OTTAWA – National Defence is refusing to disclose details about several Canadian soldiers treated at a military hospital in northern Iraq in recent weeks, including whether any of them were wounded on the battlefield.
The soldiers were among 120 patients who were seen at the medical facility since it began operating near the Kurdish city of Erbil at the end of November, according to figures provided to The Canadian Press.
The hospital, staffed by about 50 Canadian Forces medical personnel, is providing emergency and non-emergency care to those involved in the battle for nearby Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The figures show that the majority of patients seen at the facility have been troops from other coalition countries such as the United States, which has more than 5,000 soldiers in Iraq.
But the hospital had also treated seven Canadian soldiers, as well as three members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who were captured and needed medical aid.
Military spokesman Capt. Vincent Bouchard refused this week to say whether any of the seven Canadians were wounded in combat.
“For privacy reasons and operational considerations, the Canadian Armed Forces do not release details about the types of injuries treated at the Role 2 medical facility,” Bouchard said in an email.
As for the captured ISIL fighters, officials said they remained in the custody of coalition members even while being treated by Canadian medical personnel.
The military’s refusal to say whether any Canadian soldiers have been wounded in combat sparked fresh calls from opposition parties on Thursday for more transparency about the mission.
“Canadians should know if our troops are being injured on a mission,” NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere said in an email.
“If the Liberals are trying to stop this information coming out because it would prove that our soldiers are entering into combat, then that would be disgraceful. We don’t play games with wounded soldiers.”
Cabinet ministers and military commanders say Canadian troops are not involved in combat, as was promised by the Liberals during the 2015 federal election.
But critics have accused the government of hiding information and even misleading the public about the nature of the mission, which they believe includes combat.