Soldier deaths in Manitoba and Alberta under investigation

Two Canadian soldiers who had ties to the military base in Shilo, Man., have been found dead in western Canada in the past week.
The apparent suicides of two Canadian Forces members this week in western Canada has raised concerns about the supports soldiers receive. 1:42

Two Canadian soldiers who had ties to the military base in Shilo, Man., have been found dead in western Canada in the past week.

The RCMP is investigating at least one of the cases, in which a soldier posted to Canadian Forces Base Shilo was found dead on Tuesday at a home just outside the base in the Rural Municipality of Cornwallis.

The Canadian Forces confirmed that he was a member of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

A defence official says RCMP are investigating and it appears that the soldier killed himself.

In the other case, a soldier who had been transferred this summer from CFB Shilo to a reserve unit in Lethbridge, Alta., was found "in distress" last Friday at a local corrections centre, and died in hospital on Monday.

That member belonged to the 20th Independent Field Battery. Alberta's Justice Department referred questions to the military.

Neither soldier has been identified.

A CFBShilo spokesperson told CBC News that all signs point to suicide in both cases.

The military is reviewing the circumstances of both deaths, but did not indicate whether military police were involved or which defence agency was leading the probe, the spokesperson added.

Officials at National Defence confirmed that neither soldier was assigned to the military's joint personnel support units, which are supposed to prepare the wounded to either return to their front-line units or be discharged from the military.

Soldier sought advice recently

"I was in absolute shock, absolutely devastating," Cpl. Glen Kirkland, who served in the same unit as the soldier who was based in Shilo, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"He was absolutely a fabulous guy and a great soldier. Good, caring guy, very easy-going."

Kirkland, who said he received the call about the soldier's death on Tuesday night, said his friend had sought advice from him just two weeks ago.

The soldier, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, asked about the post-release procedure to access benefits through Veterans Affairs Canada and was upset about not being able to collect a pension, Kirkland said.

Aside from being in the infantry, Kirkland's friend had only worked on a farm with horses and didn't feel qualified to do anything else.

"He was concerned that he was going to be released from the military because of his back issues and because of his post-traumatic stress disorder," Kirkland said.

"I just gave him as much advice as I could I was just there for him."

Kirkland said while he does not know exactly why his friend died, he said the burden of being discharged could not have helped.

Aside from dealing with medical concerns, one of the most serious stresses for those leaving the military is fear of the unknown that comes with potential job retraining and the financial uncertainty that accompanies it, he said.

"I can't speak on behalf of these guys because I don't know what was going through their heads, but when their potential earnings and everything is limited, the financial stress on these people is just outrageous," said Kirkland.

'Our nation is abandoning them,' says advocate

Kirkland, who has fought a high-profile battle with National Defence on behalf of soldiers being medically discharged against their will, said the two deaths should be a wake-up call for the federal government.

His point was echoed by Michael Blais, president of the group Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

"I'm just so profoundly saddened and I have to ask myself, 'My God, have we not learned anything yet?' I mean, when will we stand up as a nation and provide the services that these men and women deserve?" he said.

"They're in pain, they're suffering, our nation is abandoning them."

The CFBShilo spokesperson said the Canadian Forces takes the health of its members very seriously and has many supports in place for members and their families.

But Kirkland said the federal government needs to step up support and services for soldiers, who he said are avoiding medical help amid fears of being discharged.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reacted to news of the soldiers' deaths on Twitter on Wednesday, responding to a tweet from Kirkland that asked what his party would do "to correct this wrongdoing."

"First, our thoughts are with the families and friends who have lost a loved one," Trudeau wrote.

"Second, I would keep the promise made to those who serve: better benefits and care now."

With files from The Canadian Press