Listen Up! Khadr should not have been rewarded for his actions ~ Opinion


Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

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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  1. Omar Khadr is not being rewarded for anything he may or may not have done. It’s this mindset that has so many people upset.

    In apologizing to Mr. Khadr, and in compensating him, our government is acknowledging that his rights as a Canadian citizen were knowingly violated by the federal government of the time.

    Our government is acknowledging that we were complicit in the threatening, humiliation and yes, torture of a teenager. We allowed a Canadian citizen to be imprisoned for years in another country without formal charges being laid. We then colluded with that other country, eliciting a coerced “confession” without legal council, and then passed that statement on to them, knowing full well that it would mean Omar Khadr’s continued imprisonment and abuse in Guantanamo Bay. We refused a Canadian citizen’s repeated requests to be imprisoned and tried in his own country. We abandoned one of our own in a place where we KNEW conditions violated international law, leaving him there long after all other Western countries had brought their citizens home. Mr. Khadr was the very last Western citizen to be held in Guantanamo Bay.

    It doesn’t matter what we think Mr. Khadr did in Afghanistan. He was and is a Canadian citizen. He had and has the same rights as all of us do, including the right to security of the person, and the federal government of the time knowingly denied him that right.

    In this country we respect the fundamental rights of ALL our citizens, innocent and guilty alike. If our government is able to deny one Canadian citizen his or her basic rights under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, what’s to stop them from doing the same to you or to me?

    The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the government broke the law, that Omar Khadr’s rights under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated. The Charter provides that if any citizen has their rights violated, they are entitled to compensation. THIS is what the apology and the monetary settlement are all about. An acknowledgment that no government is above the law. That we’re sorry that this happened to one of our citizens, and that it won’t happen to any Canadian citizen ever again.

    • Well done, Ruby! I agree. I agree with you, and with other comments: nothing has been proven in a real court of law. This boy was tortured, with sleep deprivation, to gather a ‘confession.’ There are many who would say anything to stop the interrogation. He was threatened with rape in US prisons, by the US spies who did this. He was shot twice, and was attacked by the soldiers who raided the compound. Speers, it is rumoured, was killed by friendly fire. Morris, who claimed Khadr threw the grenade, was medivaced out prior to the death of Speer.

  2. Great comment Ruby, I completely agree. Thank you for taking the time to explain.

    Regardless of whether or not you believe Khadr was a terrorist or child solider, the monetary settlement and apology are due to the Canadian government’s failure to uphold a citizen’s rights. Many people believe that Trudeau saved Canadian’s money by settling (also most of the settlement probably won’t even go to Khadr, rather his lawyers).

    Additionally the common argument on this article’s Facebook thread that we are failing our veterans by paying Khadr is unfounded; these topics are not connected. That is an unfair binary to uphold! The government making a settlement on this case and not taking care of veterans is not mutually exclusive. Similar to the uneducated outrage that sparked during the refugee crisis where people were shocked that we would help refugees when there are homeless people on the street. It’s frustrating and ridiculous.

  3. A few key points are missing from your analysis.
    1)No evidence of his crime was ever presented at a military tribunal. The US Supreme Court ruled those tribunals were unconstitutional and a violation of International Law.
    2)The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that his rights had been violated, and the Canadian government was complicit in the violation of his rights by the US military.
    3)He and his lawyers contend that he pled guilty because he was told he would remain in Guantanamo forever unless he ‘confessed’. Not torture, but certainly coercion.
    4)Other countries also repatriated citizens from Guantanamo and had to pay compensation. The UK paid one of its citizens $30m. Australia reached a secret agreement with theirs. Canada decided to fight their citizen in court, and continually lost. In civilized countries, when governments violate people’s rights, compensation is called for.
    The fact that 71% of Canadians think the government should ignore the court’s rulings, or continue fighting the fact that they were in the wrong is not that compelling. It’s just another popular idea that government has to apologize for (residential schools, Japanese internment, Chinese head tax etc). I note that they usually have a racial bias, and this one seems no different.

