Monday, February 16, 2009


About half of Canada has today off to celebrate "Family Day". Despite the warm and fuzzy moniker, it's really just an excuse to sneak a long weekend into the drought between New Year's Day and Easter. For Irish Canadians and their imitators, it signals one final month to rest up or practice.

But for some it is about family and that put me in mind of the thousands of Canadians who don't have that luxury because they're half a world away, fighting a war in Afghanistan.

Not long ago, in one of their traditional post-casualty reviews of whether or not we should be in this war, the CBC National News noted that a lot of Canadians still don't know why we're over there -- avoiding the most obvious answer -- maybe because the CBC isn't doing its journalistic job.

Before I go further, I think we all need to acknowledge that there's a growing feeling of biases in our media. Right-wingers think the CBC skews Left. Those on the Left don't like what gets said in the National Post or on Global TV.

A friend of mine once posited that "Good books are those that reinforce your own prejudices" and I think that applies to movies, newspapers and newscasts as well. Some think Fox's Bill O'Reilly is a goof and some feel that way about MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. I'm willing to bet that if you drilled down far enough, you'd discover both sides had a case.

But every now and then you hear a story that makes you wonder if there might indeed be a concerted effort by our National Broadcaster to weaken support for the Canadian men and women fighting in Afghanistan.

Some part of me has always wondered why we can go days, even weeks, without hearing a word about Afghanistan on the CBC, but hardly an hour goes by without somebody making an argument on one of its services for repatriating Omar Khadr, the Canadian born Taliban combatant currently being held in Guantanamo Bay.

I don't know whether this young man is a dangerous terrorist or not, but I'm given pause when I see him being championed by Bob Rae, a politician I find utterly without shame, who is now claiming Mr. Khadr was an innocent child soldier. This after his party spent years openly supporting those who relied heavily on recruiting child soldiers.

I think the average Canadian is beginning to wonder why one aspect of the Afghan conflict requires so much coverage, while the part which impacts directly on thousands of Canadian families is barely referenced.

Are there stories and images coming out of Afghanistan that the CBC does not want you to see?

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be -- "Yes!"

In 2002, award winning Calgary filmmaker Garth Pritchard, considered by many our most experienced military documentarian, made his first trip to cover Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Since then he's been back six times, shooting hundreds of hours of combat footage.

According to Pritchard, "Every time my footage or documentaries were offered to the CBC -- both to the National and the CBC's Documentary Unit, they were refused."

Okay -- so maybe the guy's not as good as some people think.


Pritchard was actually on the ground and in a position to film the "friendly fire" air attack in 2002 that accounted for our first Afghan casualties. It was a huge news story and any news outlet in the world would have jumped on that kind of footage.

But the CBC said "No!" and later hired a Toronto filmmaker who'd never been to Afghanistan to do a one-hour documentary on the attack -- without using any of Pritchard's footage.

Seven months ago, Pritchard was embedded with Combat Engineer Sgt. Shawn Eades in Kandahar, risking his own life on one occasion covering Eades' men as they dismantled a Taliban bomb factory. Footage the CBC, once again, declined to air.

Pritchard shared his disappointment with Eades, who had served in the Canadian military long enough not to be surprised. "What do you expect, Garth," he said. "They have no intention of telling our story."

Not long after, Eades and his squad were killed. Pritchard immediately offered the CBC free footage of these latest Canadian casualties. The broadcaster again declined. "This time they took it to a new level," says Pritchard. "'How do we know you are telling the truth?'"

If this isn't unsettling enough, a few days ago, the CBC aired a documentary on our troops in Afghanistan -- shot by an American filmmaker -- three years ago.

There's so much here that should give us all pause (no matter our political leanings). And at the very least, we deserve to see Garth Pritchard's work and make up our own minds.

So here's your chance.

This is some of Pritchard's original "friendly fire" coverage. It's powerful and moving stuff. And I'd venture it's unlike anything you've ever seen regarding Canadian troops in Harm's way -- certainly unlike anything you've seen on the CBC.

Maybe we should all be asking questions on why we're not allowed to see this kind of material. Is it in somebody's interest to shift our attention elsewhere?


Allan said...

Great post, Jim.
And thanks for putting forward the clips from Garth.

Curious to know about origin of the two stills that accompany this post.

jimhenshaw said...

The top painting is the work of Ontario artist and photographer Sylvia Picota, the other is a photograph of Sgt. Shawn Eades unit in action.

Gorillamydreamz said...

Wow. It is unbelievable to me the CBC wouldn't air this. Nor other major networks. It certainly does feel like a political decision and not a news one. I'm ashamed the CBC doesn't seem to want to give our soldiers a chance to be seen and heard.

Mac said...

Thanks for shining a spotlight on this wonderful piece of doc-making. I'm curious to know if or where it has broadcast. As for the CBC not airing it - well, they can air what they choose but I think this material has more emotional (versus intellectual) resonance than what is typically aired by the CBC. I can't presume to guess why they would turn it down other than - it's too good for them.

Alternative Girlfriend said...

Jim, Thank You so much for bringing attention to this, I'm passing it on for others to read.