Author Topic: Military policy on suicides existed despite lack of paper trail, inquiry hears  (Read 987 times)

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Military policy on suicides existed despite lack of paper trail, inquiry hears

By CHRIS COBB, The Ottawa Citizen April 26, 2012 8:52 PM

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On the witness stand Thursday at the Military Police Complaints Commission looking into the death of Edmonton soldier Stuart Langridge, who committed suicide on March 15, 2008, after tours of Bosnia and Afghanistan, is his mother Sheila Fynes, seen here with lawyer Michel Drapeau.
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Just because it isn’t written on paper doesn’t mean it can’t exist, a former commander of the armed forces internal police force told a military inquiry Thursday.

Lt. Col Gilles Sansterre, commander of the National Investigation Service (NIS) in March 2008 when Cpl. Stuart Langridge hanged himself at CFB Edmonton, said improvements to the military’s suicide policy touted publicly in 2009 by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk were implemented despite not being part of any written policy document.

One of the major issues at the Military Police Complaints Commission into Langridge’s death has been a suicide note written by the troubled soldier to his parents.

The military withheld the note for 14 months and did not tell the family it existed.

After he heard about the withholding of Langridge’s suicide note, Sansterre said he conferred with colleagues across the country and ordered new measures implemented.

“There was no doubt in my mind that everyone knew about the importance of what to do with suicide notes,” said Sansterre. “We took the matter very seriously.”

But Langridge family lawyer Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel, challenged Sansterre and asked whether Natynczyk would have known the suicide policy was unwritten.

Sansterre repeated that not every forces policy is written down.

“But the military runs on paper,” Drapeau said. “So now we have to take your word for it?”

Sansterre was called late Wednesday to appear at the inquiry just hours after current NIS commander Robert Delaney said he had been unable to find any paper trail related to policy on suicide notes.

In his short exchange with Drapeau, Sansterre said he had been called to testify because there’s a perception that people are lying and that’s not the case.

“I didn’t mention lying,” said Drapeau. “You did.”

During questioning from federal government lawyer Elizabeth Richards, Sansterre said the military had no suicide policy until 2009 but after the Langridge case, measures were implemented to immediately inform families if a suicide note is found.

“My entire organization was cognizant of the issue after it came to our attention,” Sansterre said. “It wasn’t practice to hang on to suicide notes for 14 months.”

Sansterre told commission lawyer Genevieve Coultee that the policy was discussed in detail at a high-level meeting in Montreal, and in subsequent conference calls.

“Then why is there no mention in any documents?” she asked. “You were aware no records were found?”

“You just made me aware,” he said, adding that his appearance at the inquiry had been rushed and left him little time to prepare.

“Have other policy changes been made in this way [with no paper]?” Coultee asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Sansterre replied. “I am saying that when this issue came to light I took it very seriously and took every step possible to ensure there would be no reoccurrence.”
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