A Military Police Complaints Commission report on the investigations into the suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge details a list of errors and failures by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, including a decision to withhold a suicide note he had addressed to his family.
As a result, Langridge's wishes for his funeral were not respected and his parents were denied control over funeral arrangements. Instead, the military designated Langridge's ex-girlfriend his next of kin.
Langridge's parents, Sheila and Shaun Fynes, told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that they want to discuss their seven-year ordeal with Defence Minister Jason Kenney.
Langridge, a veteran of missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, killed himself at CFB Edmonton in 2008. After lengthy delays, the Military Police Complaints Commission hearings into the handling of the investigations wrapped up in January 2013.
The report released Tuesday says military police investigators were so incompetent in their initial suicide investigation that the force should not be trusted with sudden death investigations.
The military also failed to investigate why the funeral and suicide note were so mishandled, and whether negligence on the part of Langridge's superiors had contributed to his death. Military officials then told his parents in writing that they had conducted "two detailed and comprehensive investigations," the report says.
The commission found "there were unacceptable errors, reflecting lack of professionalism and/or lack of competence, in the way the military police interacted and communicated with the Fynes, particularly in connection with Cpl. Langridge’s suicide note," commission chair Glenn Stannard said.
"The reasons for [withholding the suicide note] were never properly explained to them."
'Stuart's not ever coming home'
Sheila Fynes said Sunday will be the seventh anniversary of his death.
"The fact is Stuart's not ever coming home, and for any parent that's a really tough one," she said.
"And we try our best to carry on with our lives, but to be honest, it's been a really hard seven years.… We've had to fight every step of the way."
Fynes said she'd like Kenney, who recently assumed the post of defence minister, to meet with her and her husband, who is a police investigator.
"I just so wish that he would take a few minutes out of one of his days, sit down with us," she said.
"That would go a long way for us, because then we would know people are finally listening and they really do genuinely care about their troops."
The commission says when it presented its interim findings and recommendations to the Canadian Forces, the military's provost marshal broke with accepted practice by declaring the military's response secret.
When the commission threatened court action, the military then offered to lift the secret designation in return for a promise that the commission would not publish the response as part of its report, though that has always been standard practice.
Only when the commission announced it was going to court did the provost marshal agree to lift the secret designation last Friday.
But the commission is still concerned that the provost marshal claims to be entitled to control what the commission can and cannot do with the response, including imposing conditions or blocking publication entirely.
"This is unacceptable," Stannard said.
"The commission will therefore continue with its application to Federal Court to challenge the [provost marshal's] policy."
'Failed to respond'
The commission says the military's response to its report seeks to evade the most important issues, offers no plan to improve its behaviour in the future and suggests the military police intend to make no significant changes.
"The military police has, with a few minor exceptions, either rejected or failed to respond to the commission’s findings and recommendations," Stannard said.
Speaking to reporters, Provost Marshal Col. Rob Delaney apologized to the Fynes and said he is committed to identifying which recommendations are necessary to strengthen the military police. But he said he doesn't think there's anything wrong with the force "writ large."
"It was certainly no intention on our part to disrespect Mr. and Mrs. Fynes in this manner. I fully acknowledge that in not consulting with them or providing regular updates to the family that they would see that as us treating them in a disrespectful manner. [It was] certainly not intended [and] absolutely a lesson learned from my standpoint," Delaney said.
The Canadian Forces National Investigative Service, Delaney said, has investigated more than 175 sudden deaths in Canada and around the world since Langridge's suicide. He says their level of experience has increased considerably since 2008.
Delaney said he's trying to work out a time with the Fynes' lawyers for him to deliver the apology in person.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris called on the government to implement the recommendations, calling the report scathing.
DND got recommendations last May
"This government has consistently failed to right the wrongs in its handlings of the Langridge case.… Does the minister agree with his department or will he move to reverse this position and implement the recommendations of the commission?" Harris asked in question period.
James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, said the government agrees that what happened in the Langridge case was completely unacceptable.
"The Department of National Defence has just received the final report and is reviewing the recommendations on an expedited basis," Bezan said.
Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray pointed out the recommendations were provided to National Defence 10 months ago.
"The recommendations were tabled last May," she said. "Why is the minister brushing off this report about an important incident?" she said in question period.
Bezan repeated that what happened was unacceptable.
"What the member is referring to is the interim report, and the department is going to be looking at the recommendations on an expedited basis," he said.
"National Defence will respond in due course."