U.S. military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish has issued an order setting a trial start date of August 10 for Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who will turn 24 in September. At that time, Mr. Khadr will have spent more than one-third of his life in prison, most of it inside the "detention facility" at Guantanamo Bay, a location chosen because it keeps detainees beyond the protections of U.S. law, proving that American justice has definite geographical boundaries.
In January 2010, in an unanimous 9–0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the participation of Canadian officials in Khadr's interrogations at Guantanamo clearly violated Khadr's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada objected, in that decision, to the denial of Khadr's legal rights as well as to the use of sleep deprivation techniques to soften him up for interrogation:
The deprivation of [Khadr's] right to liberty and security of the person is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.
However, the Supreme Court stopped short of ordering the government to seek Omar Khadr's return to Canada. Instead, it left it up to the [Harper] government to determine how it would exercise its duty to conduct foreign affairs while also upholding its obligation to respect Khadr's constitutional rights.
I think the Supreme Court of Canada knew very well that Stephen Harper's government would refuse to uphold this citizen's rights and demand his release. I believe they covered their own asses while trying to put the responsibility for the protection of a Canadian citizen's rights into the hands of a government they knew didn't care.
Canadians: pay attention. When this man's rights were violated, your principles were violated and your own rights were threatened. That's how this thing works: you were sent a message that your Charter rights are subject to the situational interpretation of the current government. Do you accept that? I don't. Our rights are not granted to us by the government. They cannot be taken from us by the government. They can only be violated, infringed upon, defiled and spat upon. Omar Khadr retains his Charter right. He never lost those -- the government violated his rights and worse, the government put you on notice: "We tell you what your rights are. We decide. We are more powerful than your precious Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because we can render that charter null and void whenever we choose."
How important is the "presumption of innocence" in our legal system and in the collection of principles that we call those which are essential to our definition of who we are as a people? That's a very interesting question because, while it is indisputable that our society holds the maxim of "innocent until proven guilty," that maxim doesn't come to us through our body of laws. It's not in the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Declaration of Independence of the United States, or in the Constitution of the United States. The maxim has been firmly embedded in English jurisprudence since the earliest time, since before historical records. It is part of the development of anglo-saxon civilization. And it has simply come down to us as a part of our system of common law jurisprudence. You know: it's one of those "core" values we all share. It's part of who we are. It's one of those value for which each and every one of us will willingly and unhesitatingly sacrifice our lives and our futures rather than betray! Right? How important is the presumption of innocence? It's absolutely vital to Americans and Canadians.
That's why the violation of Omar Khadr's right to be presumed innocent, to be formally charged, to be shown the evidence supporting the charges, and to face his accuser in court, showed such an absolute contempt for our values. I'm not claiming that what offends me most is the violation of Omar Khadr's "civil rights." The US government claims that he has no such rights. The Canadian Supreme Court says his values were violated, but the Harper government refuses to uphold that decision, or defend Khadr (a Canadian citizen) against the United States. But Khadr's rights are not what is most important to me.
The case of Omar Khadr is not primarily about the violation of his civil rights, hear me now: it was a violation of our very most basic principles of justice. American and Canadian principles of justice. It was a violation of my principles, and I hope, yours. And I'm left wondering how anyone can see this being only about one man (whose life is expendable), about one man's "rights" (which are rescindable), in a place like Guantanamo Bay where truth and justice are unwelcome intruders and where honor is misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted as complete obedience to authority.
I'm concerned about America, and I'm concerned about Canada, and I'm concerned about the future of those nations, both of which have been my homes. And you should be too. Because there are certain things we (Americans and Canadians) simply don't do. We don't do them because they violate our most basic values.