As Canada's military gets set to wrap up its 12-year mission in Afghanistan this month, Calgary Herald's editor-in-chief reflects on the death of one of the paper's reporters and says the country is still a dangerous place. 

Lorne Motley made the comment while talking about Canada's involvement in the country and death of Herald journalist Michelle Lang in 2009.

Lang was on an eight-week assignment when she was killed, along with four soldiers, in a blast in Kandahar.

michelle-lang-calgary

Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang was killed in 2009 while reporting from Afghanistan. (Calgary Herald)

"It's a pretty difficult place to either act as military or NGO or anything else," said Motley.  

"It's pretty unique in the world and hopefully one day it's a place that you and I can go to and feel let's say safer than it is today. Things just never end. I don't think anything comes to a finite end, whether Canada has pulled out or not. I think Afghanistan remains there — it's a conundrum of a place."

Motley signed off on her assignment to cover the Canadian military in Afghanistan. Lang, who grew up in Vancouver, had worked at the paper for seven years and planned to get married the following summer.

"With Michelle we talked quite a bit and she wanted to go. Of course I backed her and her name was put forward," said Motley.  

3-part series

CBC's Kyle Bakx will be exploring the issues around Canada's mission in Afghanistan through its impact on Calgarians.

On Monday he looked at a Calgary paramedic who spent eight months in the country

The third, and final, part will look at Afghanistan through the eyes of SAIT instructor Fiaz Merani. He travelled there to teach accounting to staff at a telecom company.

'A sense of duty'

"It was an honour to be selected and I think also you feel a sense of duty as a journalist to go and bring the news home as it were for Canadians, and Calgarians in this case. Not without an element of risk of course, a significant one. So it's not an easy decision for those journalists who put their name forward, but much like the military in some ways, it's a sense of duty to readers and the public to cover their military."

The day Lang was killed, Motley worked with the military to track down Lang's parents and fiancé to inform them of the news before he was able to tell Lang's colleagues. Motley says he remembers that day as if it were yesterday.

"One of the blackest days of my career, certainly.  It's one thing to lose a colleague in a situation like that, but she was a friend."

As news broke of her death, news outlets around the world began calling to learn more about Lang. At the same time, Herald reporters had to work through their pain and grief to cover the story of their friend's death.

Michelle Lang front page

The front page of the Calgary Herald the morning after Michelle Lang died. (Calgary Herald)

"There were tears shed over those pages," said Motley.

"But yet, quite proud about what we did and how we did it. And what we did in the ensuing days, knowing how difficult and emotional it was for everybody. Still today I get very emotional about it because it changed us here. We've had many tributes to Michelle over the years and there's a number of people that have moved on, and the newsroom has a number of new people, but her journalism — we try to honour and respect to this day."

Calgarians react 

Lang's death also impacted the city. Readers reacted by writing letters of condolence, making quilts and donated money to a scholarship trust fund in Lang's name.

"They saw someone who was still setting out in life," said Motley.  

"I think you can look at pictures of certain people and they resonate. You feel immediately like you either know them or want to know more about them and I think a lot of people knew about her writing and some of her journalism. We certainly heard a lot from them and I think they grieved with us, frankly."

Motley says he plans to one day travel to Afghanistan to explore the country and re-trace the path the journalist took reporting on Canada's soldiers.