Cale­do­nia and Omar Khadr

A vic­tim­ized child; a vic­tim­ized town

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LENKA HLAVENKA Lenka Hlavenka lives in Cale­do­nia

It is not sur­pris­ing that so many peo­ple are weigh­ing into the de­bate over Omar Khadr’s set­tle­ment. What strikes me as cu­ri­ous is that so many be­lieve it was in­evitable since our gov­ern­ment is obliged to fol­low the rule of law. And although I value jus­tice and rule of law as much as they do I can­not share their be­lief that each and every ci­ti­zen’s rights are pro­tected re­gard­less of race, creed, etc. Why? Be­cause of where I live.

The town of Cale­do­nia was left un­pro­tected dur­ing the 2006-2009 land dis­pute, aban­doned by the OPP and both Harper and McGuinty. And it wouldn’t have been any dif­fer­ent if Justin Trudeau were in charge at the time. I can un­der­stand a road block­ade when peo­ple feel they are not be­ing heard but abus­ing in­no­cent fam­i­lies? Cale­do­nia res­i­dents with homes ad­ja­cent to the protest site and the Six Na­tions went through hell. Dur­ing these vi­o­lent events it be­came clear that the gov­ern­ment sets the agenda and then picks and chooses whose rights it pro­tects — or not.

Now, if you don’t know what I’m talk­ing about I can’t re­ally blame you. The me­dia cov­er­age of the events was sparse, mostly in the lo­cal press only. Cale­do­nia was, and still is, Canada’s dirty un­men­tion­able.

I guess what should fol­low is me say­ing that Khadr should have been left to rot in Guan­tanamo. Ac­tu­ally, that’s not the case at all. First and fore­most, Omar Khadr is a sur­vivor of abuse by his own par­ents who brought him to a train­ing camp in Afghanistan where he was brain­washed and turned into a child sol­dier at the age of 11. If that is not child abuse then I don’t know what is. Un­der those cir­cum­stances there was no way he could have acted any dif­fer­ently even if he did throw that grenade sev­eral years later.

By now we all know what hap­pened af­ter his cap­ture. He de­serves com­pen­sa­tion, although the ac­tual num­ber seems to have been pulled out of a hat in a hurry. As well, one can­not help but think of how many dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits for Canada’s vet­er­ans $10.5 mil­lion could pay for. Or, of Steven Tr­us­cott, Don­ald Mar­shall, David Mil­gaard, Robert Bal­tovich …

There is more. When­ever I hear Khadr’s name I re­call one par­tic­u­lar evening in 2003, I think. (You have to ex­cuse my be­ing a lit­tle hazy on the de­tails; it’s been a while.) I re­mem­ber be­ing glued to the TV as two women ranted about how much they hate Canada, the U.S., the West in gen­eral. The women turned out to be Khadr’s mother and sis­ter. There is noth­ing shock­ing or un­usual about a mother’s rage over the mis­treat­ment of her child but that’s not what it was about. I watched in dis­be­lief as they con­demned our way of life, our morals, our very ex­is­tence. And I won­der if the fam­ily is still in the pic­ture and will they ben­e­fit in any way from the set­tle­ment?

Noth­ing is black or white. I was hes­i­tant to bring up the Cale­do­nia land dis­pute for fear of be­ing ac­cused of com­par­ing ap­ples to or­anges, or worse. Af­ter all, the towns­peo­ple were not holed up in Guan­tanamo and tor­tured. They were only sub­jected to threats, property dam­age and an oc­ca­sional as­sault. Some lives and liveli­hoods were ru­ined and some de­vel­oped health is­sues due to stress and sleep de­pri­va­tion. It is a bit hard to get a good night’s sleep with ATVs roar­ing be­hind your back door. Or drum­ming. Or per­haps even guns on site. All this while know­ing that there was no point in call­ing the po­lice who were un­der strict or­ders to not in­ter­vene. And for that rea­son and be­cause so many Cana­di­ans be­lieve in law-abid­ing so­ci­ety I think the two is­sues are re­lated af­ter all.

Omar Khadr should have been com­pen­sated for his suf­fer­ing and given enough help and re­sources to put his life back to­gether for com­pas­sion­ate and hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons.

As for equal pro­tec­tion for all un­der the law? Ques­tions re­main. Sadly, un­til there is at least an open de­bate it will re­main a myth, a crock, a delu­sion.

I watched in dis­be­lief as they con­demned our way of life, our morals, our very ex­is­tence.

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