Addicted to novelty since 2001

To Show the Coffins or Not?

Prime Minister Harper has declared that the media will not have access to Canadian war casulaties as they come home from Afghanistan:

The Conservative government vigorously defended its decision to block public images of Canadian war casualties arriving at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario, insisting yesterday the privacy of relatives greeting the returning coffins trumped the right of media to record their arrival. “It is not about photo ops and media coverage. It is about what is in the best interest of the families,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons. He added the government’s priority is to “do everything possible” to assist grieving families.

This is the latest in a series of decisions the Conversavtive government has taken to reduce media access to government activities. It’s a puzzling development, considering their emphasis on transparency during the campaign. Obviously, this decision is politically advantageous, as it will reduce the impact on the public of the military action and cost in Afghanistan.

I have mixed feelings about this issue. In part, that’s because I’ve read diverging opinions from military families. The article I cite above presents one such opinion, and a soldier in Kandahar commenting on Stephen Taylor’s site has another. Stephen, by the way, sounds a little paranoid about the news coverage of this incident.

After thinking about it, and talking with a couple of people, here’s what I’ve got. Joining the Canadian military and fighting abroad are public acts. When you join the military, you know you might fight, and that your actions (and, to be grim, your death) might be reported by the media.

More importantly, the public owns the plane, airfield and infrastructure where the return of our war dead takes place. We deserve access to that site if we want it. Lastly, I value freedom of the press.

I would apply an entirely different criteria to the burial of a soldier. That’s a private event, occurring on private property, and the media ought to respect that. In a way, the flag-draped coffin is the last service a solider does for their country. As the soldier comments on Stephen’s blog writes: “There is only one reason to want to see coffins on TV. And that is for political or ideological reasons. None other.”

Obviously this issue has been inflated because it concerns the media, but I’ve got to take their side on this one.

8 Responses to “To Show the Coffins or Not?”

  1. double-plus-ungood

    Peacekeepers do noble work, sacrificing life and limb to ensure the safety of people they don’t even know. I think that Canadians are generally pretty proud that Canada is known across the world for doing this kind of work.

    When some of our soldiers die in the line of this duty, I want to know about the sacrifice. I want the flag flown at half mast, and I want the public to at least be aware of the fact when they come home again.

    While Harper seems to think it’s dandy to fly off to Afghanistan to be photographed in a flak jacket, he doesn’t want public recognition of the sacrifices being made. Any recognition. And this is in exchange for the political fortunes of his own party.


  2. Aaron

    Well, people _should_ be able to see the full cost of their decisions, however, are casualties the best metric for deciding success/failure?

    When you sign up for the military, you do so knowing full well that the risks of being killed while on the job exceed those of other career paths.

    As a contrast, let’s talk to the families of tradespeople in Alberta. People are literally dying to make a living in this province.

    Food for thought, is all.

  3. Jamil

    I totally agree!
    Canada is a liberal society that values diversity and opinions.

    It is not a close-minded, conservative one, nor is it an autocratic regime.

  4. Gwen

    I don’t agree that the risks of being killed on the job are worse for military personnel than any other career path. I might agree with a statement that the risks of being killed on the job while on active duty overseas are higher than many other occupations but there are dangerous civilian occupations where the risks are as high or even higher. Most military personnel never get near an armed conflict. I come from a military family and I’ve known more people who died in non-military, job-related incidents than military — police, firemen, even fishermen. In fact, I don’t personally know anyone in the military who’s been killed (or had a loved one who died) as a result of their job.

    I think most military dependants would understand the desire and need for media coverage of the arrival of their deceased loved ones. It’s a poignant image.

  5. ChrisK

    So I voiced my outrage with an email to the Minister of National Defence and got a ‘your message has been received’ robot response message. I don’t think my message was actually received though at least in a way that will actually change a mind or make someone think twice about their actions. I also worry that this issue will die down in a couple of days and then be forgotten when the next election rolls around… but it got me to thinking… isn’t the current government a minority government that if challenged could be forced to call an election just like we saw in January 2006?

    It would sure leave a nasty bruise on the egos of the politicians if we started recalling them or forcing non-confidence votes on them when they start really pissing us (their constiuents) off. Perhaps this single incident is not critical enough to do that but I’m concerned that we’ll become like the American public who appear to be fixated on their lack of security so much so that they aren’t worried about the wrongs being done to them in the name of protecting said security. Are we as Canadians going to sit on our collective derrieres through this issue and the next? In the meantime will we allow our media to be neutered by our current ham-fisted Prime Minister and his team — as they tell us how they are becoming more transparent?

    Are we headed for ‘freedom of speech, just watch what you say’ (to quote IceT)…

  6. A soldiers wife

    Everyone is entittled to their opinions. However this is my opinion and it comes very close to the heart. My husband is serving his country overseas,in Kandahar Afghanistan. We knew going into this tour the risks are family have to take in order to achieve this mission. I believe the public has the right to pay respect for the fallen soldiers. THe time is not on Trenton’s tarma. It is at the ramp ceremonies in Kandahar. With this said, here are my reasons. First, If that were my husband coming home. I would not want my grief sprawled across the paper or my children’s grief. This is our time not Canada’s time. We sacrifice everything for our country as well. We live in fear for almost a year before the tour.. and then the tour itself. We go without husbands and fathers ect… We deserve these moments. Most Canadians can not even remember the 4 soldiers name that passed on 4 years ago in April. But we as a military community do. The second part of my reasoning is I have seen first hand what the media can do.. to widow’s of the soldiers. They camp outside their door.. waiting.. for a shot of the kids or a comment. It went so far this particular woman had to move off base because they would not leave her alone. IS THIS FAIR?

    Now these are different times we live in. Canadians are going to see more casualites. I hope we don’t because I have a personal interest in Afghanistan. But this is a fact. This is not peacekeeping times. If you ask most soldiers are you peacekeepers? What do you think their reply would be. NO. I love Canada and I am proud to be a spouse of a serving Soldier. But everytime you make comments regarding the military or our serving personal, just remember that RIGHT TO SPEAK and THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS was paid for by the cost of CANADIAN SOLDIERS and their families.

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