For the benefit of those not usually prone to following Canadian politics, a full blown controversy has blown up in Canada over a couple of the Conservative government’s new policies regarding our soldiers in Afghanistan when they are killed in action. It appears that the Conservatives are attempting to imitate Bush’s policy (and the Pentagon’s) of trying to downplay or minimize coverage of the casualty count over there.
The first policy that drew people’s attention to this was the Conservative’s decision to no longer lower the flag at the Ottawa Peace Tower to half-mast in honour of Canadian soldiers who fall in battle in Afghanistan. The justification for this was that prior to 2002, the tower’s flag was only lowered on Remembrance Day (November 11) and was a return to proper protocol. (I’ll note that the Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien changed that in 2002, ordering the flag to be flown to half-staff after 4 Canadian soldiers were killed by US “friendly-fire” bombing). The rebuttal to this came swiftly:

“Soldiers go to war because of the decision of the government and this is the seat of government of Canada,” said Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, “and for sure the symbol, the flag, should be flying at half-mast when we lose a member of the military in combat.”

NDP defence critic Dawn Black agreed. “If its lowered for (unelected) senators, why not for fallen soldiers?”

Nevertheless, this issue alone and of itself would probably have gone away after a few days. However, this decision was followed by a decision yesterday out of the Defence Department and the Defence Minister that the media would no longer be allowed on military bases to cover the return of the fallen soldiers, a practice that seemingly mirrors the George Bush/Pentagon policy. Specifically, they would not be allowed to cover the return of 4 dead soldiers  recently killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb, and they called the decision “permanent” for all future Canadian solders deaths.  This decision has drawn immediate and swift criticism:

Liberals called the move (of ending the lowering of the flag) “callous.” And they said the decision to restrict viewing of soldiers’ caskets was unprecedented for a Canadian prime minister.

“He has lifted a page from the Bush book and borrowed the Bush modus operandi,” said Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh.”Dare I say President Harper (ed note: its actually Prime Minister Harper.. the President reference was obviously sarcasm) is following in the footsteps of President Bush? He wants the tragedy out of sight, so that possibly it might remain out of mind.”

The Defence Minister tried to claim this was done so the families could have some privacy; that would have been an ok argument, except he later admitted he hadnt consulted with the immediate families of these fallen soldiers or any others about this ban. And guess what, some of the soldiers families have come out and said this was a bad decision:

At least one bereaved military family believes the government has made a mistake. It should be up to the families to decide whether they want reporters present at such ceremonies, said Richard Leger, whose son Marc was killed in Afghanistan four years ago.

“I know, in 2002, it was a great thing for us to have the media there… We wanted to show all Canadians what the cost of their liberty is,” he told CBC Newsworld. “People saying, ‘Thank you for the life of Mark’ – as a parent that’s hard to hear, but knowing what’s the reason behind it helps us to move on.”

Maureen Burrowes, who is a cousin of Payne, said the government is depriving her of her chance to be part of tonight’s ceremony.

“I honestly believed I would see my cousin’s return on CBC as I could not be present today,” she wrote in an email. “I really feel that our current government has made a very bad decision and voters will remember this in the next election. The timing is absolutely horrendous and I would love to know how to get this reversed.”

Just on a personal note from someone who helps moderate our Progressive Blogger aggregate site up here.. we’ve been around the Canadian blog scene since last June.. and I have not seen an issue like this which has caused the many different progressive blogger factions of our site unite in such condemnation at such a policy.

In particular, I’d like to send a hat-tip to The Green Knight for a lot of stellar work on this topic.

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