After Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge returned to Canada, Sheila Fynes said she saw a “marked change” in her son.
Rather than the “happy-go-lucky” and energetic boy she remembered, the corporal stopped sleeping well and started having nightmares, Ms. Fynes told a public interest hearing into her son’s suicide Thursday.
The Military Police Complaints Commission is investigating the handling of the case, focusing on concerns brought forward by Ms. Fynes and her husband. Among their allegations are that investigations into Cpl. Langridge’s death by the Canadian Forces National Investigations Service were inadequate and biased, aiming to exonerate Canadian Forces members of responsibility.
“After Afghanistan,” Ms. Fynes said, “he tried very hard to still be good at what he was doing. But there was a difference … he played his cards really close to his chest.”
The corporal, who also served in Bosnia, returned from Afghanistan in 2005. He was drinking excessively and using cocaine by 2007, said his mother, who maintains he was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He attempted suicide several times, was hospitalized and stayed at a rehab centre before he was found hanging at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton in March, 2008. He was 28.
When Ms. Fynes and her husband returned to their Victoria home on March 15, 2008, there was a message waiting and the call display said “DND.” Ms. Fynes said she knew immediately that her son had killed himself.
She had recently come back from Alberta, where she had been visiting the corporal in hospital following a suicide attempt, Ms. Fynes told the hearing. He had returned to the base with specific conditions, she said, among them that he would be watched 24/7.
“It’s the last time I will ever go against what my instinct tells me,” she said, responding to questions from the commission lawyer. “I believed someone I didn’t know, who said that my son was safe.”
Much of the probe is focusing on a suicide note that Cpl. Langridge left for his family, one that requested a small funeral. They weren’t given it, or even told about it, for 14 months. The delay prompted public apologies from the Canadian Forces, but the cause of the delay remains unclear.
It took months for Ms. Fynes to be told that she was designated as the next of kin, she said, which happened after the family filed a complaint about delays. Originally the family was told the soldier’s ex-girlfriend was still designated, leading to complications including her planning the funeral, Ms. Fynes said.
Recently updated paperwork indicating the change of next of kin was lost behind a cabinet in the office of Cpl. Langridge’s boss, the probe has heard. It was found within days of his death but took months to get to the family, according to witnesses.
Another complication was that Cpl. Langridge’s death certificate contained errors, even after she tried to have it corrected three times, she said.
Previous witnesses have suggested that everything possible was done to care for the soldier before his death, including access to addictions counsellors on the base, said commission lawyer Mark Freiman. But Ms. Fynes, who only paused a few times during her emotional testimony, rejected that everything possible was done.
Earlier, she recalled what her son said to her when he tried to turn things around once before his death: “I need to get back to the business of being a good soldier.”
The witness before Ms. Fynes on Thursday was Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre. The former commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigations Service is one subject of the family’s complaints.
The hearing was heated as he fielded repeated questions from lawyers for the family and the commission about why an operating procedure wasn’t changed in writing – to include reference to quickly informing families about suicide notes – until 2011. More than a year before that, following Cpl. Langridge’s death, officials said the procedures had been changed.
Lt.-Col. Sansterre said the need to give notes to families quickly was communicated verbally before it was written into the procedure.
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