A Matter of Justice?

I had a post planned for today. I was just checking the spelling when the rumour became reality: The Government of Canada has apologized to Omar Khadr and is handing him a cheque for $10,500,000 for his suffering.

I think it is fair to describe this as a cowardly act on the part of the government. Parliament is in recess for the summer. The hope is, I am sure, that by the time MPs return in September the government can dismiss any outrage as old news.

In order to avoid a book-length post, I’ll let you look up Omar Khadr yourself for a description of what he did and why the government is making an apology and payment. You can read a synopsis here. I also won’t get into the issue of whether he was or was not a child soldier as defined by the United Nations. In my previous career I researched the Khadr case; I can argue both sides with equal conviction, using UN documents to support my case.

With the timing of this payment the Liberal government has deliberately chosen not to be accountable for its actions, though it will not be able to escape scrutiny forever. To me the whole issue is one of accountability. No one person or government is solely responsible for the situation – and no one is willing to admit their complicity and guilt in the matter.

The Canadian taxpayer is now on the hook for a cash payout because the Supreme Court has ruled that Omar Khadr’s rights were violated. Once again, it is a complicated situation and the violations did not take part on Canadian soil. Neither did his crimes. I am not sure the courts are correct in their interpretation that the Charter applies to Canadians abroad, even Canadian officials. No point in arguing the case law here; it is settled for the moment anyway.

What I do know is that Omar Khadr’s life was saved by an American army medic after he was wounded fighting in Afghanistan. Khadr now claims he doesn’t know if he hurled the grenade that killed an American soldier and wounded another. He pleaded guilty in a US court, but said he was doing that just to get out of the Guantanamo Bay prison. (I also won’t get into the legality of the trial under American or international law. Let’s just saw there is a reason Khadr and people like him were never allowed to set foot on American soil where rules of justice might apply. I also won’t comment on Barack Obama’s failure to close that prison in eight years as President. History will, I am certain, judge him harshly for that.)

The payout and apology are a direct result of fighting in Afghanistan in 2003. That much is indisputable. The facts of exactly what happened in the firefight are not agreed upon, but there is no doubt there was a battle. People died.

By the time I was 15 I was considered to be accountable for my actions. I knew the difference between right and wrong. What was a Canadian citizen doing fighting in Afghanistan in 2003? Yes, his father was a high ranking member of Al-Qaeda. And you can make an argument that American troops shouldn’t have been in Afghanistan – though if you do, the same holds true for the Canadian teenager who fought against them.

Omar Khadr had a choice. He was old enough to make that choice. He chose to take up arms in a foreign country. That choice led to his being wounded, detained and tortured. Actions have consequences. His defenders say that Omar Khadr was a child and didn’t know better. He was 15 – you be the judge of that. His defence isn’t that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, he just doesn’t remember what happened that day.

The government will tell you that this is a matter of justice, that the apology and payout are necessary. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I think it sends the wrong message about being accountable for your actions.


One comment

  1. […] There has been continued discussion in Canada of the $10.5 million payment made by the federal government to former child soldier Omar Khadr. […]

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