Master Corporal Collin Ryan Fitzgerald, MMV, CD is a Canadian soldier who was among the first recipients of the Medal of Military Valour, a Canadian military decoration, in recognition of actions under enemy fire in Afghanistan. He was a member of the brotherhood “Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry”. The citation reads: “Master Corporal Collin Ryan Fitzgerald, M.M.V. Shilo, Manitoba, and Morrisburg, Ontario Medal of Military Valour. Master Corporal Fitzgerald deployed with 5 Platoon, B Company, 1 PPCLI Battle Group in Afghanistan. He is recognized for outstanding selfless and valiant actions carried out on May 24, 2006, during an ongoing enemy ambush involving intense, highly accurate enemy fire. Master Corporal Fitzgerald repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by entering and re-entering a burning platoon vehicle and successfully driving it off the roadway, permitting the remaining vehicles trapped in the enemy zone to break free. Master Corporal Fitzgerald’s courageous and completely selfless and heroic actions were instrumental to his platoon's successful egress and undoubtedly contributed to saving the lives of his fellow platoon members”.
Today, when Fitzgerald thinks back to his 2006 tour of duty, the events that transpired whereby he was awarded the medal are not even among the most memorable. A native of Morrisburg, Ontario, about 40 kilometers southwest of Cornwall, Fitzgerald, now 37, joined the reserves when he was still in high school. After graduating, he transferred to the regular force, went through battle school in Alberta and was posted to the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Manitoba. His intention was to get out after three years to work in the oilfields, but he took to military life. After two peacekeeping tours in Bosnia during which not a shot was fired, he was deployed to Kandahar in January 2006 with the “Dirty Patricia’s” Battle Group known as Task Force Orion and was in almost constant combat for much of his nine-month tour. It is recorded in history that the deadliest year in the Afghanistan War was 2006. As a proven combat leader who clearly demonstrated the ability to work extremely well under pressure, Fitzgerald was often at the forefront of the action and never hesitated to do what was right amid the dangers of regular contact with a determined enemy. Fitzgerald thrived in a high intensity, yet structured environment. As a soldier he was reliable, honest, trustworthy and did not hesitate to disregard his own safety in order to protect others. Looking back at his time in Afghanistan, the incidents that stand out for Fitzgerald involve not heroics, but incredible loss.
A major loss was the death of Capt. Nichola Goddard — Canada’s first female combat fatality. Goddard, a crew commander, was standing half-exposed in her light-armoured vehicle when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG’s). Fitzgerald briefly met Goddard while waiting for orders to head out on Operations that fatal day she was killed. That battle lasted most of the day on the 17th of May and into the night, and ended shortly after an American B-1 Lancer dropped a 500lbs bomb. In the end, the two-day operation saw Goddard, an Afghan National Army soldier, and 40 Taliban killed, as well as approximately 20 Taliban captured http://www.station14.ca/video.html?id=1664
Returning home from the killing fields in Afghanistan, Fitzgerald was posted to Trenton, Ontario as a weapons instructor. He had not been back on Canadian soil for long when strangers targeted and attacked him for being a highly decorated war hero. http://www.ctvnews.ca/soldier-calls-nasty-bar-beating-a-sneak-attack-1.233043 Travis Baldwin, Jeremy Stewart and Ian Tait were all charged on the 10th day of March in 2007 for causing bodily harm to Fitzgerald contrary to s. 267(b) of the Criminal Code. Fitzgerald, 27 at the time, was blindsided when one of his attackers snuck up behind him and smashed a beer bottle over his face for no good reason. Fitzgerald was knocked unconscious and beaten. Bystanders came to Fitzgerald’s aid to stop the attackers from continuing to beat him while he lay defenseless and unconscious on the ground. Fitzgerald suffered a broken nose, two chipped teeth, three fractures in his foot, a swollen knee and required 10 stitches to close a large gaping wound across his eyebrow from the beer bottle. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/soldier-decorated-in-afghanistan-beaten-in-hometown-bar-1.667930
Fitzgerald recovered from these physical injuries, however the deep rooted emotional injuries were never treated. The only people Fitzgerald felt connected to were his brothers in arms who experienced the same moral injury he experienced during his Afghan tour. This senseless beating coupled with being separated from his comrades left Fitzgerald feeling isolated and alone.
