Thursday, November 24, 2016

When it rains it pours

In the wake of the rash of suicides which has taken place earlier this year at the Royal Military College, the Canadian military is now also coming to grips with the increasing number of suicides among returning Afghanistan veterans. In an editorial published in this morning edition of the Globe and Mail, “Military suicides:Time to help the soldiers who helped us” the newspaper  reports on   a new study “Suicide Mortality Report for 2016”.. The report was released by Brigadier-General Hugh MacKay, the Canadian Forces Surgeon General. It makes a direct link between  suicide and the fact of being deployed on dangerous missions. This is hardly surprising, however.
 there is strong evidence that the mission in Afghanistan has had a powerful impact on the mental health of an important minority of personnel who deployed in support of it.”
However, what is astonishing is that it took the Canadian military this long to arrive at that conclusion particularly since the suicide rate of Regular Force males is now  32 per 100,000 which is almost double the national rate for males. Yet, the authors of the military suicide-report are calling for more study to 'better understand what deployment (and hopefully post-deployment as well as post-release) factors  may be contributing to soldiers taking their own lives."  That may be useful in the long run. However, to use an old adage this may be “too little too late.”   Real action is required now. As noted in the Globe’s Editorial:

Soldiers who defend Canada in battle deserve to enjoy the peace they helped preserve when they return home. If more money and resources are required, Ottawa should be quick to make them available.”

Canada should follow the United Kingdom's lead by ensuring that each time a CAF member suffers a sudden (non-combat) death in Canada, whether connected to a military installation or not, that such matter be investigated by a Coroner through the medium of an inquest. For the benefit of the deceased’s family and civil society as a whole, such inquest would ensure that there is a sufficient element of public scrutiny and that it be conducted by an independent tribunal in their search for answers to prevent or reduced the number of suicides. This is presently not the case.

Indeed, such transparency is simply not present when the military conducts its own internal in camera Board of Inquiry (BOI). BOIs are internal [private] investigations and, as such, the public and the media are almost always excluded.  See para 30 of Gordon v. Canada (Minister ofNational Defence), [2005] FC 335 which states that a BOI is not carrying any judicial or quasi-judicial functions;  according to the Court, it is, in essence , a private investigation. Given the current suicide rate, it is clear that internal, private investigations conducted by and for the military will not, repeat not, address this issue in a satisfactory manner. 

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