Canadian public opinion on Omar Khadr in the Obama era
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.