In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Thoughts on Omar Khadr

Posted 3/30/2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell

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Senator Mobina Jaffer sits in front of me now that my seat has been moved to the Liberal side of the Senate chamber.

She asked a very powerful set of questions last week on the Khadr case in the Senate question period. The thrust of her questions dealt with why is it that Canada is the only western country that has still not repatriated its nationals held in the infamous Guantanamo prison facility. In particular, given that President Obama has decided to close it, surely it is all that much more imperative that we bring Khadr here. The answer to this question by the leader of the government in the Senate was that Khadr would be tried appropriately in the US judicial system.

Senator Goldstein followed up with what we call a supplementary question. He asked whether the answer the leader of the government in the Senate gave meant that she did not have sufficient faith in our judicial system to turn Khadr over to it to be tried for murder.

Khadr was allegedly involved in the encounter with American forces during which it is alleged that he killed one of them. Yes, this was a terrible tragedy for this soldier, his family, friends and colleagues. But do we not make it worse if we let it undermine the fairness and the justice that Canadians are famous for?

What cannot be forgotten is that at the time of this event, if he were a soldier at all, he was - at 15 - clearly a child soldier. The US has not drawn this distinction in his case.  Canada has been a leader in international efforts to deal with the child soldier issue evident in so many conflicts throughout the world.

It is almost incomprehensible to imagine the mentality of anyone who would coerce a child to fight in a war. It is that much more incomprehensible if the person doing the coercing or, more subtly, the socialization is a parent. Can you really imagine any child wanting to be involved in bloody conflict?

On the one hand, it seems to me that we cannot say that parents are responsible for how their children are raised and then suggest that in this case the child must be held to an adult criminal threshold.

Canada is better than this. While no one is saying that Khadr should not face up to his alleged crime, surely we can deal with him in a way that is consistent with international standards and the compassion that I have always believed is a core Canadian value.

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