It was a freezing afternoon in January of 2012, as a small group of activists and politicians huddled close to a podium on the steps of the Alberta legislature. Chants of "Shame!" arose from the crowed as speakers denounced the inaction of the Canadian government on the release of then-prisoner and child soldier Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay.
It had been just over a year since a group of students from the University of Alberta started a campaign to pressure the federal government for the release of Khadr and a call for a fair and open trial under Canadian jurisdiction. I was among that group of students and spoke on that cold day, with an assured belief that our voices would be heard and justice served.
Omar has now been given the justice he deserved -- so distant from those snow-covered steps that held such hope those years ago. It was long overdue for the now 30 year-old who, at just 15, was captured by U.S. military and endured what no child -- or human being, for that matter -- should.
Whether or not one agrees with the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling and resulting settlement is irrelevant. No child should be tortured. Period. Debates of him being a child have been fervent, coupled with the argument that if he was old enough to kill, he was old enough to be tortured. While the definition of a child is murky, ranging from caps at 16 to 18 years old depending on the source, the point is that he was not an adult. Regardless of the line between child and adult, torture should never be used as a means to any end.
This past fall, my partner and I came across Omar at an Oilers hockey game. Wearing an orange Connor McDavid jersey, it was such a far cry from the image of a young boy wearing the familiar and yet oppressive orange coveralls as a prisoner in Guantanamo. We introduced ourselves, telling him that we had been part of a group calling for his release and that we were so happy to see him free. He shook our hands, a genuine and unforgettable smile across his face -- a face that showed years of pain and struggle -- and simply stated, "Thank you."
As I remember all those human rights defenders who fought so hard to bring justice to Omar, I can't help but think of a quote from Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Breanna Ho was one of the student leaders advocating for the repatriation of Omar Khadr in 2012. She is a volunteer local organizer with the national organization Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).
Image: Paula E. Kirman, radicalcitizenmedia.com
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