One hundred and eighteen days: the harrowing tale of James Loney, a Toronto man kidnapped in Iraq

One hundred and eighteen days: the harrowing tale of James Loney, a Toronto man kidnapped in Iraq

Of the many humiliations James Loney suffered during his terrifying captivity in Baghdad, the worst was his kidnappers’ promise—delivered and broken, over and over—that he was about to be set free

James Loney in his Parkdale apartment. His memoir about his kidnapping ordeal, Captivity, is out this month (Image: Derek Shapton) 

Baghdad, in November 2005, was a war-ravaged, frightening, almost unlivable city. The streets were plagued by chaotic traffic jams and had become a crazy patchwork of potholes, smoking garbage, rubble and abandoned cars. Telephones rarely worked and electricity was undependable. The air was often thick with smog. You could count on seeing men with guns roaming the streets. You could count on hearing gunfire. Kidnappings had become a daily event, the work of insurgents with political motives or criminals after a buck. The first kidnapping of a foreigner happened on April 5, 2004. By the end of the month, 42 more had been taken. Just a year and a half later, the Washington Post reported that 425 non-Iraqis had been kidnapped. Of those, nearly a fifth had been murdered. The situation was even worse for Iraqis themselves—the same paper noted that a minimum of 30 citizens were kidnapped each day, their ransom averaging out at some $30,000 per, though the affluent could expect to pay considerably more. Even arriving at Baghdad International Airport was dangerous and terrifying—planes had to drop suddenly from 29,000 feet in a tight, corkscrew pattern in order to avoid fire.

Among the passengers flying into Baghdad from Amman, Jordan, on November 21 were 41-year-old James Loney and 32-year-old Harmeet Singh Sooden, both from Canada, and a 75-year-old British citizen named Norman Kember. Tom Fox, a 52-year-old American, was already there, awaiting their arrival. (Though James knew Tom slightly, the others were all meeting for the first time.) They were members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an inter­national organization that documents evidence of human rights abuses in war zones, and sometimes asks its members to put their bodies on the line, to stand peacefully between two volatile factions, in hopes that violence might be averted. James was the group’s Canadian program co-ordinator. He’d visited Baghdad before. When it became clear, post 9/11, that the United States would invade, he volunteered to be part of a 10-day CPT delegation that went in January 2003 to assess the situation. He returned a year later for a 10-week stint, experiencing first-hand how the early exhilaration at Saddam’s removal had evaporated as infrastructure crumbled and the clumsy and often brutal hand of the coalition forces provoked a growing rebellion. Another delegation was planned for November 2005. James, aware of the dangers but committed to the CPT philosophy of “risky peacemaking,” asked if he could lead it. His offer was accepted.

One of their first initiatives in the city was to meet at the Umm al-Qura mosque with a human rights officer for the Muslim Scholars Association, a recently formed organization of hard-line Sunni clerics with whom the CPT had been trying to forge a relationship. The meeting was set for two in the afternoon of November 26, and it did not go particularly well. They introduced themselves as CPT representatives, in Iraq to try to understand the realities of occupation. The Muslim Scholars rep, a large man with a thick brown beard, detailed the nightmare of life under occupation, said that everything had been better under Saddam Hussein, and indicated, by looking at his watch, that the meeting was over. James remarked, as they left the mosque with their translator to return to their van, that they’d not been offered tea—a rare breach of etiquette in a courtesy-obsessed culture. Tom mentioned that a man in a car, who had been watching them closely when they’d entered, had given him the creeps.

Their driver was waiting for them in the parking lot. It was shortly after 3 p.m. when they pulled onto a nearly deserted road. A minute later, their driver braked suddenly—a white sedan had blocked their way. Four men armed with AK-47s got out of that car, evicted the van’s driver and translator, commandeered the vehicle, and drove off. James was forced to the floor of the vehicle; the others sat with guns trained on their faces. Of the four shocked and terrified captives, James was the first to speak. Typically, and rather sweetly (he can seem the very exemplar of the soft-spoken, polite Canadian), he tried to alleviate the tension by making introductions. “My name is Jim,” he said. “This is Tom, and Harmeet, and…” He was told to shut up. The van drove on for another 15 or 20 minutes, finally passing through a gate into the courtyard of a house. James had no idea where they were. Two men closed the gate behind them. They were led into the building, searched, handcuffed and blindfolded. Within two weeks they would be moved, one by one in the trunk of a car, to another, larger house. Those two buildings would be their home for 118 days.

Loney offered to pray for his captor’s girlfriend, who was dying of cancer. The more his jailers saw him as peace-oriented, the harder it would be for them to kill him

In a video broadcast on Al Jazeera, the kidnappers called Tom Fox and James Loney spies, and threatened to kill them (Image: AP Photo/Al Jazeera via AP Television) 

When you visit James Loney today at his Parkdale home, you know immediately which of the two possible apartments belongs to him: the one with the picture of Jesus on the wall next to the door (though the text on the image—“I want you to buy less, live more”—isn’t exactly biblical). The man who answers the door is a youthful 46-year-old, somewhat scruffy (he doesn’t like to shave, and clearly hadn’t on the morning I visited), dressed in the studiedly schleppy outfits of social activists everywhere—a bulky-knit sweater and baggy corduroys. He has light brown, neatly combed hair that he periodically reduces to almost comical disarray, running his hands through it as he struggles with a thought or a question. His eyes are a deep, clear blue. His nose is significant; his lips thin. He somehow comes across as timidly handsome, as if the flesh does not quite trust itself to make any claim on sensuality—perhaps not a surprising trait in a gay man who waited until the age of 30 to come out of the closet, and who never enjoyed the standard gay male baptism-by-promiscuity that can partly redeem years of frustration and guilt.

Though he was born in Calgary and spent his early childhood in Thunder Bay, he grew up mainly in Sault Ste. Marie, a devout boy in a pious family. His mother is alive; his father died last year. He has three younger siblings—two brothers and a sister. He was an altar boy until he was in Grade 10, a boy who attended Catholic schools and wasn’t good at sports, a boy who didn’t date, a boy with few friends, a boy who wanted to become a priest. One of the reasons the priesthood attracted him was the realization that he would have a role where he wouldn’t have to account for his sexuality, a role where he might forget that he seemed to be developing into what he called “the worst possible thing.” That was part of it, but it wasn’t all of it. He says he has always had a sense of God as tangible and real. He remembers one experience, of lying in bed as a child and praying. “I suddenly felt the layers of the universe opening and opening,” he says. “Everything was deep, and God was permeating everything, and God was something beyond, and greater, and beyond experience.” He also began to develop a fledgling sense of social justice. He remembers being at school one day and feeling that the world wouldn’t be right until he, and every other excluded nerd and misfit, was welcomed and included.

He would, in his teen years, make a friend. He met Dan Hunt when they were both 16, counsellors at a Knights of Columbus camp for boys. Dan, too, had a social conscience. Dan, too, wanted to be a priest. Though Dan lived in Owen Sound at the time, the boys clicked, stayed in touch, and were soon best friends, then roommates at college in Windsor, the two of them on course for priesthood in the Basilian order. There was a problem, though. Dan had fallen in love with James. Dan was willing to say he was gay. James was not. Whatever his feelings might have been, he had decided he would live his life as a radical celibate. He would live for other people, serving God.

He created many such opportunities for exactly that. “I wanted to lead a radical gospel life with the poor,” he says, “but the Basilians were comfortable and affluent.” So he abandoned the idea of becoming a priest. After graduating from the University of Windsor with a degree in history, he flirted briefly with a master of social work course at U of T. He hated it; he felt it would just make him a part of the poverty industry, a cog in the machinery that didn’t challenge the structures that kept people poor. He joined Angelus House, a community that is part of an anarcho-Christian movement called the Catholic Worker. Its program, as he puts it, set his heart on fire—it was everything he’d been searching for. Founded in the U.S. in 1933, the organization stresses voluntary poverty; supports unions, co-operatives and civil rights; opposes war; and operates houses where unpaid workers offer food, clothing and shelter to the needy. By the fall of 1990 he had joined forces with Dan and another friend, and began co-ordinating a small network of rented buildings they would call Zacchaeus House (named after the wealthy tax collector who, after meeting Jesus, gave away his riches). The three men all had jobs, which helped to pay the bills. Word of mouth and referrals attracted many, and they welcomed all: people who were physically or mentally ill, jobless, fresh out of jail—anyone who needed food and shelter and hope. It was the work he’d been dreaming of doing. They had vegetable gardens. An organic bakery. They made prison and hospital visits. They were involved in prayer vigils and civil disobedience, and all of it was non-violent, and all of it was good, and it nearly drove him crazy.

Community life was hard, harder than he’d ever imagined. The noise in the house would get to him. Freeloaders who never helped out would get to him. He found himself having to deal with people so marred by poverty that they would burst into sudden rages, break windows, call him faggot. He, too, had a temper he found difficult to control. As a child, he’d slammed his bedroom door on the hand of his youngest brother, cutting off the tip of one of the boy’s fingers. “That was a formative moment,” he says. “I control my temper very closely now. My anger is something I’m always aware of.” He discovered, to his surprise, that he could hate—people with shrill laughter or bad hygiene he found particularly loathsome. He almost punched a fellow worker who wouldn’t take off his dirty shoes when he entered the house.

By the mid ’90s, he was burned out. He was 30 years old. He was still a virgin. Though he was always at the centre of a frenzy of activity, he found an emptiness and a loneliness at his core. He took three months off from Zacchaeus House, retreated to a monastery in California and, under the spiritual guidance of a monk, began to accept himself as a sexual being. When he returned to Toronto, Dan was there, still in love, still in hope. Very slowly, over a couple of years, they grew into an intimate relationship. The loneliness and emptiness he had been experiencing vanished. That ache, he says, was suddenly gone, and he began to let his friends and family know he was gay.

While in captivity, Loney filled two notebooks with a harrowing diary of his ordeal 

After their rescue, Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney were flown by the Canadian Forces to Abu Dhabi 

That particular ache may have disappeared, but another took its place. James longed to do more than provide a home for the city’s walking wounded. He wanted to be a soldier for peace, someone who took as many risks as a soldier trained and equipped to wage war and to kill. It’s all very well to talk non-violence when you’re safe and comfy, he tells me, but how to take that to the next level? A Catholic Worker friend introduced him to the Christian Peacemaker Teams. “They practised risky peacemaking,” he says. “It isn’t about seeking martyrdom, but we would use our bodies to protect people, and place our bodies in the way of the war machine. The thought was very scary, but I felt my commitment to non-violence had to take that next step.” (There may be a touch of the drama queen in James. The CPT Web site acknowledges that “conflict zones can be risky,” but says most of their work involves “relationship-building—drinking tea, sharing meals, making friends.”) In 1999, he served as a CPT intern for a month in Hebron, monitoring Israeli checkpoints, documenting abuses, networking with other peace activists. He loved the work. He enrolled in a CPT training course in the summer of 2000, but his first assignment—at a Maritime First Nations community under attack for insisting on its treaty rights to fish—was a disappointment. The fishing season was over when he got there. All was quiet. His body wasn’t needed. He did crossword puzzles and read. He wouldn’t be involved again with a CPT initiative for more than two years, and that would be his first trip to Iraq, in 2003, just before the U.S. invasion. He was back in 2004. Again in 2005. He’d put his body on the line more than once, and on November 26 that year, someone finally took him up on the offer.

In captivity, James Loney, Tom Fox, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Norman Kember found themselves held in what had once clearly been an affluent home, though the rooms were now mostly empty and the windows covered with tattered curtains. (Iraqi families who could leave the country frequently did, even if it meant abandoning their property.) They spent their days, handcuffed and shackled together, in those rooms. They slept, cuddled together, still handcuffed and shackled, on filthy mats in those rooms. They eventually discovered that they could use a nail they found—they dubbed it the Instrument of Grace—to unlock the handcuffs at night, allowing them freedom of movement and better sleep. (They replaced the cuffs in the morning, before their captors came in to check on them). They were taken to the equally filthy bathroom when they needed to go. They were permitted the occasional sponge bath, usually when their body odour appalled even their captors. They were terrified when they heard the screams and whimpering of some other, unknown and unseen captive being questioned in an adjoining room. They experienced boredom (their captors, frequently as bored as they, watched television, had access to a DVD player, and often invited them to join in, especially for Hollywood thrillers). They ate more or less the same meal three times a day every day (samoon, an Iraqi bread, often stuffed with rice, potatoes or a morsel of meat). Occasionally there were treats—macaroni, eggs, cookies. They lost weight. They were tantalized by frequent promises of imminent release, especially for the two Canadians, citizens of a country that had refused to support the U.S.-led invasion. Tom and Norman were often told their release would take longer.

They eventually came to know that their kidnappers called themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. What they didn’t know was that their captors, in statements broadcast on Al Jazeera, claimed the men were spies, not peace workers, and threatened to kill them if the U.S. didn’t release all Iraqi prisoners held in the U.S. and Iraq.

