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Victim's father asks why suspected killer wasn't detected

Police wait for search warrants to enter the home of Col. Russell Williams on Cozy Cove Lane in Tweed, Ont., on Feb. 9, 2010.


The call came Sunday night to Ernest Comeau's home near Ottawa: Police had arrested a suspect in his daughter's murder. Then came the shock - the suspect was his daughter's own base commander.

For Mr. Comeau, the distress went deep. He had been a career soldier who served in the Canadian Forces from the age of 17. His father, Maurice, had been a decorated Spitfire pilot who had served overseas in the Second World War.

The pain at losing his daughter, a third-generation soldier, came with a sense of betrayal. Mr. Comeau considers the military his extended family; the arrest of Colonel Russell Williams, commander of CFB Trenton, left the grieving father asking whether the Forces had adequately screened its own personnel.

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"This has broken my confidence," said Mr. Comeau, 61, who has retired after 42 years in uniform. "This is a man in a position of authority, a base commander. You ask yourself: How did he get that far? How come he wasn't detected?"

"The Forces are like a big family. The base commander is like a father. He's supposed to take care of his men and women. This hurts, and it will hurt for a long time."

Corporal Marie-France Comeau, 38, was born in Quebec and lived on military bases around the world as her family moved. Following in her father's footsteps, she joined the army, worked at bases across Canada and in Afghanistan, and last year became a flight attendant with CFB Trenton's 437 transport squadron, a job that dovetailed with her love of travel.

Her job meant she worked on VIP flights, and in September she was assigned to Governor-General Michaëlle Jean on her trip to Afghanistan. With Cpl. Comeau's upbeat personality and wide smile, she was easy to notice, and friends say she may have been assigned to flights that also carried Col. Williams.

Her last assignment took her with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his three-day trip to India in November. When she returned, she was in high spirits.

"She had found her calling. She had no worries, and everything was going well," said Alain Plante, a basic-training instructor who had lived with Cpl. Comeau for four years and remained a close friend.

Three days after their conversation on Nov. 22, Cpl. Comeau failed to report to work. Her new boyfriend, a fellow soldier currently assigned to security duties at the Vancouver Olympics, came to her bungalow on Raglan St. in the town of Brighton and discovered her body.

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Her death left her extended family of aunts and uncles in Quebec and New Brunswick reeling. At her funeral in Ottawa in December, family members recalled in their eulogy a woman they called "our beautiful angel," who was both kind and charismatic, had refinement and joie de vivre.

"They've taken away your dreams," the service heard.

"For the family, it was a catastrophe," said her aunt, Lilianne Guitard. "We didn't know how she died or what happened, just that they found her dead in her apartment."

News of an arrest in her murder brought a sense of relief. "But there's also consternation," Ms. Guitard said, "that [the suspect]is a high-ranking member of the army."

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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