Nobody was surprised when the Canadian government announced on April 24 that it would again dip into the public purse to keep its most prominent political prisoner behind bars.
That morning, Justice June Ross of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decided that Omar Khadr, 28, was low-risk, had been a model prisoner after 12 and a half years of incarceration, mostly at Guantanamo Bay, and could go into the care of one of his lawyers’ family.
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives wasted no time moving on an appeal of her decision to allow him bail. That despite how, as Ross pointed out, the government had presented no evidence to contradict her conclusions. All it could offer was, the US government wanted him in jail so in jail he must stay. Not good enough, ruled Ross.
The Harper government is obsessed with Khadr. He’s terrorism’s poster child, perfect for pandering to the Islamophobic, jihadists-are-out-to-get us, better-get-a-gun base.
For added fear points, Conservatives love to mention his middle name “Ahmed”, just like American right-wingers like to insert Hussein into Barack Obama.
No wonder that, right on cue, Harper’s mouthpieces were on their feet in parliament, bellowing against Ross’ decision earlier that day.
“Omar Ahmed Khadr is a convicted murderer,” railed Conservative backbencher Ryal Leef, adding that “this terrorist will be out on our streets”.
MP Roxanne James echoed, “Omar Ahmed Khadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes,” and is a “convicted terrorist”.
Yes, but not convicted by any court recognised as just, and certainly no court in the country of his birth. But the HarperCons don’t care. Khadr is on page one of their terrorists-among-us playbook.
He was taken from a Toronto suburb by his fanatical al-Qaeda-supporting parents and pressed into joining Taliban forces in Afghanistan. That he fit the very definition of child soldier as laid out by the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which Canada was the first to sign in 2000 – was never of any consequence to the Harper government.
He was left to rot by the Harper government, after having been tortured, isolated, and allowed to suffer from his many injuries, some of which would not be treated for a decade.
So far, it has spend uncounted taxpayer dollars to deny Khadr his freedom, lost in 2002 when, at age 15, he was captured by US Special Forces after a bloody firefight.
The story – and it was never actually corroborated nor proven – is that Khadr, despite hideous shrapnel wounds from which he still aches, had lobbed a grenade up to 24m, causing the death of armed medic Sgt Christopher Speer.
The Toronto teen was then shot in the back twice, so badly that he pleaded in English, much to the surprise of his captors, to be killed. Instead, they hauled him off, eventually shipping him to Guantanamo Bay.
There he became the youngest prisoner and the last citizen of a NATO alliance member country to go home. He was left to rot by the Harper government, after having been tortured, isolated, and allowed to suffer from his many injuries, some of which would not be treated for a decade.
Had he been convicted of homicide as a juvenile in Canada, he would have been out years ago. But there has been no getting out for Khadr.
As his lawyer Dennis Edney told CTV News: “Canada should never have allowed Omar Khadr to be locked away in Guantanamo. Every other Western country requested and were granted return of their returnees. The second part of that fiction that they create is that they know that there’s no evidence to tie Omar Khadr to having thrown a hand grenade.”
In 2010, in order to avoid spending virtually the rest of his life in prison, he pleaded guilty before a US military tribunal to five charges related to murder and other crimes “in violation of the laws of war”. The deal he got was another eight years, the first of which would be served at Gitmo, the next seven in Canada.
In 2012, he was finally repatriated. First he was locked up in maximum security, along with Canada’s most notorious killers, at Millhaven in Ontario. Last year, he was moved to a medium security facility in Alberta where he would eventually be classified as minimum security.
Throughout his ordeal, he has fought for his constitutional rights and won them repeatedly through the courts – only to see the government strip him of them over and over again.
Last Friday, the Toronto Star’s Michelle Shephard reported that US sources say that letting him out on bail would not harm diplomatic relations with Canada, no matter how much the Harper government claims that it will.
Back in court
On May 5, Khadr will be back in court to learn the conditions of his release. He could finally emerge as a free man, free to live with the Edneys, their children and pets, and free to attend a Christian college where he has already been accepted.
But on Sunday, the Canadian Press reported that the federal government is planning to seek an emergency stay of Justice Ross’ decision.
“The Harper government is not interested in the rule of law,” Edney said. “It refuses to listen to what the courts have said about Omar Khadr’s rights. It continues to spend millions of taxpayers dollars only to lose time and time again.”
And so, even if Khadr, who has spent almost half his life as a political prisoner, becomes a free man, he will discover that he may be able to get out of Harper’s prisons but there will be no escape from his politics.
Antonia Zerbisias is an award-winning Canadian journalist. She has been a reporter and TV host for the Toronto Star, the CBC, as well as the Montreal correspondent for Variety trade paper.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.