Don’t look away (III)

The Star expands on what Hillier’s memoir says about the debate over what the public could and should see of the flag-draped coffins of Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

The controversy over letting the media show the return of Goddard’s body from the dusty district of Panjwaii, where she was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade on May 17, 2006, turned into a very public battle when her grieving father upbraided the Conservative government for censoring a politically painful event. But it was also the source of a private dispute between the head of the Canadian Forces and his political masters…

In the book, Hillier recalls attending graduation ceremonies at the Royal Military College in Kingston in May 2006 and being called into a backroom to take a call from the Prime Minister’s Office. The unelected staffers gave the decorated soldier and the defence minister orders that they wanted a change in Goddard’s repatriation ceremony – an emotional but fairly standard event where the coffin is unloaded from a military plane at CFB Trenton and driven to Toronto on Highway 401 in a sombre procession. “Look, don’t bring the Airbus in, or if you bring the plane in, turn it away from the cameras so that people can’t see the bodies coming off, or do it after dark, or do it down behind the hangars, or just bar everybody from it,” Hillier quotes the PMO staffers as saying. “They clearly didn’t want that picture of the flag-draped coffin on the news.”

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