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The Globe and Mail

Investigation of soldier’s suicide not intended to smear victim: military cop

Sheila Fynes arrives with her son Cpl. Stuart Langridge's service medals at the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into his suicide in Ottawa on Apr. 26, 2012. Ms. Fynes allege that investigators used personal details of Cpl. Langridge’s drug and alcohol addictions to blame him for his own death.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Military police focused a lot of their attention on the drug and alcohol abuse that consumed a Canadian soldier who committed suicide – but it was not an attempt to smear Corporal Stuart Langridge – a public inquiry was told Wednesday.

The issue of whether the military either contributed to his death or failed to get him the necessary care was examined, but was set aside when it became clear the veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan was not on a suicide watch.

Testimony from Warrant Officer Jon Bigelow, one of the first investigators on the file, struck at the heart of allegations that the probe was biased and intended to exonerate the military.

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Cpl. Langridge's parents allege in a complaint before the Military Police Complaints Commission that investigators sifted through the sordid details of the 28-year-old's addictions in order to blame him for his own death.

Military police did an extensive background check on Cpl. Langridge, including an examination of his medical files, in spite of Canadian Forces National Investigative Service guidelines stating that addictions and personal problems "need not actively be pursued" as part of the probe once suicide is determined as cause of death.

But Mr. Bigelow says investigators were attempting to be thorough.

"This is part and parcel of us doing our job properly," he said while being questioned by the commission lawyer.

"We wanted to ensure we had all of the information. We tried to find closure for the family and you try and tell the family why the person did what they did."

Probing such painful aspects is "a case of you're damned if you do, damned if you don't," said Mr. Bigelow, who is the second subject of the complaint to appear before the public inquiry.

There has been conflicting testimony about whether Cpl. Langridge was placed on a suicide watch in the days leading up to his death.

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Mr. Bigelow, who was transferred off the file three months after the suicide, says investigators looked at this confusion. At one point, they considered pursuing charges of negligence against Cpl. Langridge's unit based on the suggestion he was supposed to have been under strict supervision.

"Because if there was, as stated, a suicide watch, which would lead you to believe it was something done for 24/7 hours — 24 hours, seven days a week-type deal; if that was the case and it didn't happen, yes we would have looked at potential charges," Mr. Bigelow said.

He was asked whether the victim was indeed monitored as a suicide risk.

"From the evidence gathered and from my research, I don't believe so," he replied.

Mr. Bigelow said there was nothing "definitive" in military records or investigation interviews to indicate such a watch had been ordered.

The unit's chief warrant officer told investigators that there were no warnings from the military medical establishment that the young soldier was a danger to himself.

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Cpl. Langridge killed himself in March 2008, 10 days after being released from a civilian hospital in Edmonton, where he was treated for drug and alcohol addiction. A psychologist testified the young soldier "likely" suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, a statement the military refutes.

Cpl. Langridge had asked to stay in civilian treatment, but was denied permission and told to return to Garrison, Alta. where he was placed under restrictions.

The military considered sending him to a treatment program in Ontario, but was told he would have to earn the trip through good behaviour as a soldier – a position Mr. Bigelow seemed to accept. He said that was not deemed abuse of a subordinate, which is an offence under military law.

"The unit tried to assist Cpl. Langridge," he said, referring to the conditions.

Following the remarks, Cpl. Langridge's mother walked out of the hearing in frustration.

Mr. Bigelow also defended a decision to leave the soldier's body hanging from a chin-up bar for 90 minutes after investigators arrived.

It was necessary in order to rule out foul play, he said.

"It was still part of the crime scene. Unfortunately, the body had to remain."

Investigative procedure called for the body to be left where it was found until photographs and video were taken, Mr. Bigelow added.

New Democrats waded back into the controversy Wednesday by demanding Defence Minister Peter MacKay hand over documents that are being denied to the commission on the grounds of solicitor client privilege.

Defence critic Jack Harris said inquiry revelations, including the fact that Cpl. Langridge's body was allowed to hang in a doorway, warrants an apology to the family.

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