NEWS
04/20/2015 12:07 EDT | Updated 06/20/2015 01:12 EDT

Watchdog says families still deemed outsiders when military investigates deaths

OTTAWA - The country's military watchdog says the families of soldiers who die in the line of duty remain on the outside looking in when it comes to Defence Department investigations.In a new report, Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne recommends a family co-ordinator position be established to work with relatives and figure out how best to involve them in the complex board of inquiry process."The death or serious injury of a Canadian Armed Forces member is always a difficult event and none is more profoundly affected by it than the member’s family," Walbourne said in a statement. "These families need and deserve information, support and assistance to help them come to terms with the loss or injury."The inquiries are technical investigations that look at the circumstances surrounding deaths, and whether military procedures or practices contributed to the tragedy.But they are often a source of frustration and confusion for families, who complain about being kept in the dark and even accuse the military of using the inquiries as a way to cover up misdeeds.The most high-profile example involves the recently concluded public inquiry into the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, during which his parents were long denied a copy of the investigation report."We believe that families should be given the option of engagement throughout the board of inquiry process via a method of their choosing," said Walbourne, who noted the military has instituted a series of organizational improvements and ended a backlog of dozens of investigations.He said there isn't enough information to be able to decide how families should be included and a member of his staff will work with Defence Department for the next year to develop a process for family involvement.Walbourne's predecessors wrote extensively about the frustrations of families and their isolation from investigations.A 2005 military ombudsman investigation prompted retired general Rick Hillier to order a comprehensive review of the system. That produced a number of changes, including a directive to future inquiry chairs that they leave home life out of the mix when looking at suicides.Despite that, the investigations into Langridge's death not only blamed the troubled soldier for the tragedy, but also his biological parents, who divorced when he was five.