Among all the instances of human suffering in the world, it impossible to say that one is more important than all the rest; however, it is possible for an issue to have a particularly visceral effect on a person in ways that other issues do not. This effect is usually facilitated by a catalyst that intensifies feelings of disgust and anger toward the issue.
In my case the issue that has gnawed at me particularly hard is Canada’s refusal to repatriate Omar Khadr; the catalyst is Khadr’s Canadian legal counsel Dennis Edney.
I have met Edney a total of three times.
Each time, he gave an impassioned speech about Khadr’s plight, never failing to highlight Canada’s deathly silence, and how Khadr’s tragedy had changed his life.
“Think of the fact that he [Khadr] was 15 at the time [when he allegedly tried to kill a U.S. soldier] and think of the fact that that information was known to our government,” he said at a speech at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I ask, ‘where was the compassion, where was the humanity?’” With a noticeable Scottish accent, and an extraordinary sense of conviction and honesty, Edney never failed to convey to the audience his utmost frustrations.
The last time I saw him was at a fundraiser at a friend’s house right before he left for Guantánamo Bay.
He detailed how his efforts had failed, and how the Harper government ignored no fewer than four rulings from Canada’s top courts favouring Khadr’s repatriation. “I feel like I’m at the end of my journey,” he said.
Khadr, who has fired his American lawyers numerous times, has threatened to boycott his military trial at Guantánamo Bay.
Edney wanted to convince him to give his testimony to create some space for an appeal. But all signs point to the fact that there will be no light at the end of the tunnel. It now seems inevitable that Khadr, who will not receive a fair trial, will soon join the hardened murderers and rapists of the United States prison system.
Despite pleas from foreign policy critics within the Canadian parliament as well as pleas from the Obama administration for help, Stephen Harper continues his cold-shoulder stance.
Edney never failed to communicate the devastating effects of such ignorance and irresponsibility.
By now, Khadr has become cynical enough to want to forfeit his appearance in court and simply be convicted. “It might work if the world sees the U.S. sentencing a child to life in prison; it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is,” he explained in a publicized letter to Edney.
Edney’s profound frustration is ultimately aimed at Canadian civil society as a whole.
Edney is especially upset at Canada’s Muslim community for its passivity. Mosques and Islamic centres have stayed silent, fearing that their charitable status might be revoked.
“You are the most educated group in this country,” Edney would say to them. “You are involved in the highest levels of society…but where are you?”
Then there is the deathly silence from those who spoke solemnly of Khadr’s tragedy, but failed to act upon their convictions. These people, according to Edney, represent our greatest failure.
“In the matter of Omar Khadr, the question is hardly complicated,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin. “You either support high standards of justice or you don’t. In the Khadr case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not. It’s a national disgrace.”
No question about that.