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One Afghan vet gets a break after court ruling

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One Afghan vet gets a break after court ruling

Post by Loader on Wed 09 Aug 2017, 08:09

Judge O’Brien called him ‘a work in progress’ and said it was time for that work to continue. It was a thoughtful decision that erred on the side of kindness

KINGSTON, Ont. — In the end, when he realized he wasn’t going to go to jail and the judge had left the room, the big man I first met in Afghanistan wrapped his arms around his wife, asked for his wedding ring back, put it on with a grin of relief and made a weak joke that now they wouldn’t be having any conjugal visits.

His lawyer, standing beside me, said, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him there are no conjugal visits in the provincial system.”

This is how it is, sometimes, when a good man gets a break and a judge gives him a second chance: Almost everyone in the room weeps, there are hugs all ’round, and there’s space, again, for a little humour.

This wasn’t a trial I covered, but rather one of the few times where someone I know and care about was in trouble with the law. I wrote a letter of support for him, a character reference, to the court. My bias here is clear — he’s my friend and I’m in his corner.

This spring, he was convicted of six offences, the most serious two of sexual assault and two of assault, all set against an enormously complicated background that involved my friend’s post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, one of his three children being stricken with cancer, and his deteriorating first marriage.

All the charges involved a military couple, former friends of my friend and his first wife, and revolved around the fraught relationship among them that became utterly poisonous. He was convicted of twice crawling into the woman’s bed drunk and groping her; he also twice assaulted the husband though the man suffered no injuries.

It’s because of the children, two of them teenagers now, that I’m not using my friend’s name. The kids are aware, of course, of all that’s happened — they lived it, for heaven’s sakes — but I’d rather keep their names out of it.

On Tuesday, their father, whom I’ll call B.M., received a suspended sentence, probation of three years and a term of community service, from Ontario Court Judge Larry O’Brien.

The judge made it clear that the restrictive bail conditions, including a curfew, imposed on B.M. for the previous two years were a significant factor in his decision, as were B.M.’s own efforts in getting professional help.

During that time, B.M. had to live with his parents, about two hours away from his children and job.

Judge O’Brien called him “a work in progress” and said it was time for that work to continue. It was a thoughtful decision that erred on the side of kindness, as perhaps it should for a first-time offender with, as the judge said, “a distinguished past.”

B.M. was slated to leave the army in May on a medical release, because of his PTSD, but in light of his convictions, the Canadian Forces now is considering whether or not he should be given a dishonourable discharge.

It would be a shame if the army can’t be as kind as the judge.

I first met B.M., and the magnificent man who was then his sergeant, in the spring of 2006; members of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, they were part of Task Force Orion, the battle group that saw some of the most intense fighting of Canada’s almost decade-long involvement in Afghanistan.

I was there for four or five weeks that time.

By the time I returned in July, the soldiers were skinny, hardened by a daily diet of gunfights and bombs.

During one terrible battle on Aug. 3 at what was called the White School, three Canadians (Sergeant Vaughan Ingram, Corporal Bryce Keller and Private Keven Dallaire) were killed, while Corporal Christopher Reid died in a bombing earlier that morning. Others were seriously wounded, among them B.M.

I saw him again two days later, at what were called “ramp ceremonies” for the fallen four, when their flag-covered bodies were loaded in a small ceremony onto a plane and flown home.

B.M. was there, in a wheelchair. But as the caskets of his friends passed, he got to his feet. As he said later, “There was no f—ing way I was sitting down for that.”

When the Patricias came home at the end of that month, he was still on crutches at the regiment’s change of command parade in Edmonton.

The soldiers who had been through so much, who most needed one another, were instead immediately posted to new assignments all across the country.

The institutional army it turned out was new at caring for actual war-fighters; it was a mistake, a bad policy quickly changed, but cruel to them all.

It may have been as hard on B.M. as anyone: What the soldiers had experienced was so profound, and he is so intense, emotional and loyal. I believe he feels the world almost painfully, hugely. It figures his mistakes would be big too.

His second wife, two of his kids and his folks were in court. Before the judge pronounced sentence, when B.M. didn’t know if he’d be going to jail or not, he clucked about them all, comforting everyone else, like an enormous mother hen on steroids.
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Number of posts : 70
Location : Trenton Ontario
Registration date : 2017-02-07

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