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A mother’s tough decision to show son’s suicide video

Sheila Fynes testifies at the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into the suicide of her son Cpl. Stuart Langridge in Ottawa on April 26, 2012.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Sheila Fynes couldn't sleep most nights this summer, wondering whether she made the right decision in allowing a public inquiry to view a 34-minute military police video of her son's lifeless body hanging from a chin-up bar in his barracks.

The graphic, disturbing images of Corporal Stuart Langridge were never released to the news media, but the commission investigating the military's handling of his suicide played it in public as part of a series of hearings last spring.

His mother and stepfather, Shaun Fynes, wrestled with the question of showing the video almost up until the day it was played.

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"There are times when I think I've shared the most personal thing about Stuart's life and I hope … I hope it wasn't for nothing," said Ms. Fynes in an interview from her Victoria home.

Cpl. Langridge hanged himself on March 15, 2008, and his body was left in place for four hours while investigators documented and searched through everything in the room.

The video sometimes zoomed in on his head and face. Federal lawyers representing the Defence Department argued in advance that if the video were to be shown, it would have to be in its entirety.

Ms. Fynes said that "at first, we said: No, we don't want anybody ever to see that.

"But then [after] discussions with our lawyer [and] between ourselves, we decided there would be no better way for the chair to understand our allegation of the total disrespect shown to Stuart in his death, than for him to see it."

After a pause, she added: "Was it the right decision? It keeps me awake at night."

Neither Ms. Fynes nor her husband were present when the video was played for the commission.

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The Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into the Afghan vet's death resumes Wednesday, with testimony from Mr. Fynes.

In the coming weeks, the commission will put under the microscope not only the Defence Department's handling of the Langridge case, but also how it copes with soldiers suffering from mental illness and post-traumatic stress.

The inquiry also poses a political problem for the Harper government with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's refusal to hand over some internal documents to the military watchdog.

The Defence Department disputes the claim Cpl. Langridge suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, following a stint in Afghanistan. The doctor who made the diagnosis is soon to testify, along with military police investigators who are the subject of the complaint.

Cpl. Langridge's family accuses members of the National Investigative Service of conducting an inadequate, biased investigation aimed at exonerating the Canadian Forces.

Thus far, testimony from the military contends that Cpl. Langridge, who also served a tour in Bosnia, was a troubled young man with an addiction to alcohol and cocaine. One expert witness traced the problems as far back as Ms. Fynes' divorce from her son's father. The military withheld Cpl. Langridge's suicide note from his family for 14 months, something for which it has apologized.

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Yet a jumble of contradictions and missteps were exposed in testimony last spring.

At first, it was claimed Cpl. Langridge had been under a "suicide watch" prior to his death. But a fellow soldier who attended him refused to describe it that way, saying it was only "a watch."

Witnesses also testified that the military consulted the family about the formulation of policy for dealing with loved ones, something Ms. Fynes angrily denies.

"What has surprised me the most is the levels Justice [Department] lawyers have gone to try and paint a very damning picture of our son. And some of the things that have been said by witnesses are so contradictory, and some of the things are just plain, flat-out, vile lies," she said.

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