In 2011, Fitzgerald and his now ex-wife bought a house outside Morrisburg and moved there with their young daughter to be closer to family for support. Fitzgerald had been suffering in silence for years and had plummeted into a dark world of depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, distressing flashbacks, insomnia, emotional incontinence, night terrors, paranoia, hypervigilance and anhedonia. To numb the chaos in his mind, Fitzgerald self-medicated his severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms with alcohol and cocaine.
March 9 2013 under the influence of alcohol Fitzgerald was determined to end his suffering by way of suicide. Fitzgerald tried unsuccessfully to shoot himself in the face by jamming a shell into a pipe and striking it against his garage floor multiple times. His next thought was to die suicide by cop. Fitzgerald sent a message to a relative saying he had rigged his house to explode and then waited for police to arrive to shoot him. Fitzgerald used his electric fireplace remote control to make it look like he had a detonator device in order to entice the Ontario Provincial Police to shoot and kill him. The Ontario Provincial Police Emergency Response Team (ERT) in their infinite wisdom chose forbearance and a less lethal force by shooting Fitzgerald with an Arwen gun (bean bag gun) to gain control over the situation to end a five hour standoff. Fitzgerald was shot six times with the first shot being pin point accurate hitting him on the right shoulder which caused Fitzgerald to drop the electric fireplace remote control that he was holding. The second shot fired was a deadly accurate shot that hit Fitzgerald center of mass in the left breast plate. Four other shots pierced his skin leaving Fitzgerald incapacitated from the pain. Fitzgerald credits the OPP ERT officers for saving his life the day they shot him. The OPP ERT officer’s use of force was incredibly effective and their character along with their conduct was exemplary. Consistent high standards of professionalism, competence and integrity demonstrated by the OPP ERT officers during the five hour standoff resulted in a favorable outcome for all persons involved. Fitzgerald plead guilty to several offences and over a period of spent 14 months he was institutionalized at Ottawa General Psychiatric Unit, Ottawa Carleton Detention Center, Homewood Health Center and he served four months under house arrest.
Not long after Fitzgerald’s house arrest ended in May of 2014, video surveillance captured a plain clothed off duty Police Constable, PC Jarrett Scott drive his personal vehicle towards Fitzgerald in the parking lot located at 6 5th St West in Morrisburg on June 5 2015 . The off duty Police Constable exited his personal vehicle after using it to box Fitzgerald in and began questioning Fitzgerald without identifying himself as a police officer. Fitzgerald was reactive to Scott’s aggressive demeanor and accusatory questions and an argument ensued. Fitzgerald’s Probation Officer was notified of the incident and she contacted the OPP with her concerns which resulted in a cataclysmic reaction. The OPP in more than 5 counties were put on high alert as Fitzgerald was perceived to be a threat to society. The following day on June 6 2014, PC Scott accused Fitzgerald of following him from Morrisburg to Brockville. The OPP reacted to PC Scott’s accusation and a high risk takedown of Fitzgerald was authorized. Fitzgerald’s elderly parents were pulled over separately in their own personal motor vehicles surrounded by the OPP with high velocity rifles trained on them to execute a search of their vehicles looking for Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s mother was rushed to Winchester Hospital via ambulance secondary to losing consciousness and experiencing breathing difficulties from this traumatic event. Fitzgerald was ultimately charged with harassment and intimidating a police officer secondary to PC Scott’s accusation that Fitzgerald followed him from Morrisburg to Brockville.