    If you want to ignore the legalities of all this, and focus on what is ‘right’, why not choose to condemn the previous conservative and liberal governments who participated in and were complicit in spending time and money to violate the rights of a Canadian citizen, and a minor at that?

  4. Bruce Stimers on

    Well said Hugh. How dare the government apologize on my behalf. Truth be told, they apologized on behalf of very few Canadians! In Canada, I thought criminals were not allowed to benefit financially from acts of violence.

  5. I disagree with you Hugh and “reward” is not the right word about this case. Compensation and/or justice would be better words. We cannot allow ourselves to become a country that ignores the rule of law when it concerns any of our citizens. On this I agree with everything Ruby Traux has written. I also greatly appreciate the thoughts of Nancy Osborne. Thank you for referring us to her article. Her wisdom derived from years of experience in very delicate and violent world situations needs to be heard.

  6. Valerie Corbett on

    Hugh, I strongly disagree with your comment about Khadr. As someone who spent 33 years with teenagers, I am aware that a 15 year old doesn`t automatically know right from wrong. The teen brain isn`t fully developed until age 25!!! { Check out University of Rochester article, “Understanding the teen brain”.} While the brain is in development the role of the parents is critical.This teen, raised by a terrorist-leaning father, didn`t stand a chance. So anyone who begrudges the gov`t payout, ask yourselves, “what if it was my 15 yr old son”? Our gov`t failed him, disgracefully, allowing the years of torture to continue, without bringing him to Canada! Now before you all jump on me, a federal Liberal, I`m not speaking politically, I`m speaking as a caring, human being.

  7. Kendra Black on

    I believe this sends a clear message to the world that when the Government of Canada knowingly contravenes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there is a price to be paid. It also sends a clear message that we need to do better. The facts in this case are in dispute but the one thing that is clear, at least according to the Supreme Court of Canada, is that numerous Charter violations occurred and that’s what this settlement is really all about. A Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian.

  8. Ian McTavish on

    I took the time to reread the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Whether you are an upstanding citizen or a criminal you are entitled to the same rights.

    The problem with Guantanamo Bay is that established laws with regards to criminals and enemy combatants were ignored. Our government (Liberal and Conservative) are required to uphold these rights. Khadr’s rights we’re violated. The government is required to resolve this and based on Harper’s apology to Maher Arar the financial precedent was set.

    This may not be a popular decision but it is the only one based on our laws. Our rights do not matter if we don’t uphold the responsibilities that come with them.

  9. Karen Wehrstein on

    Many good points have been made here, but there’s a point or three I’d like to add:

    If a 15-year-old kid lobbed a grenade into a happily-celebrating wedding party where absolutely no one was armed, that would be murder, and, if responsibility were claimed by his group, terrorism. If, on the other hand, he threw it at an enemy soldier in the middle of a shoot-out against an invading force in the country where it happened, and bullets were hitting him and might hit his father, that’s not murder or terrorism; it’s military combat. Imagine the scenario reversed: if an American soldier had killed Khadr, would he have been charged with murder by anyone? No — and nor would he be even if he lobbed a grenade into a happily-celebrating wedding party where no one was armed, if it was in Afghanistan or Iraq (when the Americans were there). The survivors might have gotten compensation from the US, that, if I recall rightly, ran about $3,000 per life in Iraq–in other words, pretty darn cheap for a life–but the soldier would not have been punished, and no other American would ever call him a murderer. ‘Murder’ refers to peacetime law, and peacetime laws don’t apply to war; the Bush administration was being legally creative applying their own peacetime laws on the soil of another nation anyway. I think Khadr arguably was a prisoner of war and thus should have been protected by the Geneva Convention.

