Court rebukes Harper on Omar Khadr case

[by Barry Weisleder]

Federal Court Justice James O’Reilly ordered the government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to seek the return of Canadian Omar Khadr from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khadr has been held at Gitmo for nearly seven years, without trial, for allegedly killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan when Khadr was 15 years old.

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Guantanamo military tribunal process under former U.S. President George Bush “constitutes a clear violation of fundamental human rights.” The U.S. Supreme Court made a similar ruling. U.S. President Barack Obama wants Guantanamo shut down.

But Harper shrugged off the April 23 court order to request Khadr’s repatriation, and is pondering an appeal. Harper’s stonewalling comes on the heels of other actions that speak volumes about the character of the Conservative government and the P.M.

Those actions are: 1) A vicious repeat attack on civil liberties; 2) Cancellation of funding to an ethnic organization due to the antiwar views of its outspoken president; and 3) Blocking the visit of a popular British parliamentarian due to his opposition to foreign wars of occupation.

In the first place, the Conservatives are moving to restore Draconian police and court powers that existed under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The act expired in 2007 under a five-year sunset clause. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson plans to reinstate those powers, including preventive arrest for 72 hours of persons the authorities think are about to commit a terrorist act, and up to a year of detention if the person in question refuses to accept court-ordered restrictions on his freedom. ‘Investigative hearings’ that could force people to testify would be part of this law.

Holding people without charge, and compelling them to testify even if they incriminate themselves, are a gross violation of civil liberties. The previous law was allowed to terminate when it was apparent that it did not protect public safety, and that it only contributed to a climate of victimization in the service of a right-wing, pro-war agenda.

Pursuit of that agenda seems evident also in connection with the government’s decision to cut funding to the Canadian Arab Federation. CAF President Khaled Mouammar called Tory Immigration Minister Jason Kenney a “professional whore” after Kenney criticized the presence of Hezbollah and Hamas flags at anti-Israel rallies in Toronto. The Conservative government is renown for its uncritical support for apartheid Israel, including the recent Zionist state assault on Gaza that led to the massacre of over 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

The Arab federation received a $447,297 contribution from Kenney’s department to operate a settlement program in Toronto for two years, teaching new immigrants language and job searching skills. Mouammar told the media that Kenney’s decision will hurt newcomers to Canada, not just Arabs. Arabs make up only 5 per cent of those who receive CAF’s settlement services, which Mouammar said were among the best in the Toronto area. Mouammar described Kenney’s decision is “vindictive” and accused him of promoting Islamophobia internationally.

“This government is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim,” he said, adding that the federal government has refused to meet with the Canadian Arab Federation or the Canadian Islamic Congress since Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power.

The third and most recent ugly outrage was the decision of the Canadian Border Services Agency to bar British MP George Galloway entry to Canada, where he was scheduled to speak in four cities. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refused to use his powers to overturn the ban. He claims Galloway is barred, not due to his opposition to the wars of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, but because of support for terrorism.

But Galloway, five times re-elected to Parliament, now leading the leftist RESPECT party, does not politically support Hammas, which Ottawa labels as terrorist. He only supports the right of the Palestinian people to elect to government the party of their choice, which happens to be the Hammas party. It won a majority of the seats in the Palestine Authority election of January 2006.

Even in the pages of the very right-wing National Post, writer John Ivison felt compelled to point out that if “the grounds for inadmissibility include acts of espionage, subversion or terrorism”, that “donating a fire engine, 12 ambulances, a fishing boat, trucks full of medicine, blankets, shoes and children’s toys to the people of Gaza hardly seems to fit the bill.”

Although the ham-fisted policy of the Tories gave Galloway’s anti-imperialist views a much bigger audience (his voice and image were transmitted via the internet to thousands of people at meetings in Canada, after a legal challenge failed to have Galloway admitted to Canada), Kenney’s position nonetheless sets a dangerous precedent.

Along with the other nasty initiatives, it seems to set the stage for a period of escalating censorship and repression that at least one wing of the Canadian ruling class deems necessary in order to curb dissent and protest as the economic crisis deepens. Where have we seen this picture before?