Richard Madan, CTV News
Published Wednesday, April 2, 2014 10:05PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 2, 2014 11:26PM EDT
Family members of Canadian soldiers who fought and died in Afghanistan have been told to pay their own way to attend an elaborate service in Ottawa honouring the fallen, CTV News has learned.
CTV News obtained a letter dated last month by the "Director of Casualty Support Management" at National Defence, written to all 158 next-of-kin families.
It describes the May 9 National Day of Honour as a way "to commemorate our service and our sacrifices in order to achieve the security and stability we brought to Afghanistan."
But in the next paragraph, it tells family members: "your attendance would be at your own expense."
For the father of Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female soldier killed in Afghanistan, it was like a slap in the face.
"It was kind of like, 'We're having this big special event and you can come if you want, but you have to buy your own ticket,'" said Tim Goddard, who lives in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
NDP MP Jack Harris said fallen soldiers' families "have every right to be upset" about the invitations.
Many families of fallen soldiers told CTV News they do not have the financial resources to pay for flight and hotel to Ottawa.
Priscilla Blake, who lost her husband, Petty Officer Craig Blake in an explosion in Kabul four years ago, says the money being used for the Afghanistan commemoration would be better spent on helping returning veterans suffering mental and physical injuries.
"They're coming back with medical problems, mental disabilities; they need money than we need a flight Ottawa," she said from her home in Dartmouth, N.S.
Taxpayers forked out more than $850,000 for a similar commemoration ceremony on Parliament Hill to mark the end of the NATO-led Libya mission in November 2011. There were no Canadian casualties in that mission.
But the Afghan mission has been marred by a suicide crisis, and demands for mental health workers to help injured soldiers and their families cope with their loss.
Critics say the Harper government is using the National Day of Honour for political gain.
"This government will use the pain of others as a prop for their own political spin," said Liberal MP Wayne Easter. "It is just so wrong."
But late Wednesday, it appeared that the government was poised to reverse course. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told CTV News he'll soon announce "financial support for the families of the fallen travelling to Ottawa."
Below is the letter sent to families. If you can't see it on your mobile device http://www.scribd.com/doc/216039064/Military-letter-to-families
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.