Conflict & Justice

4 soldier suicides in a week have Canada reeling


A Canadian flag flies on a memorial in Kandahar to honor soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Canada ended its nine-year combat mission in Afghanistan on July 7, 2011.



Canadian military authorities are trying to understand why four veterans have committed suicide within the last few days, the latest a 46-year-old Quebec man on Monday.

Officials confirmed they are investigating the death of Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelievre, whose body was found in his home.

A soldier since 1985, Lelievre served two tours of Bosnia and one in Afghanistan. He returned home last year, and appeared happy, a family friend told CBC News.

“He was so happy that night; he was like a little clown that we had honored him and his other friends,” Vera Wall said. “He was really glad, and I didn’t expect this of him.”

The suicides began early last week when police found Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast in “distress” in his jail cell. Police arrested him in an assault case; he later died in an Alberta hospital.

Last Tuesday, Master Cpl. William Elliott died in his Manitoba home. A day later, Warrant Officer Michael McNeil’s body was discovered at his Ontario base.

More from GlobalPost: US soldier suicides high even as wars wind down

The rash of soldier deaths is an issue that’s caused former lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire such stress, he found himself needing medical attention this week after crashing his car.

Now a Canadian senator, Dallaire said he was simply exhausted.

“I am very thankful that nobody was injured, or worse, by me not being more attentive to the level of fatigue that I’ve been experiencing,” he said.

He cited the recent deaths and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide for his exhaustion.

Dallaire, 67, was a United Nations commander in Rwanda when 800,000 people died in 100 days. His book, Shake Hands with the Devil, revealed his continued battles with depression and post-traumatic stress after witnessing the massacres.

An army psychiatrist told CTV News that Canada can expect more suicides – as many as 20 percent more – as soldiers return from Afghanistan.

One advocate suggests Canada follows an American program that promised $50 million to learn more about soldier suicide.

“Obviously, the US has been in Iraq which is different than Afghanistan, but I do think we can learn something from what they’re looking at down there,” said Tim Laidler, executive director of the Veterans Transition Network.

More from GlobalPost: More British soldiers committed suicide in 2012 than died in Afghanistan