Canada Bans Coverage of Returning War Dead
By BETH DUFF-BROWN
April 25, 2006
TORONTO Apr 25, 2006 (AP)— Canada's new Conservative government barred the media from covering the return Tuesday of the flag-draped coffins of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan, angering political opponents and some families.
The government also has stopped lowering flags to half-staff outside Parliament each time a Canadian soldier is killed, prompting Liberals to accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper of trying to play down the growing human cost of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.
Fifteen Canadians have been killed, including Cpl. Matthew Dinning, Bombardier Myles Mansell, Cpl. Randy Payne and Lt. William Turner, who were slain in a roadside bomb blast Saturday in southern Afghanistan in the deadliest attack against Canadian forces since they deployed to Afghanistan in 2002.
Canadian military officials blamed remnants of the toppled Taliban government for the bombing.
Their remains were to arrive Tuesday evening at a base in Trenton, Ontario.
The media learned Monday that they would be barred from the evening ceremony, a decision that mirrors Bush administration policy blocking media coverage of the coffins of slain service members arriving in the United States.
Like the Pentagon, Canadian Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor cited privacy concerns as a reason for the media ban.
"When the bodies return to Trenton, where the families receive the bodies for the first time and they come face to face with the reality that their loved ones are dead, this is for their private grief," O'Connor told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday. The four bodies are the first returned to Canada since the Conservative government took office.
O'Connor noted that media were allowed to cover the solemn send-off ceremony just before a Hercules transport plane left Kandahar with the bodies.
He also said the Conservatives who toppled the Liberals from nearly 13 years in power in January were returning to an 80-year-old tradition of honoring fallen soldiers by only lowering the flag on Parliament Hill once a year, on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day.
Harper dismissed accusations that he is using the power of his office to conceal Canada's mounting military casualties from the public spotlight.
"It is not about photo-ops and media coverage," Harper told the House of Commons, which engaged in a raucous debate. "It is about what is in the best interests of the families."
The families of at least two soldiers said they were disturbed by the media blackout and the lack of lowered flags.
Dinning's uncle told the CBC the family believes the government is trying to cover up the growing casualties in Afghanistan and was disturbed they were not informed of the decision to cancel what had been a public ceremony for the returning war dead.
The CBC has been broadcasting live the repatriation ceremonies for each soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Richard Leger, father of Sgt. Marc Leger, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002, told the CBC on Tuesday that the nationally televised return of his son's coffin helped his family to heal.
Sgt. Leger was one of four Canadian soldiers killed by a U.S. pilot who mistook their live-ammunition exercise for a hostile attack. The soldiers were the first Canadians to die in combat since the Korean War.
"I think Canadians need to see this, every Canadian. It says we care about these soldiers," Leger said, as tears rolled down his face.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a Liberal member of Parliament and his party's defense critic, called the media ban "absolutely un-Canadian."
"Dare I say president Harper is following in the footsteps of President Bush?" Dosanjh said.
He said the decision not to lower the flag on Parliament Hill was disrespectful.
"If I dropped dead tomorrow walking the street, that flag would be lowered," said Dosanjh. "I think we owe the soldiers that we've sent into harm's way that kind of respect."
Canadians the majority of whom applauded their government for declining to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq are increasingly concerned about the human toll in Afghanistan.
The 2,300-strong Canadian force took over control of Kandahar from U.S. troops in February.
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