A valiant effort to shed some light on a controversial situation

A recent candlelight vigil preceding a forum demonstrated once more that Canadians are not willing to fightgive up on to bringing Omar Khadr back to Canada.

A Canadian citizen has rights, regardless of whether he is popular or not,” says Eric Walton, the Green Party of Canada’s International Affairs Critic, “and popularity should not be a factor in determining whether his citizenship rights are upheld.”

A small group of people huddled together at Victory Square, listening to live music and holding candles in solidarity. Several people were also dressed in orange jumpsuits, modeled after prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.

Almost fifty people were in attendance at the forum itself, a greater number than that of the last Omar Khadr forum Amnesty International held last year. This also mirrors the rise in support for Khadr's repatriation among Canadians across the country, according to Angus Reid polls.

Omar Khadr is a Canadian who was arrested in 2002 by American forces in Afghanistan. Khadr is accused of allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one soldier and wounded another, in a US attack on a suspected al-Qaeda compound. Upon arrest, Omar Khadr was fifteen years old. His age at time of arrest calls into question whether or not he should be considered a child soldier and be treated as such.

I want them to bring him home [to Canada] because he was a kid,” said the vigil participant; “kids make mistakes. If it was the truth or even if it wasn’t, he deserves to be brought home, because he’s got a passport and if he can be sent there [to Guantanamo] then all of us can be sent there.”

The forum on Omar Khadr was sponsored primarily by Amnesty International, as well as the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). Speakers included Carmen Cheung of the BCCLA, Gail Davidson, a lawyer and peace and human rights activist, and Derrick O’Keefe, the co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

Don Wright, the Regional Development Coordinator for BC/Yukon, said that Amnesty has been advocating for Omar “from the moment we knew that he was in detention.”

Amnesty International has held forums previously in support of Khadr, most notably a forum around the time that Barack Obama took office.

Wright says they aimed to remind Obama that he had made “promises in his campaign to respect human rights ... and that one of the things he had to do was close Guantanamo and deal with the prisoners in a fair way.”

I think it’s a pretty important objective to be met [the closing of Guantanamo],” says Walton. “Even if there’s a delay in achieving it.”

Gail Davidson, the founder and Executive Director of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and co-founder of Lawyers Against the War, says “the War on Terror was a determinant completely outside of the law that allowed for and resulted in violations of all international human rights of the prisoners including the global prohibition on the use of torture.”

She went on to say that, “Khadr’s treatment ... since 2002 has been entirely determined by politics,” and that laws have been violated or completely ignored.

Why has Omar Khadr not been allowed a fair trial before a regular US court? The reason is simply and purely because the charges against Omar Khadr ... could not stand up ... and would not result in a conviction before a regular US court.”

He should be back in Canada,” says the Green Party's Walton, “without ... passing judgment either way, we felt that as a Canadian citizen, his rights need to be protected.”

Derrick O’Keefe, also a coordinating member of the Vancouver Coalition, questions the logic of some aspects of Khadr’s case. He states that part of the argument about Omar Khadr having affiliations with terrorists is that his father knew Osama Bin Laden. O’Keefe pointed out that this was strange logic, as George Bush’s father also knew Bin Laden, yet no one was accusing him of being affiliated with terrorism.

Davidson also pointed out that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a man accused of being connected to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, was given a civilian trial even though he is largely associated with terrorism. Conversely, Khadr was given a military tribunal, despite the prevalence of “grey areas” in his case.

She questioned the “Harper Regime’s” decisions, stating that she calls “it a regime because it’s hardly a government anymore.”

Walton feels that Omar Khadr has become “a political pawn, because by ... demonizing him and ... using him as a pawn, Harper is able to sort of show his constituency that he’s tough on terrorism.”

Alain Cacchione, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada, stated that the Government of Canada will “continue to monitor all developments in Mr. Khadr’s case closely and that department officials have carried out several welfare visits with Mr. Khadr, and will continue to do so.”

He also noted that, “at this point in time ... the Government of Canada’s position regarding Mr. Khadr remains unchanged. [We have] consistently stated that Omar Khadr faces serious charges as he has been accused of serious crimes including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.”

Carmen Cheung, Counsel at the BC Civil Liberties Association, says, “The problem with a detainee like Omar Khadr, which is something that the Americans have argued for a long time, is that he sort of falls into this grey area.”

The Geneva Conventions ... conceives of war in a very traditional sense, you have two countries fighting each other ... there are conventions that cover the treatment of people who are captured from the official armies. But people like Omar Khadr, who may be an insurgent or something else between; it’s something completely different. The Geneva Conventions might not cover him.”

The Canadian Government made an appeal to the ruling made by the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal for the government to push for the return of Khadr from Guantanamo.

The appeal was made to the Supreme Court of Canada, and was heard on November 13, 2009. The Canadian government has already spent at least 1.2 million dollars in legal fees.

After careful consideration of the legal merits of the ruling from the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal, the Government decided to seek leave to appeal the decision,” says Cacchione. “As the matter is currently under litigation, we will provide no further comment at this time.”

Omar Khadr’s trial is currently scheduled for July 2010. “We hope to have a decision within the next few months [by the Supreme Court],” says Cheung.

Those at the forum had a feeling of solidarity upon its closure.

I think we all believe that his [Khadr’s] rights have been so badly violated that ... the only solution is for him to be given all the care and attention he needs to be able to function again in Canadian society,” says Wright.

In this era, where government is playing ... with the rights of Canadians,” says Walton, “I’m glad that we have a Charter.”

//Samantha Thompson
Assistant News Editor

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