Opposition to Omar Khadr’s settlement is puzzling and cynical: Paradkar, 10 juillet 2017
When it became known last week that Canada was to issue an apology worth $10.5 million to former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, a Canadian, it came to many as a no-brainer.
After all, it aligned with Canadian values of freedom, ethics and social justice.
Morality aside, it wasn’t as if the government had a choice.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Khadr three times after his lawyers took the case to court, and in 2010 it unequivocally stated that Canadian officials had violated Khadr’s human rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that his treatment “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”
There was no chance of the government winning the $20-million civil suit Khadr’s lawyers had launched in 2004.
“The only question that remained was how much to settle for,” says Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, author of Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr and co-director of an Emmy-nominated documentary of the same name.
It didn’t seem possible that any Canadians would look askance at making reparations with a man whose life has been shaped by repeated betrayals: his father, Al Qaeda fundraiser Ahmed Said Khadr, who took him, an 8-year-old boy, to Afghanistan and Pakistan; his mother, Maha Elsamnah, who supported this; the U.S. military, who, instead of treating him as a child soldier (he was 15 when captured), detained, tortured and subjected him to an unfair trial; and Canada, which — under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — abandoned him in the illegal hellhole that is Guantanamo Bay.
Oh, but the rage.
The calls for Omar Khadr to be charged with treason, calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be charged with treason, the outrage that a “terrorist” has been turned into a millionaire, even the spitting on of Canadian hero Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, who has devoted his life to championing the rights of child soldiers.
So much opinion based on sensationalized perspectives of those against the settlement.
Anybody out there have an 8-year-old child? One of mine is 9. You know and I know that it’s an age when kids adore their fathers and try to please them. Why would we think that such a child, exposed by his father to violent ideologies, was old enough to have known better by age 15? With that grooming, that child would have no chance.
It’s opportunistic to turn around now, as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did, and call the settlement “a slap in the face to the men and women in uniform.” If the country was so concerned about the effect of Khadr’s role on our troops, why didn’t it simply pull Khadr out of the U.S. and try him here? Our citizen, our justice.
It’s easy to tear people down when you’ve dehumanized them, easy to condemn those whom you’ve already demonized with a stereotype. Beyond the association with an infamous family, Khadr’s Islamic background seems to be at the root of the facile throwing around of the “terrorist” label.
In 2015, after an Edmonton court granted Khadr bail, his outspoken lawyer Dennis Edney bluntly told reporters about then prime minister Harper: “Mr. Harper is a bigot, and Mr. Harper doesn’t like Muslims. I once said publicly to Mr. Harper, ‘When you put your children to bed, ask yourself if you would like your children abused like Omar Khadr?’”
Canadians would not have been indifferent to his fate if Khadr had been a white minor who was shot in the chest, shackled, made to carry heavy buckets of water, forced into stress positions, made to urinate and used as a human mop, punched and slapped, thrown into solitary and deprived of sleep for weeks, and had spent years detained in legal limbo.
That there is opposition to Khadr’s settlement in the U.S. is expected, even though the soldier it tragically lost was lost in an act of war; to accept otherwise is potentially costly.
That Canadians are divided is puzzling. Does the opposition imply that we protect only those citizens we identify with? Does it mean we don’t protect Canadian children who do wrong? How are you a terrorist if you, say, launched a grenade during war? (In Khadr’s case, this is not definitively established.) Must you be in uniform to be a soldier?
There is a reason the United Nations defines child soldier as any child associated with an armed group below 18 years of age and why, in 2012, the UN called for Khadr to be repatriated to Canada.
“Regardless of how children are recruited and of their roles, child soldiers are victims, whose participation in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being,” the UN says.
The settlement sends a strong message that such a violation of the rights of Canadians will cost us.
“I’m not celebrating it. It’s a time for reconciliation and I hope that this chapter is closed,” Khadr told Shephard last week.
While Khadr embodies Canada’s failure to protect its own, he is also a symbol of Canadian compassion.
There is Edney, and lawyer Nathan Whitling, who worked pro bono for years; there is Dallaire, and there is Muna Abougoush, the Alberta human rights activist who campaigned for Khadr’s release and whom he is engaged to marry. Hopefully not drowned out are the multitude of ordinary citizens, who have been calling in to radio shows and taking to online forums to express their relief at the news of the settlement and support for Khadr.
For once in this sorry story, Canada has done the right thing.
Shree Paradkar tackles issues of race and gender. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
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