Khadr’s release is bittersweet for Canada’s Muslims
“The Khadr case is a black mark on my own country’s international reputation and standing in the fight for child rights and human rights as a whole,” then-senator Roméo Dallaire wrote in the 2012 anthology “Omar Khadr, Oh Canada,” just before Mr. Khadr’s trial in front of the widely discredited military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. One can only imagine Mr. Dallaire’s indictment of the Harper government’s vindictive policy toward Mr. Khadr since his return.
Mr. Khadr was 15 when he tossed a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan that allegedly killed a U.S. soldier in July, 2002. The Liberal government acquiesced to his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay prison later that year. Since 2006, the Conservatives ignored calls by respected jurists, human rights organizations and the Supreme Court to bring Mr. Khadr home. Every Western nation except Canada repatriated its citizens from Guantanamo. When Mr. Khadr did return, the Conservatives used every possible means – at considerable taxpayers’ expense – to keep him behind bars, as an adult, under maximum security. When that did not work, they tried to silence him by rejecting media requests to interview him. They opposed bail. In the interim, they painted him as a hardened criminal, without hope of reform, using the charged label “convicted terrorist.”
The release of Mr. Khadr is bittersweet for Canadian Muslims. Many were touched by the young man’s modesty and warmth. His words were genuine – much like his smile. He seemed truly grateful for the freedom so long denied, for the support of so many, for the chance to start his life anew. He expressed remorse for the pain he caused. No hint of bitterness. Only the desire to complete his education, with hopes of entering health care – a field, he noted, rooted in compassion for those in pain. We should all be cautiously optimistic for Mr. Khadr’s reintegration into society.
However, Canadian Muslims have seen this scenario before in the post 9/11 era: A Muslim swept up in the “war on terror,” denied basic rights, tortured and left to rot in legal limbo to be saved only by the noble efforts of human rights activists, ordinary Canadians and our justice system. Canadian citizens Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati, Muayyed Nureddin and Abousfian Abdelrazik were all detained abroad with the aid of our security agencies. Mr. Abdelrazik’s case was particularly vexing. The Harper government repeatedly blocked his return from Sudan (citing him as a “threat”), even after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP cleared his name. A federal judge finally ordered Mr. Abdelrazik’s return. Meanwhile, Canadian Muslims saw the Harper government’s deferential treatment of convicted felons Brenda Martin and Conrad Black. Or, as Mr. Abdelrazik said: “The Canadian government has a racist mind. It is because I am black and Muslim.”
These words were echoed by Mr. Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, when asked why Mr. Khadr was left to languish in Guantanamo: “Mr. Harper is a bigot” and “doesn’t like Muslims.” These words were cathartic. We are the low-hanging fruit in the politics of fear. Omar Khadr is exhibit A; Zunera Ishaq is exhibit B. With an October election, it won’t be surprising to see political machinations at our expense – such as sweeping arrests of suspected terrorists and disparaging remarks against niqabs at voting booths.
Mr. Khadr asked Canadians to “see who I am as a person, not as a name.” It is a wish Canadian Muslims have for their themselves and their children: “Please see me for who I am, not as an object of fear.” An inclusive future lies in the fairness and compassion of Canadians.