After the sudden collapse and subsequent death of a young soldier (after several days on life support), the unit Commanding Officer (CO) granted the soldier’s family’s request to be given his personal belongings immediately in order to avoid the protracted emotional trauma of further delay. It was alleged that the CO took this decision despite being aware of further delay. On the CO’s direction, a junior officer retrieved the items and had them delivered to the soldier’s family. This required cutting through police tape and removing the padlock with which the MPs had sealed off the soldier’s possessions.
MP policy requires all such deaths on military property are to be investigated to the same standard as a homicide until such time as the possibility of foul play is eliminated. In this case, there were two distinct MP investigative mandates which were engaged by the young soldier’s sudden and unexplained medical crisis: 1) a local MP investigation into possible illegal drug involvement; and 2) a broader investigation by Canadian Forces National Investigation Services (CFNIS) into the cause of the soldier’s “
The Commission’s investigation revealed that the CO was aware of the local MP drug investigation at the time he directed the release of the dying soldier’s belongings, but had not been aware of the impending CFNIS “
suspicious death” investigation. Upon learning of this second investigation, the CO accepted the need to retain the soldier’s belongings for investigative purposes, but by then they had been released to the family.
While the CO was understandably moved to help the dying soldier’s family, and may not have known about the nature and extent of MP interest in the matter, the Commission concluded that the complaint of interference had been substantiated. The CO should have deferred to the technical expertise of the MPs in investigations of this nature. The Commission found that the CO should have raised any concerns about the appropriateness of the MP investigation with the MP technical chain, rather than unilaterally overriding their judgment as to the needs of the investigation.
The Chief of the Defence Staff accepted the Commission’s findings and recommendations in this case. This led to a review of Canadian Forces’ leadership training to ensure a proper understanding, at all levels, of the concept and implications of interference with military police. As well, relevant MP policies and procedures were modified to clarify that “
suspicious death” investigations may commence prior to an individual’s actual death, in order to ensure that evidence is preserved.
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