Sunday, January 31, 2010

Walkom: A whiff of danger for Harper.

Somehow I am sceptical about the supposed danger that Harper faces if he does nothing--which is exactly what I expect him to do. While legal theorists and human rights activists are rightly concerned about human rights the government's violation of them in Khadr's case, Khadr is quite unpopular and human rights apparently are only for those not accused of being terrorists. One only needs to look at the case Obama who is arguably a bit more progressive than Harper and certainly knows more about law. The Obama administration is content to hold 47 Guantanamo suspects indefinitely without trial. So much for habeas corpus. Why have a Star Chamber court when you just imprison people and throw away with the key with no trial at all. Where is the outrage at this? Compared to this Harper's transgressions are hardly newsworthy.

This is from the Star.

Back to Walkom: A whiff of danger for Stephen Harper
Walkom: A whiff of danger for Stephen Harper
January 30, 2010

Thomas Walkom

With its deftly worded decision in the Omar Khadr case, the Supreme Court has put Stephen Harper's government on notice that no, it cannot simply abandon the Canadian citizen now imprisoned as an alleged war criminal at Guantanamo Bay.

It has also put its considerable moral weight on the side of those who have argued that the youthful Canadian, captured in Afghanistan when he was 15, has been shabbily treated by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.

In their judgment, the nine justices of the nation's top court unanimously ruled that Canada's participation in illegal and coercive interrogations at the U.S. prison camp on Cuba clearly continue to violate Khadr's constitutional rights.

They said that as a result, the 23-year-old Toronto-born man deserves justice.

In what was a partial success for the government, the court declined to say what form this justice should take.

It said it didn't have enough information, particularly about diplomatic negotiations between Canada and the U.S., to uphold a lower court ruling ordering Ottawa to press the Americans for Khadr's repatriation.

And it said it didn't know if such a request would even accomplish anything.

But the judges did make it clear that they expect the federal government to do something.

"We ... leave it to the government to decide how best to respond to this judgment in light of current information, its responsibility for foreign affairs and in conformity with the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms)," the court said.

For the Conservative government, Friday's ruling is a most hollow victory.

It had gone to court arguing that government alone has the right to conduct foreign affairs and that the courts should butt out.

In their ruling yesterday, the judges explicitly rejected this claim. They said that all government actions – including those in the field of foreign policy – must conform to the Constitution and that judges have the right to intervene and order changes when this condition is not met.

However, they also said that the courts should exercise this right cautiously since judges don't usually know all of the intricacies of foreign affairs.

What Friday's ruling will do for Khadr is uncertain. While indicating that the government should do something for the imprisoned Canadian, the court did not demand anything specific.

For Harper, however, the ruling carries a whiff of political danger.

True, Omar Khadr is not universally popular in Canada. He is accused of fighting on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of killing a U.S. soldier during a battle there.

But Harper is not universally popular either. More to the point, his casual indifference toward Khadr seems to mirror his government's attitude to other Canadian citizens who have found themselves in trouble abroad.

The great irony is that the worst abuses cited in yesterday's court decision – such as Khadr's subjection to sleep deprivation – occurred when the Liberals were in office. But it is Conservative Harper who has chosen to be the standard-bearer for those who misused Khadr during his seven years at Guantanamo Bay.

And it is Harper who argues that the U.S. military commission system – regardless of its gaping legal flaws – should be allowed to run its course.

Now that the top court has weighed in, that I-don't-give-a-damn position may no longer be as politically astute as it once was.

Thomas Walkom's column appears Wednesday and Saturday.

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