• Adam Assali

A Delicate Balance: Security and Freedom


omar khadr.jpg

With the conclusion of the Omar Khadr case, many questions have been raised regarding our security and liberty.

The verdict now leaves him free on bail after he pleaded guilty to war crimes back in 2010. At the age of 15, Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan for war crimes, including murder. After serving 13 years of his sentence, 10 of which were spent in Guantanamo Bay, the alleged terrorist - who was born in Toronto - was controversially released on bail.

This decision has led to mixed responses and has caused a divide amongst Canadians, including members of Parliament. The Harper government is currently fighting the Supreme Court to see Khadr tried as an adult for the war crimes he pleaded guilty to. On the other hand, at a casual event, The Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, stated, “Omar Khadr, you’ve got more class than the whole f---ing cabinet.” A significant number of Canadians have supported her comments, but others have criticized her.

The major question surrounding Khadr is whether he still poses a threat to Canadians. In effect, he was an Al-Qaeda militant who pleaded guilty to murder of a U.S. soldier as well as four other war crime charges. However, Khadr was only 15 years old when he was arrested and tortured for information in Guantanamo Bay, where he was detained before even being tried. This makes him the only minor prosecuted for war crimes since World War Two and has led to the outrage of many human rights groups.

The most interesting part of this case is the stance of the Conservatives. This situation has become a political issue and, thus, a tool to use to get votes. Harper has been very committed to fighting Khadr’s release, even following his public apology. This should come as a surprise to no one. Fighting terrorism has been a huge priority for the Tories, and Khadr’s case has been nothing less than another opportunity for them to show off their determination to fight terrorism before the federal elections.

Harper has been very vocal about this agenda and, at times, has been perceived by some as taking too strong of a stance to the point of being “Islamophobic”. Even Khadr’s lawyer made the following comment after a hearing, “Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper doesn’t like Muslims”.

The more concerning issue surrounding the crackdown on terror by the Harper government has been the way in which the prime minister has been implementing the changes, more specifically the polarizing of Bill C-51.

This 'Anti-Terrorism Bill' was just passed through the House of Commons earlier in May, following approval from the Conservatives (as expected) and the Liberals (unexpectedly). This bill has been the centre of much outrage from the Canadian public and even Liberals in the senate, who have denounced the bill, possibly stopping it from becoming a law.

The bill will attempt to reshape the law to make the detection and prevention of terrorist attacks easier. It does this by granting the government more access to private information, criminalizing speech “promoting” terrorism, and more. As expected, with this greater security comes the compromise of personal rights and freedoms, a debate that has been a hot topic in the U.S. since 9/11.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have brought policy changes similar to those seen south of the border, but we need to know as Canadian citizens where the line should be drawn. Canada is very similar to America culturally and politically, but our differences are apparent. That is until now. As Stephen Harper adopts legislation more closely related to traditional American policies, we will see ourselves reap the benefits, but also suffer the consequences.

The U.S. government has favoured security over freedom in recent years, while Canadians have, for the most part, favoured liberty over security. The result of this shift in political priorities can be seen just by looking at the effects it had on our ally, and so Canadians must ask themselves the question: which type of society do we want?