What do Omar Khadr and Russell Williams have in common?

As two prominent Canadians contemplate the realities of their newly received prison terms, my fear-induced headline-consuming paranoia jumps ahead to the day when these convicted murderers will rejoin society.

Russell Williams, the former senior Canadian military commander, plead guilty in October charges of murder, sexual assault and burglary.

He received two life sentences for the murders, two ten-year sentences for the sexual assaults, two ten-year sentences for forcible confinement and 82 one-year sentences for his ‘secret visits.’

The sentences make it sound as if Williams will draw his final breath behind bars but in reality, the prison terms are being served back to back; Williams will be eligible for parole in 25 years.

Then there’s Omar Khadr, the 15-year old Pakistani-Canadian who has spent a good portion of his young life at Guantanamo Bay. He was charged with, among others things, the murder of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer during a standoff in Afghanistan in 2002. Khadr has recently pleaded guilty to five counts of terrorism and war crimes as part of a strict plea bargain and is now awaiting his extradition to Canada. He will be eligible for early release in 2013.

MacLean’s magazine recently published two different articles that attempted to profile these vastly different criminals whose crimes hold no semblance to one another. But after reading the articles, which were published weeks apart, I realized that the journey Khadr and Williams took prior to committing their crimes somewhat mirror one other.

According to Maclean’s Michael Friscolanti, Khadr was a child soldier who was inducted into terrorism at a very early age. He was “[brainwashed] by a fundamentalist father, raised in the shadow of Osama bin Laden, and sent into battle as a Kalashnikov-waving teenager, he is – in the famous words of one Foreign Affairs bureaucrat – ‘a thoroughly screwed up young man.’”

The phrase “screwed up” automatically conjured images of Col. Russell Williams in his stolen floral green bustier. Growing up, he was as close a definition to an average kid, if there ever was one (newspaper reports of Williams have revealed little to nothing out of the ordinary in his childhood besides the fact that his parents divorced when he was six years old) and he held a stellar record as a Canadian army officer; that is, until his vicious crimes were discovered.

If Omar Khadr the grenade-throwing, Kalashnikov-waving teenager is a product of his upbringing and insurgent combat training, it’s possible to conclude that Russell Williams the stealth rapist and murderer is a product of the average Canadian upbringing and, more frighteningly, his years of training by the Canadian Forces.

Now that’s a scary thought, indeed.

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