US & Canada

Canada rocked by rash of soldier suicides in one week

Senator Roméo Dallaire, seen in Washington DC on 5 February 2007
Image caption Senator Romeo Dallaire has spoken of his stress over the suicides

The Canadian military is soul searching after the suicides of up to four soldiers in just a week.

Defence officials told media that three of as many as four Canadian Forces members who took their own lives in recent days had served in Afghanistan.

Senator Romeo Dallaire, a retired general, blamed a recent traffic accident on stress over the deaths.

The incidents have raised questions over post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The latest death, of a married 46-year-old soldier whose body was found on Monday near his base in Quebec, is being treated as an apparent suicide. Sylvain Lelievre had served in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

In the past week, the bodies of Warrant Officer Michael McNeil, Master Cpl William Elliott and Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast have also been discovered.

'Out of steam'

The men were based in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta respectively.

It is not known if the soldiers suffered from PTSD, but mental illness has not been ruled out as a cause.

Col Rakesh Jetly, a military psychiatrist, told the Globe and Mail he expects the number of soldiers dealing with PTSD to rise in coming years as they return from Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson issued a statement saying: "We all have a role to play in reaching out to those who are hurting and encourage them to get help.

"I want to remind those who may be going through difficult times that you are not alone and there is support available to get you through this."

Mr Dallaire acknowledged that he, too, had suffered from PTSD after witnessing atrocities as a United Nations force commander in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

He told Senate colleagues on Tuesday that a minor car crash he had a day earlier was caused by a lack of sleep due to stress over the recent military suicides.

"I simply ran out of steam," he said.

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