POLITICS

Witness at suicide probe says his impartiality was questioned by military brass

05/08/2012 12:59 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - A soldier assigned to help relatives of an Afghan vet who committed suicide said Tuesday his impartiality was questioned by the military as he advocated on the family's behalf.

Maj. Stewart Parkinson was testifying before the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into how the military handled Cpl. Stuart Langridge's death.

Ten months after Langridge killed himself, Parkinson sent a terse email to his superiors wondering why a board of inquiry still hadn't been convened.

"You'll understand if after 10 months of being deceived, misled and intentionally marginalized at various points that (Langridge's family) have no faith left in the system," Parkinson wrote.

"A bottom line for them at this point is some sign of real respect for Cpl. Langridge."

Parkinson testified that the email wasn't meant as an indictment of the military, but rather an effort to communicate how the family was feeling and make sure they had a role in the inquiry.

When asked by the commission's lawyer whether he'd received a reply, Parkinson chuckled.

"Why yes I did," he said. "It was wondering about my impartiality, which, based on the number of years of service I have, I personally feel perfectly comfortable with my impartiality."

Parkinson told the hearing he was just trying to do his job and get the military to do its own.

In addition to a board of inquiry helping answer questions around Langridge's death, it would also allow the family to receive his personal effects.

The inquiry was eventually convened.

How the military investigated Langridge's death is the subject of the commission's hearings.

They began following complaints from the family that the military's three separate probes into their actions around his death were biased and aimed at exonerating the Forces of any responsibility for Langridge's suicide.

The 28-year-old was a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan and had been struggling with drug and alcohol addiction when he hanged himself in the Edmonton barracks in March 2008.

Parkinson said he didn't know anything about Langridge's time in Afghanistan, but his understanding of the unit the young man worked with indicated he was "part of a crew that put an awful lot of Taliban into the dirt."

Langridge's mother has testified that her son was changed when he came back from the war and his family maintains he was also dealing with post traumatic stress disorder that was ignored.

Military physicians have testified they did all they could for the young man.

Parkinson said he was initially told by the military that Langridge had been under suicide watch in the days before he died.

But only a few days later, he was told by the same officer that such a thing as a suicide watch never existed.

"I said, wasn't I on the other end of the phone with you? And he just went off," Parkinson testified.

He was asked later by the lawyer for Langridge's family what he thought about that exchange.

"It's called being screwed over," he said.

Parkinson, who has been in the military for over 40 years, called the Langridge case complicated and noted it was unique for an assisting officer to stay with a family as long as he had.

He said that after the email exchange about his impartiality, the attitude of other soldiers toward him changed.

He was also chastised by other Defence Department staff for being too close with the family and told not to forward them emails of his exchanges regarding the case.

Parkinson said he took that under advisement and understood that perhaps not everything should be shared.

His relationship with the family was also the subject of a set of emails between Defence officials about why he didn't use his first name when dealing with the family.

The emails suggested Parkinson was being standoffish.

They never discussed that with him, Parkinson said.

"I would have reminded him my first name is the same as Stuart and it wasn't a good idea to use that name," Parkinson said.

Parkinson said the time he spent working with the family was initially more than 10 hours a day, but over time that number dwindled.

After his testimony concluded Tuesday, he hugged Langridge family members on his way out the door.