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No longer reporting for duty

Dismissed by the Canadian Forces, Robert Semrau begins the next stage of life—as a civilian


 
No longer reporting for duty

Pawel Dwulit/CP

His trial made headlines around the world—and sparked a fierce debate about mercy killing in a combat zone—but Robert Semrau’s final day in uniform passed without any publicity at all. He arrived at CFB Petawawa on Jan. 13, enjoyed a farewell lunch with fellow officers, and after many hugs and handshakes, left the base for the last time. As a civilian. “He certainly didn’t leave under a cloud of shame,” one soldier told Maclean’s. “Everyone wished him the best, and told him how tough it was to see him go.”

For Semrau and his family, tough doesn’t even begin to describe the past three years. In the summer of 2008, the Moose Jaw, Sask., native deployed to Kandahar as a respected infantry captain assigned to mentor Afghan troops as they hunted for Taliban. By December, he was on a plane back home, accused of putting a gravely injured insurgent out of his misery with two bullets to the chest.

Never before had a Canadian soldier been charged with battlefield murder, and when his court martial finally began in March 2010, Semrau was staring at a possible sentence of life behind bars. But his lawyers—knowing full well that compassion is not a legal excuse for murder—never conceded that their client committed a mercy kill. In fact, the defence offered no alternative version of events. They simply attacked the credibility of every Crown witness, hoping to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt.

The strategy worked, to an extent. In July, the jury found Semrau guilty of only one count: disgraceful conduct. The panel believed that he shot the unidentified enemy fighter, but with no corpse and no forensic evidence, they weren’t completely convinced that the man actually died. Semrau’s final punishment? Demotion to second lieutenant and dismissal from the Forces.

Justice Jean-Guy Perron handed down his sentence in October, but it took more than three months to process the paperwork. So Semrau—who, to this day, has never spoken publicly about his case—continued reporting for duty. “Obviously, it was a difficult situation, but he had a ton of support internally,” says Bill Semrau, his older brother. “He’s happy to finally have all this behind him. It’s time to move on to the next step.”

That next step, if all goes well, will be a career in the private security sector. “It’s unfortunate that Rob can’t continue to serve in the Canadian military, which is the life he loved,” Bill says. “But we are confident that he’ll be able to find something else, somewhere that will value his skills and what he can offer.”

Sadly, Semrau could have offered quite a lot later this summer, when Canadian troops pull out of Kandahar and begin training Afghan soldiers and police officers in Kabul. During his sentencing hearing, Maj. Cayle Obermayer, who fought with Semrau in Afghanistan, testified that he was “the best mentor he had worked with.” (Another infantryman, Pte. Joseph Villeneuve, recalled how Semrau saved his life during a deadly mortar attack in the volatile Panjwaii district.)

A dozen other soldiers wrote letters of support to the judge, praising Semrau’s “tremendous courage and moral fibre.” Recently released by the Department of National Defence, they paint a very clear picture of the kind of officer the army just lost. “I have always joked with friends that I would ‘follow Rob through the gates of hell,’ ” wrote one captain from the Royal Canadian Regiment. “Despite his recent conviction, I would absolutely still follow him into the field and strongly believe that all that know him would do the same.”


 

No longer reporting for duty

  1. His conviction speaks volumes and I question the judgment of his peers. One either believes in justice and our laws or it this a case of standing up for a subculture?

  2. His conviction speaks volumes and I question the judgment of his peers. One either believes in justice and our laws or it this a case of standing up for a subculture?

  3. The way how Semrau was treted by court is a disgrace for Canada and Canadian values.
    It shows how big is the damage done to this country by political correctnes and apologetic idiocy worshipped by leftiests…

  4. The way how Semrau was treted by court is a disgrace for Canada and Canadian values.
    It shows how big is the damage done to this country by political correctnes and apologetic idiocy worshipped by leftiests…

  5. I can't believe how many people think they have a clue about what went on here and from their arm chairs and cozy homes judge people and things they know nothing about. jade lee says "His conviction speaks volumes and I question the judgment of his peers". You go to war in a torn up smoking hole and see what happens to you. You question his peers yet you know noting about them and don't even have a sniff of what its like. Frikken arm chair hippies, ruining Canada one at a time

  6. I can't believe how many people think they have a clue about what went on here and from their arm chairs and cozy homes judge people and things they know nothing about. jade lee says "His conviction speaks volumes and I question the judgment of his peers". You go to war in a torn up smoking hole and see what happens to you. You question his peers yet you know noting about them and don't even have a sniff of what its like. Frikken arm chair hippies, ruining Canada one at a time

  7. The fact that a French Quebec seperatist handed down this idiotic sentence speaks volumes. Treasonous Quebecers should never be allowed to judge loyal Canadians.

  8. The fact that a French Quebec seperatist handed down this idiotic sentence speaks volumes. Treasonous Quebecers should never be allowed to judge loyal Canadians.

  9. Nothing Surprises me anymore. Our country has given in to any idiot who has a beef. God help us all. Capt. Semrau, you did what any trained soldier would do and wanted done to them. Sleep easy and move on. Pro Patria, Brother.

  10. Nothing Surprises me anymore. Our country has given in to any idiot who has a beef. God help us all. Capt. Semrau, you did what any trained soldier would do and wanted done to them. Sleep easy and move on. Pro Patria, Brother.

  11. Capt Semrau. You served with honour. You did what you felt was right at the time and place. I do not disagree with your decision as I think it was correct. The Cdn Military "Justice" system failed you. All the best, you departed with honour.

    Lance Usher Capt (ret'd)

  12. Capt Semrau. You served with honour. You did what you felt was right at the time and place. I do not disagree with your decision as I think it was correct. The Cdn Military "Justice" system failed you. All the best, you departed with honour.

    Lance Usher Capt (ret'd)

  13. It’s called murder, he was supposed to protect those under the Geneva convention. We are better than that and he failed to act honourably. He received exactly what he deserved. As a retired Sgt, I am ashamed of his actions, and yes I have served in Afghanistan. I am sure you all thought the beating death of Shidane Arone was sanctioned also. We are supposed to protect those, regardless of enemy or not regardless of the way we are treated when captured. That is why the Canadian Forces is and will always be the best military, because of our professionalism.

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