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Inquiry into veteran’s suicide derailed as MacKay gags military lawyers

By Chris Cobb, The Ottawa Citizen May 22, 2012

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Inquiry+into+veteran+suicide+derailed+MacKay+gags+military+lawyers/6661833/story.html#ixzz1vjhfV9Mi


Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Richards, left, on Tuesday told the inquiry into the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge that Defence Minister Peter MacKay would not relinquish his legal right to solicitor-client privilege. Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer Mark Freiman is on the right.

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s gagging of military lawyers brought an inquiry into an Afghan veteran’s suicide to an often bizarre and grinding halt Tuesday.

Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Richards told the inquiry into the 2008 suicide of Cpl. Stuart Langridge that MacKay would not relinquish his legal right to solicitor-client privilege.

As defence minister, MacKay is the client of his department’s lawyers, she said.

And as the client, she added, MacKay has the legal right to keep secret the advice DND lawyers gave to military colleagues who dealt with Langridge’s family after the troubled solider hanged himself at CFB Edmonton.

MacKay brought out the “heavy artillery’” because the Department of National Defence doesn’t like the way Langridge inquiry is unfolding in public, family lawyer Michel Drapeau told the Citizen.

“We are going to be missing a significant part of the puzzle,” he said. “The purpose of this hearing is to inform the public and prevent a reoccurrence. This blatant refusal is the easy way out.”

Langridge’s mother and step father Shaun and Sheila Fynes alleged that three inquiries into their son’s death by the military’s National Investigation Service (NIS) were biased in favour of the military and buried the truth of how their son was treated immediately before his death.

The purpose of the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing is to determine whether their allegations have any validity.

Richards’ announcement of MacKay’s decision resulted in little progress and several hours of acrimonious exchanges between Richards and Military Police Complaints Commission lawyer Mark Freiman.

Military lawyer Maj. Rory Fowler repeatedly refused to answer Freiman’s questions and Richards repeatedly objected to Freiman’s line of questioning.

“I cannot opine,” Fowler said repeatedly.

Richards accused Freiman of putting Fowler in a difficult situation and attempting “to get through the back door what he can’t get through the front.

“With the greatest respect,” responded Freiman, “that’s nonsense.”

An often testy-sounding Fowler, told Freiman several times he was on “dangerous terrain” and said he would only answer “non-controversial questions.”

“You’re not suggesting there is a secret law are you?” asked Freiman drawing another objection from Richards.

During later testimony from Alberta military lawyer, Lt. Col. Bruce King, Richards accused Freiman of asking improper questions.

“You can’t try and trap a witness,” she said.

Freiman demand she withdraw the comment but she did not.

Richards told Commission chairman Glenn Stannard that if she objects to any question asked of Fowler, he would not be allowed to answer and that Stannard had no legal right to overrule her.

Stannard called several halts to the proceedings in an apparent failed effort to get the lawyers to solve their differences over whether Freiman’s “general, hypothetical” questions were overstepping the legal line.

Freiman settled for abbreviated questioning of the military lawyer in an effort, he said, to get some questions and answers on the record.

Drapeau said the military lawyers called as witnesses have no choice but to obey their client’s orders and not contravene their ethical obligations.

But MacKay’s decision had disrupted the work of the commission and obstructed its efforts to get the full story of what happened to Langridge and to ensure that other troubled soldiers don’t meet similar, tragic ends, he said.

“I am surprised the defence minister decided that nothing can be disclosed,” he said. “As frustrating as this may be, we have to accept it and move on.”

Langridge, who served with his reconnaissance unit in the mountains of Afghanistan, was a heavy drinker and drug user towards the end of his life but the military deny he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome as his parents claim.

Shortly before his death, the soldier completed 30 days in an Edmonton psychiatric ward before being ordered back to his base where he was assigned a full work week of menial tasks, including polishing trophies and clearing snow.

His parents claim that he was in too fragile a mental state to cope with the demands placed on him.

Langridge left a suicide note addressed to his parents that the military did not deliver to them for 14 months.

The inquiry continues Wednesday with Richards scheduled to brief Stannard on the limits of his jurisdiction under federal law.
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