This has provoked anger among political opponents and some family members.

Ottawa has also stopped lowering the flags to half-staff on Parliament Hill each time a Canadian soldier is killed, prompting Liberals to accuse Stephen Harper, the prime minister, of trying to whitewash the growing human cost of the Canadian mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

A roadside bomb blast killed the four men on Saturday in southern Afghanistan in the deadliest attack against Canadian troops by hostile forces since they deployed there in 2002.

Canadian military officials blamed remnants of the toppled Taliban government for the bombing.

The remains of Corporal Matthew Dinning, Bombardier Myles Mansell, Corporal Randy Payne and Lieutenant William Turner were to arrive at the Canadian Forces base in Trenton, Ontario, on Tuesday.

The media were banned from the evening ceremony, a move that mirrors US policy that generally bars coverage of returning US coffins since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

Privacy concerns

Like the Pentagon, Gordon O'Connor, the Canadian defence minister, cited privacy concerns.

"When the bodies return to Trenton, where the families receive the bodies for the first time and they come face to face with the reality that their loved ones are dead, this is for their private grief," O'Connor told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

A bomb killed the Canadian troops

He said media were allowed to cover the solemn send-off ceremony just before a Hercules transport plane left Kandahar with the bodies.

He also said the Conservatives - who ended the Liberals' nearly 13-year hold on power in January's elections - were returning to an 80-year-old tradition of honouring fallen soldiers by only lowering the flag on Parliament Hill once a year, on November 11, which is Remembrance Day.

One family is disturbed by the media blackout and the lack of lowered flags.

The uncle of Dinning told the CBC that the family believes the government is trying to cover up the growing casualties in Afghanistan and was disturbed that family members were not informed of the unilateral decision by the government to cancel a public ceremony.

The CBC has been broadcasting live the repatriation ceremonies for each soldier killed in Afghanistan.

Family's concerns

Richard Leger, father of Sergeant Marc Leger, who was killed in Afghanistan in April 2002, told the CBC on Tuesday that the nationally televised return of his son's coffin helped his family to heal.

Leger was one of four Canadian soldiers killed by a US pilot who mistook their live-ammunition exercise for a hostile attack.

"It's extremely disturbing that this government would take a page out of Bush's modus operandi."

Ujjal Dosanjh
Liberal defence critic

"I think Canadians need to see this, every Canadian. It says we care about these soldiers," Leger said, as tears rolled down his face.

"It's hard for me to explain it, because it's in my heart. You're going to be removing that for the other families and I don't think that's right."

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh called the media ban "absolutely un-Canadian" and accused Harper of acting more like a US president than a Canadian prime minister accountable to parliament.

"Dare I say president Harper is following in the footsteps of President Bush?" Dosanjh said, accusing the Conservative leader of acting.

"It's extremely disturbing that this government would take a page out of Bush's modus operandi."

'Disrespectful'

He said the decision not to lower the flag on Parliament Hill was disrespectful.

"If I dropped dead tomorrow walking the street, that flag would be lowered," said Dosanjh.

"I think we owe the soldiers that we've sent into harm's way that kind of respect."

Harper did not plan to attend Tuesday's ceremony, although the slain soldiers will be met by O'Connor and General Rick Hillier, the chief of the defense staff.

Canadians are increasingly concerned about the human toll in Afghanistan.