Opinion: Canada’s treatment of Omar Khadr is an utter disgrace

Omar Khadr, was taken into custody in July. 2002. He returned to Canada in September, 2012.

Omar Khadr, was taken into custody in July. 2002. He returned to Canada in September, 2012.

It’s a subject that tore the nation apart. And it still does. Look at any news story about Omar Khadr and you’ll find heated arguments, fuelled by uninformed Canadians.

This month an Edmonton judge rejected Khadr’s bid to be transferred from federal penitentiary to a provincial prison. His lawyer, Dennis Edney, says he will take the bid to a higher court, seeing as Khadr’s chances of parole stays small while he still stays in a maximum security federal prison.

The rejection of his transfer must have been no surprise for Khadr. It took him nearly 11 years to come back to Canada.

Justice John Rooke said that his ruling had nothing to do with Khadr’s pretrial conditions but rather follows his interpretation of Canadian law. However, when it comes to the law, the list is lengthy when it details how Canada violated it with its treatment of Khadr.

Khadr was only 15 when he was taken into custody by American officials. He was found in a pile of rubble, heavily injured, and one of the few survivors of the attack the Americans had launched on his encampment. Instead of being in school, the teenage boy was in Afghanistan because of his father’s connection to Al Qaeda. His only crime was being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

By definition set out by international conventions of the United Nations, Khadr was a child soldier. Canada has signed the U.N. Convention of the Rights of a Child, an international convention that dictates a child soldier will not be held accountable for his or her actions. Instead of seeking for his immediate return, the Canadian government stood by as Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

In Canada, habeas corpus maintains that no citizen can be detained for over 48 hours without seeing a judge and without sufficient evidence to support a charge. Similar laws are in place in the United States.

But Khadr was detained in Cuba. There is a reason why Guantanamo is on foreign soil – practices don’t have to follow standard law. Hence, Khadr was taken under custody without habeas corpus. He spent eight years in Guantanamo, without seeing a judge. And during those eight years, Khadr was the only Guantanamo prisoner whose country didn’t request his return.

In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada was complicit in the violation of Khadr’s rights. When he was 16, CSIS agents interrogated him, knowing that American prosecutors would be using his statements against him. Khadr wasn’t given any legal counsel, which “offends the most basic standards of about the treatment of detained suspects,” the Supreme Court ruled.

The case that was built against Khadr is murky at best. Khadr was forced to give incriminating statements, still in his injured state, when he was first found. Human Rights Watch mentioned how Khadr’s original confession, was given under the threat of gang-rape from his primary interrogator. We wouldn’t tolerate such treatment of an adult, much less a child. But Omar Khadr seems to be the exception.

Khadr wasn’t given a standard, fair trial. He was convicted in a military commission. Military commissions aren’t recognized by most democratic governments because they don’t follow precedent and allow the submission of evidence obtained by coercion.

Khadr pled guilty to all charges laid against him in exchange for serving the rest of his eight-year sentence in Canada after serving another year in Guantanamo. As part of his plea bargain, he waived his right to appeal. He wasn’t even allowed to present evidence of abuse and torture while in custody. Instead, Khadr served an additional 11 months in the prison because Canada simply took no action to arrange for his transfer.

Now Khadr is back in Canada. While some of us, such as Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney, would do anything to fight any attempts to decrease Khadr’s sentence, the rest of us need to stand up and speak out. Voices such as those of Romeo Dallaire, the United Nations and Amnesty International have all spoken out for him, yet Canada continues to make a scapegoat out of Omar Khadr.

Sheetal Reddy

Third year journalism student with a penchant for trouble.

1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Reply October 29, 2013

    Kristin Unger

    Great article, Sheetal. Informed opinion, and, from what I’ve noticed, a growing sentiment in the human rights community in Canada.

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