OTTAWA - Military police focused a lot of their attention on the drug and alcohol abuse that consumed a Canadian soldier who committed suicide, but it was not an attempt to smear Cpl. Stuart Langridge, a public inquiry was told Wednesday.
The issue of whether the military either contributed to his death or failed to get him the necessary care was examined, but was set aside when it became clear the veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan was not on a suicide watch.
Testimony from Warrant Officer Jon Bigelow, one of the first investigators on the file, struck at the heart of allegations that the probe was biased and intended to exonerate the military.
Langridge's parents allege in a complaint before the Military Police Complaints Commission that investigators sifted through the sordid details of the 28-year-old's addictions in order to blame him for his own death.
Military police did an extensive background check on Langridge, including an examination of his medical files, in spite of Canadian Forces National Investigative Service guidelines stating that addictions and personal problems "need not actively be pursued" as part of the probe once suicide is determined as cause of death.
But Bigelow says investigators were attempting to be thorough.
"This is part and parcel of us doing our job properly," he said while being questioned by the commission lawyer.
"We wanted to ensure we had all of the information. We tried to find closure for the family and you try and tell the family why the person did what they did."
Probing such painful aspects is "a case of you're damned if you do, damned if you don't," said Bigelow, who is the second subject of the complaint to appear before the public inquiry.
There has been conflicting testimony about whether Langridge was placed on a suicide watch in the days leading up to his death.
Bigelow, who was transferred off the file three months after the suicide, says investigators looked at this confusion. At one point, they considered pursuing charges of negligence against Langridge's unit based on the suggestion he was supposed to have been under strict supervision.
"Because if there was, as stated, a suicide watch, which would lead you to believe it was something done for 24/7 hours — 24 hours, seven days a week-type deal; if that was the case and it didn't happen, yes we would have looked at potential charges," Bigelow said.
He was asked whether the victim was indeed monitored as a suicide risk.
"From the evidence gathered and from my research, I don't believe so," he replied.
Bigelow said there was nothing "definitive" in military records or investigation interviews to indicate such a watch had been ordered.
The unit's chief warrant officer told investigators that there were no warnings from the military medical establishment that the young soldier was a danger to himself.
Langridge killed himself in March 2008, 10 days after being released from a civilian hospital in Edmonton, where he was treated for drug and alcohol addiction. A psychologist testified the young soldier "likely" suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, a statement the military refutes.
Langridge had asked to stay in civilian treatment, but was denied permission and told to return to garrison where he was placed under restrictions.
The military considered sending him to a treatment program in Ontario, but was told he'd have to earn the trip through good behaviour as a soldier, a position Bigelow seemed to accept. He said that was not deemed abuse of a subordinate, which is an offence under military law.
"The unit tried to assist Cpl. Langridge," he said, referring to the conditions.
Following the remarks, Langridge's mother walked out of the hearing in frustration.
Bigelow also defended a decision to leave the soldier's body hanging from a chin-up bar for 90 minutes after investigators arrived.
It was necessary in order to rule out foul play, he said.
"It was still part of the crime scene. Unfortunately the body had to remain."
Investigative procedure called for the body to be left where it was found until photographs and video were taken, Bigelow added.
New Democrats waded back into the controversy Wednesday by demanding Defence Minister Peter MacKay hand over documents that are being denied to the commission on the grounds of solicitor client privilege.
Defence critic Jack Harris said inquiry revelations, including the fact that Langridge's body was allowed to hang in a doorway, warrants an apology to the family.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version described Bigelow as the first subject of the complaint to testify.Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.
Start of War: Oct. 7, 2001
<em>American soldiers hide behind a barricade during an explosion, prior to fighting with Taliban forces November 26, 2001 at the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)</em>
Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: 88,000
<em>US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from the USS Bataan's Amphibious Ready Group arrive December 14, 2001 at an undisclosed location with field gear and weapons. (Photo by Johnny Bivera/Getty Images)</em>
Number of Troops at War's Peak
<em>U.S. Marines begin to form up their convoy at a staging area near Kandahar, Afghanistan, as they await orders to begin their trek to Kandahar to take control of the airfield 13 December, 2001. (DAVE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the war's peak: About 101,000 in 2010. Allies provided about 40,000.
<em>U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House on June 22, 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Withdrawal plans: 23,000 U.S. troops expected to come home by the end of the summer, leaving about 68,000 in Afghanistan. Most U.S. troops expected to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though the U.S. is expected to maintain a sizeable force of military trainers and a civilian diplomatic corps.
Number of U.S. Casualties
<em>American flags, each one representing the 4,454 American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, move in the breeze at The Christ Congregational United Church March 17, 2008 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Number of U.S. casualties: At least 1,828 members of the U.S. military killed as of Tuesday, according to an Associated Press count. According to the Defense Department, 15,786 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action.
Afghan Civilian Casualties
<em>Asan Bibi, 9, sits on a bench as burn cream is applied to her at Mirwais hospital October 13, 2009 Kandahar, Afghanistan. She, her sister and mother were badly burned when a helicopter fired into their tent in the middle of the night on October 3rd, according to their father. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Afghan civilian casualties: According to the United Nations, 11,864 civilians were killed in the conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began reporting statistics, and the end of 2011.
Cost of the War
<em>An Iraqi man counts money behind a pile of American dollars in his currency exchange bureau in Baghdad on April 11, 2012. (ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Cost of the war: $443 billion from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Number of Times Obama Has Visited Afghanistan
<em>US President Barack Obama speaks to troops during a visit to Bagram Air Field on May 1, 2012 in Afghanistan. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) </em><br><br> Number of times Obama has visited Afghanistan: 3 as president, including Tuesday, and 1 as a presidential candidate.