After being away for a few days with only limited Internet access, I logged into Twitter this afternoon and quickly found myself unintentionally caught up in a discussion about Omar Khadr. For those unfamiliar with the Khadr case, Mr. Khadr was the Canadian teenager who killed an American medic with a grenade in Afghanistan following a firefight in 2002.
I am not going to defend Mr. Khadr’s actions or try to make sense out of the senselessness that is war. People die in wars and in most cases, for no good purpose. The fact that we still use violence as a means to resolve disputes is a testament to how little we have progressed as a civilized species.
My three opponents in the discussion clearly think Mr. Khadr deserves whatever he gets and I understand their anger with his actions and have no real issue with his sentence. He pled guilty and accepted a sentence that tacked an additional eight years on to the seven he had already served. My issue is with government and the rule of law.
Mr. Khadr was arrested in 2002 at the age of fifteen and was held in Guantanamo for 7 years without due process. In other words, he was held illegally. He wasn’t even formally charged with a crime until 2006 after the United States Government passed The Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law which was retroactive or in other words, a law that made previous behavior suddenly illegal by a new set of definitions.
Think about that for a moment. Think about the power that accrues to a government that can change the law to make something done a year earlier not only illegal for the future but also illegal for the past. Think about a the power of a government that can ignore it’s own constitution and legal system to force it’s will.
It means that you could have been a law-abiding citizen and suddenly find yourself under arrest because your government passed a law that was retroactive. Consider how close to Orwell’s 1984 that really is and what it means for the rule of law and respect for both democracy and the constitutions and charters of rights upon which most democracies are built.
A number of organizations from the United Nations to various legal associations all pointed out the danger to democracy that this situation held but to no avail and Mr. Khadr remained in prison. In 2009, he pled guilty in a plea bargain that was as much about putting an end to his Kafka-like circumstance as it was to an admission of guilt.
He is under both American and Canadian law, entitled to serve his sentence in Canada after the first full year is served in the United States. The United States, for its part, had already announced it would not stand in the way of Mr. Khadr being repatriated to Canada. It is the Canadian government that has ignored its own laws and Charter of Rights.
Despite appeals from UNICEF, The Canadian Bar Association and Amnesty International, among others, The Canadian Government has steadfastly refused to repatriate Mr. Khadr to Canada as is his right as a Canadian citizen. He remains the only foreign national not repatriated by their government in the history of Guantanamo which isn’t much of an endorsement for this current government’s sense of justice which I find particularly hypocritical considering this current government’s emphasis on law and order.
It gets worse.
In 2009, the Federal Court ordered the government to repatriate Mr. Khadr after determining that his rights as guaranteed under the Charter had been violated. The government filed an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal only to lose again. They then took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada which also ruled that Mr. Khadr’s rights were being violated by the government but the government has continued to ignore all court rulings and this country’s constitution and charter.
This is not about Mr. Khadr nor is it about having him released from prison. It is about a government that has taken it upon itself to ignore the law and the courts because it doesn’t agree with their rulings but the law isn’t here for their convenience. It is here to protect citizens from exactly this kind of unilateral and capricious action by a government. Governments come and go. It is the law that is the constant and that protects us from the actions of others, including governments.
When a government can decide which laws it wishes to uphold and for whom, there is no law and we are no longer a democratic country protected by our laws. We are no better than the very societies too many Canadians have died fighting to protect us from.
It is becoming all too prevalent as more and more often, democratic governments ignore or refuse to enforce the laws they are sworn to uphold. In Ontario, the Premier and the Chief of the Provincial Police refused to enforce a court order to remove native protesters. In cities across North America, mayors refused to take action against Occupy protesters who vandalized their cities resulting in millions of dollars in damage.
Governments play footloose and fancy free with access to information laws and manipulate election spending laws to help themselves get re-elected.
If our governments aren’t prepared to uphold our laws and the rule of law for the worst of us, it won’t be long before the law will not protect the best of us from those same governments.
Mr. Khadr has pled guilty and is serving his sentence. He is not the issue. It is the actions of government who have treated our laws with so little respect that threaten each and every one of us. While it is Mr. Khadr today, it could just as easily be you or I tomorrow. It could be your home or mine that the Premier of Ontario allows to be overrun by native protesters as he did to home owners in Caledonia. It could be your store or business that is vandalized, your car or mine that is burned by rioters that city governments were too timid to confront.
When government refuses to obey or to enforce its own laws, there is nothing left but tyranny and it is only a matter of time before that tyranny touches someone who is innocent….and that could be any one of us or any member of our family.
If that happens, there will be no one to ensure that the law protects you and I……or them.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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