POLITICS

Soldier who committed suicide was 'killed' by the military, says stepfather

09/05/2012 12:51 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - A Canadian Forces soldier who took his own life "ping-ponged" between a civilian medical system that didn't want to deal with him and a military system that didn't know what to do with him, his grieving stepfather told an inquiry Wednesday.

The often emotional, heart-rending testimony from Shaun Fynes about the troubled last years and death of Cpl. Stuart Langridge was at once an ardent defence of the young man's character and an angry indictment of the Canadian military.

"Stuart didn't fall between the cracks, he was stuffed between the cracks," Fynes told the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is holding a hearing into allegations that the investigation into Langridge's suicide was biased.

"He ricocheted through the system and ping-ponged between provincial hospitals that didn't want anything to do with him, and the medical unit that didn't know what to do with him," Fynes testified.

"They couldn't figure out who was co-ordinating his care and who was responsible for his care. Stuart didn't stand a chance. He was killed by the military."

The apparent inability to keep things straight carried on following the soldier's suicide, said Fynes, who described for the commission how his son's death certificate was rife with mistakes. Langridge's ex-girlfriend was named as next-of-kin, put in charge of the funeral and provided benefits even though their relationship had ended two months before.

"Our son should not be dead," he said. "No one has been accountable for that. No one has explained that and there's been an incredibly serious attempt to blame the victim."

The commission's inquiry, which began last spring and resumed Wednesday after a summer hiatus, had previous heard testimony about Langridge's spiral into a haze of alcohol and drugs following tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Fynes acknowledged the young soldier's fight with alcohol, but testified that it was "self-medication" for the depression and post-traumatic stress he suffered while overseas.

The military disputes the PTSD claim and has essentially laid the blame for the suicide on the drug problems of Langridge — who had previously tried to take his own life — and what it described as a tumultuous personal life.

Those conclusions made their way into the military police investigation's final report, but were removed after they were challenged as unsubstantiated.

The commission has heard that Langridge, almost a year before his death, sought a medical discharge. In the weeks leading up to his suicide, he checked himself into civilian mental health care in Edmonton.

But he was persuaded to return to the garrison, where he was not placed in a military hospital, but in barracks where he eventually killed himself.

The military has presented a jumble of conflicting statements about whether he was placed on suicide watch, but the commission has heard from a witness who would describe it only as a "watch."

"If they were conducting a suicide watch, it was botched," said Fynes, a former police officer with the RCMP and the Toronto force.

He said the military's handling of his son was derelict and the military police refusal to conduct a criminal negligence probe amounted to a cover-up.

Military police interviews with the regimental sergeant-major, who is responsible for ensuring discipline within a unit, revealed that conditions were placed on Langridge, who was told he would get access to a bevy of treatment options within the military system provided his conduct remained good.

Fynes said he believes the military was trying to build a case for dismissal against a soldier who, up until that point, had never been in trouble.

"My son was a soldier who was injured, and he was punished and disciplined for the symptoms of that injury," he testified.

"He had self-confessed to those issues. He had asked for help. He was absolutely participating in attempts to improve his own care."

An autopsy found no alcohol in his system at the time of Langridge's death, but it did find a measurable quantity of cocaine.

His stepfather said that finding should not distract from the central issue, which he considers the failure of the military to properly take care of its own.

"Stuart was a veteran. He was an injured veteran," Fynes said. "He was entitled to medical treatment that he didn't get."