Author Topic: Report on soldier’s suicide was heavily redacted for parents, commission hears  (Read 1802 times)

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Report on soldier’s suicide was heavily redacted for parents, commission hears

OTTAWA— Globe and Mail Update
Published Thursday, May. 17, 2012 11:51PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, May. 17, 2012 11:53PM EDT

When the parents of Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge first asked the military for its investigative report into their son’s suicide, they got fewer than half the number of pages.

That’s because the military wanted to protect privacy and military police investigative techniques, the Military Police Complaints Commission probing the corporal’s death heard Thursday.

The soldier’s mother, Sheila Fynes, said in an interview that she faced “stonewalling” when she tried to access the document that would answer questions about the military’s handling of her son’s death.

“This piece of it, I think, actually goes to the heart of the whole reason that we’re here,” she said.

The public-interest hearing is the third in the commission’s history and was called because of allegations brought forward by Ms. Fynes and her husband, Shaun. They claim that after their 28-year-old son was found hanging at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, the investigations into his death were inadequate and biased, aiming to exonerate Canadian Forces members of responsibility.

Cpl. Langridge’s parents first requested the military-police report after they were told 14 months after his death that he left them a suicide note. “We wanted some questions answered as to how our son died,” Ms. Fynes said.

Her son attempted suicide multiple times before his death in 2008. Ms. Fynes maintains that her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his time in Afghanistan and an earlier tour in Bosnia. But the hearing has heard from government lawyers that Cpl. Langridge struggled with drug and alcohol abuse before his tours.

When the Fynes first saw a copy of the sudden-death investigation report, it was 200-some pages and mostly contained medical records. Parts were redacted, including remarks made by Mr. Fynes.

The corporal had indicated on a form before his death that Mr. Fynes should have access to his information. But Julie Janse, the Department of National Defence’s access to information and privacy co-ordinator, said it applied only to retroactive information, not that of the future.

The form in question has since been changed and doesn’t have the personal-information option. But Ms. Jansen said the department will need to create a form specific to personal information. “It will have to be more precise ... it will be a more educated decision than it was at the time,” she said.

The family made the first request informally by going directly to the army rather than a formal process governed by access-to-information legislation. Ms. Jansen’s office assists the Department of National Defence, including military police, with informal requests if they ask for advice, as it did in this case.

She did not directly work on the file but was called as a witness because the official who did has a medical issue. Ms. Jansen said much of the decision making comes down to case-by-case interpretation of what is in the public interest to release.

“Anything that ... could be difficult for the family to read, I would consider not to release,” Ms. Jansen said.

As well, the military had to protect the privacy of others mentioned in the report and information about investigative techniques used by military police. She said the military also had an obligation to protect the corporal’s information because the legislation sets out that after someone dies they still have a right to privacy for 20 years.

The Fynes complained about the amount of information withheld and received another copy of the report, this time more than 500 pages, Ms. Fynes said. “Every single piece of information that we’ve got to do with any of this ... it’s usually not until we kind of throw our hands up and lose our temper,” she said.

She said the decisions about what information to give the family still doesn’t make sense. The second copy blocked out details about her son being found hanging, she said, but contained graphic details about how her son looked when he was found.

Only when a third copy was released to the commission did the family see a full version, which included military-police notes, Ms. Fynes said. She added that although secret investigative techniques have to be protected, she doesn’t understand how that applied to a suicide investigation.