Semrau kicked out of Canadian Forces

Capt. Robert Semrau, a Canadian soldier convicted of disgraceful conduct for shooting a wounded Afghan insurgent in 2008, has been dismissed from the military but will not go to jail.

Capt. Robert Semrau, a Canadian soldier convicted of disgraceful conduct for shooting a wounded Afghan insurgent in 2008, has been dismissed from the military but will not go to jail.

As part of the punishment handed down Tuesday in Gatineau, Que., Semrau's rank will also be reduced to second lieutenant.

Semrau was accused of firing two rounds from his rifle into a dying Taliban fighter in Helmand province of Afghanistan in October 2008.

A military panel acquitted Semrau on July 19 of murder and attempted murder, over what some have called a mercy killing on the battlefield. 

Semrau held a spotless military record until the battlefield incident. The case has raised difficult questions for the military about the conduct of its soldiers and the fog of war.

 Lt.-Col. Jean-Guy Perron, the judge who handed down the sentence, chastised Semrau for his actions.

"Shooting a wounded and unarmed person is disgraceful because it is so fundamentally contrary to our values and training that it is shockingly unacceptable," Perron said, adding that "every Canadian soldier is an ambassador of Canadian values."

"Your actions may have been motivated by a sense that you were doing the right thing. Nonetheless you committed a serious breach of discipline," the judge said.

"How can we expect our soldiers to follow the rules of war if their officers do not?" Perron said.

The judge said he could not find a precedent-setting case of a battlefield shooting involving the military of Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom.

Semrau thanks public for support

While Semrau was convicted of disgraceful conduct, the judge ruled that he would not be dismissed in disgrace. That means Semrau can apply to rejoin the Canadian Forces.

Semrau grew up in Moose Jaw, Sask., and was based at CFB Petawawa in Ontario. He is married and has two young children.   

He was flanked by his wife and other family members as he left the hearing Tuesday without speaking to reporters.

Semrau's defence lawyer, Capt. David Hodson, said his client was very disappointed.

"He's a warrior," said Hodson. "He should be, and would love to be, serving the Canadian Forces and serving his country, but he thanks you all. He thanks the Canadian public for all the support that he has been given throughout the process.

"We still have troops overseas in harm's way. He only asks that you direct your support to those troops who are in harm's way throughout the world," Hodson said.

Lt.-Col. Bruce MacGregor, the director of military justice policy, said the judge sent a message that discipline is the heart of the leadership in the Canadian Forces.

"A leader cannot have those types of actions, which is disgraceful conduct," MacGregor said. "If you are committing a disgraceful conduct, you cannot maintain that rank of leadership, which is the rank of captain."

For his conviction on disgraceful conduct, Semrau had faced a maximum of five years in prison and a dishonourable discharge.

Prosecutors sought a prison sentence of two years less a day and dismissal with disgrace from the Canadian Forces, while Semrau's lawyer had argued for a reduction in rank and a severe reprimand.

Semrau's family and supporters argued it was unfair that he faced prosecution in a courtroom for decisions made on the battlefield.