#MyCanada doesn’t torture children

When I was a kid at Conestoga Bible Camp, we did an exercise where we were supposed to hold our arms in the air above our heads the way Moses is said to have done in order to part the Red Sea. The idea was that he had to keep his arms in the air to keep the sea parted long enough for all the people to get across. So how about you try it now: how long can you hold your arms in the air above your head before it starts to get uncomfortable. Before it starts to get painful.  Now imagine how it would feel if you had two through & through bullet holes in your chest.

Some people are saying Omar Khadr wasn’t tortured.  The 15 year old Canadian boy was dug out of the rubble with two gaping exit wounds in his chest.  He wasn’t expected to survive.  When he was still a long way from recovery in the Bagram prison camp, he was hung from his wrists.  For hours.  Sounds like torture to me.

Canadian Politics

Canada is nominally a Representative Democracy.  Canadian voters elect representatives who are supposed to represent our interests– to govern in our names– in the House of Commons, the Canadian lower house of our Parliament.  Unfortunately, because Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected with a winner-take-all electoral system, our government is adversarial.  So instead of fostering co-operation, and creating policy in the best interests of all Canadians, we have been seeing increasing polarization, not just of political parties, but of citizens.  Such a system creates a class system by dividing Canadians into those who have representation and those who have not.  One side is the winner with all the power and everyone else are losers.

After 40 years of absolute control in Alberta, when the recent election resulted in an NDP government, there were death threats against the new Premier from citizens who believed they were absolutely entitled to be the winners. All the time.  They were the ruling class.

With the stakes so high, it has become increasingly necessary for the different parties to differentiate themselves.  As a result, we’ve seen racist rhetoric grow as Canada’s traditional alternating governing parties square off.

Some Canadians worry we will end up with our own version of President Trump.  And other Canadians welcome the idea.

For myself, I believe in democracy. Even those whose opinions I find odious deserve fair representation in Parliament.

If a majority of Canadians want a Prime Minster Trump, and if a real majority of Canadian voters actually vote for a party led by a leader like him, then that is the Prime Minister we ought to have.

But here’s the thing: a majority of eligible American voters didn’t elect President Trump. Something like half of them didn’t even vote, so Mr Trump was elected by twentysomething percent of eligible voters.  Just as here in Canada a mere twentysomething percent of eligible voters gave us 39% “majority” governments twice in a row.  When more people don’t vote than vote for the winner, it is not a particularly strong mandate on which to give a party 100% of the power.

Those Canadians with whom I disagree are just as entitled to representation as I am.  But if Canada is to be a real democracy, they should not be entitled to more power than they’ve earned in votes.  All Canadians need a real chance for fair representation, and for that we need Electoral Reform.

The tragedy of Omar Khadr is just the latest divisive issue to push the polarization of the citizens of Canada to new heights.  Like electoral reform, this should not be a partisan issue at all.  It doesn’t even matter what Omar Khadr did or didn’t do.

Since Mr. Trudeau dictatorially decreed he will not adopt a fairer electoral system after all, Canada is certainly heading down this path to greater polarization.  We can look forward to more of this civil unrest not less.

The Canadian Government violated Khadr’s rights.

Let me say it again: The Canadian Government violated his rights.  The rights guaranteed to him and every Canadian under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Not because I say so: it is NOT a matter of opinion.  It is a fact.

Three Administrations of the Canadian Government—those of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister Paul Martin, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper— all deliberately failed to protect the rights of a Canadian child.  We know this because the highest court in the land has studied the situation and the law and determined this to be the case.  You don’t have to believe me; you can read the entire ruling for yourself.

“This Court declares that through the conduct of Canadian officials in the course of interrogations in 2003-2004, as established on the evidence before us, Canada actively participated in a process contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations and contributed to Mr. Khadr’s ongoing detention so as to deprive  him of his  right to liberty and security of the person guaranteed by s. 7  of the Charter, contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.”
Canada (Prime Minister) v. Khadr ~ Supreme Court of Canada Judgement 2010 SCC 3

This is not up for debate.

