The mother of a soldier who died during a training exercise at CFB Shilo in 2017 is suing the federal government for negligence in his death.
Cpl. Nolan Caribou of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Regiment died on Nov. 18, 2017. It was later determined the soldier died by suicide.
Nearly two years to the day of Caribou’s death, his mother, Freda Caribou, filed a lawsuit in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench claiming her son was discriminated against by his peers and superiors because he was Indigenous.
"The entire time Cpl. Caribou participated in the reserves, he was marginalized because of his race and disrespected by the junior ranks and the senior ranks," the statement of claim read. "Cpl. Caribou’s superiors were present and aware of the abuse, name-calling and marginalization of Cpl. Caribou, but did nothing to directly address the issue or try to stop it."
Caribou was a "thoughtful, quiet, happy and determinedly ambitious" man who joined the Canadian Forces right after high school in 2012, according to the statement of claim.
Caribou wanted to be a chaplain to Indigenous people either in the Armed Forces or in the prison system, following in the footsteps of his uncle and mentor, Ovide Caribou, who was a chaplain at Stony Mountain Institution.
A month before his death, Caribou graduated with a bachelor of arts in sociology from the University of Winnipeg.
Shortly after being assigned to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Caribou was subjected to "initiation" activities that involved drinking and physical abuse, the statement of claim said. In the years following, the bullying and physical abuse continued.
In December 2014, Caribou injured his clavicle during training, but did not reveal the actual cause of his fracture to the doctor, according to the lawsuit.
Caribou told his mother the following month that he was actually "jumped" by several members of his unit.
"He did not want to bring shame on his unit or ‘tell’ on his fellow soldiers, so he reported it as an ‘injury’ during the exercise and did not report the others involved for fighting or picking on him," said the statement of claim.
Caribou was also called various derogatory nicknames, such as "slow" and "retarded," according to the lawsuit, with his superiors taking no action to stop it.
In August 2016, Caribou’s locker was defaced with some of the derogatory nicknames written on his locker in permanent marker and stickers saying, "non-serviceable" and "free from explosives."
Visibly shaken and upset, Caribou reported the incident immediately to his superiors, but no report or documentation was put in his file.
"No attempt was made to find out who had defaced the locker and no one ordered the locker cleaned or painted," said the statement of claim. "The locker remained marred and defaced until at least six months after Cpl. Caribou’s death, a testament to the way Cpl. Caribou was ignored and marginalized, by the junior ranks and even by his own chain of command."
Caribou also "felt disrespected and ignored by his chain of command" after being overlooked for opportunities and promotions, the lawsuit said.
In August 2015, Caribou was eligible for a promotion to the rank of Corporal, but was only promoted to "Private Trained." He was not promoted to Corporal until April 2016, costing him a loss of income and seniority.
In the spring of 2017, Caribou applied to be one of the leaders in a summer training camp — a position he was well-qualified for and very excited about.
There was never any response to his application.
"Whether the Sergeant had ignored him (or) forgotten to submit his name was never clear," the lawsuit said. "Cpl. Caribou felt increasingly like his chain of command was ignoring him because of his race. He became discouraged and his discouragement led to depression."
During the training exercise at CFB Shilo, Caribou was once again the subject of ridicule by his peers when another soldier said Caribou was "not a real soldier," the lawsuit said. The officer overseeing the exercise failed to step in or take any action.
The next day, Caribou asked to use the bathroom and did not return.
It wasn’t until dinner that a supervisor noticed Caribou was not present and ordered two soldiers to find him, the lawsuit said. They found him dead in a field near the toilets.
Despite the fact there was no live ammunition used in the exercise, the ammunition that killed Caribou was determined to be "live," the lawsuit said. There has been no evidence or explanation as to how the ammunition got there.
Caribou’s mother said Canada and its officers owed a duty of care to her son, ensuring all regulations, policies and procedures — including the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Guidelines — were followed and implemented.
By failing to enforce such protocols, Canada and its officers caused Caribou to be "unsupported, bullied, demoralized and humiliated and to ultimately take his own life," the statement of claim said.
"Cpl. Caribou had a reasonable expectation to be safe and enjoy security of his person within the confines of the exercise of his duties," the lawsuit said. "He had a reasonable expectation to be free from abuse and to be treated equitably among his peers on his merits and in spite of his race."
The allegations put forward in the statement of claim have not yet been proven in court.
A statement of defence on behalf of the federal government has not yet been filed.
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