Prison of any kind is a Petri dish, a place where small slights fester, where someone’s personal tics can drive others mad, where hope blossoms and despair corrodes, a place where you question your very humanity, where you can hate your captors and yet find room in your heart for their own bruised and wounded lives. James experienced that full range, recording his angers, frustrations, hopes, prayers and terrors in a tiny, cramped hand in two children’s notebooks that his captors provided. The books are a remarkably honest document—he doesn’t pretty himself up. His almost prissy fastidiousness is a recurring theme: could his fellow prisoners please not eat with their fingers, and then lick them clean? Could their captors not provide a broom? Could the four of them please fold their futon so the side they sleep on isn’t in contact with the floor? He is horrified at the possibility that they might have to share a toothbrush. He actually tries to teach one of his captors how to scour a sink (it’s a charming moment—the man is entranced when gleamingly clean porcelain appears from under the grime).

He knew he had a temper, but he is mortified by his barely suppressed rage, rage waiting to erupt if Harmeet doesn’t stop wiggling his toes. If Tom doesn’t stop blinking in that slow-motion way of his. If Norman doesn’t stop digging in his ears. Even the way the others filled their notebooks infuriated him—Harmeet made lists of what he’d do when he was freed and then organized and re-organized them, driving James quietly nuts in the process. Three of them would have a screaming fight about whether “eye” and “symmetry” constituted a proper rhyme in William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger.” There are days, he wrote, when “the only thing I know is self-pity or rage.”

Yet he and the others never quite lost touch with their own humanity or, perhaps surprisingly, that of their captors. They made up names for them—Uncle, Nephew, Number One, Medicine Man, Junior—based on character traits they’d observed. They discovered that Number One was trying to learn English, hoping to improve his lot, and that the books he had in the house included The Old Man and the Sea, Faust and As I Lay Dying. They heard him cry out in anguish, “I must change my life.” They learned that Junior’s family, fiancée and best friend were killed when the Americans bombed his house. When they found out the girlfriend of one of their captors was dying of cancer, they offered to pray for her. That tenderness was partly a function of their religious beliefs, but it was also a survival strategy—James seemed to realize early on that the more their jailers saw them as peace-oriented human beings with histories and families, with wives and mothers, the harder it would be to inflict harm on them. Unless, of course, they discovered that James was a peace-oriented homosexual. He had good reason to fear: the month before they were kidnapped, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had declared that homosexuals “should be killed in the worst manner possible.”

That fear always hovered, just below the surface. Would they Google him? Would the Canadian media out him? He would not lie and could not tell the truth—he could only be evasive when his captors asked why, at the age of 41, he wasn’t married. After all, he was the handsome one, with blue eyes! It was a long, sad story, he said. That seemed to satisfy them (kidnappers, certainly, but also romantics), though Number One stressed how important it was that he marry upon returning to Canada. James’ gayness gave rise to one of the more unnerving moments of his captivity. The captor they called Junior was the most mercurial of the group, and he had announced that he wanted to become a suicide bomber. James was deeply disturbed by that—Junior was just 23 years old, and he was going to use his body, a God-given body meant for joy and love, as a weapon. How to make Junior realize the goodness of that body, and the sacrilege that is suicide? Almost on a whim, James offered to massage his aching neck. Junior was startled, but accepted. James says that being gay enabled him to make that offer, and he prayed for Junior while massaging him (not without briefly indulging a fantasy of choking him to death), and hummed a song for him. Eventually he rather regretted his initiative. Junior asked for massages with increasing frequency, to the point of one day asking to have his buttocks massaged. James complied, and reflected that Stockholm syndrome might now be in full flower.

On February 12, the 79th day of their captivity, they were told they would all be relocated, one by one, in a car. Tom would be the first to go. James could see the thought flashing through Tom’s mind that this meant they were going to be released in stages, but he was not so sanguine. The four of them made their goodbyes. Junior handcuffed Tom’s hands behind his back, and led him out the door. The other three waited for their turn to be taken away, but it never came. That was the last they saw of Tom Fox. (His body, riddled with bullets to the head and chest, was found on March 9, wrapped in a blanket and plastic bags.)

