Soldier-suicide inquiry's hearings conclude
Leslie MacKinnon liveblogs the final hearings on Cpl. Stuart Langridge's 2008 suicide
The Military Police Complaints Commission will hear final arguments today in its inquiry into the complaints of the parents of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, who hanged himself in Edmonton barracks in March 2008.
The hearing Wednesday brings to an end a lengthy, expensive and at times highly emotional hearing into the death of a lower-ranks soldier who committed suicide after serving tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
A half-day each is set aside for the lawyer representing Langridge's parents, Sheila and Shaun Fynes of Victoria, and the lawyer for the Department of Justice.
The Fynes filed a formal complaint with the MPCC about investigations conducted by the Canadian Forces National Investigations Service into their son's death, alleging that the CFNIS, the military's criminal investigative branch, was biased and lacked independence, and was devoid of professionalism and even competence.
The Fynes's lawyer, Michel Drapeau, told the inquiry: "What was totally and fully within the talents, authority and capacity of the Canadian Forces was to treat the family of this brave soldier and veteran with civility, decency and humanity. They did not."
Langridge, a seemingly well-adjusted and devoted soldier, spiraled into severe depression and drug and alcohol dependence after serving in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He tried to kill himself five times before he finally succeeded.
The MPCC began an inquiry in March that continued, with a summer break, into October. About 70 witnesses appeared and stacks of volumes evidence were generated, all for the chair of the MPCC Glenn Stannard to sift through as he writes his report in the months to come.
Video of Langridge's suicide
For the Fynes, it's been a process they wished for and fought for, but it's also been an ordeal as they sat through months of testimony about some of the most intimate and wrenching moments in the life of their son.
During one silent and memorable hour at the inquiry, lawyers and members of the media watched a video of Langridge's hanging body compete with close-ups of his face and the rope around his neck. The Fynes left the room when the video played.
Shaun Fynes, Langridge's stepfather, chief of security for the British Columbia government, couldn't attend every hearing, but Sheila Fynes was always present, spending lonely nights and weekends in an Ottawa hotel room. She has said their goal is to ensure that their son didn't die in vain, and that no other parent endure what they have.
The Fynes believe that the military couldn't face the fact that Langridge was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and not only didn’t treat his illness, but hastened his death by treating him like a defaulter.
The initial military police investigation — there were three — took more than three months just to determine that Langridge committed suicide.
At a dramatic moment during the inquiry, a stunned Stannard asked a military investigator how he could possibly doubt the death was a suicide given the locked door, no sign of struggle, a suicide note, several suicide attempts and the fact that the coroner had said Langridge's death was a "classic suicide."
As the investigator, Sgt. Matthew Ritco, struggled to answer, Stannard, a former chief of police himself, said, "But you were — you're a police officer … you're the last guy. You're it. Stuart Langridge was counting on you investigating him."
Suicide note withheld
Although Langridge had written a suicide note to his parents, the note's existence was withheld from them for more than a year. The military explained the note was potential evidence, but admitted at the inquiry that it was never fingerprinted or investigated, but simply locked away.
When Shaun Fynes, a former RCMP and municipal police officer, testified, his voice shook with anger as he told of finally receiving the note 14 months after it was written. "Emotionally it was devastating to us. It immediately relapsed us 14 months, right back to Stuart's death …. I completely lost faith in the Canadian Forces' handling of our son's death."
In deciding to hear the Fynes' complaint in 2011, the MPCC said it was in the public interest to ensure confidence in the military's ability to conduct independent investigations, and that changes in policies and training might arise, depending on the outcome of the inquiry.