There has been a lot said in the media about Omar Kadhr since his $10.5 million dollar settlement with the Federal government was announced earlier this month and not all of it was true. As John Oliver says, “memes aren’t facts.” You need to be careful who you listen to, so consider the following summary from Michelle Shephard, a columnist for the Toronto Star. She wrote Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr in 2008 and summarizes some of the facts here.
In July 2002, when Omar Kadhr was 15 years old, he was involved in a firefight with US Marines in Afghanistan in which a US medic Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer was fatally wounded and later died. Kadhr was captured by American forces and transported to a military prison in Guantanamo Bay where he spent the next ten years in prison. During this time, with the cooperation of Canadian military officials, Kadhr was tortured and tried as an adult and convicted as a war criminal, the first conviction of its kind since WWII.
Kadhr appealed his conviction, was extradited to Canada in 2012, and won his freedom in 2015 after a military court ruled that his conviction was illegal. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in 2010 that Kadhr’s rights had been violated when he was tortured while in American custody. The $10.5 million dollar settlement that was announced earlier this month is in response to a $20 million civil suit that Kadhr filed five years ago.
There are a lot of details to get distracted by in this story but I think it’s important to remember that Kadhr still has to pay his lawyers. He has been represented by lawyers in court, seeking his release, for more than seven years. I don’t think he is going to see very much of that money.
In announcing the decision, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke to reporters, saying “I hope Canadians take away two things today. First, our rights are not subject to the whims of the government of the day. And second, there are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens.”
I think it is important that our government is held accountable for its actions by our courts. There are Canadian and International laws that must be followed. When your rights are violated the courts will support you.
Now I am no Trudeau fan-boy but I agree with him when he said, “the measure of a society – a just society – is not whether we stand up for people’s rights when it’s easy or popular to do so. It’s whether we recognize rights when it’s difficult, when it’s unpopular.” Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer have loudly protested the settlement, but what else can the Canadian government do? Harper has spent $5 million fighting Kadhr’s release from prison, and now he is suggesting taking this civil case to trial (after the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled in Kadhr’s favour?) That would surely cost another $30 or $40 million dollars. It scores points to wag your head and oppose this settlement but you would be a fool to take this to trial.
I wrote recently that “free speech is only free if it is free for everyone,” and the same can be said for justice. Justice is only justice when everyone can get it. When I am only “fair” to certain people, people who I agree with, people who think like me, who have values like me—maybe even look like me—it’s not justice any more. It’s privilege.
We are a just society because we have laws and we follow them–even when they decide in favour of someone we would count as an enemy. It isn’t popular, and I don’t like it, but it’s the only choice we have if we want to call ourselves a just society.