Politics

Stephen Harper hosts soldiers, families instead of MPs at 24 Sussex

What was supposed to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper's annual garden party for the Conservative caucus Tuesday was replaced by an evening for Canadian soldiers and their families, most of whom have deployed to Iraq to take part in the international air campaign there.

PM also commemorates National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism

Prime Minister Stephen Harper lays a wreath in the Hall of Honour to mark the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism. 2:09

In the morning, Stephen Harper visited with families who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. In the evening, he hosted the families of Canadian soldiers who are fighting to prevent such attacks in the future.

What was supposed to be the prime minister's annual garden party for the Conservative caucus Tuesday was replaced by an evening for Canadian soldiers and their families, most of whom have deployed to Iraq to take part in the international air campaign there.

The House of Commons had been scheduled to rise this week; the event at 24 Sussex Drive had been planned to mark the end of the session.

But when it became clear MPs would be headed home ahead of schedule, the Prime Minister's Office shifted gears.

Harper told some Conservatives there was no point letting the arrangements go to waste, caucus sources told The Canadian Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not supposed to discuss what happens inside caucus meetings.

So soldiers and their families were invited instead.

The event was not publicized for security reasons and the Prime Minister's Office declined to provide any details.

The previous evening, Harper hosted members of the Muslim community at his official residence to break the fast of Ramadan.

'Troubled times'

Tuesday marked 30 years since an explosion tore apart Air India Flight 182 en route to New Delhi, killing all 329 people aboard, most of them Canadians of Indian descent.

In 2005, the date was declared a national day of remembrance for victims of terrorism.

"It is no secret that we live in troubled times," Harper said in a statement Tuesday.

"The world is now faced with an enemy who opposes the values we hold most dear: freedom, democracy, tolerance and openness. This enemy is violent jihadism and we cannot and will not ignore the threat it presents to Canadians here at home and abroad."

Harper travelled to Iraq last month to see first-hand the Canadian contribution to the war against the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Some images filmed by his office there caused controversy when it became apparent they violated rules laid out for the media about obscuring the faces of soldiers, potentially putting them in harm's way.

While the Department of National Defence later said there was no risk, the videos were still taken down.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris called the whole trip "reckless."

"It seems to me that the additional special forces people who were brought there, any officials who were there, the prime minister himself would have been placed in a dangerous situation on the front lines where we know there have been incidents of return fire," told a committee hearing last week.

"That seems to me solely to be done for the purposes of a photo op."

At the same committee, Liberal MP Joyce Murray raised concerns about the costs of such trips, which she called "photo exercises."

Defence Minister Jason Kenney said no one was in harm's way, noting that prime ministers all the way back to Mackenzie King have travelled to visit soldiers serving overseas.

"(It's) a regular expression of public solidarity for the work the military is doing," he said.

Approximately 600 soldiers are currently part of the international air war in Iraq and in Syria.

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