Apology overdue

Mr. Trudeau: It’s not just about Omar

Pointed questions for the prime minister about the child Canada abandoned at Gitmo

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

Canada is haunted by our collective responsibility for the monstrous injustice suffered by Omar Khadr. Our shameful failure to apologise and award him remedy further erodes confidence in our legal system and has profound implications for a country where democratic rights should be universal. Canadians have a few questions for you.

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In April, when Canada celebrated the 35th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, you reminded us that “we have no task greater than to stand on guard for one another’s liberties. The words enshrined in the Charter are our rights, freedoms, and — above all — our collective responsibility.” Your words are inspiring but your actions are not.

Mr. Trudeau, when will you respond to their request that Canada fulfill our long overdue obligation to offer Omar a formal apology and redress?

The Free Omar Khadr Campaign and Quebec’s Pour Omar Khadr have exercised “our collective responsibility” to draw your attention to the injustice Omar has suffered and why he must receive remedy.

Despite a letter writing campaign, a parliamentary petition, visits to MPs, newspaper articles and editorials, and endorsements from prominent Canadians, we haven’t heard from you. Stephen Lewis, Yann Martel, Senator Kim Pate, Maher Arar, Elizabeth May, Rudy Wiebe, Michel Tremblay, Nancy Huston, Dr. Frédéric Bérard, Monique Proulx, Monia Mazigh and other distinguished Canadians endorse our campaign and are waiting for an answer.

Prime Minister Trudeau, when will you respond to their request that Canada fulfill our long overdue obligation to offer Omar a formal apology and redress?

In 2013 you stated that Omar should be treated like “any Canadian who has been incarcerated outside of the country.” Do you know of any other Canadian child who was shot in the back by the U.S. military, captured, detained and abused for a decade in Guantanamo, subjected to and sentenced by a corrupt, extrajudicial military tribunal, and, when finally repatriated, was forced to spend another three years of incarceration in Canada?

"Injustice is contagious. If we allow the wrongs that were done to Omar Khadr to lie unredressed, it does not just affect him, but our whole social fabric.”

As you know Omar was not treated like “any other Canadian.” If rights and freedoms are awarded to some and denied others, we are all at risk. Omar was abandoned by Canada and denied the rights and protection to which all Canadians (especially children) are entitled.

Like others in the international community who monitor state human rights violations, Noam Chomsky views Canada’s appalling behaviour with criticism and consternation:

The imprisonment and shocking treatment of Omar Khadr has been a scandal from the first moment, running right through the disgraceful trial and his subsequent detention. The crime should be ended at once, with sincere apology and compensation. I hope someone is compiling a full record of this story, not only out of respect for Omar, but also to reveal the utter savagery of our culture, both the monstrous acts of the U.S. government and the craven cowardice of Canada — and the fact that so few cared.

Mr. Trudeau, when will you take action to end this shameful and ongoing chapter in Canada’s record of human rights violations?

Almost a decade ago, in 2008 and again in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Omar was entitled to remedy because Canada’s participation in the illegal process in place at Guantanamo Bay clearly violated binding international obligations, fundamental human rights, and deprived Omar of rights guaranteed by the Charter. Almost a decade later, like your predecessor, Stephen Harper, you choose to ignore Supreme Court rulings and instead continue to deny Omar justice and remedy.

Distinguished Canadian author and Man Booker Prize Winner, Yann Martel, shares the belief that it is urgent you take action: "Injustice is contagious. If we allow the wrongs that were done to Omar Khadr to lie unredressed, it does not just affect him, but our whole social fabric. It coarsens our relations with others, increases our suspicion and fear, shackles our minds and hearts, lessens our humanity. So this business with Omar is not just about Omar; it's about you, me, everyone."

Mr. Trudeau, when will you abide by decisions of Canada’s highest court, maintain respect for our judicial system and follow through on the Supreme Court ruling that Omar is entitled to remedy?

Like Stephen Harper, you continue to ignore the 2012 recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture to “ensure that Omar Khadr receives appropriate redress for the human rights violations that the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled he experienced.”

In 2015, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group reviewed Canada’s performance regarding its obligations under the Convention against Torture and found that our government had contravened every aspect of its duties in this case. The failure to prevent, investigate, and punish his torture and ill treatment constitutes a continuing violation of Omar’s rights.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, like Professor Chomsky and others in the international community, continue to hold Canada to account for the abhorrent treatment of Omar:

The case of Omar Khadr is an example of horrible injustice in a modern democratic state. Omar Khadr was not even tried in an open court and this is apart from the fact that when he was arrested he was only 15 years of age-a minor by every credible assessment. It is unconscionable that following a travesty of a trial,where he was treated as adult in a vicious kangaroo court, his own country was an accomplice in holding him in prison. It has been galling in the extreme to discover that those in other countries who even helped us overthrow our oppressive system of apartheid should have no qualms, it seems, to employ the same discredited methods as those of a system they purported to oppose.

Mr. Trudeau when will you show respect for Canada’s international obligations and take action to address recommendations of UN Committee against Torture to provide Omar with appropriate redress?

The words of Yann Martel encapsulate the importance of this case: “So this business with Omar is not just about Omar; it's about you, me, everyone.” Omar deserves remedy for the monstrous injustice he suffered and Canadians deserve reassurance of our Prime Minister’s respect for the universal application and enforcement of our Charter rights. Mr. Trudeau, it’s not just about Omar.

Kathleen Copps is a retired B.C. Teacher and member of Free Omar Khadr Now.
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