Canadian Forces investigators slammed at Langridge inquiry

The stepfather of a soldier who hanged himself at CFB Edmonton in 2008 has accused Canadian Forces investigators of worrying more about the military's image than about finding the causes of his son's suicide.

Shaun Fynes accuses NIS of coverup in stepson's suicide

Shaun Fynes testifies Thursday at the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry into the investigation of his stepson's suicide. Cpl. Stuart Langridge killed himself in his Edmonton barracks in 2008. (Michael Tansey/MPCC handout)

The stepfather of a soldier who hanged himself at CFB Edmonton in 2008 has accused Canadian Forces investigators of being primarily concerned with shielding the military from embarrassment rather than finding out the reason for his son's suicide. 

Shaun Fynes, the stepfather of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, raised the allegation during his second day of testimony at the Military Police Complaints Commission in Ottawa, which is examining whether the military investigation into Langridge's March 2008 death was biased. The investigation was carried out  by the military's National Investigative Service (NIS).

His voice often shaking with emotion or barely restrained anger, Fynes, a former Toronto police officer and former RCMP investigator who is now chief of security for the British Columbia government, said his son loved being a soldier. But he said Langridge became sick and broken, a poster boy for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. 

Fynes accused the military of killing his son by not treating his condition but instead urging him to go back to barracks, where in apparent isolation and humiliated by being treated as a defaulter, he killed himself. Langridge had tried to kill himself at least five times before in serious attempts that sometimes landed him in hospital.

Named as executor

The Fynes have complained that the military designated Langridge's girlfriend as his next of kin, even though the two had separated. A month later, the military revealed that Langridge had named Shaun Fynes as executor of his will and his mother as primary next of kin, but that paperwork had been lost behind a filing cabinet.

That doesn’t pass "the giggle test," Fynes said. He believes the military blocked his role as executor to deny him status in asking questions about his son’s death.

However, it was the withholding of Langridge's very personal suicide note to his parents for 14 months, Fynes said, that caused him to completely lose faith in the military. 

"My son had [post-traumatic stress disorder], he was in pain and he couldn't take it anymore," Fynes testified. "That was the truth of that note and that was part of the coverup."

There was no sign that the note had forensic value, Fynes said. Instead, he said, the note is evidence his son had PTSD because Langridge wrote that he couldn’t take the pain anymore. 

The military contends that Langridge was an alcoholic and drug addict who was suffering from depression. 

The NIS said it held on to the note because it was evidence in an open investigation. It acknowledges 14 months does not represent "expeditious" handling of the note, but has never explained why it needed to keep it beyond the first few days of the investigation.

"I am left to conclude it was not inept and it was a very calculated deception designed to protect the uniform from embarrassment," Fynes said.

The family has never received a formal apology regarding the note, although the military has conceded it was wrong to withhold it. When the family did finally receive the note, Fynes said, it was a photocopy, and they had to demand the original.

Meeting refused

At one point, as the family searched for answers, military investigators refused to meet with Fynes because they anticipated he might take legal action.

"It speaks to an attempt to protect the image and the brand," Fynes said. "It doesn't speak to police work — or my understanding of police work, or the independence of police work to conduct a fair and impartial investigation."

Later, the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) lawyer asked Fynes whether Langridge had been officially diagnosed with PTSD. Fynes replied that he would "go to my grave believing that Stuart had PTSD."

MPCC chair Glenn Stannard gently reminded Fynes that the MPCC can rule only on the conduct of the military police, not on whether Langridge received proper medical treatment.

The hearing into Langridge’s death will continue into October. Seventy witnesses have appeared so far. The dozen that remain are the NIS officers who investigated Langridge's suicide.

With files from The Canadian Press