On Semrau’s Sentencing

Robert Semrau’s sentence was pronounced yesterday, after a couple of delays, possibly related to the fact that there is no precedent to work with in the matter in any of the ABCA countries.  This case has indeed been unique.

The sentence: reduction in rank to Second Lieutenant and dismissal without disgrace from the Canadian Forces.  No jail, which is good.  In fact, theoretically, the dismissal doesn’t even prevent Mr. Semrau from reapplying to join the Canadian Forces once the appeal process is complete, and it seems certain he will appeal, though one has to wonder if there’s any advantage to doing so.  An appeal stands little chance of success, and I have to wonder if it would expose him to more risk sentence-wise should the Crown decide to push for a more harsh sentence, as they had initially requested.

Amongst the majority of my military peers it seems there’s satisfaction with the sentence – the judgment was clear, that Semrau acted in the wrong, but the sentence reflects the reality that the situation is anything but simple.  It is something of an effective deterrent without being excessive or pointless.

What is striking is that it seems like many pundits are suggesting that troops have an opposite opinion – I don’t think so, and haven’t really seen so – and more importantly, when there are soldiers who think the whole thing was “unjust”, it normally takes but a brief discussion of the importance of the Laws Of Armed Conflict, the Geneva Conventions, and the maintenance of discipline in a professional army, particularly amongst its officers.  An officer very senior to me quipped that what’s disturbing is not the perception that an officer was punished for making a decision, but that there is a risk of reviving a culture of concealing incidents.  That’s very disturbing indeed, since it was just that sort of concept of sweeping things under rugs that led to the mess that became the Somalia Affair.  We’ve already learned the lesson.

My impression is that the outcome was probably the best possible.  Robert Semrau can return to his family, isn’t going to be incarcerated, and while his military career is at an end, he should be able to bounce back.  In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if I learned that he might reapply to the Forces, given that he has been such a dedicated officer.  Regardless of the course of action he takes, I can only wish him all the best.

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