Jul 10, 2017

A tale of two combatants

In November 2015 my eldest daughter and I were in northern France at a B&B near Beaumont-Hamel, the site of a day of infamy a century ago. On July 1, 1916 members of the Newfoundland Regiment went ‘over the top’ in the first action in what we know as the Battle of the Somme, a catastrophic offensive that took the lives of at least 485,000 British and French soldiers.  Of the 778 members of the Regiment, only 68 men answered the roll call the next morning.  The rest were dead, presumed dead, or wounded.  Soldiers died or were injured within twenty minutes of leaving the trenches.  When you visit the site today, as we did, and view the terrain, you can see how those poor men did not stand a chance.

While we were at that B&B we met Lindy and his father Lloyd.  Lloyd was the son of Cadiz Rideout and the nephew of Sydney Rideout.  Sydney died at Beaumont-Hamel and we located his name on a plaque under a large caribou statue – the caribou as symbol of the Newfoundlanders who fought in WWI.

Cadiz was wounded at Monchy-le-Preux, part of the Battle of Arras in April 1917.  He was evacuated to a triage station and eventually sent to England to recover from his wounds.  By the end of the war he had spent two years convalescing and eventually lost a leg, one arm had been rendered of little use and he suffered the consequences of having taken a bullet to the neck.  Upon his return to Canada he ended up marrying Sydney’s girlfriend and they had two children together (Lloyd was one of them).  According to Lloyd, his father spoke little of his experiences in northern France.  When he died, in his 40, his widow got a pension from the Newfoundland government (this was before Newfoundland joined Canada).  Shes received $5 – a month.  Lloyd told me this week (my wife and I are at his son’s place in Cottlesville, west of Twillingate) that he was so poor growing up that he recalls sitting under the kitchen table to read so that the water coming in through the roof would not get his books wet.

Fast forward a century.  Omar Khadr is another man (man, man-boy, boy, whatever – by the way there were Canadians of 16 years of age who signed up to fight in Europe in 1916) who fought in a war, was wounded and has now got his ‘pension’ – $10.5 million.  I don’t know how for many months Mrs. Rideout received her stipend but I will go out on a limb that it did not total $10.5 million.

Cadiz fought for his country against an empire he had been told his government was at war with.  Omar fought with  a group that everyone recognises as a terrorist organisation (Al Qaeda or the Taliban, whatever) in a war in which his side killed 159 Canadian soldiers.  Let me repeat this: Omar Khadr took up arms (willingly, unwillingly, whatever) against his own country and played his part in fighting for the other side.  This used to be called treason.  Now we call it – what do we call it by the way?  Is no one bothered that Omar Khadr fought with a sworn enemy of Canada, a sworn enemy of the West, a sworn enemy of democracy?

I have witnessed politician after politician after politician, including our own Prime Minister, justify the $10.5 million pay out and hide behind a series of court rulings, rather than challenge what is simply a travesty of justice.  Most of the op-eds I have read have supported the ruling but most Canadians I have spoken to are outraged.  I wonder whether this issue will come to haunt the Liberals come election time.

Some have told me that the rule of law is the rule of law and all Canadians must be treated the same.  I retort that all law is interpretation- we here in Canada have seen the laws change over the decades –  and that in this case the law is an ass.  I don’t care how much lipstick people put on this pig, it is still a pig.

There has been a lot of talk about Omar Khadr’s ‘rights’ these days: his ‘rights’ as a ‘child soldier’; his ‘rights’ as an ‘enemy combatant’; his ‘rights’ as an ‘unlawful combatant’; his ‘rights’ as a Canadian.  Then I think of Lloyd’s rights and how they were trampled on because his father came back a broken man from France.  I know that two wrongs don’t make a right, but still…

Say what you will, but when it comes to Omar Khadr’s settlement, there is a lot that is not ‘right’.