Corriere Canadese

Khadr: Vigilantes still want his head

TORONTO - In so many ways, Canada is a wonderful country. There is no need to “count the ways”, as Elizabeth Browning might have done with much greater style than I could offer.
Yet, as with all things we cherish, we need to nurture what we purpose to leave as legacy. Novelist Aldous Huxley said it best: “Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.”
The debate in Italy about citizenship - what it means, who can acquire it and how to keep it - is mirrored in Canada. The discussion is not always flattering, neither here, nor there. It is about “membership in a club” and about “human decency”.
In the last parliament, the Canadian government of the day- Conservative - passed legislation (Bill C-24) authorizing the revocation of citizenship subsequent to conviction for treason, espionage or terrorism.
In addition, it established more stringent norms as pre-requisites for obtaining (and keeping) citizenship, some of which provisions were only recently revoked by the current government – Liberal - in Bill C-6.
Sometimes, a climate of fear, real or contrived, prompts governments to do stupid things that go counter to the concept of liberty, democracy and human decency.
Canada’s governments have enacted War Measures Act(s) to deprive Canadians of fundamental rights, ones we now refer to as Human Rights. Targets have been characterized as “fascists”, “enemy aliens”, “communists”, “separatists” (do people remember the Front de Liberation du Quebec – FLQ?), “criminals”, “radical Muslims” … whatever/whoever fits the flavour of the day… Omar Khadar.
So, Omar’s lawyers have succeeded in raising the issue of Government responsibility – contractual duty - towards its citizens. Negotiators, operating under the auspices of the Courts in Ontario, found that the Federal Government’s dereliction of duty would result in relief, compensation, to Omar.
He had been abandoned by the Canadian government of the day to “rot” in an American jail (Guantanamo Bay), operating outside American borders and, therefore, not subject to the Constitutional protections afforded to even the most heinous of serial killers.
He was 15 years old when first jailed. In Canada, he would have been given the legal safeguards available to all minors, whether deserving or not. A Court would have determined the appropriateness of charges, guilt, and the extent of the retribution and/or rehabilitation.
It is what we take for granted in a civilized, democratic society where the “rule of law” prevails. That is not necessarily or always the case in a military court, where the ethos can be different. That is in part why the USA maintained detention centres like Guantanamo.
Individually, we may all experience primal desires to exact our “pound of flesh”. There is no shortage of “talk show” host and listeners prepared to “serve heads on a platter” who feed that instinctive urge.
But we aim to be a civilized society that tends to nurture human decency.
I don’t know if Citizen Omar was guilty of all that his detractors allege. Somehow, I doubt that at age 15 he was the mastermind behind efforts to thwart the Coalition of the Willing’s multi-trillion dollar adventure in Afghanistan.

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Joseph Volpe

Joseph Volpe

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