Bodies of 4 Canadian soldiers return home

Mourners at an Ontario military base bowed their heads and wiped away tears Monday during a moving repatriation ceremony for four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces carry the casket containing the remains of Trooper Corey Hayes to a waiting hearse during a repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton in Ontario. The bodies of Hayes and three other Canadian soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan arrived back in Canada on Monday. ((Peter Redman/Canadian Press))

Mourners at an Ontario military base bowed their heads and wiped away tears Monday during a moving repatriation ceremony for four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week.

The huge C-17 Globemaster military plane carrying the remains touched down around 2:30 p.m. ET at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, east of Toronto.

Marcie Lane, the widow of Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, holds their six-month-old daughter, Olivia, as she blows a kiss to the casket containing the remains of her husband during Monday's repatriation ceremony. ((Peter Redman/Canadian Press))

Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, Cpl. Tyler Crooks, Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, who were all based at CFB Petawawa in Ontario, were killed in two separate incidents Friday in southern Afghanistan.

Under a cloudless blue sky, a lone bagpiper played as military escorts carried the flag-draped coffins — in order of senior to junior rank — to waiting hearses.

Dozens of family members, clutching flowers and each other, took turns placing roses on the coffins.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Afghanistan's consul general to Canada, Habibullah Qaderi, as well as several senior military officials were among the dignitaries at the ceremony.

Vernelli's wife Marcie, who carried their six-month-old daughter Olivia, saluted and blew a kiss to her husband, who was from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Crooks' father wore a Boston Bruins jersey in honour of his hockey-loving son, who will be interred in his hometown of Port Colborne, Ont.

Procession travels 'Highway of Heroes'

Twenty-year-old Bouthillier, from Hearst, Ont., had been in Afghanistan for a month when he was killed. Soldiers supported a sobbing young woman who placed a flower on his casket.

Supporters stand on a bridge in Whitby, Ont., as limousines carrying the families of four fallen soldiers pass by on Monday. ((Doug Ives/Canadian Press))

Friends and family members of 22-year-old Hayes, who was from Ripples, N.B., embraced each other as they greeted the coffin.

The soldiers' remains were taken to Toronto for autopsies. The procession of hearses travelled along a stretch of Ontario's Highway 401 that is known as the Highway of Heroes. Hundreds of people with flags and banners lined bridges and roads as the motorcade passed by.

Firefighters at a downtown Toronto station near the coroner's office stood at attention as the soldiers' remains arrived.

Killed in major operation

Vernelli and Crooks, both of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment battle group, died when an improvised explosive device blew up near their patrol in the Zhari district, about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar.

In the second incident, Bouthillier and Hayes, both with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Shah Wali Kot district, about 20 kilometres northwest of the city

The four soldiers were taking part in a major operation to attack Taliban command centres and supply lines to disrupt insurgents as they prepare for the summer fighting season.

Roughly 3,000 soldiers from NATO countries working in Afghanistan lined the tarmac at Kandahar airbase on Saturday night as the remains of the four men were loaded onto the flight. More than 2,800 Canadians are serving in Afghanistan.

The latest deaths bring Canada's death toll in Afghanistan to 116 soldiers since the mission started in 2002. One diplomat and two aid workers have also been killed.

With files from the Canadian Press