a full account that your help – and the possible help of other supportive voices – will provide to this imperative. So we all can understand why … and heal.”