Monday, January 19, 2009

The ugly side of the Canadian Forces

In two previous posts I've expressed my concern regarding the treatment Captain Robert Semrau by the Canadian Military. The author of the following article, Peter Worthington, is a veteran of World War II and Korea. In Korea he served as an Intelligence Officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in combat. He's also one of the founding members of The Toronto Sun, the paper in which this article appears. He is recognized as one of the foremost writers on military matters. Mr. Worthington has and continues to make an outstanding contribution to the perpetuation of the memory of the sacrifice and contributions of all Canadian Veterans, including serving soldiers such as Captain Robert Semrau currently facing a court martial for an incident in Afghanistan during combat operations.

Army 'eating its own' again?

Capt. Robert Semrau is the latest Canadian soldier to face questionable military justice


Last Updated: 18th January 2009, 2:51am

A saying in the Canadian military that "we eat our own," is being heard in the case against Capt. Robert Semrau, charged with the second-degree murder of a badly wounded Taliban ambusher during a patrol in Afghanistan.

Even if the charge is reduced, as some think is likely, Semrau's career in the army is toast. The fact he was charged means he's finished.

The damage to the morale of our soldiers in the field is another matter, and raises the question of who reported the incident that occurred last October and didn't surface until it was investigated 2 1/2 months later, with charges laid on Dec. 30. No dead body was recovered -- which may be relevant when Semrau's court martial is held.

This isn't a first for Canada's military. Remember the case of Lt.Cdr. Dean Marsaw, Canada's top submarine commander (the Ojibwa) in the early 1990s? He was charged and found guilty on five counts of physical and verbal abuse of crew members, stripped of his rank and dismissed from the navy.

His appeal was going nowhere until he waged a 29-day hunger strike that got media attention. Then, the military appeal court ruled he was wrongly charged, had been subjected to inappropriate questions and was exonerated. The main "victim" of his "abuse" had no memory of it.

But Marsaw's career was finished -- he'd challenged authority, won, but was unforgiven.
Col. Serge Labbe, overall commander in Somalia when a prisoner was tortured to death, was considered a prospect to someday be chief of defence staff. Somalia sidetracked him for nearly 15 years. He was finally promoted to brigadier-general on retirement, complete with retroactive general's back pay, but still a casualty.

In the interim he'd been accused by a junior officer of harassing an officers mess waitress.
The general who was personally handed the complaint, claimed never to have read it. No action was taken, and the career of the officer making the complaint came to a halt until he quit the army.

In Bosnia, during UN peacekeeping, Maj. Ross Wickware was outstanding in developing working relations with Serb militants, even negotiating the opening of the closed highway to Sarajevo.


He erred in attending an important wedding put on by the Serbian commander, and a Canadian corporal subsequently reported him drunk. The Commanding Officer was on leave, but Wickware was charged and sent back to Canada for court martial.

At Wickware's trial in Calgary, the Serbian commander got special permission to come to Canada to testify as to his value to the peace process. Charges were reduced to a letter of reprimand on his file. But Wickware's bright military career was finished. The army acknowledged his worth, but had him for lunch.

Warrant Officer Matt Stopford was decorated for leadership in Croatia, but the army failed to tell him they'd discovered his own men found him too gung-ho and were poisoning his coffee. When Stopford -- blind in one eye and crippled with internal injuries -- sought to learn the names of those who poisoned him, the army refused on grounds of respecting the privacy of the perpetrators.

Nearly 10 years later, the Minister of Defence sent Stopford to the Mayo Clinic which reported they'd delayed too long for a cure.

The next minister apologized to Stopford and awarded him a financial settlement. After 17 years as a soldier, Stopford, at age 34, was cast aside with life-altering internal afflictions.
Lt.Col. David Moore, commander of the Canadian battle group in Bosnia, was earmarked for blame in a scandal at the Bakovici Mental Hospital where custodial staff had fled, leaving the VanDoos to clean up.


What saved Moore was the publication of his diary that showed he tried desperately to correct the hospital situation, and even brought charges against the defiant VanDoos. Although absolved, Moore's career was over.

Charges against the VanDoos went nowhere. Moore left the army -- another good man consumed by the army he served.

In a way, Capt. Semrau seems the latest example of the army eating its own -- a battlefield casualty that is hard for those who've not experienced battlefields to understand.

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