Monday, March 30, 2009

Debate on Canadian citizens detained overseas needs to be elevated

Sadly, these days the only place the situation of Canadian Guantanamo Bay-detainee Omar Khadr seems to be being debated is on the op/ed pages of our increasingly endangered newspapers. On Monday Liberal senator and retired general Romeo Dallaire fired back at an op/ed by Howard Anglin last week that argued the Harper government's line:

Many Canadians are puzzled, and are being led astray, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's flawed understanding of international law, and by his assertion that "to be a child soldier, you have to be in an army."

Harper conveniently overlooks the fact that in the 1990s Canada led international efforts at the United Nations to draft the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which unequivocally prohibits the recruitment or use of children by armed groups and militias under any circumstances.

Instead of acknowledging this bizarre contradiction, the government is desperately trying to redefine the term "child soldier." Speaking in the House of Commons, Deepah Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the foreign-affairs minister revealed a double standard. He spoke sympathetically of meeting child soldiers in Burundi and stated that in that case, dire poverty and economic pressures cause children to be recruited as soldiers.

Conversely, when speaking of Omar Khadr, who was also a minor forced into combat by factors beyond his control, Obhrai declared that we "should be very careful when we start saying that the terrorists at Guantánamo should be given rights."

In his article ("Harper's right: Omar Khadr is not a child soldier," Opinion, March 20), Howard Anglin tries to justify the government's selective interpretation of the Optional Protocol. This appears to represent a change of heart, since Anglin, who has ties to the government and the Conservative Party, classified Khadr as a child soldier in his testimony before a House of Commons committee last spring.

Another troubling case is that of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen stuck in Sudan because he's on the UN terror watch list. While it was apparently information from Canadian authorities that got him on the list, and the Conservative government insists he should be taken off the list, it keeps throwing new hurdles in his path to prevent him from returning to Canada:
Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Canadian citizen trapped in Sudan, should get himself off a UN terrorist blacklist if he wants to come home, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon says, adding a new stipulation to his repatriation and thwarting the efforts of more than 160 Canadians who have purchased a ticket home for him.

Mr. Abdelrazik is on "the 1267 UN list, and it would seem to me that he would, first and foremost, have to be able to get himself off that list," Mr. Cannon said when asked if the Harper government would honour its written pledge to issue the Montreal man a temporary passport if he could secure a flight home.


Mr. Cannon's imposition of a new and seemingly insurmountable hurdle before Mr. Abdelrazik, 46, can return home is only the latest in a series of increasingly difficult conditions set by the Harper government.

Last summer, it said Mr. Abdelrazik would be given a temporary passport if he could get a reservation on an airline. When he did, the government said that wasn't sufficient, that a fully-paid ticket was required.

This is absolutely shameful. Clearly the Conservatives are trying to block Abdelrazik's return to Canada, while at the same time professing their and his innocence. They need to be honest and upfront here. I'm reminded of the attitude the Conservative opposition had when the Liberals were trying to get answers and bring Maher Arar home. If they have evidence against Abdelrazik, then put it up, otherwise get out of the way and let him come home.

I'm glad to see the opposition parties will be putting some pressure on this issue Tuesday:
OTTAWA _ Opposition MPs hold news conference on Mr. Abdelrazik held in Sudan. (10:30 a.m. at Room 130-S, Centre Block, Parliament Hill)

It's long-past time to pressure the government on Arar and Abdelrazik and the troubling attitude of this government towards Canadian citizens detained overseas.

Given that this is how the Harper Conservatives treat Canadian citizens, is it any wonder they're barring British MP George Galloway from entering Canada because they don't like his opinions?

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

No comments: