With the Somalia debacle dominating the news, the last thing the Canadian Forces needed was more bad press. But that is exactly what they got last week as Maj. David Hirter was charged in connection with the death of Cpl. Neil MacKinnon, who was accidentally shot in the head on March 27, 1995, during a training exercise at Canadian Forces Base Suffield, 240 km southeast of Calgary. The military had originally told the corporal’s father, Bernie MacKinnon of Sydney River, N.S., that his 24-year-old son blew himself up with his own hand grenade, which he had primed and was preparing to throw into a nearby trench. It took another five months before the family officially learned that MacKinnon, a member of the Princess
Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, had been shot and that he was in no way responsible for his own death. “It's bad enough to lose a child,” the elder MacKinnon told Maclean’s last week, “but then to be lied to about it.” Autopsy results concluded that MacKinnon was about to lob a live grenade when he was shot through the right temple. The bullet prevented him from throwing the grenade and it exploded—though the bullet would have likely killed him in any event. While those results were known within two months of MacKinnon’s death, military spokesman Capt. Mike Parker acknowledges that MacKinnon’s father “wasn’t told until much later. That is a fault, we’ve made no bones about that.” Parker insists, however, that the family was
not intentionally misled. “There’s a critical difference between delays in passing on information and deception,” says Parker. “There’s absolutely no coverup here.”
Hirter, MacKinnon’s former battalion leader, faces six counts of negligent performance of duty, one of disobeying an order and one of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. Two other soldiers are expected to be charged in connection with the death this week. The elder MacKinnon says he is uninterested in the current legal proceedings—and that he holds no bitterness towards the soldiers who caused his son’s death. All he ever wanted, he says, was to clear his son’s good name. “Neil was all army,” he says. “He loved the army. For them to do this to him, it really hurts.”
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