Perhaps in one of my bravest — or stupidest — moves, I decided to tackle a subject that has brought a lot out in many people; a topic that has caused arguments in my own household even. A topic that has, up until recently, seemed to have fallen under the radar. That is until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his visit to McMaster University and was faced with disapproval from a protester.
The topic? The $10.5 million payout given to Omar Khadr for his imprisonment and subsequent torture in Guantanamo Bay.
I would like to preface this opinion by stating that I do not have an opinion on whether Khadr did or did not commit a crime. It is not my place to confirm or deny through opinion what he may have done or not, however I do think it is incredibly important to add context to divisive subjects.
So instead I will tackle three aspects within this opinion, all which intersect and cannot be disregarded. The first is the rehabilitation of child soldiers the second being what it means to be a Canadian citizen, and the third being the underlying islamophobia that is still so prevalent in our modern day.
I’m not going to lie to you. I think that a lot of the reasons people get so up in arms about Khadr are entirely due to islamophobia. Had Khadr been any other race or ethnicity, followed any other religion, the idea of imprisoning and torturing a child would be enough to turn anyone’s stomach (and make a great Red Cross commercial, let’s be real).
Let me paint you a picture; you’re 16 years old. That’s it. That’s the whole picture. You are 16 years old and you’re still a child, you’re still figuring out that life is a lot more difficult than you thought it was going to be with absolutely no idea how much more difficult it is going to get from there. You are 16 years old and your whole world is in front of you.
Khadr was 16 years old when he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay where he would remain for over a decade.
Why is it that when we look at child soldiers as a group we talk a big game about rehabilitation and are willing to open our wallets and our borders but when we look at this actual child soldier — and a Canadian citizen, no less — we see a terrorist? What other explanation is there but Islamophobia?
But why pay out Khadr if he may be guilty of throwing a grenade? It is entirely possible that he is guilty of doing so. You might find yourself asking “why should the Canadian government give money to someone who may have been responsible for the death of an American soldier? Didn’t he confess?”
Any confession given under torture is not a viable confession. Full stop. This is someone who has not been proven guilty, someone who is still a child and can be considered a child soldier, a person who is a Canadian citizen, and instead of bringing him home, giving him the option of rehabilitation, or even just allowing him to express himself in our court of law, the Canadian government left him to rot in Guantanamo Bay.
The fact is, what was done to Khadr was a gross display of inhumanity in a time where humanity is the one thing we should be celebrating within each other. The fact that we assume money — albeit $10.5 million — will somehow compensate for over a decade of abuse is pretty sad, because frankly money doesn’t fix everything.
This country talks a lot about being open, diverse, welcoming. We like our image of toque-wearing, Tim Hortons drinking, moose-loving apologists, and yet somehow when it comes to very specific moments of inhumanity, we immediately jump to fear and exclusion. If racism and Islamophobia are not rampant within our country, within the very structures of our lives, why can we look at someone like Khadr and see a terrorist first, and a human, child, and victim, second?
Why do we expect the rest of the world to look at us like the pinnacle of modernity when we’re willing to let our fear dictate the humanity of someone else?
If you think Khadr didn’t deserve compensation, take a look at your bias. Take a look at that place that brings so much fear in you. Examine it, analyze it, then get back to me. I don’t have time for your racism.