OTTAWA – The pain and suffering endured by the family of an Edmonton soldier who killed himself should be used a springboard for systemic changes to the treatment of veterans and their loved ones, the family’s lawyer said Wednesday.
The investigation into the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge was handled in an inept and inexperienced manner, retired colonel Michel Drapeau told the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing.
“It has created an extra layer of pain and turmoil that was preventable and correctable, had a modicum of transparency, accountability and basic compassion been displayed from senior military leaders,” Drapeau said.
After eight months of work and 92 witnesses, the hearing was on its final day Wednesday, with Drapeau and lawyers for the government pressing their case for a final time.
Langridge, a veteran of Afghanistan and Bosnia, hanged himself in March 2008 after being ordered back to base following treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in a civilian hospital.
His family contends the military treated him as a malcontent, and that helped drive him over the edge.
Langridge’s reasons for taking his own life aren’t for the hearing to decide, said Drapeau. What matters, he argued, is how the investigation was carried out.
“Each of the three (National Investigation Service) investigations were conducted in an unsubstantiated manner,” Drapeau said.
“Taken together, these investigations aptly demonstrate the NIS lacks experience, expertise, structure and independence to conduct these types of investigations.”
The inquiry heard how military police concealed Langridge’s suicide note from his parents for 14 months, claiming the sheet of paper was evidence in a suspicious-death probe. The investigators stuck to the line even though the coroner at the scene described it as a clear-cut case of suicide.
Had the note been released immediately, several subsequent complications — including difficulties figuring out who was Langridge’s next of kin and what kind of funeral he wanted — could have been avoided, the hearing was told.
There were also conflicting claims about whether the troubled soldier was on a suicide watch prior to his death. If so, the military would have been liable for his death.
The inquiry also heard how the final military police report into the death was heavily rewritten and censored.
Sgt. Matthew Ritco, the lead investigator, testified that direction came down from “higher” to create two case summary files, one written by him and another rewritten version to be delivered to the chain of command, including Langridge’s commanding officer.
The final draft removed all but one reference to the victim having been on suicide watch before his death.
All of this was to protect the military, not respect Langridge or his family, Drapeau said.
“The army, and its commanders, are considered and treated as a brand that needs protecting,” he said.
“This means that, if there is wrongdoing by the chain of command, and it becomes public knowledge, there is an entire team of CF public affairs officers committed to ensuring that the outcomes are projected in a way that best protects the brand. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.”
Lawyers for the government were to present their final arguments later Wednesday.
A decision from the commission is not expected for months.