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Hands off Omar Khadr

By: 
John Bell

July 11, 2017

Well, the fireworks may have been better than usual but other than that Canada Day 150 was pretty much a dud. One thing was evident however: racism is alive and well in the old Dominion. The Khadr haters and the “Proud Boys” proved that.

First came leaked news that Omar Khadr was to receive an apology and cash compensation from the Liberal government. The leaks allowed the right—the Conservative Party, the Canadian Taxpayers Association and, worse, racist bottom feeders like Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media—to get on top of the story.

Then came the story from Halifax of five men who traded their navy uniforms for the black polo shirts emblematic of the “Proud Boys”, self-appointed standard bearers for the purity of “Western” culture and chauvinism. It was with equal parts racism and misogyny that they disrupted a peaceful ceremony led by women, commemorating the genocide against Mi’kmaq people at the hands of England’s colonists.

I won’t devote much space to the “Proud Boys” disgrace, since the great public debate is all about Omar Khadr. Leave it to say that it exposed the dangerous right-wing tilt at the CBC that allowed a platform for the Proud Boys founder to expound racist hatred unchallenged; and the Canadian Forces punishment of the sailors was chosen without discussion or consultation with the Mi’kmaq people involved.

Torture

Omar Khadr has suffered abuse and torture for half of his life. He was a child soldier. He was imprisoned and tortured for almost 15 years. He was never given a proper day in court; he was “convicted” by a military tribunal system that has been denounced internationally as a kangaroo court. None of the charges against him have ever been proven.

In the US a show trial, at which Khadr received no serious defence, and which has no jurisdiction in Canada, assigned a civil award to the widow of a US soldier. The decision was based on the thoroughly discredited results of the tribunal and admissions extracted under torture. Khadr haters refer to this case as proof of his guilt. It is entirely irrelevant.

As a child soldier, Khadr’s country, more specifically the governments—Liberal and Tory—not  nly failed him but actively colluded in his torture and abuse. They did all this knowing that their actions were illegal under Canadian and international law.

While other nations acted to repatriate Guantanamo prisoners Canada left Omar Khadr to suffer. If it could do that to him it could do that to any Canadian citizen.

Some people base their outrage on the supposedly exorbitant amount of Khadr’s financial settlement. However, that $10.5 million is in line with previous settlements with aggrieved Canadian citizens such as Donald Marshall (the First Nations man wrongfully convicted for murder) and Maher Arar (who was wrongly accused of ties to terrorism, then abandoned by his government to suffer illegal torture in Syria).

Hypocrisy

Conservatives and bigots who wail about the money didn’t complain when the Stephen Harper government spent $5 million legal costs in a doomed attempt to stop compensation to Khadr.

The right-wing whining about fiscal responsibility is, as always, selective. I don’t recall Tory leader Andrew Scheer speaking out when Harper spent more than $100 million to stall legal action brought by First Nations, whether for compensation for Residential School abuses or for fighting land claims fights. Nor was there outcry from the Canadian Taxpayer Federation when Harper mandated almost $5 million for new uniforms for the military to restore their WWII-style insignia. Nor for the almost $1 million fighting a class action suit brought by veterans. Nor over the vain $1.7 million court fight to prevent women on maternity leave from getting disability support when they became seriously ill.

Dragging out inevitable claims for compensation with expensive legal heel-dragging was a forte of the Harper regime, and just one aspect of its fiscal irresponsibility. Remember that was the government that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) account for $3.1 billion spent on the “war on terror”. From Peter MacKay’s helicopter hopping to Duffygate scandals in the PMO, the Harper government can hold its own beside any spendthrift governments of the past.

But of course the money is not really the issue motivating the right, nor are legal arguments about rights and freedoms and the rule of law. From Andrew Scheer and his polite Tory bigots to Ezra Levant and the foaming fascist extreme, here is an opportunity to whip up Islamophobia and racist hatred.

Hate speech

We are in a time when the CBC is stupidly providing a platform for racist scum like the “Proud Boys” founder Gavin McInnes, and veteran municipal politicians proudly proclaiming that new immigrants must adopt “white” values. Bigots openly harass Muslim school kids.

And it should come as no surprise that attacks on Muslims spread to other groups—Jews, First Nations. The McInnes who defended the “Proud Boys” is the same parasite who used Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media to launch an anti-Semitic rant. Why does the CBC give them air time? Why is Rebel Media, which is nothing but a source of hate speech and racism, granted accredited media credentials? The right and rising fascist movement are quick to wrap themselves in hypocritical free speech rhetoric.

Even sections of the left have forgotten arguments we need to be sharp on: number one is that there can be no free speech protection for hate speech, no free speech for racists and fascists. We are seeing every day that such foes don’t stop at speech, but attacks on Muslims, Jews, Blacks, and First Nations.

It rips my heart out when I hear First Nations activists attack the Khadr settlement, because it is such a potent example of the divide and conquer trickery that keeps the boot of capitalism on all our necks. We need to proclaim the apology and settlement with Omar Khadr as a victory for all of us. We have to rise up and speak, or a victory born in the court of law could become a defeat in the court of public opinion.

For more information visit freeomar.ca

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