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Monday, November 8, 2010

Dallaire rages against child soldiers, in plea for restored national values

By Sarah Hampson, Globe and Mail, Niovember 3, 2010
The release of They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children comes at an opportune moment for Mr. Dallaire to lambaste the failure of Canadian foreign policy, as the case of Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born man convicted of war crimes, reached its controversial conclusion at a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Formerly recognized as a child soldier – he was 15 when captured in Afghanistan in 2002 after throwing a grenade that fatally wounded a U.S. soldier – Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty to all charges as part of a plea bargain with U.S. prosecutors and received a sentence of 40 years in prison, of which he will serve only eight.

“It’s going dead against the [Geneva] Conventions we have agreed to, the conventions that call for child soldiers to be handled differently and that those who use child soldiers to be seen as conducting crimes against humanity. We have pushed that internationally. We’ve been tested with one of our own, and we have failed flagrantly,” Mr. Dallaire says, shaking with anger.
The country’s recent failure to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council is also “unforgivable” and adds to his “level of rage against Canada,” the celebrated humanitarian continues.
The Canadian military leader, Romeo Dallaire, even while still suffering post traumatic stress syndrome, continues his fight against "child soldiers" in his new book, and his new philanthropic initiative among the world's youth to stamp out the trend.
No Canadian can forget the unanswered calls from Dallaire in his valliant and vain attempt to secure more UN forces when the Ruandan genocide raged, and his subsequent tragic life attempting to reconcile with both his guilt and his failure to generate support for his call for help.
No one can ignore this more recent plea for a wake-up call to our national consciousness, to see Omar Khadr differently, as a child soldier, and to consider seriously our commitment to the Geneva Conventions.
There are so many pieces of evidence that we are sliding away from our former and more noble attitudes of compassion, rehabilitation, equality and generosity, in our relationship with our weakest citizens, our native population, our poor and homeless, and our starving.
The most recent "TV barn-raising" on the Sunday evening CBC program, "One for All with Debbie Travis," in which the people of the town of Huntsville, Ontario, came to the aid of one who had founded the "soup kitchen" in that town, through the virtually complete reconstruction of her home, using mostly donated time, equipment and decor, demonstrates a far more inherent picture of the country most of us would like to live in.
And, never mind the government's plea that it is strapped for cash, it is still encumbent on the government to not only bask in the glory and light of such community accomplishments, but also to champion the core values that prompted its re-enactment.
Romeo Dallaire would have been a cheer-leader for the initiative. As would many of the previous leaders of this country.
Sadly, it takes the CBC, hardly the government agency we think of first as embodying our national compassion, generosity, equality and national spirit to remind us of our ideals and values, often forgotten or perhaps even at risk of being lost.
Nevertheless,  it is cries like that from Dallaire that we need to hear, to listen closely to in all of its implications, as we search for our national voice, in a time of radical re-orientation and re-construction, amid the rubble of a global recession, multiple conflicts, and increasing poverty, homelessness, hunger and even starvation.
As Red Green keeps reminding us, "We're all in this together, and we're all pulling for you!" in a message not only to and for "men" but also for all women and children everywhere.

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