The Coalition to Repatriate Omar Khadr held a rally on Tuesday, just outside the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office in mid-town Toronto, in an attempt to shine a spotlight on what they call the illegal detention of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr. Khadr is the only Western citizen currently being held in a US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An organizer said that the rally was held in front of the Citizenship office because they believe that the Canadian government has "breached the human rights
" and "systemically ignored
" Canadian citizens detained abroad, like Omar Khadr and recent returnee Abousfian Abdelrazik.
A short background: in July 2002. Omar Khadr was 15-years-old when he was seriously wounded during a firefight with US troops in Afghanistan. Khadr was the only militant/enemy combatant survivor capture by US forces after the firefight; three others were killed by a strafing bomb run and a fourth was shot by US troops after the bombing. After being found amidst the ruins of the bombed out village, Khadr was airlifted to Bagram Air Force base and eventually moved to the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The US alleges that Omar Khadr threw a grenade at US army personnel, that resulted in the death of Sgt Christopher Speer.
On Tuesday, Khadr supporters unfurled a banner that symbolically depicted the number of days that Mr. Khadr has been held at the US navel base in Cuba, 2,545 tics representing each day.
At times, it was hard to differentiate between those who were honking in support of Mr. Khadr's supporters and who was honking because they wanted someone to get out of their way. The Yonge/St. Clair Avenue area is a hodgepodge mess of main streets, with cumbersome street car right of ways, subway traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, and mid-town 'yuppies' going shopping. It must have been disappointing to those assembled that there were so few supporters for their cause.
Khadr's supporters were wearing orange wristbands, orange t-shirts and orange jumpsuits, all mimicing the garb that Mr. Khadr is forced to wear while being detained at Guantanamo.
The four guest speakers were eloquent and passionate in their beliefs and defense of Omar Khadr and other citizens who have experienced trouble when abroad.
The first to speak was Shanaaz Gokool, who is chair of the US 18 for Amnesty International, Toronto. Gokool asked that the Canadian government and Canadian citizens should "reassess what it means to be a Canadian
" in light of how the Khadr and Abdelrazik have been marginalized because of their "suspected terrorist activities.
Gokool said that just because there is a suspicion of alleged and unsubstantiated terrorist activities, that does not give the Canadian government the green light to ignore the fact that severe human rights violations are being inflicted on Canadian citizens when they are detained by foreign nation states and it is their responsibility to protect Canadian citizen's human rights when they are abroad.
The Canadian government is accountable for truth, justice and due process for all Canadian citizens
Omar Khadr is not a random person who has been chained by the US authorities for the past seven years. Omar Khadr is a Canadian. He is you and he is me and he is all of us. And he is a benchmark for how we expect to be protected, or not, by our canadian government.
Charity, they say, starts at home. Bring Omar Khadr home.
Gokool also said that Canadians should ask themselves the following questions when discussing Khadr's fate:
What is the value of Canadian citizenship if our own government will not protect our human rights when we are abroad? Where has the rule of law in Canada gone?
Barbara Jackman then spoke about what the Canadian Charter of Freedoms means to Canadian citizens, in that as a citizen of this country, you have the right to come back to Canada, you have the right not to be tortured and that Canadians must be protected when they are abroad.
Jackman then reminded those gathered that "human rights are for everyone, regardless of whether you like them or dislike them as people.
James Loney, is a Christian peace activist who was taken hostage in Iraq in 2005 and was freed after a clandestine operation by multi-national troops five months later.
He briefly spoke about the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik and highlighted the stark differences as to how the Canadian government acted when dealing with his own particular case (ie, how they mobilized "vast resources to assist my family to try and secure my release
") and how they basically did nothing to assist Abdelrazik after he was detained, and in Loney's own words, "blocked his [Abdelrazik] return
" to Canada.
Loney also said that it angered him because there appeared to be "two standards of citizenship
" in Canada and questioned why and how was this possible by saying:
Why do some citizens merit the protection of the Charter and others do not. A citizen, is a citizen, is a citizen.
Audrey Maclin is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, who has been working with the US military defense counsel provided to Omar Khadr. Maclin spoke to the specifics of the Khadr case and what she would like to see happen to him when he comes home.
Maclin said Omar Khadr has been held for seven years and pointedly told those gathered: "He's never been tried
". She says that the allegations that have been made against him and have kept him in jail for one third of his life are just that, allegations, and pointed out that human rights "are not a popularity contest.
Maclin also wanted to let Canadians know that a lot of thought has gone into how it is best to create a program of age-appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration into Canada for Omar Khadr and to make his return as smooth as possible.