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Canadian public opinion on Omar Khadr in the Obama era

January 23, 2009

There’s evidence that Jeffrey Simpson was right about Canada simply waiting for US leadership – now that Obama has ordered a 120-day hiatus on all Guantanamo Bay trials, the Harper government is “reassessing” its position on Omar Khadr. Its position so far has been that the Canadian government will not interfere with US handling of the matter or repatriate Khadr. Coming changes to that position are a mystery, but some reports suggest Obama will ask Canada to take Khadr back. What will happen to Khadr if he’s repatriated is really anyone’s guess – there’s a broad consensus that the evidence against him would never hold up if he were tried in a regular Canadian (or American) federal court, particularly since some of it was obtained through torture.

Many people are up in arms about the Conservatives’ refusal to intervene in the matter up to this point, and now more than ever it seems like they have every right to be. What I wonder, though, is why they were not more focused on the Canadian public’s ambivalence about helping Omar Khadr. Canadians were, at best, split on whether or not to do anything about Khadr (some polls showed a clear majority favoured leaving Khadr in Guantanamo). This definitely had something to do with the Khadr family – they make us feel scared, for reasons that are obviously a lot more subtle than just racism. Still, it’s probably true that Omar would be home now if he were white, and that it’s not particularly Canadian to make a person responsible for his family. We hear over and over again that Canadians believe strongly in human rights and the rule of law. But there’s clearly a deeper conversation to be had here about what these ideas mean to us in the face of fundamentalism.

A more charitable interpretation is that Canadians, along with the National Post, believed Omar Khadr was being treated fairly by the US justice system. In July ’08 6 in 10 Canadians said Omar ‘should remain in U.S. custody because he is being tried by a U.S. military court… Canada needs to allow this legal process to finish before deciding whether or not to ask for his return.'” It’s been relatively obvious to me and anyone who is exposed to the kind of media I am (i.e. This American Life [yes, I’m in that TAL demographic and yes I also read the National Post]) that as a “legal process” the military trials were on par with the McCarthy hearings. I wonder why more Canadians weren’t of the same opinion – though of course it could be because our own government was telling us everything was copacetic.

To our credit, we’re now willing (even eager) to take Omar back. Oh that Obama magic – what else would we like it to do?

Canadian public opinion on Obama and his effect on Omar Khadr

Canadian public opinion on Obama and his effect on Omar Khadr

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    January 26, 2009 1:37 pm

    Leaving a 15 year old in a prison that knowingly tortures and violates the Geneva convention is bad enough. The fact that Canada abandoned him is disgraceful and that we bought into the Bush endless lies and justification just makes me sick and has done since the day after 9/11

    Every other western country ask for and was granted it’s citizens back from Guantanamo to stand trial OR not as it was deemed appropriate in their country. We left Omar to rot for a crime that he may not have committed.

    Is he guilty ? I’m not sure but if he is then so are thousands of American solders for killing innocent Iraq citizens, I don’t see any of them in Iraq prisons do you ????

    Mr Haper your weak, cruel, spineless, , and lack vision and leadership in your approach to this other challenging situations.

    Bring Omar back to Canada ASAP and give him a chance to have a fair review and receive the counseling that he will need to create a new life.


  2. January 24, 2009 6:31 am

    The official Conservative position is that there is still a judicial process in place that should run its course even though the process is halted for now while Obama decides what to do. Harper has made Canada look to be a Bush groupie throughout the time Khadr has been in Guantanamo.
    Instead of changing tune now Obama has in effect himself repudiated the Bush judicial process Harper keeps on with the same tired old refrain. Obama may ask Harper to repatriate Khadr. In that case this would more or less force Harper to act at last.
    Given that a majority of Canadians now seem to favour repatriation upon closure of Guantanamo perhaps Harper may even see a political advantage in repatriation.

  3. Tasha permalink
    January 23, 2009 4:36 pm

    Great post Reilly! I’m not sure I buy “we thought he was being treated fairly” defence, at worst it is a lie and at best it is wilful ignorance. When Khadar was imprisoned we were wrapped up in Bush rhetoric about terrorism. The fact that Mr. Khadar was a minor (only 15 years old at the time of his detention), a Canadian citizen and undoubtedly going to be subjected to torture was of little note in the Canadian reaction to his treatment. Now of course we are wrapped up in Obama rhetoric (to which I am quite partial) believing that torture can never be justified.

    The optimist in me would like to believe that this is not just a shift in public opinion but a shift in what the public values. However the pessimist in me would argue that the public is simultaneously afraid of terrorism (more specifically terrorist-type-looking brown people) and opposes torture. And if these values are at odds we will choose to ignore that which is unpopular or inconvenient , as we did in the case of Omar Khadar.


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