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Afghanistan: 15 Jan 2017
Veterans help troubled ex-soldier with $200,000 in legal bills
A public fundraising campaign is underway to help one of Canada's highest-decorated former soldiers from the Afghan war clear a mountain of debt from a legal battle to clear his name.
|Collin Fitzgerald in Afghanistan in 2006. (Collin Fitzgerald photo) |
Retired master corporal Collin Fitzgerald faced three criminal charges over three years, all of which were withdrawn by the Crown under various conditions.
Throughout the ordeal, he maintained his innocence, refused to accept plea deals and ended the fight with $160,000 in legal costs and an additional $40,000 in related family court costs involving a custody battle over his daughter.
He borrowed heavily, including from friends and family.
Shortly after CBC News profiled Fitzgerald last month, another veteran in Comox, B.C., started a GoFundMe page for him, which over the last three weeks raised approximately $12,000.
There have been other smaller, separate offers of assistance.
Wounded Warriors Canada, which offers programs to support ill and injured soldiers, has stepped in to help coordinate a national fundraising drive by creating a central page.
All of the donations are being folded into one campaign, said Scott Maxwell, the group's executive director.
"It's clear Collin has been through enough in his service to Canada," he said. "He was having a hard time and needed as much support as he could get — generally."
The group felt, "notwithstanding what happened, here is an ill and injured veteran who needs support in the worst way to make a successful transition to civilian life," Maxwell added. "Every dollar raised will go to Collin Fitzgerald."
Maxwell said donations will be shut down once the ex-soldier's creditors are paid.
Fitzgerald, who suffers from PTSD, was awarded the Star of Military Valour for actions in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006.
He claimed he was harassed by Ontario Provincial Police and considered a threat to public safety, after a 2013 standoff where he hoped police would shoot and kill him.
He got help and said he was putting his life back together when the alleged harassment took place.
Wounded Warriors has also provided funding that will cover housing for Fitzgerald, at least until the spring, where he can have custodial visits with his daughter. Since his court case, he has been living with the family that was designated as his surety.
VETS Canada, another support group that looks after soldiers in crisis, came through just before Christmas with additional support.
Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier told CBC News last month that Fitzgerald was not alone in his plight and that others, including the wrongly accused, have been left with massive legal bills just to clear their names.
He said the Ontario government should take responsibility for those costs and examine why the province leads the country in the number of court cases where criminal charges are withdrawn.
The latest statistics, released in 2015, show there were 205,200 cases resolved and of those 82,400 saw the charges withdrawn or stayed before trial. An additional 9,900 were dropped at the trial stage.
Murray Brewster, CBC News/AA
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