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Canadian soldier Cpl. Darren James Fitzpatrick is shown in an undated military handout photo. Fitzpatrick, who was wounded earlier this month in Afghanistan, has died in an Edmonton hospital. (Robert Schwartz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/DND Handout)
Canadian soldier Cpl. Darren James Fitzpatrick is shown in an undated military handout photo. Fitzpatrick, who was wounded earlier this month in Afghanistan, has died in an Edmonton hospital. (Robert Schwartz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/DND Handout)

Canada forbids reporting of battlefield wounded Add to ...

The Canadian military has quietly stopped reporting when soldiers are wounded on the battlefield and will instead deliver annual statistics to the public.

The stark policy shift is described as a deliberate attempt to keep the Taliban in the dark.

The weekend death of Corporal Darren Fitzpatrick in an Edmonton trauma centre brought the directive to the forefront. The 21-year-old was mortally wounded in a previously unreported March 6 roadside bombing.

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Cpl. Fitzpatrick, of 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, was on a foot patrol with Afghan soldiers when the blast occurred in the volatile Zhari district, west of Kandahar.

There have been other recent unreported incidents, including a soldier with a gunshot wound to the leg last week.

In a written statement late Tuesday, Canada's task force commander, Brigadier-General Dan Menard, said the directive was necessary.

The army does not want militants "to link the number of wounded with any particular incident," he said.

"If the insurgents knew how many soldiers were wounded in each particular incident, they could use this information to improve their tactics in the future and cause more Canadian casualties."

It the first time in nearly four years of heavy fighting that the military has extended the blanket of secrecy, known colloquially as battle damage assessment, to its own soldiers.

The army has long banned the release of photographs of blown-up vehicles on the basis that it would help the Taliban build bigger bombs. The military also restricts the flow of information in other ways in hopes of keeping the enemy off balance.

Journalists embedded with the military were in the past routinely briefed on engagements in the field and told when troops had been wounded.

A military official speaking on background said the policy on the release of information relating to battle and non-battle casualties was revised in October, 2007, to "address operational security concerns."

As late as last year, the military released battlefield reports of wounded.

It is unclear when the practice was officially stopped and whether it was a recommendation made on the ground, or an order from National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.

Menard said statistics on wounded soldiers are released once a year and the public's right to know is being satisfied.

A lot of attention is paid to those Canadian soldiers who are killed in action; their caskets are returned to Canada to emotional crowds who out of respect line Ontario's Highway 401 with flags and tributes. Hundreds of soldiers who are severely wounded in Kandahar, however, go home in relative anonymity and silence.

As of the end of December, 2009, 529 Canadian soldiers were listed as wounded in action, according to the military's latest statistical assessment. The numbers go all of the way back to 2002 when the army first deployed to Afghanistan.

A further 913 were sent home for what is described as non-battle related injuries, including medical reasons, accidents - or on compassionate grounds.

Since the war began, 141 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed.

The often lonely plight of the wounded came into focus with the death last November of Dawson Bayliss, a former private who was hit by an out of control armoured vehicle turret in the spring of 2006.

The 24-year-old died of complications of a head injury at his Calgary home after being in and out of hospital. He had been unable to continue with his military career because of the trauma and died as a civilian.

Had the new policy been in place previously, the public might not have known about some of the military's more inspirational figures of the last few years, including Captain Trevor Greene, Master Corporal Paul Franklin and Corporal Jodie Mitic.

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