The Canadian government’s treatment of Omar Khadr might end up costing the taxpayers of this country tens of millions of dollars, if the young man wins his lawsuit.
But the cost to Canadians will be even greater than that, if this country remains unprepared for the next time one of its children is captured in a war zone.
A policy on child soldiers that is irrational, contradictory and arbitrary will have consequences — not only for the children themselves, but for Canada’s foreign policy and the conduct of its wars.
There is also the cost in human potential. The federal government’s insistence on treating as Khadr an unrepentant terrorist begins to have the look of a failed attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy, as Khadr stubbornly refuses to play that role. In prison in Canada, the 27-year-old has been working to get a decent education, to make up for some of his lost years at Guantanamo Bay and with his family before that. In an affidavit recently filed in Federal Court, he said that “any participation in al-Qaida-related activities was at the demand of the adults around me.” Some other members of his family have shown no compunction about declaring themselves dedicated to al-Qaida’s aims, so Khadr’s refusal to do so either means he’s playing a very long game — or that he really was a child raised by violent zealots, captured at 15 in a firefight, mistreated and quite possibly tortured, detained without charges for years, then charged, tried and sentenced under a dubious process for an action he might not have taken.
On Jan. 12, former child soldier Ishmael Beah will be in Ottawa promoting his new novel. He was roughly the same age as Khadr. But Beah was in Sierra Leone, and Khadr was in Afghanistan. So Beah is praised, and Khadr is punished.
Whether you believe Khadr is sincere or not, there is very little point in continuing to expect the worst from him. He will be free one day — in 2018, when his sentence is up, if not well before. He says he wants a normal, productive life. That is an impulse the government of Canada should encourage in young men accused of violent crimes in their youth, guilty or not. It is an impulse it should take particular care to encourage in young men suspected of having been jihadis. It should use Khadr as an example, to show the world what is possible, that there is a way out of the kind of violence and hatred epitomized by some members of the Khadr family. But that is an approach the government of Canada cannot take, in part because it is now defending itself against a lawsuit, and in part because it sees no political advantage in changing course.
As the Supreme Court of Canada has found, “the Charter applies to the participation of Canadian officials in a regime later found to be in violation of fundamental rights protected by international law.” That lawsuit may or may not succeed. But if the government really wanted to make sure it would never have to cut a cheque to a member of the Khadr family, it should have made sure its officials didn’t violate his Charter rights and the basic principles of justice on which Canada is founded.
As with other human-rights cases, such as the Arar case, the Canadian government — no matter which party is in charge — will not acknowledge its mistakes and learn from them until it is forced to do so. And Canadians pay the costs.
Source: Ottawa Citizen
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