The summertime leak and subsequent announcement of the Khadr settlement by the Liberal government continue to attract media attention. Concerted efforts by Christopher Speer’s widow to claim the settlement funds and the failed attempts by Canadian conservatives to make political hay of the issue have sustained both the controversy and the objections to the settlement.
It worth unpacking the objections and holding them up against the yardstick of universally-recognized human rights and principles of fundamental justice.
1. Mr. Khadr is a terrorist and a ‘convicted murderer’
If Mr. Khadr did kill US sergeant Christopher Speer (and it is far from clear that he did), there is no evidence that he was a “terrorist” except from the star chamber-tinged proceedings of a U.S. military court in connection with an installation that the U.S. Supreme Court itself had declared unconstitutional.
A fifteen-year old who says he may have thrown a grenade in the middle of a terrifying fire fight is not a terrorist. He is a terrified 15-year old child who allegedly threw a grenade.
Many of the people making the accusations against Mr. Khadr presumably are or were themselves the parents of 15-years olds and know full well the extent of maturity of young people of this age, especially when influenced by peers or parents. It is worrying that these same people appear unable or unwilling to transfer the empathy or forgiveness they would normally feel for their own kids to those of other racial backgrounds. There is research emerging from the U.S. suggesting that Black male children are less likely to be viewed as innocent as compared to white children and that Black children are more likely to be presumed guilty in encounters with police (Atiba Goff et al. 2014). A similar perception seems to be at play here for young Muslim males.
2. We should not be too squeamish about what happened to Mr. Khadr in Gitmo
If the first point is true, the reasoning goes, the second point follows. However, no law permits us to torture people or subject them to cruel treatment, whatever we think they did, even if they are convicted. A fair trial and imprisonment is as far as legitimate punishment goes. Mr. Khadr served his time (leaving aside the serous doubts about the legality of the original sentence or the fairness of the process that had put him behind bars). It is over.
But the question of his treatment while in detention is an entirely separate matter. It is illegal to torture captured soldiers, civilians or unprotected combatants. Legal protections exist for people accused of crimes precisely to prevent the sort of mob vengeance and disregard for human rights that prisoners would otherwise experience.
There is no doubt that Mr. Khadr was subject to treatment that in any court of law would be considered cruel and unusual treatment and torture under both Canadian and international law.
If the British had learned anything from the Irish Troubles, it was that torturing alleged terrorists got them nowhere. No viable intelligence, and no reduction in terrorist attacks. Indeed, such illegal behaviour reinforced resolve from the IRA and its offshoots to struggle against the British forces and resulted in international condemnation.
3. Even so, Mr. Khadr does not deserve to be rewarded for his actions
People are entitled to appropriate remedies if their rights are violated, and this applies even if they were convicted of a crime. Mr. Khadr’s rights were violated and we should care both about that fact and that Canadians were complicit in that violation.
It is a fundamental principle of law that every violation of rights must have an appropriate remedy.
To put the size of the award to Mr. Khadr in perspective, an Ottawa woman was awarded $245K by a court in 2017 in Ottawa after being wrongfully arrested in 2008 and mistreated by police for several hours. The case may yet be appealed, but it points to the seriousness with which our courts and our country take rights violations. In contrast, a payment of $10.5 m for imprisonment stretching well over a decade, including cruel treatment and a confession elicited under duress, does not seem excessive.
4. We should have waited for the courts to decide
This is really one of the most puzzling arguments in the current debate, especially when it comes from conservatives. Riffing on the “You had an option, sir,” accusation intoned by Mr. Mulroney against Mr. Turner during a 1984 federal election debate, critics are suggesting that Trudeau did have an option and was hiding behind some form of deluded moral compunction.
The comparison is both insidious and hypocritical. Unlike disavowing pending Senate appointments, torture is a serious violation of international and national law. The call by critics that the Government should have waited for the courts is particularly hypocritical coming from people who who complain about “judicial activism” and demand that key decisions, especially those involving financial matters, should be handled by Canada’s elected representatives.
In short, none of the arguments against the Khadr settlement withstand even moderate scrutiny. We as Canadians were complicit in an egregious violation of the rights of a Canadian citizen. It is an honour to the country that we have faced our responsibilities and compensated Mr. Khadr.
Categories: Civil Liberties