Defence says side effects from smoke meds caused outburst — (Winnipeg Sun)

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Winnipeg Sun

By Dean Pritchard, Winnipeg Sun

First posted:

Prosecutors are recommending a one-year jail sentence for a Winnipeg soldier who assaulted his girlfriend during a psychotic episode linked to his use of a controversial smoking cessation medication.

Malcolm Gallant, 30, pleaded guilty to assault in connection with the Oct. 13, 2011 incident. Prosecutors stayed a number of firearm offences in a plea bargain that spared Gallant what could have been a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.

Gallant had been prescribed Champix in March 2011 and continued to take the drug until four days prior to the assault. Some reports have linked the smoking cessation medication to suicide or suicidal thoughts in some users and a wide range of other side effects including depression and hallucinations.

“What’s frightening about this is that anyone who wants to quit smoking can go to the doctor and get prescribed this, but anyone could be a potential victim of side effects that are quite frequent,” said defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk, who recommended Gallant receive a suspended sentence.

According to an agreed statement of facts submitted to court, Gallant had been drinking at his Olive Street home and watching the television show The Unit (about a military counter-terrorism unit) when he smashed his drink glass, tore his shirt to shreds and threw his cell phone against the wall.

When Gallant’s girlfriend tried to leave the house for work Gallant was “adamant” that she stay and “kept referencing the television show… asking her who she wanted to be.”

Gallant repeatedly shoved the woman to the floor when she tried to leave. The woman escaped the house through a bedroom window only to return when she realized she didn’t have her car keys.

Gallant chased the woman through the house and out to her car where he assaulted her again and forced her back into the house. Gallant yelled at the woman “Tell me what is in a shell or I will kill you.”

At a preliminary hearing the woman testified “it was like he thought he was a character in the show The Unit and he was acting it out,” according to the agreed statement of facts.

Gallant released the woman and sometime later banged on his neighbor’s door, yelling the names Hector and Norman, characters from The Unit. When the male resident looked through a peephole he saw Gallant with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other pointed at the kitchen window. The man and his wife “hit the floor” and called 911.

Police arrived and arrested Gallant after a short foot chase.

Police searched Gallant’s house and found four firearms and ammunition scattered about the house and a gunshot hole in the television. Gallant’s girlfriend told police all the firearms had been safely locked up prior to the incident.

“The potential for harm in this case was extremely high,” Crown attorney Shannon Benevides told court. Benevides and co-counsel Mike Desautels said a jail sentence is necessary because Gallant ignored warnings not to mix the medication with alcohol and did not advise his doctor when he started experiencing side effects prior to quitting the drug.

Justice Shawn Greenberg will sentence Gallant May 20.

dean.pritchard@sunmedia.ca