So when Omar Khadr brought a $20 million civil suit against Canada for the terrible harm our government inflicted on him, with the highest court of the land vindicating his claim that his rights were infringed, there is no way he would lose.  As the Canadian Government has already spent something in the neighborhood of $5 million dollars fighting Mr. Khadr, the Trudeau Government negotiated a settlement with the young man for about half.  They could have thrown good money after bad, and ended up paying a settlement of an additional $20 million plus costs. Craig Forcese (an actual law expert) suggests the costs could be substantially higher (in reputation as well as money) than anything I’ve surmised.

And it isn’t unheard of for a judge to award a settlement greater than the law suit asked for.  That is what I would do if I was the judge.

This is anything but a partisan issue.  The initial breach of the rights of the child soldier Omar Khadr was perpetrated by Liberal Government, and because his detention was ongoing through the subsequent Conservative Government, they shared the blame. Governments of both parties messed up on the Khadr file.

But the Conservative Party is looking to make points by (a) pretending this settlement is unjust (by pretending Mr. Harper’s government wasn’t up to its ears in culpability), and (b) get Canada’s military, vets and their families against it (obscuring the fact the real culprit for them is the government’s failure to adequately compensate them, particularly when wounded).

Since both parties previous governments are to blame, a rational person might imagine Liberals and Conservatives would both want this to be done and over with.  We should all be congratulating the Canadian Government on making a good deal, right?

Well, no.  Not in the winner-take-all land of Canada.

Here’s the thing: Canadians are guaranteed human rights as written in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

All Canadians.  Conservatives and Liberals.  The way it works is this: it doesn’t matter which party forms the government, every citizen enjoys these protections.  It isn’t optional.  This is universal: all Canadians are protected by the Charter.  All the time.  The end.

Certainly the Supreme Court of Canada laid the blame at the door of both Liberal and Conservative governments.  So it couldn’t possibly be partisan.

Well.  It shouldn’t be.  Except, in our crazy winner-take-all Canada, some hyperpartisans act as though the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a Liberal thing.

The Liberals are always patting themselves on the back because they repatriated the Constitution so as to enshrine the Charter.  Clearly they are the good guys, right?

But because such Liberal proprietary boasts are all smug and condescending, in our winner-take-all world, Conservatives sneer at the Charter as though it was something odious that the Conservatives would never have done.

Except the truth is that before the Canadian Constitution was repatriated, the Conservative Government of Canada led by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker created and implemented the Charter’s forerunner, the Canadian Bill of Rights.  

This is the part of the Charter that was breached:

Legal Rights

Life, liberty and security of person

 Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

In the Bill of Rights, it would have been this:

PART I Bill of Rights

Recognition and declaration of rights and freedoms

 It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

  • (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

Nearly identical words.

No matter which way you slice it, Conservative and Liberal Canadians should all be dancing in the streets that our Canadian civil rights have prevailed.

But no.  Canadian Conservatives are doing everything they can to encourage Canadian outrage over the settlement.

New Conservative Party Leader Andrew “Scheer said Khadr has already been compensated by being able to live freely in Canada.

Omar Khadr admitted that he killed a U.S. Army Medic, Christopher Speer. Now Mr. Khadr will be a wealthy man thanks to the Liberal government handing him millions in taxpayer dollars. Conservatives believe that it is one thing to acknowledge alleged mistreatments, but it is wrong to lavishly reward a convicted terrorist who murdered an allied soldier who had a wife and two children. Our thoughts continue to be with Christopher Speer’s widow and family, who must relive their ordeal every time this issue comes up in the media. Given Mr. Khadr’s admission of guilt, Conservatives are calling on him to give any settlement money to Sergeant Speer`s widow and two children.”

— Conservative MP Tony Clement 

I would have hoped an MP like Tony Clement who is a former government Cabinet Minister would understand the words he uses.  “Alleged” means accused but not proven.  Since the highest court of the land accepted the proof of Omar Khadr’s “mistreatment” as fact, “alleged” is not at all accurate.  To my mind as a writer, “mistreatment” is an awfully mild characterization of “torture”.

