Author Topic: Availability of documents threaten to derail soldier suicide inquiry  (Read 1298 times)

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Availability of documents threaten to derail soldier suicide inquiry

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OTTAWA — An unresolved dispute over crucial Defence Department documents and increasing anger over claims of federal government legal privilege are threatening to derail a military inquiry into the suicide of an Afghan war veteran.

Lawyers for the federal Justice Department and the Military Police Complaints Commission clashed twice Wednesday — first over the surprise arrival late Tuesday of a new batch of Defence Department papers and later, over the legal limitations on commission lawyers.

A related issue over redaction of Defence Department documents also remains a major bone of contention.

And a federal government lawyer again raised the spectre Wednesday that unless commission lawyers accept the limitations she says the law places on them, and unless some compromise can be reached over documents, the only option could be to seek a court judgment — a process that could take many months, perhaps as long as a year.

The commission is probing the suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, who hanged himself at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton in March 2008, and three subsequent military police investigations that Langridge's parents say were more focused on absolving the military of blame than on getting to the truth of the circumstances surrounding their son's death.

In a surprise move, Langridge family lawyer Michael Drapeau produced an affidavit stating the soldier's parents "irrevocably" ended their legal action against the federal government.

The aim of the hastily drawn-up affidavit, he said, is to get access to a report of a summary investigation into Langridge's suicide that is now completely redacted.

But the lawyer conceded it's unlikely to be a simple process because, he claims, federal lawyers are now stalling.

"When someone says, 'We don't want to sue you any more,' you would normally say, 'Thank you very much' and walk away," said Drapeau. "There was an agreement but it has become undone. It's in limbo."

Drapeau later tabled a letter from the Langridge family's Victoria lawyer, Michael Hargreaves, in which Hargreaves accused government lawyers of reneging on an agreement by adding more conditions.

The inquiry is now in its third week and so far has heard from a series of military witnesses, doctors and counsellors who had dealings with Langridge in the weeks before he died.

The soldier, buried on his 28th birthday, was addicted to drugs and alcohol — an addiction that the military claims was the cause of his depression.

His parents say he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and that had pushed him into addiction.

Commission lawyer Mark Freiman condemned the arrival late Tuesday of 100 pages of documents he said were three months late and relevant to his questioning of two of the day's witnesses.

Freiman and Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Richards have clashed on delayed and redacted documents, and before Wednesday's flare-up were already involved in ongoing talks to resolve the issue.

Richards denied there was anything deliberate about the latest delay, saying it was an "oversight," and claiming that at least some of the documents were being held by Library and Archives Canada where all documents related to fallen soldiers eventually are placed.

It's unacceptable, said Drapeau that "the state" should still be withholding information three weeks into the inquiry.

Commission chairman Glenn Stannard urged the lawyers to solve the issue and asked Freiman whether he expected the arrival of more documents.

"I have no idea," said the lawyer.

"There seems to be some misunderstanding in the food chain," said Stannard.

There is no lack of understanding on the government legal team, responded Richards, repeating that Tuesday's late arrival of Langridge's health records was an oversight and that members of the government team "were only human."

Freeman said he was reserving the right to recall witnesses if late-arriving documents made it necessary, and that those responsible for the delays should pay their expenses.

The lawyers clashed for a second time during Freiman's questioning of former CFB Edmonton base commander Lt. Col. Derek Macaulay, whom Freiman was asking about the redacted summary report.

Macaulay was asked to leave the hearing room while Richards and Freiman argued over whether the report was subject to solicitor-client privilege and therefore off limits for the commission.

In a repeat of a similar clash earlier in the inquiry, Richards said the complaints commission has no power to either consider or rule on solicitor-client privilege.

She accused Freiman of "trying to get through the back door what he can't get through the front door," adding that if Freiman persisted in his line of questioning the issue likely would have to be resolved by a court.

Freiman denied his questions were in conflict with solicitor-client privilege between government lawyers and members of the military, but said he would temporarily retreat to "save the commission the theatre of questions and objections."

Ottawa Citizen
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