Rob Nicholson has to be one of the most fiercely partisan Justice Ministers we’ve had in a long time. His press release after the Supreme Court’s Khadr decision said nothing about how the government intended to implement the decision. It simply crowed that the Court had declined to order the government to seek Omar Khadr’s repatriation, and repeated the government line that he faced serious charges in the United States. On CTV’s Power Play, the harder Harperite line came out: Khadr was a “little terrorist” who should be locked up forever.
The senior law officer of the country should pay more attention to what the court said. The Canadian and US governments had clearly breached Omar Khadr’s rights, and as a result evidence could be used at a military tribunal that was obtained through harsh treatment. There has to be a remedy for this breach. The court said that repatriation to Canada could well be such a remedy.
The Attorney General was too busy salivating at the prospect of more Harperite Senators to deal with what the Court actually said. The decision was not a “win” for the government. It was a clear and emphatic statement that Canada had actively participated in the harsh treatment of Mr Khadr, and that his right to a fair trial had been badly damaged by what had happened to him in Guantanamo.
The Canadian government has to respond to this judgment. It cannot ignore it. The first signs of the reaction are not positive.
Let’s remember some basic facts. A 13 year old boy is sent to an insurgent training camp. At the age of 15, badly wounded, he is captured and arrested for his alleged role in the death of an American soldier in a firefight. He has spent the past seven years in Guantanamo prison.
In a procedural ruling the military tribunal dealing with his case refused to consider his age as a factor in either assessing his responsibility for the crime or in any potential sentencing. At that point the Canadian government had no choice but to insist on his repatriation. If an American military tribunal is unwilling to accept international covenants on child soldiers, Canada should intervene. That remains the case today.
Some say talking about the Khadr case is “bad politics” because our own troops are being attacked and killed by insurgents, and because it draws the epithets “soft on crime, soft on terrorism”. The right in Canada, as in the U.S., specializes in these kinds of attacks. I hold no brief for Omar Khadr or his family. But that’s not the issue. The issue is justice. The Supreme Court has spoken clearly and emphatically. The Canadian government should be listening.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.