In spite of Mr. Clement’s attempt at misdirection, the settlement had nothing to do with Mr. Speer.  If Mr. Clement was eager to use the word “alleged” it ought to have been “alleged terrorist who allegedly murdered an allied soldier.”  Although Mr. Khadr was convicted by the American Government, neither terrorism or murder were proven.  Once you get past the sensational headline $10.5M settlement for Omar Khadr ‘absolutely wrong’: Clement, Even the Toronto Sun is careful to stick to the facts:

“Khadr was accused of throwing the grenade that killed Speer but the evidence against him was flimsy.”

Mr. Khadr was told that without signing the confession demanded by the Americans, he might spend the rest of his life in Guantanamo Bay.  There was no trial, no doubt because there was no evidence beyond the confession of a wounded and tortured 15 year old child.  Do American courts accept the confessions of tortured children?  Guantanamo Bay “justice” operated outside the established Rule of Law for a reason. So Omar Khadr agreed to whatever they told him to agree to so he could get out of Guantanamo Bay and serve the rest of his sentence in Canada.

One of the other pieces of “evidence” we know was tortured out of Omar Khadr was an identification of Canadian Maher Arar as a terrorist.   On the basis of this false identification, Mr. Arar was himself arrested, locked up and tortured for a year, when his innocence was finally proven.   It has long been known that torture is unreliable because people subjected to torture will generally say anything to make it stop.  Mr. Arar’s compensation was $10 million.

To my mind, the only human being with a legitimate beef against Mr. Khadr would be Maher Arar.  Yet he is one of the young man’s staunchest defenders.

A comprehensive accounting of the “evidence” against Omar Khadr by former Crown Prosecutor Sandy Garossino can be found here.

Audrey Macklin explains Ottawa failed Omar Khadr: That’s why he deserves compensation.

Compensation isn’t a Reward

The $10.5 million settlement paid to Omar Khadr is not an acknowledgement of “alleged mistreatments,” as Mr. Clement suggests.  It is compensation for Canadian Government’s complicity in the torture of a Canadian.  This is a legal consequence—  the price the Canadian Government has to pay— not just for failing to uphold the Charter protections that every Canadian is owed, but for deliberately acting against the interests of a Canadian child.

This is not voluntary, it is punishment.  Mr. Clement was a Conservative Cabinet minister through much of Omar Khadr’s ordeal.  Just like people who break laws, Governments must be accountable for the laws they break.  Mr. Clement should be shouldering his share of the blame.

It certainly should NOT be a surprise.  After Maher Arar was vindicated, the Government of Canada conducted a Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, but the Canadian Government chose not to heed the recommendations.

Perhaps Mr Clement is right: maybe the compensation paid to Omar Khadr shouldn’t come from taxpayers.  Wouldn’t it be better coming out of the pockets of the Canadian Governments whose malfeasance requires compensation—  or at least the pockets of the Prime Ministers and the Cabinet Ministers responsible for the egregious behaviour?

Rights of the Child

Canada is also party to a number of International Treaties including those guaranteeing the rights of children. Particularly important in relation to the Omar Khadr case is the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  It is important to note that “optional” doesn’t mean our Government has leeway to decide whether or not to follow these rules.  It means signing it was optional.  Canada chose to sign it, and Parliament agreed and ratified it.  Making it legally binding.

A 15 year old caught up in war is a Child Soldier.  This is not up for debate, your opinion on whether this should be true does not matter: this is Canadian Law.

Omar Khadr’s America military counsel Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler was very clear: both that the boy should have been brought back to Canada for any legal process, and also that “I do not believe anyone can get an aquittal in Guantanamo Bay.”

Those seeking to exploit this situation, whether to promote racism or for some political end, have been doing their best to pit Canadian soldiers and their families against Omar Khadr as though he is taking funds that would have gone to them.  They point out how unfair it is for Omar Khadr to receive such a settlement when Mrs Speer, our soldiers, our veterans, and their bereaved families do not.

 “It’s upsetting to every veteran in Canada that’s trying to get a new wheelchair, or maybe a specialist to look at their back, or maybe an increase to their prescription because they’re having a hard time dealing with life,” says veteran Gus Cameron.

What is the real problem here?

It is not that Omar Khadr is getting a settlement.

Why is it that the Speer family is so impoverished they need to pass the hat? [Actually, they didn’t ask for it, but Rebel Media is happy of the chance to exploit them to forward its divisive agenda.]

