Omar Khadr was finally repatriated to Canada on September 29. Under Canadian law, he will be eligible for release under parole by June 2013. But his return does not mean an end to his story. Canada must take steps to assist in his rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This is what international law requires, when dealing with child soldiers, and this is what justice and fairness demands. As our colleague Andrea Prasow at Human Rights Watch puts it, “Omar Khadr’s repatriation provides an opportunity for Canada to begin to right a wrong.” This sentiment has been echoed by fellow NGOs and in newspapers across Canada this weekend.
Here’s a sample:
Now that Omar has finally been returned, let’s not compound over a decade of shame and misconduct by failing to seize the opportunity to do what’s right. Though it’ll have been a long time in coming, it’s not too late for Canada to start treating him with the fairness and justice that should be afforded to all Canadians.
Today is Omar Khadr’s 26th birthday. He’s spending it in Guantánamo. He has spent his last 10 birthdays in American custody, ever since he was captured following a firefight in Afghanistan when was just 15 years old.
Canada’s treatment of Omar Khadr over these last 10 years has been nothing short of shameful. Omar was 15 when he was captured and accused of killing a US serviceman. Under any version of events of what happened during that firefight, it cannot be disputed that Omar was a minor, which means that even if he was directly involved in the fighting, he is still a child soldier. And it is uncontroversial that, as a matter of international law and practice, child soldiers are to be considered as themselves victims of war, and must be treated accordingly.
As a child and a Canadian citizen, Canada should’ve been protecting Omar. The Canadian government should have immediately sought his repatriation, so he could have been removed from the lawlessness of the Guantánamo regime and rehabilitated here in Canada. It should have advocated for his rights as a minor and as a Canadian citizen. But the Canadian government did none of that.
Instead, it sent its agents to assist the Americans with their interrogations, notwithstanding the fact that Omar had told them that he had been tortured. Eventually, the Canadian courts found that this conduct constituted complicity in the violation of Omar’s fundamental human rights, and established that Canada had violated Omar’s rights under our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Importantly, the Supreme Court of Canada also found that so long as Omar remained in detention in Guantánamo, the Canadian government would be in continuous violation of his Charter rights.
After a series of interrogations by Canadian agents (which only ended after a Canadian court ordered that they be stopped), the Canadian government simply abandoned him. One after another, countries like the United Kingdom and Australia demanded the return of their citizens from Guantánamo. Soon, Omar was the only citizen from the West that remained. Canada left him to face trial via military commission – a process that has been criticized on these pages and around the world for its serious procedural deficiencies. It watched him enter a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence and a promise that he would be repatriated to Canada after a year. He was eligible for return at the end of last October. As we all know, however, Canada has still refused to approve his transfer, coming up with one excuse after another.
And so over the past decade, we have watched Canada be complicit in Omar’s mistreatment, violate his fundamental
rights and ultimately, abandon him. And we have watched (in the words of Professor Audrey Macklin) the government make a fool of our courts and of the United States.
We have said it before; we’ll say it again; we’ll continue to say it until Canada does what is right: We must bring Omar Khadr home.
We cannot allow him to spend another birthday in Guantánamo.
To take action
- Write to Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, calling on him to put an end to Canada’s decade of shame and to approve Omar Khadr’s transfer to Canada immediately.
- Write to:
- The Honourable Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety House of Commons Ottawa ON K1A 0A6 Fax: 613-995-1049 Email: [email protected]
- Send a message to Omar Khadr on his birthday:
- Join Senator Roméo Dallaire in calling for Omar Khadr’s repatriation:
- Learn more about Omar Khadr’s case and educate others with this booklet from the We Are Omar Khadr campaign: