It’s taken the public a long time to push feds to honour legal conventions on torture.
Like banquo's ghost in Macbeth, the notorious and al-Qaeda-linked Khadr family was hard to avoid at the first major demo calling for the return of their son Omar to Canada from Guantanamo to face justice here.
Standing under someone else's umbrella on this rain-soaked Saturday (July 25) outside the U.S. Consulate on University, older sister Zaynab Khadr, who won no friends when she told a CBC interviewer in 2004 that she wished she had the guts to be a suicide bomber, defended her family's charitable work in Afghanistan. She also said it was up to Omar Khadr to decide his future relationship to his family and disdained the possibility of court-?ordered social rehabilitation that might forbid contact.
"I think he can have a say in whether he wants to be with his family or not once he is here," she tells me. "I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it."
The 300 protesters, including members of the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Muslim Unity Group and the United Church, carried signs like "Child soldiers are victims," "He was 15" and "Close Gitmo now" and listened to a spate of speeches.
Zafar Bangash, founder of Muslim Unity, dealt directly with the fact that the Khadr family was in our midst. "It is very easy to give due process to those people we like, but a civilized society makes sure that it provides due process even for those with whom we disagree."
Photos By Berge Arabian
Karim Khadr (left); Um Abdallah (right)
Later, the Canadian Arab Federation's Mohamed Boudjenane said of the presence of the Khadrs, "None of the groups raised any concerns. I won't say that people were all comfortable with [the Khadrs] there. I didn't see everybody going to embrace them. But that is the nature of human beings. Some will forgive and some will be uncomfortable with that. But we need to dissociate that kid from his family, because since when do we punish children for their parents' behaviour?"
Speakers noted the apparent shift in sympathy for Khadr's plight among a sizable group of Canadians. In June, high-?school-?based Kids for Khadr protested on Parliament Hill, and all of the opposition federal parties have now demanded that Khadr, incarcerated in the U.S. detention facility for the past six years, be returned home.
"Now there is broad-?based support. It may have come late, but it is here now, and we have to continue, continue to build, continue to create momentum in this country," said Carolyn Egan, a member of the United Steelworkers Union, a rally host.
Boudjenane attributed the change in attitude to the steady accumulation of new information over a two-?year period about the circumstances surrounding the capture, jailing and torture of Khadr.
This process culminated recently in revelations that CSIS agents interrogated Khadr while he was suffering from sleep-?deprivation torture. The Canadian public was able to watch the CSIS interrogation on CBC when a Canadian court ordered the release of the tapes.
But the slowness of Canucks to respond to the case - in contrast to Australia, where the government pushed for the return of their national, David Hicks, also an al Qaeda supporter - and the reluctance of both the past Liberal and the present Conservative governments to recognize our country's responsibilities as a signatory to international legal conventions on torture and child soldiers means there's a lot of organizing left to do.
Stuart Trew, a spokesperson for the Council of Canadians and a rally speaker, pointed to Canada's integration into U.S security priorities. This includes a no-?fly list that has kept a Canadian citizen of Sudanese origin stuck in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum for alleged terrorist connections.
"[Washington] is setting the terms of who is a risky person, who is denied access, who is denied mobility rights, who is detained and who is tortured," he said.