Defence chief apologizes to soldier's mother

Canada's chief of defence staff has offered an apology to the mother of a soldier who took his own life after serving in Afghanistan.

'They knew he was sick and now he's dead': Sheila Fynes on Stuart Langridge

Canada's chief of defence staff has offered an apology to the mother of a soldier who took his own life after serving in Afghanistan.

In a statement released Thursday evening by the Department of National Defence, Gen. Walter Natynczyk said he had spoken with Sheila Fynes, the mother of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, to apologize on behalf of the Canadian Forces.

Sheila Fynes went public Thursday over how her son, Cpl. Stuart Langridge, was treated before and after his suicide in 2008, three years after a six-month tour in Afghanistan. ((CBC))
Fynes said earlier in the day that she wanted an apology for the way the department handled her son's illness before his death, as well as how it treated him and their family afterward.

Langridge, who served with the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) regiment, based in Edmonton, was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled with alcohol and substance abuse upon his return from a six-month tour in Afghanistan in 2005. 

After several failed suicide attempts, he hanged himself in 2008 in a barracks in CFB Edmonton.

"They knew he was sick, and now he's dead," Fynes told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.

Fynes was accompanied by her local MP from Victoria, Denise Savoie, as well as NDP defence critic Jack Harris and NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer. The NDP MPs called on Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Natynczyk to meet with Langridge's mother.

Fynes described dealing with a bureaucratic nightmare after her son's death and being told to stop contacting DND officials with her queries except through her lawyer. 

Family's treatment 'unacceptable': MacKay

When asked by Harris about the case during Thursday's question period, MacKay called the reports of the family being denied access "unacceptable" and said he only heard about it earlier in the day.  

MacKay said he had instructed senior officials to contact Fynes immediately.

"We will remedy this matter," MacKay told the House.

Fynes said her family's ordeal began with the military's improper registration of his death certificate and deteriorated into a two-year legal struggle with DND over mishandled records and the executorship of his estate.

"If they had took the time to call vital statistics, it would have been corrected in an instant," she said. 

'All-or-nothing' battle

Instead, the family was forced to hire a lawyer, she said. While her family was only interested in a reimbursement for legal fees over the registry of death, she said DND responded by setting the terms as an "all-or-nothing" legal battle.

Savoie questioned the "litany of errors" by DND officials, and why a report on the board of inquiry into Langridge's death has yet to be released.

Fynes said she believes her son has been the victim of a character assassination since his death as the department tries to cover up its mistakes in his treatment and shift the blame on him.

"Instead of fighting us, why don't you try to use our experience and what we've gone through … to change the system to make sure this never happens again?" she said.

Harris said Langridge should be treated no differently than any other soldier who died in the Afghanistan mission.

"He is entitled to be treated as a war hero," Harris said.

Fynes also noted it took more than 14 months for the military to deliver her son's suicide note to his family.

"It said he was sorry, that he loved us, but he couldn't take the pain anymore," she said.

A military official has previously apologized for the length of time it took for the family to receive a copy of Langridge's note.

Stoffer said Langridge's case is the "most egregious file" he has seen in his years working for veterans' rights and improved care.

He called on the military to award the soldier the Sacrifice Medal and the Memorial Cross as "one small step" to show the family the respect they deserve.

Fynes said she was "looking forward to the day that I get to sit and grieve for my son."

"It's been 2½ years, and we actually have yet to grieve," she said.

In his statement, Natynczyk said communication with Langridge's family "regarding his estate was not handled as well as it could have been and for that I am truly sorry."

Canada's top soldier also said the Canadian Forces provost marshal regrets the delay in releasing Langridge's suicide note, and that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has since revised its procedures to ensure the situation is not repeated.

He added that the family member of a deceased soldier is free to contact whomever they wish to discuss their case, "and we are endeavouring to resolve Mrs. Fynes’ concerns as soon as possible."