The mother of Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge says she sees no reason her son’s suicide note was seized and then not handed over to her for more than a year.
“I don’t know if it got forgotten about after the file was closed, but that was our son’s last communication with us,” Sheila Fynes said on Monday at the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into her son’s death.
Ms. Fynes wasn’t told about the note, which contained a request for a modest burial, until 14 months after her son died and long after his military funeral.
She also said on Monday at the hearing that transcripts being used in the investigation of her son’s death contained errors, and one documenting a conversation between her and an investigator was missing a section and it appeared that the tape was doctored.
The commission chair ordered that the tapes be examined for signs of tampering, and the issue will be discussed later this week.
The commission has heard that, since the 28-year-old corporal’s death, the military has outlined in an operating procedure that suicide notes should be given to families as soon as possible. The handling of the note is among several complaints Ms. Fynes and her husband are making against the army and military police that investigate the forces.
They also allege that three investigations were aimed at exonerating the military from responsibility for failing to prevent Cpl. Langridge’s 2008 death. The case is being heard at a time when army mental health professionals face job cuts, and statistics suggest the number of men committing suicide within the Canadian Forces has increased. In 2011, there were 19, the highest number since recording began in 1995.
Ms. Fynes said she faced “stonewalling” from the Canadian Forces when she tried to get answers about the note and more generally about her son’s death. She maintains that her son, who also served in Bosnia, was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as well as cocaine and alcohol addictions.
Some of the first issues for the family concerned the funeral, Ms. Fynes said. Although Cpl. Langridge had separated from his girlfriend, paperwork indicating the change in next of kin was lost at the time, meaning that she made decisions about the service.
Ms. Fynes said no seating was designated for her family members and they weren’t offered condolences. “We were second-class citizens at that funeral,” she said. “That hurt.”
She also found out that her son’s body had been left hanging and uncovered at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton for four hours. Ms. Fynes said that showed a lack of respect.
Since her son’s death, she has attempted to find out how he was cared for and where he was staying at the base after he was released from hospital several times for suicide attempts.
Previous witnesses have suggested that everything possible was done for the corporal but his mother said that’s not the case.
Federal government lawyer Elizabeth Richards suggested on Monday at the hearing that Ms. Fynes was not aware of the extent of her son’s drug and alcohol abuse until after his death. Ms. Richards said the corporal had told doctors that he’d been drinking and doing drugs since he was 15.
As well, Ms. Richards said the soldier had been depressed throughout most of his life.
Ms. Fynes said that all she wanted initially from the army was for someone to “sit down with us and have an honest conversation. We started out from a place of, just tell us what happened.”
She held a press conference in 2010 after receiving a letter that barred her from contact with the military unless it was through her lawyers, she said.
Since then, she said, many families in similar situations have been in touch with her. “There’s actually almost a network … there’s a lot of disgruntled people who are unhappy with the [Canadian Forces National Investigation Service]” she said.