The rest of February unravelled as a long thread of boredom, terror and television (“Movie Night With the Captors,” James termed the endless Arabic channel surfing and the Hollywood action flicks, complete with popcorn). When they asked about Tom, they got evasive answers: he’s safe in another house, on one day; he’s been released in Amman, on another. They shouldn’t worry. The food got better—they were offered oranges, carrots, dates, cups of hot tea. Their captors became skittish, often behaving as if they were frightened themselves. On February 16, an agitated Nephew announced that their chief had been captured. James became ill, feverish, slept badly, his clothes soaked in sweat in the morning. On March 5, the 100th day of their captivity, Medicine Man told them that negotiations with the Canadian government were going well, and that ransom money, $2 million per person, would soon be paid. They were told the British were intransigent. There was no mention of Tom. Two days later they saw themselves during a brief news clip on tele­vision. Tom was not in the picture.

They were forced to make nine videos over the term of their confinement, most often to say they were being treated well and to deplore the U.S.-led invasion. One they made on March 11 appeared in a news clip about them on TV that same evening. The clip also mentioned Tom Fox, the camera focusing on an image of him blindfolded; then it switched to a shot of a road and appeared about to zoom in on a spot on that road when Nephew changed the channel. He said Tom was OK. James knew he was lying.

The RCMP staff who had worked 24 hours a day to rescue Loney stood and cheered when he entered the room. When he thanked them, some were near tears

On March 15, they watched Resident Evil: Regeneration. The film was shot in Toronto and James found himself drinking in images of city hall, the Bloor Street viaduct, Metro Hall, the skyline. On March 17, Medicine Man announced that the ransom was about to be paid, that Harmeet and James would soon be free, and that the British had agreed to negotiate for Norman. Two days later, Medicine Man was back to make yet another video, this time of the Canadians holding that day’s newspaper, proof that they were still alive. On March 20, they heard helicopters on patrol near the house. Medicine Man and Uncle appeared increasingly agitated. James feared Norman would be murdered next—the captors hadn’t bothered to include him in that last video. On March 21, Harmeet announced that his birthday was just three days away—he would be 33 (Junior brought them a cake, made by his wife, and the most food they’d been served in one sitting since their kidnapping). On March 22, James, convinced they would soon be killed, tried to persuade Norman and Harmeet to experiment with an escape plan—using their blue blindfolds to choke one of their captors into unconsciousness. They wouldn’t be part of it. He wanted to scream. He didn’t want to die. That evening, before they went to bed, Junior smiled when they asked him if they would be released soon.

Early the next morning, they were awakened by the sound of a door slamming, followed by the clang of metal and the thump of boots on the pavement outside their window. James leapt up, but dove for the floor when a series of explosions shook the building. He was terrified, and then he heard English voices in the stairwell. He cried out that they were British and Canadian. “British Special Forces,” was the answering shout. Within seconds, the room was full of soldiers in full battle gear. There was a medic, who immediately went to Norman. James’ first question was about Tom Fox. He was told that Tom was dead. A soldier appeared with bolt cutters. Minutes later, on the 118th day of their captivity, they were set free. As they were led to safety by the soldiers who had rescued them, they passed one of their captors, now blindfolded, his wrists bound. James reached out to touch him. He wanted to say something to him, wanted to say, “I don’t want this, what’s happening to you now. I don’t want you to suffer.” He didn’t quite get the words out. His mouth was dry.

Celebrity is a different kind of Petri dish. James, Harmeet and Norman were suddenly famous, the good-news story of the week. They were transported to the safety of the Green Zone in Baghdad, and James found himself hobnobbing with the British ambassador, told he could expect a phone call from Stephen Harper, deeply bewildered as he slowly came face to face with complex issues raised by his abduction and his rescue. James Loney championed self-determination for the Iraqi people, yet an organization with the same beliefs kidnapped his team, killed his friend and might have murdered him. James Loney was opposed to the military, yet they were the very people who had risked their own lives to save his. James Loney deplored the Harper government, and was suddenly forced to decide whether he would accept a congratulatory phone call from the man. He did, reassured that it was a personal call only, and found him “remarkably easy to talk to.” The RCMP was not an institution to which he had ever imagined he would be profoundly grateful, yet one of the earliest people to greet him was RCMP negotiator Gordon Black, who toured him through the operations centre that co-ordinated the joint-release effort. The staff who had worked there 24 hours a day stood and cheered when the three of them entered the room with its workstations, maps, phones and computers. When James and Harmeet met and thanked the RCMP officers personally, some were near tears. Today, James still believes in non-violence, and still believes soldiers shouldn’t kill, but he sees the contradictions. “It’s complicated,” he says. “People are doing this work out of the best of intentions, and they risk their lives, so there’s a tension between honouring that without also honouring the war machine.”

