February 1, 2010
By Gavin MacFadyen
NEW YORK, Feb. 1, 2010, Troy Media/ — Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada again weighed in – obviously reluctantly – on the ongoing saga of accused terrorist and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr. His circumstances are well known but it is worth reiterating that he remains the only Western citizen still detained at Guantanamo and that he was a juvenile when he committed the crimes of which he was accused.
In its decision, the justices acknowledged that Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated when he was subject to questioning by Canadian authorities back in 2003 and 2004. They recognize that he gave statements in interviews which were then shared with his American jailors and that these interviews were conducted while the Canadians were aware of his having been subject to mistreatment, perhaps torture, and that no lawyer or adult was present to assert, monitor or protect his legal rights.
Death of a US soldier
Khadr, then 15, is accused of having thrown a grenade in July, 2002 during a firefight that resulted in the death of a US soldier. He has been held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba since that time where U.S. officials continue to assert that they will try him in a military tribunal rather than a civilian court.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly refused to request Khadr’s repatriation to Canada. An order by the Federal Court of Appeal directing him to do exactly that was the basis for the appeal to the Supreme Court and the reason for the ruling issued last week.
While the Supreme Court ruled that there had been a violation of Khadr’s Charter rights, they refused to go so far as ordering the Canadian government to make any demands of the United States to return him to Canada. They recognized the Crown’s prerogative to conduct matters of foreign affairs in the broader public interest and with the knowledge that the executive – and not the court – may be privy to more information, may be sensitive to ongoing negotiations and is in the best position to decide when, and even if, to act at all.
Thus, the issue is thrown squarely back into the political arena with the Supreme Court deciding, probably with a behind the scenes sigh of relief, to essentially wash its hands of the entire affair. The speed with which this decision was issued – along with the relative brevity of it – is a clear indication that the court just wanted to take its ball and go home. Back to you, Mr. Harper.
At the very least, one should at least grudgingly admire the prime minister for refusing to bow to political pressure coming from some quarters. In other words, even if he made such a request to repatriate Khadr, there is no indication that the Americans would have any interest in complying. It would be an empty political gesture but could be used by a less principled leader to quiet his critics by saying, in effect, “Well, I tried.”
Now, it is up to the Canadian public to either support the Prime Minister in his decision to leave Khadr in American hands or to pressure him to demand the return of one of our citizens. Make no mistake, Khadr has an impressive roster of legal minds lining up behind him, from the Canadian Bar Association to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to Amnesty International and just about everyone in between.
Let’s be clear on at least one fact: Khadr, despite how he is being portrayed by his supporters, is hardly an innocent victim of circumstance. He was not snatched from centre ice by evil Americans during a midget hockey game nor was he kidnapped from a Tim Horton’s while rolling up the rim.
He was fighting on foreign soil during a time when Canadian troops were also engaged on the ground in Afghanistan. In other words, there were other Canadian citizens risking and losing their lives in Afghanistan at the same time. The rather large difference is that those troops were sent overseas precisely to stop people like Khadr before he managed to kill as many people as his fanaticism demanded of him.
Should stay in the hands of the Americans
It’s a small thing to ask that fellow citizens refrain from putting themselves in the position to kill their compatriots on foreign soil. The fact that Khadr did not remain free long enough to kill Canadians is a tribute to the speed of his capture. He is accused of killing an American. He is rightly in the hands of Americans. That’s where he should stay.
I think it rather telling that Khadr is now attempting to cloak himself with the rights and privileges of Canadian citizenship without acknowledging that he failed to live up to the responsibilities of that same citizenship. He could have done that by staying in Toronto and playing road hockey like other 15-year-olds instead of hiding in a house on the side of a road with a grenade in Afghanistan that he just had to lob.
It is at this point that any thinking person’s eyes should start to roll. In other words, if he wanted to be treated like a teenager, he should have acted like one.
Gavin MacFadyen is a lawyer and freelance writer living in New York State. Past work has appeared in the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, The Globe and Mail, the Buffalo News and on CBC Radio
Channels: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, Canada Free Press, Calgary Beacon, February 4, the Flin Flon Reminder, February 9, 2010