Our laws say we owe Khadr
The public outrage that has greeted the federal government’s $10.5-million payout to Omar Khadr is understandable but misplaced.
It is understandable because many Canadians — based on a reasonable reading of events — consider Khadr to be a violent terrorist who reaped the bitter harvest of his own misdeeds after being captured by American forces on a battlefield in Afghanistan in 2002.
Imprisoned by the U.S. for years in Guantanamo Bay, this son of a senior al-Qaida associate finally pleaded guilty to throwing the grenade that killed American Army Sgt. Christopher Speer.
It is patently unfair for Ottawa to now give so much money plus an apology to Khadr, the critics will say. And their frustration is not hard to fathom. Their anger, however, is misplaced. The issue here is not what Khadr might have done to someone else, it’s what the federal government did to Khadr, as a young Canadian citizen.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada found that Canadian officials questioned Khadr at Guantanamo Bay in 2003 after the youth had been subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation by the Americans.
The Canadians then shared the information they had obtained with the Americans who continued to imprison Khadr in that hellhole.
In the Supreme Court’s words, what those Canadian officials did “offends the most basic Canadian standards.” And it is hard to disagree.
Khadr was just 15 when captured. He was underage when the Canadians interrogated him.
At Guantanamo, he had been sleep-deprived and subjected to other abuses by the Americans that could be considered torture, yet he had no access to legal counsel. Some will say all’s fair in the war on terror. Canada’s Supreme Court disagrees. Not only did Canadian officials violate Khadr’s rights as a citizen, the court declared, but the Canadian government failed him further by refusing to press the Americans to release him from Guantanamo and send him to a Canadian prison.
Both Britain and Australia persuaded the Americans to repatriate their citizens from Guantanamo.
Canada didn’t try and the Supreme Court said that violated the protections guaranteed to Khadr by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We know opinions remain divided on Khadr. We know some Canadians consider him a villain who is now enjoying undeserved rewards.
We also know others see him as a child soldier, a vulnerable youth who was led astray by his father, victimized by a bizarre legal system at Guantanamo that even U.S. courts criticized and who ultimately confessed to a killing as the only way to regain his freedom and return to Canada, where he now resides.
But you do not need to declare Khadr either a devil or a saint to recognize that he deserved far better from the federal governments led by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Jean Chretien’s Liberals.
Our highest court has ruled that these governments violated his rights as a citizen.
If those rights and our rule of law matter, we must settle with Khadr.
The Trudeau Liberals are right to do this.