Canada's top general says a letter he sent to the parents of a soldier who committed suicide in 2008 was never meant to imply that medals posthumously awarded to the combat veteran were undeserved, as suggested by a report that "grossly" misrepresents his comments.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson made the denial in a statement issued late Tuesday to CBC News. He was commenting on a story published earlier in the day by the Ottawa Citizen that reported the parents of Cpl. Stuart Langridge were upset by Lawson's letter.
The letter, dated June 2015 and sent to Victoria couple Shaun and Sheila Fynes, said a probe determined Langridge's death "was not attributable to military service," and that this "normally would have precluded his eligibility" for the Sacrifice medal and Memorial Cross that his mother was given on her son's behalf.
Langridge took his own life in a barracks on Canadian Forces Base Edmonton.
The stepfather and mother of Langridge — a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan — told Citizen reporter David Pugliese that they took offence to the letter. Sheila Fynes, in the article, said she interpreted it to mean "Lawson was clearly pointing out that the family did not deserve the medals and that the awards needed to be returned.
"He's clearly saying these medals mean diddly squat," she told Pugliese. "Those medals were the only tiny bit of honour we had left from the military. Now they've said Stuart wasn't worthy and we shouldn't have the medals."
However, Lawson said in the statement to CBC News that Pugliese "has taken it upon himself to grossly misrepresent the state of affairs surrounding the presentation of the Sacrifice medal and Memorial Cross to Mrs. Fynes in honour of the service" of Langridge.
Couple in legal dispute with military
The statement says the Citizen story claims his letter to the Fynes indicated they "should never have received these awards and that the Department of National Defence was looking at the possibility of revoking them." However, Lawson said, "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The statement points out that the decision to award the Sacrifice medal and Memorial Cross was made based on a determination by Veterans Affairs Canada in 2010," and that, "Never, at any time, has anyone in the Department considered revoking the awards."
The Fynes have been locked in a lengthy and public legal dispute with the military since their son's death. They filed a formal complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission in 2012, alleging the criminal investigative branch bungled its probe into the 28-year-old's suicide.
A suicide note addressed directly to his family was withheld from them by the military for nearly 15 months, and paperwork naming Sheila and Shaun Fynes as primary and secondary next of kin were ignored by investigators.
In March this year, the MPCCreleased a highly critical report on the military's handling of the investigation.
Despite Lawson's assurances, Shaun Fynes told the Citizen that the letter was "truly disgusting and heartless."
Sheila Fynes called it "payback" for the "problems" the family has caused the military since Langridge's death.
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