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Ten Years of Shame

July 27, 2012 marks the ten-year anniversary of Omar Khadr’s capture by American troops in Afghanistan. Ten years since the 15-year old boy from Toronto was taken from a battlefield, unconscious after having been shot twice in the back and seriously wounded by shrapnel. Ten years of Canada abandoning one of its own citizens to torture by a foreign government, of complicity in his torture, and of systematically and deliberately violating his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ten years.

Much has been made of how Omar has been treated by the Americans. For example, there’s the insistence of the United States on charging Omar with war crimes, nevermind that he’s a child soldier and that no country in the world has tried children for war crimes since Nuremberg. There are also the allegations of torture at Bagram, and the findings that the interrogation tactics used against him in Guantánamo did constitute torture.

But on this anniversary, it also bears considering how Omar has been treated by the Canadians over these past ten years. Shortly after Omar arrived in Guantánamo, Canada sent agents from its foreign affairs department and its spy agency to pay him a visit. This was not consular assistance – which every Canadian should be entitled to by way of right, if they find themselves in trouble in another country. These were Canadian intelligence agents, sent to help the Americans with their interrogation. Omar was 16 years old at the time. He told the agents that he had been tortured by the Americans. They told him that there was nothing they could do for him.

He was interviewed by Canadian agents in February and September 2003, and again in March 2004. During the 2004 interview, Omar refused to answer any more questions from the Canadian government. Nonetheless, it took an injunction from the Federal Court of Canada in 2005 to finally put a stop to these interrogations. In the meantime, however, Canada was delivering the product of its interrogations of Omar straight to the Americans and leaving Omar to languish in Guantánamo. And by 2007, Omar was the sole Western citizen left in Guantánamo; each and every one of America’s allies in the West, with the exception of Canada, had already successfully demanded the return of its citizens.

Rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008 and 2010 established that Canadian agents were complicit in the human rights violations suffered by Omar in Guantánamo, and participated in a process violating international human rights law. The Court also found that Canadian agents actively breached Omar’s rights under the Canadian constitution through their interrogations, and that so long as he remained in Guantánamo, his constitutional rights would continue to be violated.

Yet, the Canadian government still did nothing to help secure Omar’s release from his illegal detention. In 2010, Omar eventually pled guilty to the charges against him, in exchange for an eight year sentence. Omar, who had always maintained his innocence, avoided a 40-year sentence with this plea bargain. As part of this agreement, which was thought to have the blessing of the Canadian government, Omar was to serve the first year of his sentence in Guantánamo. After that, Canada was supposed to repatriate him to serve out the remainder of his sentence here, in Canada, subject to Canadian law. In theory, he was supposed to return home shortly after November 2011. That didn’t happen.

This brings us to July 2012, ten years after Omar Khadr’s capture. Omar still remains in Guantánamo, though the Americans have approved his repatriation, if only Canada would accept him. But astoundingly, Canada still has yet to approve his transfer. And now, the government is saying that the U.S. must hand over raw video footage of psychiatric interviews before they can consider bringing him home, notwithstanding Ottawa’s earlier agreements with the U.S. government. In failing to bring Omar home, the Canadian government not only perpetuates its ongoing breach of Omar’s constitutional rights, it also flagrantly ignores the rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and disregards the rule of law.

A government’s steadfast refusal to remedy constitutional violations perpetrated by its own agents should be of concern to all citizens. Let’s mark this ten-year anniversary by finally closing this shameful chapter of Canadian history. Let’s bring Omar Khadr home.

(Senator Romeo Dallaire is sponsoring a petition to urge the government to repatriate Omar Khadr, which has gathered over 25,000 signatures. This petition’s been up on the BCCLA’s social media for a while now, but here it is again, in case you missed it the first time around.)