Rae on Khadr

The shadow foreign affairs minister in an op-ed for the Post.

Prime Minister Harper seems determined to go down in history as the last defender of Guantanamo on the world stage. He is letting us down in the process. Canada was the first country to sign the Optional Protocol on child soldiers. The treaty still binds Canada, and we agreed at that time, among other things, that “armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State cannot recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.” Canada agreed to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children.

Rae and the Bloc’s Paul Crete combined to throw four questions on the matter at Lawrence Cannon on Tuesday. Mr. Cannon notably avoided addressing Khadr’s status as a child soldier.

Full exchange after the jump.

Rae: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. President Obama has closed the prison in Guantanamo and suspended proceedings against Mr. Khadr. My question for the minister is simple. Mr. Khadr is a child soldier. Why is Canada not shouldering its responsibilities and bringing Mr. Khadr back to Canada?

Cannon: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Our position on Mr. Khadr remains unchanged. In fact, two previous Liberal governments took the same position. Mr. Khadr has been charged with serious crimes, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and spying. We are continuing to monitor the situation and the work of the American committee set up to consider the fate of the detainees in Guantanamo, including Mr. Khadr.

Rae: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Khadr was recruited at the age of 13. He was arrested at the age of 15. He has been incarcerated for nearly seven years. I wonder how the minister can, in all conscience, not recognize that while the position of the Government of Canada may be unchanged, regardless of the circumstances, the fact remains that the President of the United States, who we will be welcoming here shortly, has in fact carried out a whole series of changes. When will somebody turn the lights on over on that side of Parliament and recognize that the world is changing around them and that Canada needs to take its responsibility for one of our own citizens?

Cannon: Mr. Speaker, our position regarding Mr. Khadr remains unchanged. It is exactly the same position as two previous Liberal governments. The problem here is that no charges have been dropped against this individual, on the one hand. Where there is inconsistency is in the Liberal Party’s position. As a matter of fact, the leader of the Liberal Party would want to have this individual come back to Canada; whereas the hon. colleague who has just asked me the question, the member for Toronto Centre, would want to set up a special committee to look at this problem. So, what is the issue? In–

Crete: Mr. Speaker, this government’s lack of respect for the rights of young Omar Khadr, who is being held in Guantanamo, is despicable. The Prime Minister’s statement that in order to be a child soldier you have to be in a real army is not only ludicrous, but it is also contrary to international law. Will the government finally bring Omar Khadr ack to Canada, as numerous organizations such as Amnesty International and the Canadian Bar Association are asking?

Cannon: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. The Government of Canada has not changed its position. We have heard about and are well aware of the decisions that the new American president has made. We will continue to closely monitor any progress. We will not speculate on all of the aspects of the decisions that could be made by the American government as it continues its review. We are awaiting the Americans’ decision.

Crete: Mr. Speaker, the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, is going to close Guantanamo. Young Omar Khadr is the only western national being held in that prison. What is more, Canada has ratified the protocol on the rights of children involved in armed conflict. This government is losing credibility and continuing to say that the trial has to run its course, but the proceedings have been suspended. Omar Khadr must be brought back quickly. What is the government waiting for to bring this young man back to Canada?

Cannon: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Khadr was and is still charged with very serious crimes, including murder, attempted murder, spying and terrorism. The American authorities will be reviewing his case. Clearly, the wisest course of action is to wait for those authorities to make their decision.