A Victoria couple is outraged after Canada’s chief of defence staff wrote to them saying their son’s suicide wasn’t linked to his military service and suggesting he shouldn’t have received any service medals after his death.
Sheila Fynes said she and her husband, Shaun, were angry and offended on July 6 when they opened a letter from Gen. Tom Lawson that said a military board of inquiry found their son Cpl. Stuart Langridge’s suicide “was not attributable to military service.”
“This would normally have precluded his eligibility for the Sacrifice Medal and any other benefits,” said the June 22 letter, signed by Lawson and sent to the couple’s Victoria address.
“The one thing that we had left, the only thing they had given us, and now you’re saying he didn’t deserve them?” Fynes told the Times Colonist.
Fynes said the letter was “petty, mean, vindictive and disheartening.”
Lawson said in the four-page letter that the Sacrifice Medal and Memorial Crosses were presented almost one year before the board of inquiry’s final report was approved by former chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk.
“I regret that these actions lead you to believe that the [Canadian Armed Forces] had ascertained and recognized that your son’s death was attributable to military service.”
In a statement, Lawson went on the defensive, accusing the Ottawa Citizen, which first reported the story, of “grossly misrepresenting” the letter.
“Never, at any time, has anyone in the department considered revoking the awards, nor removing Cpl. Langridge’s name from the Book of Remembrance,” Lawson said in the statement. “To do so would be against our well-established policies, and would be, quite frankly, dishonourable.”
Fynes said she’s not sure how the letter can be interpreted any other way.
She said Lawson called the couple and left a message on their answering machine. He didn’t apologize, Fynes said, but said their son deserved full honours and recognition and that the media have misinterpreted his message.
Langridge, who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, committed suicide in the barracks at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton in 2008, just days after being released from a civilian hospital.
The 28-year-old struggled with depression and anxiety, but was never formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In March, the Military Police Complaints Commission released a report saying the military police carried out a series of botched investigations and made “unacceptable errors” in the way they dealt with the soldier’s parents.
Military police left Langridge’s body hanging in plain sight for hours as they collected evidence, and withheld his suicide note from his parents for 14 months.
The commission made 46 recommendations, including calling for better training in search warrants, dealing with evidence and communicating with families. The vast majority of the recommendations were either rejected outright by the Department of National Defence or received no response.
In March, the Fynes and their lawyer held a debriefing with the military board of inquiry, asking why, if their son’s suicide wasn’t attributed to his military career, the family had received the medals in 2010.
The couple believes Lawson’s letter was in response to that question, but expected it to be sent to their lawyer’s office, not their home.
Fynes said she and her husband are still waiting for a meeting with Defence Minister Jason Kenney.
Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin, who has been dealing with the Fynes on the matter, said Kenney should personally apologize for the inappropriate letter.
“The only memory that they have of their son are the medals and now [National Defence is] trying to retract that?” Rankin said.
“An apology is owed by Minister Kenney for this kind of letter … to have him explain what can only be construed as an insult.”
In response, Lauren Armstrong, press secretary at the Minstry of National Defence, contacted the Times Colonist and provided this statement: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Cpl. Stuart Langridge during this difficult time. The minister has written the Fynes family and offered to meet with them. As the minister has said in the past, the handling of this case has been completely unacceptable.”
With a file from The Canadian Press