Doesn’t the American Government make adequate provision for the soldiers who fight and die under their flag?  That doesn’t sound right.

Seems to me the real problem is that the American and Canadian Governments are not providing adequate funding for our military personnel, veterans and their families.

When Canadians serve in the Canadian military they deserve adequate compensation for their work.  They and their families should certainly receive adequate compensation in the event they are injured or killed.  The reality is, even if the money paid to Omar Khadr was divided up among all our veterans and their families, it wouldn’t go very far.

If every veteran in Canada that’s trying to get a new wheelchair, or maybe a specialist to look at their back, or maybe an increase to their prescription because they’re having a hard time dealing with life– if these members who have served Canada are not getting what they need, the problem isn’t Omar Khadr’s settlement.  The problem is that their employer– that is to say the Government of Canada– is not doing its job.  If Canada is going to engage in war, it is essential that those who serve get what they need when they come home.  If Canada can’t afford to do that it has no business sending them off to war.

If Canadian military personnel are not being appropriately compensated, this is not Omar Khadr’s fault.  This is a false equivalency: these are two completely unrelated issues.

Omar Khadr is getting a one time settlement as compensation for having his rights violated.

Torture is not an Option

Our Charter does not permit torture.  Not for adults.  Certainly not for children.  It doesn’t matter what you did; torture is not allowed.  Not in Canada.  Not for Canadians.

The Charter is the foundation for Canadian law, a guide for Canadian lawmakers, law enforcement, security personel etc.  Such protections are generally applicable only on Canadian soil.  Canadians who break laws in other countries are not protected by the Charter.  It is in fact unusual for the Charter to have come into play at all.  But it does in this case because the Canadian Government chose to involve itself.

What we don’t often understand that the primary purpose of civil rights law is to protect citizens from potential abuse of power by the state.

The Charter was not meant to protect citizens like Omar Khadr from abuse by the government or laws of another country, it is meant to protect Canadians from abuse by our own government.

Three Administrations of the Canadian Government—those of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister Paul Martin, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper— all deliberately failed to protect the rights of a Canadian child.  We know this because the highest court in the land has studied the situation and the law and determined this to be the case.  You don’t have to believe me; you can read the entire ruling for yourself.

“This Court declares that through the conduct of Canadian officials in the course of interrogations in 2003-2004, as established on the evidence before us, Canada actively participated in a process contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations and contributed to Mr. Khadr’s ongoing detention so as to deprive  him of his  right to liberty and security of the person guaranteed by s. 7  of the Charter, contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.”
Canada (Prime Minister) v. Khadr ~ Supreme Court of Canada Judgement 2010 SCC 3

When the Conservative Party of Canada blames the Trudeau Government for making this settlement, it is trying to distract attention from it’s own participation.  One of the talking points is the claim that sleep deprivation is not torture.  The United Nations disagrees.

And besides, torture doesn’t even work:  Why Torture Doesn’t Work – The Neuroscience of Interrogation

If you are interested in delving into the original documents of this case even more deeply, the University of Toronto’s Bora Laskin Law Library has an extensive Khadr Case Resources Page 

And so…

I’m glad Omar Khadr is home, safe, and wish him well in his new life. The only “crimes” proven against the young man seem to be listening to his family.  He went where his family took him and did what he was told.  Had he been an independent adult, this would provide no mitigation.  But he was a child living up to his parents expectations.  The imbalance of power between adults and children are the foundation for treating children as young offenders in our legal system, and as child soldiers in military situations.

I hope he can learn to shut his ears to the hate mongers and political extremists seeking to exploit him further.  He seems a remarkable young man; he would be welcome in my home.

Although the Canadian Government has apologized and made a settlement, you can tell Parliament that you support this decision by signing this Parliamentary e-Petition e-934   
[NOTE: the Petition closed on July 20th, 2017.]
The Petition e-934 has now been closed to signatures but you can read it here:
https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-934

Video

If you haven’t seen this excellent CBC documentary from 2010, it can be watched on YouTube in 5 parts:

The CBC Documentary Omar Khadr: Out of the Shadows is online (for Canadians only) at CBC here (for now).  This is an edited version of the feature length documentary Guantanamo’s Child.


For more information and to support Omar Khadr visit https://freeomar.ca/

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