At Fitzgerald’s two day bail hearing Fitzgerald pleaded with the judge to order the jail guards at Ottawa Carleton Detention Center to provide a bed for him to rest on as he was laying on the concrete floor in medical segregation with ants crawling on him. Fitzgerald was released on bail into the care of his parents. A month later on July 31 2014 Fitzgerald’s matrimonial home in Iroquois burned down to the ground on the day it was scheduled to be sold. At the time of the fire Fitzgerald was prohibited from being in the town of Iroquois. Paula Burton, a former neighbour of Fitzgerald stated she saw Fitzgerald at the scene of the fire resulting in Fitzgerald being charged with breaching his probation and bail conditions despite a trio of witnesses- Mary-Ellen Dillabough, Derek Vanveld and Anthony Merkley making statements to the police that it was not Fitzgerald at the scene of the fire http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/trio-of-missing-witness-statements-contradict-opp-case-against-afghan-vet/
When the police arrested Collin Fitzgerald on July 31 2014 for breach of recognizance related to the house fire, his father, Bryan Fitzgerald questioned the police as to why they were at his home arresting his son. The police never informed neither Bryan Fitzgerald nor Collin Fitzgerald why they were arresting Collin Fitzgerald. The arrest took place in the very early hours of July 31 2014 without incident. Hours after Collin Fitzgerald was arrested and charged the OPP returned to Bryan Fitzgerald’s home and arrested and charged Bryan Fitzgerald with obstruction of justice http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.3314137/father-of-afghan-war-hero-details-son-s-struggles-with-ptsd-and-family-s-legal-battles-1.3314142 Bryan Fitzgerald’s charge of obstruction of justice was an automatic disqualification for him to act in the role as his son’ surety. It was during court proceedings (hours after Collin Fitzgerald’s arrest) that Collin Fitzgerald was informed that his home in Iroquois had burnt down to the ground. In a state of shock not knowing if his little girl was alive or dead Fitzgerald had a psychogenic seizure and was transported to Cornwall hospital. After Fitzgerald stabilized at the Cornwall hospital his mother informed him that his matrimonial home was empty when it burnt to the ground and that his daughter was alive. Fitzgerald was court ordered to be institutionalized for a 30 day Forensic Psychiatric evaluation at the Royal Ottawa Hospital followed by two weeks incarceration at Ontario’s worst jail, the Ottawa Carleton Detention Center while he waited for a bail hearing that was held on September 12th 2014.
If it wasn’t for the aid of two veterans, Linda and Eric Magill coming forward to act as Collin Fitzgerald sureties, Fitzgerald would not have made bail and he would have spent over two years in jail waiting for trial for crimes that he did not commit. Linda and Eric Magill were complete strangers who did something out of the ordinary that had extraordinary results. At Fitzgerald’s bail hearing he was placed on house arrest under the care of the Magill’s and court ordered to live with the Magill’s in Trenton. Fitzgerald was prohibited from entering the five counties of Leeds & Greenville, Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry (SD&G) without his sureties. The Magill’s are the unsung heroes who opened up their home and their hearts to Fitzgerald despite national news headlines giving them reasons not to step up and step into Fitzgerald’s life when he was in crisis.
Despite Fitzgerald’s phone records, video surveillance and witness statements supporting his alibi that he was at his parent’s home at the time of the fire on July 31 2014, Fitzgerald was stripped of all his access to his then five year old daughter. Fitzgerald would not gain access to his young daughter again until October 2015, 16 months after his initial arrest on June 6 2014 for crimes he did not commit. The Children’s Aid Society file describes in detail the collateral damage Fitzgerald’s young daughter experienced from Fitzgerald being wrongfully accused and court ordered to live three hours away from her.
The third charge that Fitzgerald faced was theft of a motor vehicle dating back to 2012. In July of 2012 Fitzgerald was driving his mother’s scooter past his court ordered curfew and was hit by a passing vehicle that was later reported stolen. His mother’s scooter landed in a ditch and Fitzgerald left the scene of the accident on foot and never reported the accident. Close to three years later in February 2015 Fitzgerald was charged with theft of a motor vehicle and breach of recognizance. Based on the laws of physics alone it is impossible for Fitzgerald to have been driving two vehicles at the same time. Fitzgerald admits to a lot of past vices bedeviling him, but a thief he is not.
An inconvenient fact for the Crown Attorney is that in November of 2014 OPP Detective John Pergunas had concrete evidence of indisputable facts contained in a Production Order that supported Fitzgerald’s July 31 2014 alibi. Cell phone tower records pinging Fitzgerald’s cell phone location to his parent’s home in Morrisburg at the time of the house fire was not disclosed to Fitzgerald until August of 2015 when the Crown Attorney offered a global resolution. Evidence supporting Fitzgerald’s alibi was ignored for 9 months before it was disclosed to Fitzgerald.
