Inquiry into military suicide hears scathing indictment

The 65-day Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry into the suicide of an army corporal has ended with the lawyer for the victim's family issuing a scathing indictment of the military's conduct.

Soldier's mother says report into her son's death will be his legacy

Shaun Fynes, seen with his wife Sheila earlier this year, has accused Canadian Forces investigators of failing to uncover the reason for the suicide death in 2008 of his stepson, Cpl. Stuart Langridge. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The 65-day Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry into the suicide of an army corporal wound up Wednesday in Ottawa with the lawyer for the victim's family issuing a scathing indictment of the military's conduct, and mixed emotions from the dead soldier's parents.

The report from MPCC chair Glenn Stannard won't be completed for at least a year, given that the military must sign off on a fututre interim report first. But for Stannard, a former police chief who must plow through as many as 50,000 pages of documents and transcripts, along with 1,800 pages of his own handwritten notes, and particularly for Shaun and Sheila Fynes, the parents of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, the hearings have been an exhausting process. 

In March 2008, Langridge, formerly a hard-living, hard-working but generally contented soldier, hanged himself in barracks at CFB Edmonton. He was just about to turn 29. 

His mother Sheila Fynes and stepfather Shaun Fynes contend that their son was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, brought on by his tours in Afghanistan and Bosnia. They allege the military didn't properly treat Langridge for what they see as his illness, and then once he was dead, misled them and tried to isolate them to protect the military's image. 

The military has said that Langridge was alcohol- and drug-dependent and was depressed due to his relationship with his parents and with his fiancée. 

The military conducted six investigations into Langridge's death, some spurred by complaints from his parents who went to the military ombudsman, the media and eventually the MPCC about questions surrounding their son's death. 

'Maladroit and gauche'

On Wednesday, the Fynes's lawyer, Michel Drapeau, in a 2½-hour final argument, picked apart each of the military's investigations, calling one "gauche and maladroit" and another, "facile and convenient." 

Drapeau said that the military's National Investigation Service, was created after Somalia in 1997 to function like a crime unit in the RCMP or a municipal police force, and, especially,  to be independent of the military chain of command. 

Instead, the NIS has to report directly to the military command, and it believes, Drapeau charged, that the National Defence Act takes precedence over provincial legislation. He also said the NIS sees the military, and senior officers in particular, as "brands" that need to be protected.

As an example of this protective relationship and lack of autonomy, Drapeau pointed to the fact that the Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk had asked to be kept in the loop about the NIS investigations into Langridge's death. 

Furthermore he said, in 2010 Natynczyk wrote a letter to the Ottawa Citizen defending the military's medical system in its treatment of Langridge at the same time that investigations into his suicide were still going on. 

Talking to reporters, Drapeau said the death of someone in the military should be handled in a manner that is ''as good as" the way in which a civilian death would be treated. If Langridge had been a civilian, he said, a coroner's inquest would have taken place with a jury of five civilians. 

We won't be spending Christmas with him again.

Lawyer Korinda McLaine, speaking for the Department of Justice, said in her final argument that the 13 members of the military police who were the subjects of this inquiry acted in a manner that was "thorough and professional."

She also said that the military did treat Langridge for mental health and addiction issues and that "the medical professionals that treated him did not form the conclusive view that he was suffering from PTSD." 

McLaine pointed out that the NIS has already apologized for withholding Langridge's suicide note from his parents for 14 months. 

Speaking to reporters, Shaun Fynes said he had "mixed feelings" about the end of the MPCC hearings. "It won't bring Stuart back, he said, his voice shaking, "We won't be spending Christmas with him again." 

Fynes added that a "senior officer" whom he did not identify had just personally apologized to him. 

Sheila Fynes said that every time she hears about a soldier committing suicide, she feels she has a "personal investment" in seeing that procedures change. "It's Stuart's legacy," she said.