Though some of his values and beliefs were shaken to the core, others remained intact (a few of them irritatingly so). He could be scrupulous to the point of self-parody, agonizing over whether to take a second shower after he was moved to the palatial residence of the British ambassador (“No! It’s a crime to use water frivolously”), or not wanting to waste taxpayers’ money by buying too expensive a belt when he was taken on a shopping trip in Abu Dhabi, a stopover on the flight home (it took him half an hour to make his choice). True to their convictions, James, Norman and Harmeet eventually held a press conference in England, at which they announced that they had forgiven their captors, and that they had no intention of testifying if the men were brought to trial—Iraq has the death penalty, which they abhor. (The three men have never discovered what did happen to their captors.)

On March 26, James arrived in Toron­to. There to greet him, along with the predictable media horde, were his two brothers, his sister, and his partner, Dan Hunt. While James was in captivity, his family and friends, with the co-operation of the national media, tried to protect him by keeping his gayness, and Dan, out of the story. Photos of James were published only if Dan had been cropped out—which only added to Dan’s agony. It didn’t help that James’ family, the RCMP and government authorities frequently failed to consult or inform Dan—they seemed all too willing to consign him to the role of “friend” rather than partner. Foreign Affairs relented only when he repeatedly faxed them documents showing James had granted him power of attorney. In some ways, nothing changed after James’ return. “Everyone wanted my story, not Dan’s, and I think that was hard for him,” James says. They split up last July. “Our decision to separate was one we made together over the space of a year. We both felt that we needed to free each other. The kidnapping called us to look more deeply at our relationship and pay attention to things we were neglecting.”

The two men live within minutes of each other now and remain friends, though Dan has entered into a new relationship. When I ask James if he’s seeing anyone, he says he has met a few men for coffee. He tells me later that he awakened one morning recently with a feeling he couldn’t quite identify. “I think it might be loneliness,” he says.

Good, earnest people are always a bit lonely (their fervour can seem like a judgment on our lassitude, making them somehow unapproachable), but he is well equipped to handle it. His faith is still strong (though the Catholic Church’s stand on homosexuality is wounding). He is still involved as a CPT reservist (someone who participates in a project at least two weeks each year). He’s warmly regarded by his colleagues in the organization (one of the office workers regularly dusts his rock collection, still on the windowsill beside the desk he used when he was a CPT co-ordinator). He’s in frequent touch with Harmeet, and has gone hiking and exploring with him in New Zealand, where Harmeet has family and attended grad school (James rarely communicates now with Norman—the two men seem not to have been a good mix). Part of his loneliness might also stem from his having spent the past three years writing Captivity, a book about the ordeal, to be published this month by Knopf. Reading it can seem, at times, as claustrophobic as the experience itself, and the writing of it, he says, was excruciating—like waking up each morning and going back into captivity, and it wasn’t therapeutic, and it wasn’t cathartic. He worried about writing a book about an experience where, except for the first day and the last, nothing happened, but his first draft was 230,000 words long (the published version is somewhat more than half that). He was ecstatic when he finished it. He tells me he refused his publisher’s offer to send a courier for the manuscript, and delivered it himself on his bike, in the pouring rain, singing at the top of his lungs.

James saves the last paragraph of his book for an analysis of what his experience taught him. He writes, “If we want to be free, if we want to live as sisters and brothers in a beautiful blue world, a world without war, we have to let go of the power of domination and reach for the power of loving and healing and forgiving.” That, of course, was his credo before he went to Iraq, and it’s easy to believe him when he says that he is very much the same person he always was, that the experience hasn’t changed his life.

I ask him out for drinks late one evening in January. We end up at Supermarket, in Kensington. The place is packed with giddy, pretty young people. (Nice contrast, I thought.) I wasn’t sure he would drink, but, yes, he has a beer. I ask him if he is happy. He says he is, that he feels he is where he is supposed to be, that he doesn’t really know what will come next, that the future seems as open as it has ever been, that for a change he wants to do what he really desires, not just what he feels he should do. I don’t take him to mean that he will abandon his principles. I do take him to mean that captivity taught him a more nuanced, less Manichean view of the world he actually lives in, that his real desires might require much in the way of earnest thought and rumpling of hair in frustration, but that his passion for social justice can still make space for the pleasures and frailties of a man who might be more, and less, than a peacemaker.

When we part, I hail a cab (it’s painfully cold). He heads on foot for the streetcar stop at College and Spadina. I watch him from the car window, striding alone down the sidewalk, happy and lonely, haloed by the street lights and the snow.