Two years ago Fitzgerald was barely existing. He had been charged with crimes that he did not commit and court ordered to live three hours away from all of his family and there was no prospect of Fitzgerald ever gaining access to his daughter again. Fitzgerald felt that the only way out of this chaotic situation was to end his life which he verbalized to Kerri Tadeu on Christmas morning 2014 when he screamed his Christmas wish list of wanting a shot gun in his mouth to end his suffering.
Fitzgerald attributes standing six feet tall rather than resting six feet under to Kerri Tadeu who he developed a sisterly bond with over the last two and a half years in his journey with her to prove his innocence. Fitzgerald and Tadeu crossed paths in 2014 through their connection to Warrant Officer Renay Groves. Fitzgerald and Tadeu met in September 2014 and she became a lifeline for Fitzgerald. Her personal traumatic life experiences coupled with her skill set as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, Author and Victim Advocate prepared her to help Fitzgerald, to help himself https://www.facebook.com/Kerri-Tadeu-Author-of-Secrets-Keep-You-Sick-1088360994543839/ A superficial glance at Fitzgerald’s disclosure, Tadeu knew she could prove Fitzgerald’s innocence. Tadeu’s perception was that the Crown Attorney was mishandling Fitzgerald’s file by not keeping pace with the evidence that exonerated Fitzgerald, weakening the principals of the justice system- a system Fitzgerald risked his life to protect while serving our country for 15 years. The justice system is set up in a manner that makes the wrongfully accused as helpless as trying to float a ton of iron ore in the open sea. Throughout the prosecution process it was clear to Tadeu that Fitzgerald had become a “Victim of the Crown” and that there was abuse of process transpiring. Understanding the injustice of “Guilty until proven Guilty” mentality, Tadeu took it on as a personal mission from a place of personal and professional life experiences and as a rare human being to tirelessly advocate for Fitzgerald. Tadeu is the recipient of the prestigious Attorney General’s Victim Service Award of Distinction. Tadeu was court appointed Fitzgerald’s surety shortly after Fitzgerald was charged with theft of a motor vehicle in February 2015. Leading by example Tadeu showed Fitzgerald how to lean into his painful experiences to understand that life experiences don’t happen to us, they happen for us. She helped Fitzgerald recover from his war wounds and succeeded where others have failed by showing Fitzgerald how to turn his pain into purpose.
Fitzgerald’s first trial for breach of recognizance related to the house fire was scheduled for May 31 2016. For a number of reasons Fitzgerald changed counsel right before trial and retained an out of town lawyer to represent him. Sean Ellacott was chosen for his caliber of character, work ethic, accountability, reputation, and his law firms historic practice in exhaustive preparation for trial. With Sean Ellacot as Fitzgerald’s criminal defense lawyer the breach of recognizance charge was withdrawn on May 31 2016, theft of a motor vehicle charge was withdrawn on July 19 2016 and the harassment and intimidation charge was withdrawn on September 26 2016. Bryan Fitzgerald’s charge of obstruction of justice was withdrawn on November 1 2016. Fitzgerald survived navigating his way through the criminal injustice system with a mountain of legal fees totaling $160,000.00 that Tadeu and her husband paid by remortgaging their home and draining every dollar they had from credit cards and lines of credit.
Parallel to Fitzgerald’s plight in the criminal justice system he fought twice as hard in family court proceedings to regain access to his daughter after she was ripped out of his life under the guise of lies on July 31st 2014 when he was charged with breach of recognizance related to the house fire. The Children’s Aid Society and The Office of the Children’s Lawyer were determined forces that wrote very biased reports endorsing inaccurate, misleading and false statements to hinder Fitzgerald’s access to his daughter. Fitzgerald’s family issues were exceptionally complicated and required a highly skilled experienced family law lawyer with high standards of professionalism and work ethic to sort through his family file with integrity, transparency, honesty and fairness. Fitzgerald found that lawyer in Toronto Ontario. Gene Coleman at http://www.complexfamilylaw.com/ was retained and within two months resolved Fitzgerald’s family file. Since Fitzgerald’s criminal charges were laid in 2014 $40,000 was spent on a number of family law lawyers to reach a settlement to regain access to his now 8 year old daughter.
