The suicide rate among Canada's soldiers doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population, according to data obtained through access to information requests.
Last year, the number of suicides among regular and reserve members of the Canadian Forces rose to 36, the highest in more than a decade, military police records obtained by Maj. Michel Sartori show.
Sartori, a Laval University doctoral student, has been gathering information about military suicides for years. It's the subject of his thesis and a topic close to his heart, since five of his colleagues killed themselves after a tour of duty in Yugoslavia in 1994.
He believes the rise is linked to the intensification of Canada's mission in Afghanistan when soldiers moved into the volatile southern region in 2006.
Based on the military police reports, he found that the average suicide rate among Canadian Forces military members, both regular and reserve, between 1994 to 2007 was 16 per year.
But the number of suicides among members of the military rose to 20 in 2006 and then jumped even higher to 36 in 2007, or a rate of 41.4 suicides per 100,000 soldiers. That's double the rate in the previous year.
Sartori says he was alarmed when he received the latest numbers.
"It was a shock, total shock," said Sartori. "I almost fell out my chair."
The 2007 numbers put the military suicide rate at triple that of the general Canadian public. Over the past two decades Canada's overall rate has ranged from 11.6 to 14 suicides per 100,000, though recent numbers are not available.
Dr. Greg Passey, a former military psychiatrist and head of a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic in Vancouver, says the spike in military suicides is "disturbing" but not surprising. He says he believes it's related to what he calls the "increased tempo" of the Afghanistan mission, which began in 2002.
"We're now a number of years into that mission and the frontline, the combat soldiers, and even the support staff are having to do multiple tours," he said.
The psychological stress of those missions is cumulative, he said, and Sartori's discovery may be the wakeup call the military needs to deal with the issue.
Veterans Affairs says that the number of vets experiencing some kind of operational stress injury, such as PTSD, has tripled in the past five years, and they expect it to continue rising with Canada's mission in Afghanistan likely to last until 2011.
Roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving in and around Afghanistan's Kandahar region, where they are battling Taliban insurgents.
And for what? For what?? For oil? For warlords? For poppies? To squelch a religious-political movement we disapprove of? To ingratiate Canada with the US?