Omar Khadr, justice and Canadian identity

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On July 3, word of a 10.5 million dollar federal settlement with Omar Khadr reached the media. The settlement was greeted with heated debate along political lines.

Former Minister of Defence and Conservative Party member Jason Kenny gave voice to a prevalent attitude exhibited by many in Canada’s political right, arguing on Twitter that Khadr should be incarcerated instead of receiving settlement.

Khadr, who was a minor at the time of his sentence, spent 10 years in Guantanamo Bay following his connection to a firefight in Afghanistan.

It would seem that, without considering the deeper implications of the settlement, many people identifying as right-wing Canadians were quick to follow the lacklustre response of the previous Conservative government who, believing Khadr to be a terrorist, defended his treatment in Guantanamo Bay and called his settlement an injustice.

This particular narrative oversimplifies a situation that can only be understood in its complexity. In discussing this event, it is important to understand the key elements and to consider, perhaps before all else, that Khadr was a 15-year-old Canadian who was pressured by his radicalized father into fighting against the United States military. Appealing for this understanding is not an attempt to absolve Khadr of guilt nor to cast doubt that justice should be meted out to those found guilty of crimes.

However, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees certain rights to Canadian citizens. Khadr is a Canadian, and by definition, should have the Charter applied to him. In Guantanamo Bay and throughout his trials, Khadr had his Charter rights as a Canadian citizen violated with the tacit endorsement of the Canadian government. Canadian citizens, when their Charter rights have been infringed upon, have the right to apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to have those infringements remedied.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the then Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s denial of Khadr’s repatriation constituted a violation of his Charter rights. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as United States Air Force officials noted that Khadr was subjected to continuous sleep deprivation, which is widely accepted as torture.

Given the facts, one can draw the conclusion that Khadr did experience some amount of what we, and the Geneva Convention, would term torture in Guantanamo Bay. The degree, and even the justification of such methods, is beside the point. In fact, the justification of Khadr’s actions and the indoctrination of Khadr himself are all equally immaterial to the debate.

I do not propose that Khadr should be paid 10.5 million dollars, nor do I propose that Khadr is innocent, guilty, justified or unjustified. The purpose of this article is to point out that the settlement itself, and the debate thereof, displays two sides of a contradictory narrative about what Canadians are and what we may become.

This is an important moment in our developing identity, and our interpretations, actions and responses will play a part in the narrative of our collective future.

As a nation, are we a group that condones the extraordinary rendition and torture of suspected terrorists before a trial? Do we accept confessions that are made under duress, after years of torture? Do we only apply our Charter only in circumstances where it benefits us? Do we tacitly endorse violations of human rights conventions, when a powerful nation has told us to? Does ignoring the issue, or assuming it won’t affect us in our classrooms and coffee lines, lessen its impact?

Harper was quick to denounce the actions of the Trudeau government on his Facebook page. However, refusing to repatriate and compensate Omar Khadr objectively fails to live up to the rights granted by the Canadian Charter. This odd line of right-wing rhetoric cannot have it both ways — they cannot be patriots while still refusing to accept Khadr’s settlement.

With the political atmosphere of our country at such an ideological crossroads, the implications of each argument and action must be carefully evaluated. As a community, as a nation and as a country, we must look to what we find just, to what we find fair and to what we find necessary.

Photo: Jiem Carlo Narag