Speaking to a packed room at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, Omar Khadr’s defence lawyer said society’s fear of terrorist groups is being “exploited” by the Canadian government to justify the erosion of civil liberties.
“I would argue that ‘terrorist’ is one of the most toxic words of our time,” Dennis Edney said. “Since 9/11, Muslims have been made to pay a terrible price for the actions of 19 fanatics.”
Governments use the term “terrorist” subjectively to induce fear and impose measures on minorities, Edney said.
Taking aim at Bill C-51 — the controversial anti-terrorism bill legislated last June by the Conservatives — Edney called its measures “sweeping, dangerously vague and likely ineffective.”
He said the law will permit Canadians to be “detained without due process and placed on a no-fly list without explanation.”
The Albertan lawyer, who represented Khadr on a pro bono basis, was on campus Thursday night at the invitation of the sociology department.
Khadr, a Canadian citizen, spent 10 years in Cuba’s notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp after being wounded and arrested in Afghanistan at age 15. Accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, he later pled guilty to several charges as part of a deal that secured his 2012 transfer to a Canadian prison.
The Canadian government under former prime minister Stephen Harper insisted Khadr was a threat to Canadians and unsuccessfully challenged the Canadian court order that saw his release.
Edney said the U.S. Military Tribunal that convicted Khadr was a “pantomime of justice” and Khadr pleaded guilty reluctantly as part of a plea deal.
“He didn’t want to be thought of as a terrorist … but who among us would not have taken that plea bargain to escape that hellhole?” Edney said.
In May, Khadr was released on bail pending an appeal of his U.S. conviction. He remains the youngest prisoner ever imprisoned at the notorious detention camp, which Edney described as a “concentration camp.”
Edney recalled the first time he saw Khadr in Guantanamo Bay — pale, thin and chained to the floor.
“He reminded me of a small, broken bird,” Edney said. “That experience changed me. I was a father and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.”
He called the conditions of the camp “incredibly inhuman” and asked how one could reconcile their knowledge of such a place. “How can any of us when we allow a concentration camp in the same country where many of us have gone on holiday?”
He described open-air wire cages, torture and a culture of “systemic sexual abuse.”
“Omar’s case provides a frightening lens into the future of democracy and law,” he said.
“The good news is that Omar has survived with his humanity intact and harbours no ill will to anyone.”
Khadr now lives with Edney — a stipulation of his bail conditions — and wants to study medicine.
Edney encouraged the students in the room to challenge the government to respect the civil liberties of all Canadians.
“Each and every one of those politicians you sent to Ottawa, it’s your job to make them accountable,” Edney said.