The Canadian government failed to defend human dignity and fundamental human rights in Omar Khadr's case, says editorial public domain

Editorial: Our leaders failed to defend human dignity, rights in Khadr’s case

  • July 13, 2017

The $10.5-million takeaway from the sordid affair of Omar Khadr is that all of society loses when its leaders fail to stand in vigorous defence of God-given human dignity and fundamental human rights.

Regardless of how one feels about Khadr and his terrorist affiliations and deeds, the way this former child combatant was treated was abusive, immoral and, according to various courts, illegal. The offences against him were mostly committed by his American captors, but came with a nod and a wink, to their shame, from Canadian authorities.

He was 15 or 16 when the torture began, a child clearly entitled to protection under a United Nations treaty signed by Canada and the United States that guarantees respect and protection for children up to age 18. The treaty applies to all children, including (or especially) those dragged into war before attaining the moral and mental capacity of adulthood.

When Khadr was jailed at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, Canada’s responsibility was to lobby, forcefully if necessary, for his rights. The charges he faced were immaterial. International and Canadian law morally compelled the government to defend Khadr’s human and legal rights. This applies to any Canadian citizen being held and tortured abroad and it seems particularly obvious in a case involving a minor.

But instead of assigning diplomats to argue for Khadr’s care, defend his rights and document his abuse, the government sent interrogators to work alongside his American torturers. In the view of the Supreme Court, Canada was a willing accomplice in denying Khadr his rights. So it was no surprise when he sued and it should be no surprise that, after weighing the undeniable glut of evidence, the government agreed out of court to award Khadr $10.5 million and give him an apology.

Yes, it’s a lot of money to pay a former terrorist convicted for killing an American soldier, even if much of it will go to lawyers. But the settlement is not about what Khadr did. It’s about what his government did to him. More than merely fail him, it violated his human dignity.

Pope Francis addressed this topic recently.

“Human dignity is not lost and forgotten according to specific circumstances or behaviours,” he said. “Human dignity is a fundamental gift belonging to the human person. It is therefore the task of the institutions to protect the human dignity of everyone, without exception.”

The government owes that obligation to every citizen, particularly to minors. It becomes a frightening day when elected officials and their agents elevate political expediency above their moral and legal obligations to defend equally the rights of every citizen. The courts recognized this fundamental truth in their Khadr rulings — and now the taxpayers will pay for it.

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