Author Topic: Top soldier requested staff study Citizen article on soldier’s suicide for error  (Read 1624 times)

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Top soldier requested staff study Citizen article on soldier’s suicide for errors, inquiry told

By Chris Cobb, The Ottawa Citizen June 11, 2012 7:02 PM

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/soldier+requested+staff+study+Citizen+article+soldier+suicide+errors+inquiry+told/6765459/story.html#ixzz1xXMxItHZ


A May 2011 memo from a senior public affairs aide to Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk targeted a feature by Citizen defence reporter David Pugliese in which Pugliese described the impact of Cpl. Stuart Langridge’s suicide on the troubled soldier’s family.
Photograph by: CHRIS WATTIE , REUTERS

OTTAWA — Canada’s top soldier personally ordered his senior aides to search for factual errors in a Citizen article about the suicide of an Afghan war veteran, a federal military inquiry heard Monday.

The May 2011 memo from a senior public affairs aide to Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk targeted a feature by Citizen defence reporter David Pugliese in which he described the impact of Cpl. Stuart Langridge’s suicide on the troubled soldier’s family.

In the memo circulated to four other public affairs officers, Commander Hubert Genest said:

“As you know, David Pugliese’s story on Cpl. Langridge was published in the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday 21 May 2011. The CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) requested that we go through the article and see where the facts may be wrong.”

Karina Holder, a public affairs officer with the military’s Provost Marshall’s office and a recipient of Genest’s email, told the Military Police Complaints Commission that if there had been mistakes found in Pugliese’s article it could have led to a demand for a retraction from the newspaper.

“I was aware of what was going on,” she told commission lawyer Genevieve Coutlee, “but I wasn’t directly involved.”

“Would the goal of finding errors in that article have been to go back to the reporter and obtain retractions?” asked Coutlee.

“That could have been one of the outcomes,” said Holder, who had earlier described a co-ordinated effort across DND to develop a media strategy — “a 360-understanding” — to combat negative fallout from the Langridge story.

DND did not make any requests of the Citizen for corrections or retractions

Holder was forbidden from revealing details to the commission of how Natynczyk’s surprise personal intervention was handled inside DND because Defence Minister Peter MacKay is claiming solicitor-client confidentiality over a host of internal communications related to the Langridge case.

The commission is holding the inquiry in response to claims by Langridge’s mother and stepfather Sheila and Shaun Fynes that three military inquiries into their son’s death were biased in favour of the military.

Holder agreed with Fynes lawyer Michel Drapeau that the Natynczyk-ordered audit of Pugliese’s story was unusual, but similar requests from other senior officers were not uncommon, she said.

After Holder’s testimony, Drapeau told the Citizen that the top soldier’s personal interest in the newspaper story was puzzling.

“He must be an admirer, or at least an avid reader of Mr. Pugliese or has a personal interest in the story,” said Drapeau.

“When an email like this comes across, it’s a flashing light,” he said. “It tells them all that the boss is watching this like a hawk and explains why we have so many people across DND managing and massaging the message around this story. They know the top boss is personally interested, is watching so they are on edge — consulting one another making sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted.”

But it’s also surprising that Natynczyk had to ask, added Drapeau.

“He’s got 150 public affairs officers at his disposal and 20 of them meet on a daily basis in Ottawa alone,” he said. “That’s a lot of horsepower and a lot of talent. And they all know it’s received ministerial and Chief of Defence Staff attention.”

This is the second direct reference to the Citizen in email evidence tabled at the inquiry.

As the Langridge story began to gain public profile, chief of the Canadian Force’s National Investigative Service (NIS) told his media-relations officer that Pugliese’s insistence on asking about his investigators’ work on the case “needs to be curbed.”

Natynczyk, who as chief of defence staff has responsibility for the command, control and administration of the Canadian Forces, had become publicly involved in the case in October 2010 after a frustrated and angry Sheila Fynes attracted wide media attention at a news conference in Ottawa.

She was particularly incensed that Stuart’s suicide note had been withheld from the family for 14 months and that she and her husband had been sent a letter from a military lawyer ordering her to stop contacting members of the military about her son’s case.

Shortly after Sheila Fynes news conference, MacKay rebuked the military but claimed he just learned about the situation that morning.

But Fynes said MacKay had been sent three letters informing him about how her son and the family had been treated and his office never responded to any of them. Shortly after MacKay’s statement in the House of Commons Natynczyk issued a partial apology and admitted the legal letter had been a mistake, but refused to apologize for the treatment Stuart received in the weeks leading to his suicide.

The Fynes maintain that Stuart’s treatment at CFB Edmonton contributed to his death.

After being ordered back to his base from the hospital, Langridge was put on a five-day workweek and given menial tasks such as snow clearing and trophy polishing.

His parents say their son was suicidal and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The military denies Langridge had PTSD and says his problems were rooted in alcohol and drug abuse.

The soldier spent one tour on reconnaissance missions in the mountains of Afghanistan and according to his former girlfriend Rebecca Starr, declined from being “a happy guy” to a reclusive, depressive person prone to night terrors, fits of anger and profuse sweating.
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