Government of Canada has done right thing by Omar Khadr

A Commentary by Desmond Sequeira, Multi-Faith Chaplain (Rtd.), Government of Ontario, and a resident of St. Catharines, Ontario

Posted July 13th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Along with millions of other Canadians, I fully support the Government decision to apologize to and compensate Omar Khadr for the callous injustices inflicted on him by successive governments of Canada, purportedly representing Canadians including me.

Omar Khadr, then and now

Persons seeking the truth would do well to visit the details of the “firefight” that started all this ( https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/07/10/omar-khadr-fact-check-paints-a-clearer-picture-of-the-case-and-the-incident-underlying-it.html ) Just don’t ask Jason Kenney for the facts of that firefight!

The subsequent events are now well known. Most significantly, none other than the Supreme Court of Canada has  pretty much declared the whole U.S. Guantanamo Bay judicial process in which Canadian investigative agencies were fully complicit to be nothing short of a kangaroo process.

Speaking as someone who is no automatic supporter of any political party, I believe that many politicians of the Conservative Party, led by the new leader, Andrew Scheer, have chosen to respond with s(c)heer opportunism in the hope of scoring brownie points. Mr Scheer’s comments were preceded by those of others, including the likes of Mr. Tony Clement and Mr. Jason Kenney, in the same vein.

As such they show that nothing has changed in the Party of Stephen Harper who also chose to comment. To use Mr. Scheer’s sneering words, it is they, and not the Government of Canada, who are all “wrong”, “disgusting” and “mean-spirited”, nothing new here. I am disappointed in Mr. Scheer.

Omar Khadr while being held as the youngest detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay

Particularly despicable is the disposition of those who have chosen to make a travesty of tragedy, by resorting to sordid emotional coercion, claiming that in order to show his integrity Omar Khadr should hand over his award to the family of the US soldier whom he is alleged to have killed and to another soldier whom he is alleged to have injured when at age fifteen the small group he was with was surrounded and intruded on by US Delta Force soldiers.

I wish to make it clear that my heart aches for the family of Sgt. Chris Speer, the soldier killed allegedly by a hand grenade thrown by Omar Khadr and also for Sgt. Layne Morris, the soldier who was injured in the same violent altercation. I too have recently lost my precious spouse way too soon.

Having recognized this tragic situation, would it not be fair to consider also the bitter grief of the hundreds, even thousands, of non- US persons whose spouses or/and parents, many of them civilians, have been killed  by US soldiers? How many, if any, of these grieving persons have remotely had the luxury to sue the said soldiers who have killed their loved ones or even to sue the US government?

When will we recognize that we suffer from a disease I call “Moral Warp” that justifies acts of killing by “one of us” but reflexively decides that any acts of killing by “one of them”, often even in the same combat in which  we are trying to kill them, to be unforgivable crimes for which we must exact our dues. How dare they not allow us to kill them! Rather, how pathetically and chronically presumptuous can we insist on being?

As ever, for no decent reason, a US or Western life is really valuable but other lives are entirely expendable.

Some salient points with regard to this fiasco:

  1. In my opinion, in any other theatre of war/combat, not involving the USA or other western nations, the very self-righteous politicians mentioned above and others would be the first to recognize that Omar Khadr was but a child who from his earliest infancy had been brain-washed, probably even beaten, into a cause he very poorly understood and subsequently found himself in a place he had no real choice about.
  2. The people who would condemn Khadr appear to completely discount the fact that he himself was severely injured, including by being shot in the back twice, by US forces in the very combat initiated by them in which he is accused of causing death and injury, not they. In fact a US soldier directly involved could not believe that Khadr was still alive after the overwhelming damage they had inflicted on his small group of relatively unarmed persons. Along with all the people who were killed by US fighters that fateful day, Khadr was so severely injured that he actually begged to be killed as well. Initially, he also had been assumed dead. In addition to other terrible bodily damage, he was blinded in one eye and is expected to lose sight in the other from shrapnel that is still lodged in it. 
  1. Khadr was subsequently brutally abused, tortured and dehumanized while in custody in order to extract confessions from him, for more than ten years. He is still being blackmailed to forego his compensation by self-righteous or grievously misled individuals masquerading as moral scions.
  2. Because Khadr did not die from every attempt to kill him it now behooves him to pay those who directly or whose family member tried to do so, on the flimsy allegation that he killed and injured his would-be killers? What garbage is that, Mr. Scheer, Leader of the Opposition?

Omar Khadr has lost 15 most precious years of his life. He seriously risks being ostracized for the rest of it while remaining mostly blind, in addition to still nursing other physical damage. His psychological scars will also be permanent.  Having had his rights denied him, he was wrongly convicted. The apology he received was way overdue. The financial compensation was way too small. I am a Canadian tax payer too.

