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 Cpl. 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.Sheila
Fynes, seen here during the April 26 Military Police Complaints
Commission hearing into the suicide of her son, Cpt. Stuart Langridge,
says the decision to allow an inquiry to view the video showing her
son's lifeless body keeps her awake at night. (Canadian Press)His mother and stepfather, Shaun Fynes, wrestled with the question of showing the video almost up until the day it was played.
"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
Sheila Fynes in an interview with The Canadian Press from her Victoria
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.
Sheila 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 Sheila Fynes nor her husband were present when the video was played for the commission.
The Military Police Complaints Commission hearing into the Afghan
vet's death resumes Wednesday, with testimony from Shaun 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
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. That decision echoes a bruising
fight with the commission previously over records relating to the
treatment of Afghan prisoners.
The Defence Department refutes the claim 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 that are the subject of the
Langridge's family accuses members of the National Investigative
Service of conducting an inadequate, biased investigation aimed at
exonerating the Canadian Forces.
Sheila Fynes says the coming set of hearings "will get to the heart of the matter."
Thus far, testimony from the military contends that 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 Sheila Fynes' divorce from her son's father.
The military withheld Langridge's suicide note from his family for 14 months, something for which it has apologized.
Yet a jumble of contradictions and missteps were exposed in testimony last spring.
has surprised me the most is the levels Justice (department) lawyers
have gone to try and paint a very damning picture of our son.'—Sheila FynesAt
first, it was claimed 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 Sheila
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.
Just as the hearings recessed in June, complaints commission chair
Glenn Stannard asked for partial access to documents that relate to the
Langridge case but were written after military police investigators had
been in touch with Defence Department lawyers.
MacKay, in a terse response, refused the plea and told the chairman
not to talk to contact him again directly, but instead go through
Justice Department lawyers.
That has galvanized one veterans group, which released a letter to MacKay demanding he waive solicitor-client privilege.
"I was quite disillusioned when reading your letter of response,
Minister MacKay, not only from a sense of empathy for the Fynes family
but to those military policemen who have been accused, our brothers in
arms who have been subject to great stress and long-term concerns about
potential disciplinary-career consequences," wrote Mike Blais, president
of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
"You have an obligation to those that serve, sir, an obligation to
accord to those who have been accused the opportunity to defend
themselves with the full truth."
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