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Canada27 April 2006

Media ban on return of dead soldiers

Reporters Without Borders has protested against the April 22 ban imposed by the federal government on TV coverage of the return of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. On the evening of April 25, the media were not allowed into the military airbase at Trenton, near Toronto.

“The Canadian government is following the bad example set by the U.S. administration if it thinks it can hide the facts from the population. Respect for the grief of the families is of course necessary, but it should not be used as a pretext that is tantamount to censorship,” said Reporters Without Borders.

On April 22, four Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor almost immediately banned all media coverage of the return of the soldiers’ remains. On April 25, Cyberpresse reported that the media were denied access to the military airbase at Trenton, near Toronto. “If they brought my son home from that war in a body bag, I’d shoot the first media that come on site," Conservative MP Myron Thompson is quoted as saying in the Montreal Gazette.

In the House of Commons, opposition parties unanimously criticized the decision of the new Harper government. According to Cyberpresse, Liberal leader Bill Graham said the government sought to “reduce the impact of such incidents on the population”. Mr Graham drew a parallel with a similar move by the Bush administration, which since the beginning of the war in Iraq banned media coverage of soldiers’ caskets returning from that country.

Not all Conservatives are behind government censorship however, and even less so are some of the military families. Although the government has said that it is imposing this measure “out of respect for families’ grief”, Defence Minister O’Connor acknowledged that he never consulted the families in question. Some of them did however complain to Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister Office and the Defence Department have not responded to requests by the Canadian Section of Reporters Without Borders.

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