    Also, any confessions made by anyone imprisoned in Guantanamo for any length of time, let alone 10 years, are not to be trusted at all, as torture produces what the torturers want to hear, not truth. (I don’t buy ‘no evidence of torture’ for a moment: just being incarcerated for 10 years without legitimate judicial process is torture.) Thus you can’t accuse Khadr of covering up guilt by reversing his confession. Whether he was a terrorist at heart we will never know, because he did not sign up for it voluntarily; a 15-year-old does not have the power of informed consent but is still subject to parental authority, and parental authority was clearly in play here. And the guiding principle of our justice system is “innocent until proven guilty.” Consider that genuine juvenile murderers in Canada get better treatment: imprisonment in a facility for juveniles, a trial within a reasonable time, transparency with the evidence, their names kept confidential, mistrial declared if evidence of torture or coercion is found.

    71% of Canadians can be wrong: what I think they are doing is making a scapegoat of Khadr out of fear and hatred of terrorists, which is understandable but not in accordance with our laws in this case, and I would think there is also some anti-Muslim emotion in there, since so much has been done to whip it up in North America, to denigrate an entire religion for the actions of a tiny minority of its adherents. 71% of Canadians, apparently, are forgetting the nature of Canadian principles enough to see that the government must accede to the laws that uphold them.

    All through Khadr’s journey, I felt guilt and shame that my country was letting itself be implicated in the operation of an American torture camp–that’s what Guantanamo is–and, worst, letting it be done to a *kid*. (Anyone else notice that all the anti-Khadr positions on this page are from men, and most of the pro-Khadr ones are from women? I think it has something to do with the motherhood instinct.) As a Canadian taxpayer I am happy to pay my share of that $10 mill, and also happy that the government chose this way, because I think its lawyers are right that we’d be coughing up the whole $20 mill if it went to court, since Canada was clearly in violation of its own law. I’m fine with the apology in my name, too, because that’s what Canadians do when we make a mistake that violates someone’s rights, whatever religion they are or whatever they’ve done.

    Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. But it’s still the right thing.

  10. I am totally in agreement with all the pro-Khadr, i.e. pro-Trudeau, sentiment expressed herein. I also find it interesting that, to date, there is a significant disparity between Hugh’s quoted figure of 71%, and your comments’ number of 17%; albeit from an incredibly small sample size.

    If Huntsville, therefore, is an atypical community, it is one which I am very proud to call home.

  11. I for one am a little tired of people who hold opposing views to that of the government in cases such as the Khadr payout and apology being called “racist”, “narrow minded”, “right wing zealots”, and so many other derogatory terms. There obviously is a large percentage of the population, many of them Liberals and government supporters, who disagree with this case and feel that apologizing to Omar Khadr and making him an instant millionaire is WRONG on so many levels. Were his rights violated as a Canadian citizen? Most likely so. Was he an upstanding example of a Canadian citizen? Definitely not. I do realize that “all Canadians are equal under the law”, however many people also believe that if you depart from Canada to wage war against the armed forces of this country (as the Khadr family did) then Canada should also have the right to strip you of that citizenship. That is what should have happened to the parents, but since Omar was born in this country probably could not have happened to him. However if citizenship itself cannot be revoked, then at least some of the rights and benefits of that citizenship should be, and that would include full protection under the constitution for a situation just such as this. As one who many years ago lost a relative fighting in a war, I consider any Canadian citizen who wages war against Canada OR ANY OF ITS ALLIES to be a traitor, and not looked upon with sympathy. That would include 15 year olds as well.

  12. Jim Sinclair on

    I can agree with some of the pro-payment people, because of the fact Mr. Kadr is – on paper at least – a Canadian citizen. A poor example, but nevertheless, he was born here so he can call himself a Canadian. What I take exception to is the fact that our Smiley face P.M. endorsed the whole 10 Million and said “this is good”! A smaller, much smaller, – like the amount AFTER the decimal point ? – would have sufficed. No spoken apology, but rather an email saying sorry sir here’s some money to help, and do have a good day!

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