The Government of Canada has finally done the right thing even if it is not right enough! In doing so it has righted a wrong on behalf of all Canadians.

Final questions to Andrew Scheer, Tony Clement, Jason Kenny, Stephen Harper, etc: Instead of Omar Khadr, if it was your son in this situation, what would you have said and done? How would you have liked Canadians to respond?

Desmond Sequeira is a St. Catharines/Niagara, Ontario resident, a retired Multi-Faith Chaplain for the Government of Ontario and, formerly, a Jesuit missionary in Guyana, South America. He remains a member of the Unitarian Congregation of Niagara andserves as the coordinator of its Social Action Team. “My consuming concern, he says, is Systemic Social Justice, local, national and international.”

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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3 responses to “Government of Canada has done right thing by Omar Khadr

  1. Linda McKellar

    There are a few points in this article with which I agree. The US has no business killing foreign nationals in places like Iraq and Afghanistan on flimsy pretexts. They have been invaders and have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents for many decades and continue to do so creating the very terrorists they fight. They also employed torture against the rules of the Geneva Convention. The practice of recruiting child soldiers is also a travesty. That’s where my agreement ends.

    I do disagree with such a huge payout.

    Let’s do some comparisons. In 1959 Steven Truscott, then FOURTEEN years old, being the last person known to see a young murder victim (Lynne Harper) alive, was tried and condemned on no valid evidence whatsoever and, although the jury recommended mercy, the judge sentenced him to DEATH BY HANGING. Fortunately for him, the death penalty was subsequently outlawed and the sentence commuted to LIFE IN PRISON. In 1967, new forensic evidence was found which could clear him of guilt but the Supreme Court voted 8 to 1 against a new trial and he remained in jail. Five decades later the verdict was overturned in 2007 based on forensic evidence and finally, when Truscott was in his 60’s, he was granted 6.5 million dollars and he was INNOCENT. This man had to live under an assumed name and still bears the censure of many and the psychological scars suffered from his unjust prosecution. Accused child murderers are not treated well. The same can be said of Guy Paul Morin accused of murder in 1984 (who received 1.25 million for being INNOCENT) and David Milgaard in 1969. The point is, they did nothing wrong. Where was our government for them? It seems that someone who suffered for five decades deserves proportionate compensation.

    Of course Khadr was brainwashed but brainwashed children can and have killed on the battlefield and continue to do so. He was also undoubtedly tortured but what compensation has the US offered and what consequences have his torturers paid for breaking the Geneva Convention, including the politicians at the top of the food chain who allowed it? Why were they not tried for their crimes? Is Canada paying for the crimes of others in addition to our own?

    Bringing him back to Canada to serve his sentence would have been reasonable and was not done but, at the same time, his repulsive family went on national TV calling Canada and Canadians every disgusting, pejorative term they could lay their hands on while still claiming their rights as Canadian citizens. If they hated Canada so much, why did they not relinquish their citizenship and accept the consequences? They used us and our good will, playing us for suckers. An apology for not bringing him home perhaps, but $10 million? That is obscenely disproportionate when compared to the cases mentioned above.

    “If it was my son in that situation”, he would not have been brainwashed to be a bomb maker and sent to a war in the first place so that comparison…”What would you do if that was your son?”…is a false equivalent. Compare apples to apples not apples to oranges. Whether Omar was brainwashed or not, he was still somewhere he should not have been. When the s*** hit the fan, he suddenly wanted to take full advantage of his citizenship. I hope he is reformed and has a future but he does not deserve such a ridiculous sum.

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  2. Linda McKellar

    As an afterthought, how about our aboriginal population? They were (and are) treated badly and have been for a longer period of time. We took their continent and left them with garbage real estate. We took children (far younger than Khadr) from their families and put them into distant residential schools where they suffered physical and mental abuse and even death in some cases. We committed cultural genocide against them and left many of them broken and resorting to drugs, alcohol and lives of desperation. That is worse and of longer duration than Khadr’s trails and tribulations and they did nothing to deserve it. Should we give every one of them 10 million? Sounds reasonable to me.

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  3. Desmond Sequeira

    Thank you to Linda McKellar for her very thoughtful comments. I actually agree with her. We/our Government have basically committed crimes against Truscott, Morin , Milgaard, others and against our Indigenous Peoples that are unforgivable unless we provide, as she says, “proportionate compensation”. In none of those cases is our compensation to date remotely proportionate. With regard to our Indigenous peoples, our abhorrent abuse has been ongoing for about five hundred years.

    In my opinion, Omar Khadr’s compensation was also inadequate.

    All of us, Canadians, need to get cracking on providing the “proportionate compensation” Linda McKellar so rightly advocates.

    Desmond Sequeira
    PS: Sorry, I have did not respond earlier, I only just noticed the responses above.

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