On May 31 2016, close to two years after Fitzgerald’s initial arrest, his lawyer Sean Ellacott stated, “It would be rare to find a breach with more evidence showing that the person wasn’t breaching, in my submissions, Your Honour, and certainly in my experience.”
September 26 2016 Hugo Rodrigues wrote “The signing of a peace bond Monday that led to the dropping of Collin Fitzgerald’s remaining criminal charge should not be the last chapter in this convoluted tale. Monday’s peace bond brought this chapter to an end and has mostly vindicated Fitzgerald, but it leads to some troubling questions that require a response. We need to have confidence in those who serve within the SDG OPP and those who serve as Crown attorneys in the Cornwall court. The last four years of Fitzgerald’s criminal-case experiences has sorely tested that confidence in his eyes and should in ours as well. The tactical-team takedown and arrest from his parents’ house in the summer of 2014 surely deserves a raised eyebrow. The Crown eventually withdrew the charges laid in that incident earlier this year after finally coming around to acknowledging Fitzgerald wasn’t at the scene of the fire. As far as we’ve seen, when he’s in treatment for his PTSD, Fitzgerald is nothing like person the charges laid against him would suggest he was. It’s discomforting to even consider the allegation OPP were trying to run him out of town instead of working within the justice system to get the veteran proper treatment and rehabilitation. Coming to the Crown, this is the second notable case in the last two years where we’ve seen these officers of the court sit on information that showed a charge was not worthy of prosecution. Fitzgerald and his allies have insisted for the past two years he was nowhere near the fire. The information filed before the court in 2015 showed police couldn’t prove Fitzgerald was anywhere other than where he insisted he was that night. Why did it take until May of this year to have the charges related to that incident dropped when what was revealed in 2015 suggested the Crown could have determined at that point not to proceed with a prosecution? These unanswered questions damage the faith we’re asked to place in our law enforcement agencies and in our justice system. They deserve a fulsome explanation”.
Our Justice System is failing Canadians. The inaugural justice system report card finds criminal justice system slow, inefficient and costly: MLI report by Benjamin Perrin and Richard Audas. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3111332-MLI-Report.html
Fitzgerald has reached a point in his recovery to understand and appreciate that life experiences happened For him, not To him in order to affect change in a broken system that has a reputation of the wrongfully accused becoming Victims of the Crown. Who are the real threats to society when people in positions of power abuse process to seek conviction prior to investigation.
Fitzgerald is looking for solutions for a systemic problem after being arrested, charged and absorbing the cost and consequences that came from being wrongfully accused. Perrin’s report points out that the police in Ontario can directly lay charges where as in Quebec police may only do so after getting approval from a Crown prosecutor. The difference between the provinces is in Quebec only 8.6 percent of charges are stayed and withdrawn compared to Ontario at 43 percent – the highest in Canada. The report finds that the justice system is complex and, for those without a lawyer, largely unnavigable.
Fitzgerald deserves an inquiry called by the executive branch of government.
Federally, formal inquiries can be called under the Inquiries Act (RSC 1985, c I-11) Section 2 states:
2. The Governor in Council may, whenever the Governor in Council deems it expedient, cause inquiry to be made into and concerning any matter connected with the good government of Canada or the conduct of any part of the public business thereof.
Provincially, formal inquiries can be called under the Public Inquiries Act, 2009 (SO 2009, c 33, Sch 6). Section 3(1) states:
3. (1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may by order establish a commission to conduct a public inquiry into a matter that the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers to be in the public interest.
Fitzgerald’s personal mission is to aid in moving the justice system from where it is to where it needs to be. There is a commitment to seek out solutions and have them employed to end the injustice contained within the justice system.
Fitzgerald needs help to conquer the $200,000 debt to the Tadeu family who paid all of his legal fees over the last two years. https://www.gofundme.com/f/collin-fitzgerald?fbclid=IwAR1NPSnpyQ-oUx8xV-qtwLKiHy63sGq6LiCt2rkW9kAtcmi0BJLf0PzeslY Thousands more was spent on feeding, clothing, housing and restoring Fitzgerald to a place of recovery - A veteran who at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to Canada for an amount up to and including his life.
Thank you to every ordinary Canadian giving extraordinary support to Master Corporal (retired) Collin Fitzgerald MMV, CD