Human rights ignored in Omar Khadr's 13-year imprisonment

Those who value human rights, a fair judicial system and the rule of law, find it incomprehensible that Omar Khadr is still incarcerated. Soon he will again be turning to Canadian courts, which have so often, in his long struggle for justice, ruled in his favour.

In the next few months, a number of legal challenges finally could result in his freedom. With these cases on the horizon, every Canadian committed to basic tenets of justice and democracy is urged to help cover Khadr's mounting legal costs.

For over a decade, Khadr's lawyer Dennis Edney, has defended Khadr on a pro bono basis, at great financial and emotional cost to him and his family. The Free Omar Khadr Campaign has launched a fundraising campaign in order to help cover current legal expenses.

People from across Canada, while providing donations, large and small, have expressed strong support for Khadr's struggle for freedom and words of appreciation to his lawyer: "Dear Mr. Edney, My deepest gratitude to you for remaining steadfast in this travesty Harper is placing on Omar."

Because mainstream media has so often been a mouthpiece for our government's demonization of Khadr, Canadians have been exposed to a perversion of truth that has had tragic consequences for Khadr.

We have accepted falsehoods which have legitimized ongoing violations of his rights, and failed to hold our government accountable ­­-- not only for failing to protect Khadr, but, in fact, being complicit in his torture. 

"There is no greater betrayal of Canada than for our government to be implicated in the torture of a Canadian citizen," said Edney in a speech at Carleton University. "And we have all become complicit by our silence."

Despite ten years of torture in Guantanamo and several Federal and Supreme Court rulings in Khadr's favour, our government, rather than redressing the violation of those rights, insists on his continued incarceration. Khadr, currently imprisoned at Bowden Institute in Innisfail, Alberta, is now 28 years old, and July 2015 will mark his 13th year of imprisonment.  

On March 24 and 25 a bail application will be heard by the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, requesting that Khadr be released pending the outcome of his case before the U.S. Military Commission. The appeal of his 'conviction' and dismissal of the 'charges' are severely hampered by bureaucratic processes and will likely take years to be heard.

Fortunately in recent ​rulings​, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review struck down the convictions of other Guantanamo detainees, thus​ giving strong indication that Khadr could also win his appeal.

According to Professor David Glazier's recent publication which focuses on the validity of military commission charges: "The only war crime present in Khadr's Guantánamo courtroom appears to be denial of a fair trial, and the perpetrator is the government, not the defendant."

If Khadr's bail application is successful, Edney and his family are hoping they will be able to welcome him into their home. Edney's wife, Patricia, a manager with Alberta Health Serivices manager has visited Khadr since his transfer from Milhaven to Edmonton in 2013 and has a great deal of respect and confidence in him.

Khadr has been invited to continue the educational opportunities offered by the dedicated professors at King's College University who have provided Khadr with an education even during his years in Guantanamo. They are part of a strong community of support Edmonton has established for Khadr -- a network of teachers, friends, professionals and members of various faith communities who hold Khadr in high regard and admire his personal qualities and strength of character. 

Helen Sadowski a retired federal government official says: "[Khadr] has managed to transcend the abuse and torture of prison through personal resilience, emotional maturity, mental focus, and spiritual health. On my visits to the prison, I have to say that I am always astounded at his sense of humour, kindness and intelligence." 

In 2014, Edney was successful in persuading the Alberta Court of Appeal that since the U.S. had sentenced Khadr as a juvenile, he should be transferred to a provincial institution where he can access the benefits of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The Conservative government appealed the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal. In so doing, it continued a pattern of challenging every decision favourable to Khadr over the past ten years, plundering millions of dollars of Canadian taxpayer money. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on May 14, 2015.

In June 2015, Khadr will be applying for parole. His legal team has formally put the warden, David Pelham, on notice that he is obligated under the Correctional and Conditional Release Act to make a security assessment of Khadr. Refusal to do so makes Khadr's chances of parole somewhat grim.

A number of professionals including the Corrections Services ombudsperson, Khadr's parole officer and Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier-general with the U.S. Army, who spent hundreds of hours interviewing Khadr; as well as a cross section of Canadians, have all recommended Khadr be classified as a minimum risk.

In the event parole is denied, lawyers will file for a judicial review of that decision. 

The tragedy of Khadr's years of abuse, torture and continued incarceration, is a dreadful reminder of what is at risk when fundamental rights are awarded to some, denied to others. Citizens have an obligation to be vigilant and outspoken, especially, as in the case of Khadr when our own government violates our human rights, international laws and threatens our own security.

Particularly at a time, when proposed legislation like Bill C-51 will further jeopardize our fundamental rights, Edney's struggle for Khadr is a defence of the rights of all Canadians and deserves our support.

 

Kathleen Copps is a retired teacher and member of the Free Omar Khadr Now Campaign

 

For more information:

website: www.freeomar.ca

Facebook group: Free Omar Khadr Now

email: freeomarkhadrnow@gmail.com

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