In the year before he hanged himself in his barracks at an Edmonton army base, Corporal Stuart Langridge made six suicide attempts, was repeatedly admitted to hospital and turned to alcohol and cocaine to battle his post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother says.
Despite this, the military failed to give him the treatment he needed and, after his March 2008 suicide, repeatedly bungled its dealings with his family, Sheila Fynes told a press conference on Parliament Hill Thursday.
First, they lost his will; then, they organized his funeral without his family's help; they also took seven months to return his belongings, she said. But her most personal complaint, Ms. Fynes said, was that the military didn't tell her for over a year that her son had left a suicide note.
She said the family is still waiting for the government to return his pension contributions.
"It's two and a half years, and we actually have yet to grieve. We shuffle paper, we make phone calls, we go to meetings. Odd as it sounds, I'm actually looking forward to the day when I get to just sit and start grieving for my son," she said.
Ms. Fynes's indictment of the Department of National Defence and the army garnered an almost immediate response from the highest levels.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay deplored the way the family had been treated, and said he had ordered staffers to investigate the matter.
"Sheila Fynes will be treated with respect and dignity, and we will do everything in our power to resolve these issues," he said. "I've already instructed our officials at the Department of National Defence to immediately make themselves available to meet."
Meanwhile, Canada's top soldier, General Walter Natynczyk, personally called Ms. Fynes to apologize.
"I recognize that the communications with Cpl. Langridge's family regarding his estate was not handled as well as it could have been and for that I am truly sorry," he said in a written statement. "Furthermore, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal deeply regrets the delay in releasing Cpl. Langridge's suicide note, and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has since revised its procedures to ensure a situation such as this does not happen again."
Cpl. Langridge joined the reserves at age 17 and enlisted in the regular army three years later. He was part of Lord Strathcona's Horse, an Edmonton-based armoured regiment.
He was deployed to Bosnia in 2002 and also served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. His PTSD began to emerge in late 2006, when he was sent to CFB Wainwright for further training.
"Being in the army was not what Stuart did, it was who he was," Ms. Fynes said. "Despite Stuart's commitment and enthusiasm for the Forces, incoming rockets, roadside mines, witnessing intense poverty, sleep deprivation while on constant surveillance takes a heavy toll."