Stephen Harperbot’s many grave atrocities are still haunting the Liberals today, and much to my chagrin the Liberals have been slow to act on many of them. One such Ghost of Xmas Past is Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was taken to Afghanistan at the age of 15 by his father, a man allegedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. At some point during his stay in Afghanistan, Khadr was either involved or simply proximal to a combat between AQ and the United States Army. Khadr was wounded during the combat, and was alleged to be responsible for the death of one American soldier. He was captured, and
tortured “enhanced interrogated” by both Canadian and American intelligence in Guantanamo Bay. He confessed (as victims of “enhanced interrogation” are wont to do) to a series of war crime charges and sentenced to 10 years prison during a military tribunal, in violation of his rights as a minor to be tried as a minor, based on evidence extracted from torture. In addition, his war crime allegations are a violation of the Geneva Convention–if Khadr was an active combatant, as the “evidence” claimed, then killing another active combatant is supposed to be within the “rules of war.” In other words: Khadr’s trial was a clusterfuck, and nobody involved at any point stopped and said “are we the baddies?”
I like the idea of inalienable human rights, as a concept. The idea that people with authority over you cannot legally strip you of certain natural freedoms has an appeal to me as a person with a continuous and probably pathological distrust for authority figures (though I am confused as to why “Freedom of Movement” is listed when it is the property revoked by incarceration, a routine punishment in Canada). However, the primary problem of human rights is that the same institution writing the code is the same institution enforcing it. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is fairly robust, on paper, but the government breaks it all the fucking time, and it typically cannot be trusted to discipline itself for violating its own rules.
If Canada played by its own rules, I would have fewer and fewer reasons to adopt a political position of social anarchy. For some reason, it’s fine for me to distrust a friend who continuously breaks their promises and commitments, but patriots will seriously argue that my distrust of the government for doing the same is somehow less justifiable.
In that vein, the Khadr settlement was a breath of fresh air. I suspect part of the reason is that the current administration can point out these proceedings began with the direction of Harperbot, thus deflecting the brunt of responsibility to their political opponent. Regardless of their motivations, Khadr is a wonderful demonstration that no matter what you are accused of, you’re (in theory) supposed to be guaranteed a defined legal apparatus. The government reneged on that bargain by trying him in a military court, as an adult, in a trial with seriously suspect evidence–essentially, the Charter might as well have not existed for him. That the government was willing to admit this via a settlement is promising.
As I said, the government reneges on that bargain all the time. Plea bargaining is one such example–surrendering the presumption of innocence in exchange for a less severe set of stakes. The way “conspiracy to commit crime” laws are constructed is another example, because the standard of evidence is considerably lower for a conviction despite carrying the same sentencing provisions, a fact which prosecutors exploit when politically expedient.
All of which leads me to my opinion on the Khadr settlement. I’m mad, but not for the same reasons as the hoary-mouthed xenophobes and racists infesting Canada’s underbelly. I’m only mad because the government is unlikely to continue holding itself accountable. There are thousands, arguably millions if we include the residents of indigenous reserves, of other victims of government-perpetrated Charter violations. I’m mad because I want justice for them, too (I’m not popular with patriots for some reason).
The Khadr settlement was a good start. I’m not hopeful it’s the start of a trend, however, and Canada has a lot more to answer for.