2012-07-29 The undermining of Canadian values in the delay to approve transfer of Omar Khadr

The Minister of Public Safety in Canada, Vic Toews, recently made comments about Omar Khadr's potential transfer to Canada from Guantánamo Bay, where he has been incarcerated since 2002 when he was just 15 years old. The comment by Toews comes after the US formally requested a transfer in April of 2012, and after months of silence and inaction. Omar Khadr pleaded guilty in Guantánamo in 2010 to five charges. Under a plea deal, Khadr had his sentence reduced from 40 to 8 years. Such a transfer would allow Omar Khadr to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada.

On July 16, Toews stated "I'm not going to make any decisions that would in any way jeopardize public safety." The statement comes after delays from the Canadian Government in response to the US Government's request for transfer. The government is now demanding the Pentagon hand over unredacted Khadr interviews conducted by Dr Michael Welner, a psychiatrist who has gained controversial status in the Khadr case. His reports are at odds with three others who paint a much different image of Khadr. Welner's questionable conclusions have been well-dissected by Thomas Walkom, a columnist for The Star.

Vic Toews as a federal minister, has a responsibility that extends past the duties of public safety: to allow a Canadian citizen to spend the rest of his sentence on Canadian soil, instead of the clutches of American "justice" in Guantánamo.

Guantánamo Bay's reputation precedes it. Incarceration without charge and abuses that occurred in the prison are well-documented. In April 2011, WikiLeaks published files on Guantánamo detainees, (including Khadr) shedding light on the practices of the institution. Khadr has not escaped this, and though the Canadian government was well aware of the abuses as early as 2003.

Canada's reputation on human rights has thus far been largely unaffected amongst the international community. Recent cases however, may challenge that stature. A UN report published in January 2012 alleges complicity by Canada in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian citizen rendered to Syria for torture (item 25 in the UN Report). The same report also makes reference to Khadr and his lawyers being denied process and information (item 26). Canada's inaction was embarrassed further when a US Cable published by WikiLeaks revealed former Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner, asked for "assistance" in the case of Omar Khadr.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld 9-0 a lower court ruling that Khadr's rights were violated and that he was entitled to remedy from the government. A ruling that was subsequently ignored and thus far not been acted upon.

If Canada wants to be seen as a law-abiding, peace keeping nation, it must approve the transfer of Khadr immediately. In general, us Canadians like to think of ourselves as a nation that embodies our Charter of Rights and that we live in a place where it is unheard of for that Charter to be abused. A delay like this, to keep one of our citizens (guilty or not) in Guantánamo Bay, undermines our values as a democracy: showing blatant disregard for our citizens.

The most un-Canadian thing Minister Vic Toews can do is to reject the opportunity to transfer Omar Khadr, and knowingly keep a Canadian citizen in Guantánamo Bay. Though Toews argues he cannot yet make a decision on the transfer because of "safety concerns" which stem from Dr Welner's interviews, he has the remainder of Khadr's sentence to contemplate a public safety plan for his eventual freedom. Canada has an obligation to stand firm on our values, and to remove Khadr from Guantánamo Bay, a prison synonymous with torture and blatantly flaunting international law and human rights.

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