Canada's taking its fight against having to repatriate one of its citizens from Guantanamo all the way to the Supreme Court. But rejecting the former child soldier leaves the country open to charges of not in my backyard, merci

Canada is skating on really thin ice in terms of its public position as an arbiter of the rule of law, due process, the rights of its citizens and, in this case, the rights of children. Why such harsh words for the usually boring and beautiful nation? Well it all has to do with the case of a Canadian citizen who has been rotting in Guantanamo for the last seven years. Apparently old enough to torture, but not Canadian enough to rescue from his damaged childhood or prison cell.

The citizen is Omar Khadr who at the time of his arrest was 15 and in Afghanistan. The war crime he faces is murder for allegedly killing a US soldier by throwing a grenade. Remember, war crimes in the heat of battle seem disproportionately to apply to those fighting against the Americans, as is the case for most incarcerated in Gitmo or ‘renditioned’ to other places of torture around the world. The thousands of citizens killed by those same US soldiers are referred to as "collateral". This is an important distinction in the Kafkaesque order of war as we now know it. In the US, Canada or New Zealand, Khadr would be a minor.

The US has in other cases given sanctuary to child soldiers–Charles Opiro, who was turned into a killer by his Ugandan captors, gives lectures to kids in American schools; Canada has recently given a stay of deportation to escaped Burmese former child soldier Nay Myo Hein, and perhaps the ultimate success was Emmanuel Jal who has toured widely as a successful rapper having escaped his unspeakable acts having been forced to use an AK47 in the Sudan since he was six years old.

Why then is Khadr different and why, pray tell, is the Canadian Government fighting its own courts tooth and nail and appealing judicial orders to repatriate Khadr? In the ultimate not-in-my-backyard, this case is going all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court.

In a nutshell, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pissed at the audacity of Canada’s courts thinking they can interfere with his foreign policy. Add to that the accusations from his political opponents that Harper really considers the citizenship of new Canadians or people of colour to be not quite as worth fighting for as white Anglos and you have a rather uncomfortable political standoff.

The case has, naturally enough, many complicating factors, including allegations of a past connection between Khadr’s family and Osama bin Laden. Wouldn’t that mean that the young Omar should have been rescued from influence, not kept in solitary confinement and tortured to admit to a crime there are serious doubts about? Apparently not.

A young fellow detainee who admitted throwing a grenadeonce he was threatened with his own death and that of his family–has since been released. It is already on record that Khadr was only possibly responsible for the grenade, as an older person who was with him was still alive at the time of his arrest.

Harper seems obsessed with letting the US legal process play itself out–despite the Brits and the Aussies and other Western nations having already taken home their nationals. But ‘process’ in this nightmare has no ‘due’ to go with it.

Refusing a kid treatment for his injuries, keeping him in solitary for years, placing him under such duress as to be akin to torture, and now keeping him chained to the floor of a cage–albeit in contact with other prisonersamounts to the sort of treatment that junks anything that’s come out of Gitmo. Sure, a cursory study of war forces acknowledgement that 15-year-olds are capable of killing. That is not in dispute but nor is it the point.

Harper is okay about sending Canadian troops to fight for the current corrupt administration in Afghanistan, but finds it not okay to recognise that a Canadian citizen who hasn’t yet faced a court should be left to rot and harden in a thoroughly discredited sham of a jail.

Denied legal and human rights, this Canadian is now 22. He’s unlikely to cry as easily as he did when seen on the video footage of his early days in captivity. Actually he’s probably really angry about his fate and about how he’s been treated by Canada. Is that perhaps what Harper is now so scared of?

Having adopted a stubborn and bloody-minded refusal to acquiesce to the courts, Harper has thumbed his nose at the serious and reasoned judicial analysis that there is not enough evidence to charge Khadr with any crime, let alone convict him now or in the future. What does Harper expect to happen now?

When communities reject convicted pedophiles from taking up residence in their child-filled streets, their acts may be objectionable but at least their targets have been convicted of a crime.

Omar Khadr has been convicted of nothing. He was 15 when arrested, allegedly fighting. His fight was against an occupying force. He has not been formally charged, let alone put on trial or convicted. Canada is displaying an appalling double standard in trying to make him an American problem.

Given Canada’s complicity with the US in the rendition and torture of Canadian citizen MaherArar and the resulting multi-million dollar pay out, perhaps Harper is just plain running scared.

In the meantime he risks making a mockery of Canada’s stated position on the human rights of others, on the need to rehabilitate child soldiers, and the country’s supposed abhorrence at the use of torture.

It will serve Harper right if come November the Supreme Court proves the cul-de-sac on the battle to keep Khadr out of sight, and Harper is forced to acknowledge, in the words of his chief rival Michael Ignatieff, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Sort of like the law is the law is the law, n'est-ce pas?


Comments (6)

by Graeme Edgeler on September 09, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

Murder is not a war crime.

by Graeme Edgeler on September 09, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

I should qualify that.

Murder is not, by itself, a war crime. Like rape, it can be done in circumstances that make it a war crime.

by stuart munro on September 09, 2009
stuart munro

Harper must be a sentimental analogue of Cheney. Poor Canada.

by ScottY on September 10, 2009
ScottY

Great piece. But depressing.

This kind of behaviour is exactly what you would have expected of the previous US administration - but not Canada.

It's simply absurd for anyone to suggest that throwing a grenade against another combatant in the heat of battle is a war crime. Or is it only a crime when the "bad guys" do it?

by Luc Hansen on September 10, 2009
Luc Hansen

ScottY, the answer is yes.

Wonderful article, Jane.  Do you know where Harper expects Omar to go?

by Jane Young on September 15, 2009
Jane Young

good question Luc....Harper's 'strategy' seems to be one of hope - hope Canada's courts will relieve his government of any duty to repatriate, and/or hope the courts in the U.S. will have to deal with Khadr - either imprison him there or send him to Afghanistan of which he is also a citizen. Harper's administration is building quite a distasteful reputation when it comes to how it treats Canadians of dual citizenship and the opposition parties, spoiling for yet another election later this year, are on to that.  Somehow I don't think Khadr will be an election issue but the treatment of non-white citizens will surely be used in building a picutre of a harsh ultra conservative government.   More on possibly the 4th election in 5 years soon!     

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.