Social and economic policies can be debated all day long, human rights cannot. Fundamentally speaking, that’s the biggest reason why I support the Omar Khadr settlement, but not the only one.
Here’s the best legal and economic rationale I’ve read in regards to the settlement. What I love about this blog post so much is that the writer systematically buries the argument against the settlement piece by piece, and does so without ever needing to go down the morality rabbit hole.
From a moral perspective, maybe its not enough for people that the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Khadr’s rights were violated. Maybe its not enough that groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been calling for justice for over a decade now, organizations that most Canadians claim to support, mind you, along with the causes these organizations fight for. Maybe some people simply believe that given the crimes Khadr is accused of committing he should not be afforded the same rights and freedoms as other Canadians.
Nonsense. If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to all Canadians then it might as well be shredded up and thrown in the blue bin (Canada: We may have double standards on human rights but damnit we recycle!). The Charter wasn’t signed in a wink-wink manner the way the U.S. Constitution was (psst, don’t worry guys, none of this stuff we’re writing will apply to black people or women). It’s sole purpose of existance is to guarantee a basic set of rights and freedoms for Canadians. All of them. And if it doesn’t do that, what the hell is point of having it?
There was a column in the Toronto Star the other day that took on a fascinating perspective, contextualizing the Khadr settlement reaction in the era of Trump. Anecdotally, it seems as if Canadians are veering more and more into the American-style post-truth world, where opinions are being formed and decisions are being made less on fact and reason, and more on speculation, false narratives, or raw emotion. It begs the question, where are Canadians getting their information from? Media organizations across the country are in shambles and on the verge of a government bailout (to which Canadians will predictably complain about reckless liberal spending when it eventually happens). The CEO of PostMedia has basically admitted his papers aren’t good, and it controls three quarters of the print market in the entire country!
But wait, we know where the right is getting their information these days. One glance at the exponential rise of The Rebel Media and you know the answer. It’s conceivable to argue that The Rebel is the most powerful voice in conservative media today, and its wretched influence is spreading across the political discourse like a virus. They say Trumpism can’t happen here? It’s happening now.
My hope is that most Canadians who are against the settlement are against it for the simple reason that they believe $10.5 million is too high a figure. That’s a fair argument to make, although the blog post I referenced above provides crucial insight as to why and how the government landed on that number. There’s undoubtably some confirmation bias at work here as well; people who are looking for a reason to hate Khadr have been gifted a giant crate full of ammunition now that he’s rich. It’s also possible some Canadians have interpreted the out-of-court settlement as a government handout, which is of course a mis-characterization of the facts, despite what Andrew Scheer will tell anybody who listens over the next two years.
My hunch though is that many Canadians — certainly a significant minority in the least — believe that Khadr shouldn’t be entitled to anything, and that the government should have continued to fight him to the very end, costs be damned. This line of thinking should serve as a reminder that when it comes to human rights, while we are better than most in the pursuit of justice and equality, there’s still so much work to do. As a nation that knowingly obliges itself to the rule of law and justice, we have ignored the severe breach of Khadr’s rights in the same way we tend to ignore our other self-inflicted violations. We turn a blind eye to the rise of local hate groups like the Proud Boys and 3 Percenters. We unwittingly dismiss Rebel Media. We push back against the motion to formally condemn Islamophobia mere weeks after the Quebec mosque shooting. Heck, it seems like we’ve forgotten the mosque shooting even happened!
Unfortunately, the picture being painted that that us Canadians aren’t comfortable talking about our human rights issues is becoming clearer by the day. Whether its Omar Khadr, or reconciliation with the Indigenous, or Islamophobia, or Black Lives Matters, we would rather ignore the facts and circumstances altogether, or roll our eyes and claim the “social justice warriors” are exaggerating and overcompensating. We seem totally at ease living by the “I’m not a racist, but” motto.
Omar Khadr is the textbook case of a child soldier who was abandoned by the very laws that we fight against people like his father to protect. Moved to Afghanistan as a 9 year old kid with no say on the matter. Is recruited into AQ to be a soldier sometime between the ages of 9 and 15 years old (in an alternate universe where you’re him try saying no to your terrorist dad at that age and see what happens). Allegedly kills a US soldier and severely injures another in a heated firefight, while nearly being killed himself (if it happened the other way around I guess we’d be celebrating a US soldier killing a 15 year old?). Is captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Is assumed guilty. Is refused legal counsel. Is tortured for years. Is tried by a kangaroo court military tribunal. Is interrogated by CSIS but not brought back to Canada. Is repeatedly denied requests to be repatriated. Is forced to plead guilty in exchange for repatriation. Is released from prison six years after the Supreme Court ruled that Canada had acted in violation of the Charter. Is still being labelled a terrorist by some of Canada’s top political faces.
It’s all pretty astonishing. How is any of that justice? How is any of that moral? He should have been brought back to Canada and afforded the same rights to a fair trial as the rest of us are. He should have had the right to defend himself as a child soldier, arguing for rehabilitation and not punitive punishment. We should have let our courts render judgement on his intent instead of assuming his guilt. We should not be automatically labelling him a murderer given there’s almost no evidence of him killing Sgt. Speer, and plenty of noise in the story. We should have done a better job pressuring our previous governments to uphold the rights and freedoms it is sworn to defend.
The moment Canada chose to let Khadr rot in a Guantanamo cell was the moment Canada turned its back on its own principles and become complicit in the US’ violation of international law and the Geneva Convention. By abdicating all its obligations — legal and moral — not only did Canada forego the chance to take Khadr to court in a fair and untainted trial, it exposed itself to inevitably being charged the moment him and CSIS are put in contact. Even putting aside the gross moral negligence, that’s just dumb crisis management.
Nobody is arguing that Khadr is a hero, and nobody’s arguing that Sgt. Speer’s death was anything but tragic, but if Omar Khadr’s not a victim of human rights violations I’m not sure who is. Canada is guilty, and Khadr had every right to receive compensation for the crimes committed against him. That’s what our Charter allows him to do, and that’s what a just society compels us to answer for.
A few quick points on the politics of it all:
- For the Liberals, this whole thing feels like Trudeau’s Obamacare. He knows his government has done the right thing apolitically, even if his opponents choose to politicize it. I believe that some things are worth draining your political capital for. For Obama, it was the making sure Americans had the right to affordable health care. For Trudeau, it’s making sure the Charter protects even our most vulnerable citizens.
- For the Conservatives, I don’t buy the “waste of taxpayer money” schtick they’re selling. They’re against it because it feeds their red meat, Rebel Media watching, nationalist base. They just can’t admit the dog-whistling out loud, yet.
- Can someone check to see if Tom Mulcair is still alive? Seriously, the NDP have railed against the Liberals and Conservatives for years regarding their treatment of Khadr (rightfully so), and now that justice has finally come around Mulcair’s gone AWOL. He’s obviously appears more than happy to sit back and watch Trudeau take all the political heat. Some would call that a savvy move, I’d lean towards calling it cowardly. You’re the leader of the party that claims moral superiority on human rights issues, and you’re the leader one of the three major political parties in this country. It’s pretty simple, if you really cared about Omar Khadr’s human rights you’d tell us. So speak up, Tom.