A Bridge Too Far…
The story of Omar Khadr is not going away. It is a sad story and in some ways its outcome is a defining moment for Canada. It is the story of a boy, born in Canada to parents of middle Eastern extraction. As a young child, he was taken to Afghanistan by his father who had ties to Al-Qaeda.
Omar Khadr was trained as a terrorist and at the age of 15, he was engaged in a confrontation between American soldiers and Taliban fighters. He was badly wounded in that battle but not before he lobbed a hand grenade which took the life of U.S Army medic, Sgt. Christopher Speers.
Khadr was captured by the Americans and eventually sent to prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he was incarcerated for ten years. While at Guantanamo, he was interrogated by both American and Canadian officials and although an American Military Judge ruled there was no credible evidence of torture, it is certain that his stay there was not at all pleasant.
In October of 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty in an American Military Court to murder and to four other counts. He was sentenced to an additional eight years in prison with the provision that after one year, he could serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada. He later recanted his plea saying he only gave it in order to get back to Canada. He was in fact, repatriated to Canada in September of 2012 and remained in custody until May of 2015 when he was released on bail. He currently lives in Edmonton.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Government had infringed on Omar Khadr’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by allowing him to be interrogated at Guantanamo Bay by Canadian Intelligence officials who then provided the information they retrieved to the Americans. Khadr, subsequently sued the Canadian government for $20 million.
From this narrative springs the current controversy, because earlier this month our Government agreed to settle with Khadr for a payment of $10.5 million. They also issued an apology on behalf of all Canadians. Many people were shocked and upset by this.
The Trudeau Government argued that they would have lost the case in Court and by settling the case they saved taxpayers money. They also stated that he was entitled to an apology because his rights were violated under the Charter. Most Canadians believe however, that the Government caved. An Angus Reid poll published earlier this month indicated that 71 per cent of Canadians believe that the Government “did the wrong thing” and should have fought Khadr in Court.
To many, the whole issue surrounding Omar Khadr is either black or white. Either he is a victim or he is a terrorist. To me, it is neither black or white, but more a shade of gray.
On one hand, Khadr was influenced from an early age by his father who had acknowledged ties to terrorist factions. He was raised to hate Americans and encouraged to engage in acts of violence. His detention at Guantanamo Bay was no doubt stressful and in its strict interpretation, his rights as a Canadian-born citizen may well have been violated under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.
However, at the end of the day, this young man is a murderer. Indeed, if he were not a terrorist, he was well on his way to becoming one. And while he was only 15 at the time, he was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. It is somewhat ironic that it was his capture and imprisonment that made it possible for him to return to freedom in Canada. As strange as it may sound, that in itself, is a major reward.
Omar Khadr is currently free in Canada. He can pursue his dreams, further his education and determine his future. He is a lucky man. It can be argued that over the last 15 years he has paid his debt to society. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem however, if he is rewarded for it.
Peter Kent is a Conservative Member of Parliament but he is also a highly respected journalist. In an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, he described the payout to Omar Khadr as “a cynical perversion of Canadian principles.” I agree with him. There was no need to make Omar Khadr a multi millionaire, who will never have to work again. That is something that most law abiding, hard working Canadians will never see for themselves. Any monetary payment to Khadr, in my view, sends the wrong message. This is especially so, when Sgt. Speer’s family is left out in the cold in relation to compensation for the behaviour of Omar Khadr.
Further, whether the Government intended it or not, a voluntary apology to Khadr sends a clear message to the world that we are soft on terrorism. My fear is that we shall pay for that.
In our kind and generous country, Khadr may be entitled to his freedom. He may also deserve a second chance. He does not however deserve a payout of millions of dollars and a public apology. That is simply a bridge too far.
For an opposing view, see an earlier commentary piece on Doppler – Upholding the rights of children: apologizing to Omar Khadr is the right thing to do ~ Opinion
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