Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews. Image: David J. Climenhaga​

You’d think Victor Toews would have felt a little empathy for Omar Khadr.

Toews is the Paraguayan-born public security minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

Khadr is the Canadian-born child soldier who came to adulthood during a decade in U.S. custody after being captured in a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, and who last weekend was repatriated to a Canadian prison over Toews’s noisy objections.

Toews (pronounced Taves) was raised by a Canadian family with strong, some might say extreme, religious views who, it is fair to conclude, had sufficient concerns about the bright lights and big cities of Western Canada to head for the safer rural confines of Filadelfia, Paraguay, where Toews was born in 1952. Filadelfia was populated by German-speaking Mennonites who left Russia for Germany in the early 1930s but sensibly moved on to the Southern Hemisphere before things went completely south in Europe. Toews’s parents came to Canada from Russia as children in 1924 and 1926 in the same Mennonite migration.

Khadr, as is well known, was also raised by a father with strong religious views, extreme enough in the elder Khadr’s case to go and fight for the theocratic government then in power in another country, taking his young son with him. Khadr was only 15 when that country was invaded by the United States, which one could argue was where and when his troubles really started. Before that, he had been taken by his Egyptian-born father to Peshawar, Pakistan, apparently so that he could be raised and educated away from the Western influences his family viewed as pernicious.

Now, this analogy only goes so far. Toews’s Anabaptist forebears, like mine, were pacifists, while Khadr’s Muslim father most emphatically was not. And, as Toews’s official biography points out, he was safely back in Canada by 1956.

Still, one wonders what Toews would have done if at 15, he had been instructed by his parent to do something illegal or immoral. Remember, according to Toews’s family’s belief system, his father had the authority to issue commands, and he had the obligation to obey them. Scripture outlines appropriate punishments for children who disobey: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” – Proverbs 23:14.

I imagine that like most young people in a similar situation — perhaps like young Khadr, perhaps like me — Toews would have done as he was told.

Regardless, as an adult, Toews seems to have had little difficulty putting behind him the core religious beliefs of his upbringing — which as I recall places high value on such things as forgiveness, understanding, marital fidelity and rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, which surely means not just paying your taxes, but obeying the courts when they tell you you’re breaching a fellow citizen’s constitutional rights.

Yet Toews had no problem ignoring Canadian courts or agreements made with our American allies about the return of Khadr to this country.

Nor has he hesitated to demonize Khadr as a terrorist, or make much of his “conviction” by a U.S. military tribunal the existence of which, it is fair to say, has become a profound embarrassment to our American cousins, who were very anxious to see this still-young reminder of their unsavoury quasi-legal activities in an occupied corner of Cuba out of sight and out of mind.

Now, Toews is pretty clearly a highly intelligent man, and as is well known, he has been trained in the law to a degree sufficient to be considered a candidate for the bench of a superior court. So there can be little doubt Toews well understood the problems presented by the manner of Khadr’s conviction, his rights as a Canadian citizen (even one with his dark family history) and the likely true nature of the threat that he presents to Canada and Canadians (not much, although possibly some).

Moreover, surely Toews had some empathy based on his own upbringing for the fate Khadr faced abroad, in the care of a militant fundamentalist father in a strange land.

Nevertheless, Toews chose to ignore these things as is the custom of his party to eke out a temporary political advantage by trying to play the attitudes of voters distrustful of the Islamic religion against politicians still courageous to speak out for due process and the limited justice possible in this imperfect world.

In other words, as Harper Conservatives always do, Toews chose to seek the wedge, the opportunity to separate his opponents from their supporters, no matter how shortsighted or harmful to the country or any of its citizens the tactic might prove to be.

Now, having created a constituency for keeping Khadr out of Canada at all costs, Toews and his government have been forced by our powerful American allies to repatriate this young man regardless of what they have told the public.

It should surprise no one, then, that this wedge so injudiciously applied is now beginning to separate the Harperites from some of their own supporters.

To stick with Proverbs 23 just a little longer, it turns out that it is not just wine that at the last stingeth like a viper, but wedge politics too. This time at least it has come back to bite our Conservative government on its hindmost parts!

Thus endeth the lesson.

Canada’s Most Embarrassing MP reinserts foot into mouth

Speaking of allegations of terrorism, the Canadian Parliamentarian and professional heckler who once labelled South African President Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” and a “Communist” was back in the news yesterday making sure he is unlikely to be challenged any time soon for the title of Canada’s Most Embarrassing MP.

Calgary West Member of Parliament Rob Anders was being quoted all over the place yesterday halfheartedly apologizing for suggesting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair contributed to the death last year of Mulcair’s predecessor, Jack Layton, who succumbed to cancer in August 2011.

“I actually think one of the great stories that was missed by journalists was that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton’s death,” Anders told the iPolitics online newsletter, apparently based on his deep insider knowledge of NDP affairs.

While the Globe and Mail provided a lead that explained the story straight up, our local media here in Alberta took pains to try to mitigate the own-goal scored against the Harper Government by Anders, diminishing the importance of this great young friend of prime minister with frequent references to his lowly backbench status.

Anders, who most recently fell asleep in the House of Commons while the TV cameras rolled, is well known for a list of outrageous statements and activities far too long to reproduce here. Still, it’s hard to fault the founder of “Canadians Against Forced Unionism” and supporter of Bloc Quebecois separatist motions in the House for his chronic and apparently uncontrollably childish behaviour. He is, after all, a dope.

One does wonder, however, about the voters of Calgary West, who habitually re-elect him.

Politically minded Albertans look forward with anticipation to the next round in the grudge match between Anders and Premier Alison Redford.

Back in 2004, in Round 1, Redford tried to knock Anders off his perch in Calgary West by seeking the Conservative nomination there. She was handily defeated by Anders who, whatever else can be said of him, knows how to campaign.

This year, in Round 2, Anders and several other federal Conservatives sided with the Wildrose Party in hopes of removing Redford’s Progressive Conservatives in the April 23 provincial election. That effort was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Albertans concerned about their province’s reputation at home and abroad wish Redford well in Round 3, which is surely inevitable.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...