The Commons: Agreeing to, but not with Omar Khadr

Let us debate the colour of the sky in Lawrence Cannon’s world

The Scene. The challenge of the day would be this: could the government be compelled to agree to agree that it had agreed to an agreement to which it had officially signaled its agreeability.

Whatever the futility of the effort, it was first for Gilles Duceppe to attempt to break our impervious Foreign Affairs Minister. How, the Bloc leader wondered, with the public release of diplomatic notes detailing discussions between the Canadian and American administrations, could the Foreign Affairs Minister deny knowledge of negotiations meant to resolve the matter of Omar Khadr?

Lawrence Cannon was, of course, prepared for this and rose to repeat his carefully scripted words into the record. “The government of Canada,” he said, “did not participate in negotiations regarding the sentence.”

This was a hair finely split. And surely Mr. Cannon should have been allowed a moment to bask in the dexterity of such a display. But before the galleries could shower the Minister with applause and bouquets, Mr. Duceppe was up to have another try. Oui ou non, he demanded: would the Minister authorize the return of Mr. Khadr to Canada after another year has been served stateside?

Over again to Mr. Cannon, this time not so much to pirouette as to pull an extrajudicially detained rabbit from his hat.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the government of the United States agreed that Omar Khadr return to Canada and we will implement the agreement reached between Mr. Khadr and the government of the United States.”

This was indeed quite magical, as discombobulating as anything ever rendered by David Copperfield, or at least David Blaine.

It is not, you see, that Mr. Cannon’s government has entered into an agreement with the United States and Mr. Khadr, but that the United States and Mr. Khadr have reached an agreement which Mr. Cannon’s government now agrees to honour. We have not agreed with Mr. Khadr, you are apparently to understand, we have simply agreed to Mr. Khadr.

What followed was an attempt to pin a tail on this rabbit.

“He just said that the government will keep the promise that it made to the U.S. to allow Khadr to return to Canada after he serves the first year of his sentence,” Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh reviewed. “However the government has forever claimed that it was not involved in any discussions or dealing with anyone on this issue. Now we know obviously it was talking to the United States government all of the time. Why did the government continue to mislead Canadians, the media and the House of Commons?”

Mr. Cannon was unmoved. “That of course, Mr. Speaker, is a false premise,” the Minister admonished. “The government of Canada was not part of the plea negotiations.”

(Canada, you see, was not part of the plea negotiations, even if part of the plea negotiations involved Canada.)

From the far end of the room, New Democrat Wayne Marston stepped forward and attempted to pull matters back toward some kind of mutually agreed upon reality. “Mr. Speaker, the fact remains, Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen. The will of this House, the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, was to have Khadr brought home to face justice in Canada. Canada has been the only country to accept the Guantanamo process and that fell far short of Canadian, U.S. and international legal and human rights standards. There is no justice in Guantanamo,” he testified.

“Now,” he finally asked, “in light of the diplomatic notes that have surfaced, the obvious question is: What else is the minister hiding and what other plans does this government have for Omar Khadr?”

Mr. Cannon was undaunted. “Mr. Speaker, our friend and closest ally, the American government, agreed that Omar Khadr return to Canada,” the Minister repeated, “and we will implement the agreement between Mr. Khadr and the U.S. government.”

(Canada, you must understand, makes its own decisions, unless and until Hillary Clinton calls.)

The NDP’s Paul Dewar, seeming altogether quite tired of this, stood then to bellow and stammer in the Minister’s direction—”He should embrace the truth,” he offered, “it might even set him free.” Mr. Cannon, unshaken, was unwilling to reconsider his previous statements. “I will not go back into this response,” he said. “We are not and were not part of the plea negotiations.”

With time nearly done, the Speaker permitted Mr. Dosanjh another try. And with this last entreaty, the Liberal was apparently set on leaving Mr. Cannon no out.

“The issue is not whether or not the government is part of the plea bargaining, because the government cannot be part of the plea bargaining. Only the prosecutor, defence or anyone else that is allowed by Khadr to be part of the process can be part of the process,” he allowed. “The question is this. The government talked to the U.S. State Department and said to them, If you arrive at an agreement, we would agree to have him transferred into this country.’ That is an agreement by any name. By any other name that is an agreement to say Khadr can come back.”

That clarified, Mr. Dosanjh was then so eager to close the door on this cage that he neglected to address his question in the third person through the Speaker. “Did you not negotiate with the United States State Department to have Khadr come back?” he begged.

Alas, man has not yet invented a loophole so small this government can’t jump through it. Or, rather, man has not yet so expertly set a trap from which Mr. Cannon could not conjure an escape. And so here Mr. Cannon simply imagined that Mr. Dosanjh had asked something else entirely.

“Mr. Speaker, the question remains this,” Mr. Cannon asserted. “Is the Government of Canada part of the negotiations, the plea negotiations? No, the Government of Canada is not part of the plea negotiations and I am very happy to see that my honourable colleague, after spending this Question Period repeating that, has finally agreed with me that that is the case. We were not part of it. ”

The Foreign Affairs Minister returned to his seat, barely able to suppress a smile. Across the way, Mr. Dosanjh grinned too, either impressed or simply astonished.

The Stats. Omar Khadr, seven questions. Foreign investment, six questions. Foreign aid, natural resources and arts funding, four questions each. Meech Lake, government spending, economic development, taxation, infrastructure and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. The military, food labeling, prisons, crime and border crossings, one question each.

Lawrence Cannon, seven answers. John Baird, six answers. James Moore, Bev Oda and Dave Anderson, four answers each. Josee Verner, Peter MacKay, Gary Goodyear, Jim Flaherty, Diane Finley, Rona Ambrose and Dave MacKenzie, two answers each. Tony Clement, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Rob Nicholson, one answer each.