Inside Politics

A family's fight for a soldier's honour

At first glance, it seems a sad story and perhaps nothing more. Stuart Langridge, a soldier based in Edmonton, having attempted suicide six times before, finally succeeded on March 15, 2008 when he hanged himself in his room at CFB Edmonton.

He was 28, a dangerous age for young men. His relationship had failed, his biological father had just died and he was addicted to alcohol and cocaine. He was also disillusioned with the army, an institution he had revered since he became a cadet when he was 12.

li-langridge.jpgCorp. Langridge had served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He suffered from chest pains, nightmares, night sweats, tremors, anxiety and depression, all symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

His parents - his mother Sheila and stepfather Shaun Fynes - claim the Army did not take their son's condition seriously, and are asking the Military Police Complaints Commission to report on whether the military police investigation into their son's death was inadequate, biased and meant to exonerate the Canadian Forces.

Amongst the volumes of documents tabled at the Commission are interviews the Fynes did with military investigators. 

Sheila and Shaun Fynes' anguish spill out over the thousands of pages of evidence filed at the MPCC. In conversations that go on for hours, where they don't so much answer questions as finish each other's sentences, they keep repeating, "You don't understand how angry we are." They obsess over their dead son's possessions  - a leather chair, a computer that was disabled, a Jeep that was so damaged in military storage after Langridge's death they spent thousands to repair it.

In many ways, they seem like grieving parents who, in the wake of the awfulness of a child's suicide, are looking for someone to blame.

And yet, throughout the dozens of white binders containing reports, emails, letters, videos and interviews piled on tables at the Commission, a story emerges of the military's callousness and ineptitude in dealing with a dead soldier's family.

Most egregious was the matter of Langridge's suicide note. It was short and yet it revealed multitudes:

Sorry but I can't take it anymore.
I love you mom, Shaun, James, Mike, Grandma, Aunti,Tom.
Please know that I needed to stop the pain.

PS. I don't deserve any kinda fancy funeral. Just family.

But the note wasn't given to Langridge's parents until 14 months later. The military's reasoning was that the note was part of evidence in a sudden-death investigation, and could only be released through access to information. The military has since changed its policy on suicide notes.

Before he died Stuart Langridge changed his will and his next of kin designation so that his mother was his heir and his stepfather the will's executor. But these papers were lost, and this gave rise to the second outrage, in his parents' eyes.

The bitterness the Fynes bear about how they feel they were marginalized at their own son's funeral is monumental. There was no "family" funeral, but a full military send-off. Langridge's ex-girlfriend, whom he'd broken up with, was recognized by the Army as his next of kin.

At the funeral, the Fynes said, they were asked to move to the second row so that the ex-girlfriend's family could take the first pew.

The Fynes wanted a regimental flag given their son was so proud of his Strathconas regiment, but the Canadian flag was chosen.

sheila-fynes.jpg"The flag was stripped from his casket and presented to someone else, right under our noses", Sheila Fynes told interviewers.

After Langridge's death his will and next-of-kin notice were found behind a filing cabinet in a military office. 

The military has recognized how shabbily the Fynes were treated. "It was like we had the plague," as Shaun Fynes told a military interviewer. Both Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk and Defence Minister Peter Mackay have apologized about the debacle over Langridge's suicide note and next-of-kin designation.

But there is still the matter, for the Fynes, of why Stuart Langridge spiralled down so quickly into a desperate series of suicide attempts. In his interview with the military Shaun Fynes said, "This is a young guy who loved the Army and who was a model soldier right up to a year before his death."

The military takes the position that Langridge was a victim of depression as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The Fynes say their son's drug and alcohol addiction was "self-medicating" and is consistent with PTSD.

In an interview with military police, Shaun Fynes said he now regrets urging his stepson to go into the military, and that even the sight of a soldier on a street corner makes him angry. "I will be absolutely relentless ... Stuart's honour will be restored." 

The hearing before the Military Police Complaints Commission is expected to last until June.

Tags: Cpl. Stuart Langridge, MPCC

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