Ever since Mother’s Day and with Father’s Day just around the corner, I can’t stop thinking about how Omar Khadr’s parents failed him, how the Canadian government failed him, how Dennis Edney stepped up to the plate and how the rest of us need to do the same.
I have a son about the same age and it pains me to think how he would withstand such an ordeal.
By now, most of us know the sad story of Omar Khadr.
His parents turned him into a child soldier, moved him to Afghanistan, where in 2002 at the age of 15, he threw a hand grenade during a firefight that possibly killed an American soldier. He was caught and sent to Guantanamo Bay, a detention camp in Cuba. He was imprisoned, isolated, starved, sleep-deprived, water boarded, threatened with rape and hung up by his arms by U.S. government agents.
In 2010, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to war crimes, allowing him the possibility of being transferred to Canada where he would serve most of his eight year sentence. He later said he pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo Bay. He was advised that if he did not plead guilty he could spend the rest of his life there.
In 2012, Omar Khadr returned to Canada. He was placed first in a maximum-security prison and then in a medium-security prison in 2014. He was released on bail in May, 2015.
No-one could argue that Omar Khadr’s parents were fit to parent a young teenager. They and their terrorist associates used him as a spy and a translator and ultimately in armed conflict.
Given the lack of proper parental care, Ottawa should have stepped up to the plate.
In Canada, when parents are found to be unfit, the child is placed in the care of a provincial or territorial government. It acts in place of the parents and becomes the guardian of the child so he or she may be protected and kept out of harm’s way. This, obviously, was impossible while Omar Khdar was living in Afghanistan. However, once he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Ottawa should have upheld the spirit of these laws and acted in place of Omar’s parents, with all the attention and care parents normally provide a child.
In addition, Canada has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means the Canadian government is obliged to ensure that no child will be subjected to torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment.
But did Ottawa follow the spirit of Canadian laws designed to help a child of unfit parents? Did the Canadian government honour its commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?
No. Instead, it trampled on Omar Khadr’s rights.
It refused to recognize his status as a child soldier. It acted illegally by sharing intelligence information about him with the U.S. And it violated his constitutional rights when Canadian agents interrogated him in Guantanamo Bay knowing he had been sleep deprived.
The Canadian government left Omar Khadr, a child, bereft of parental support.
Finally Omar Khadr found someone who would look after him when lawyer Dennis Edney stepped up to the plate. At his first meeting with Omar Khadr, he reported in a recent speech that he met a shattered, withdrawn teenager shackled in a cell.
“You’ll leave me. Everybody does,” Omar Khadr told him. “No, I won’t,” he replied. And he hasn’t.
Since that time Dennis Edney has done everything to help Omar Khadr, from digging deep into his pockets, to representing him pro bono and to extending, with his wife Patricia, an invitation to live in their home now that he is out on bail. He is caring for Omar Kdhar, the way neither his parents nor the Canadian government cared for him.
But it has not been easy. “There are times I felt ashamed I used the family savings,” Dennis Edney said in the same speech. He also said he was disappointed in the lack of help from other lawyers.
“I remember addressing 200 lawyers, and I remember saying to them I’m not a pro bono lawyer – there’s not such a word in the Scottish dictionary. I got a standing ovation from all those lawyers, but not a call the next day providing help.”
Omar Khadr is showing he is worthy of Dennis Edney’s kindness. Instead of the expected bitter and angry young man, he is thoughtful about his past and full of hope for his future.
Under psychiatric examination when he was 23, Omar Khadr said that what he missed most while incarcerated was being loved. He said 9/11 was a tragedy and the killing of innocents is tragic. Recently he said: “There is nothing I can do about the past, all I can do is work on the present and the future.” He also said he would like to work in health care because he can empathize with people in pain.
Although Omar’s story is heartbreaking, it is also uplifting to think that a boy and then a young man could live through such trauma and come through it with grace and dignity. It is inspiring to think that there are people like Dennis Edney and his wife Patricia who are willing to go to such great lengths to help a child so badly treated by both his parents and his government.
But the story isn’t finished. Omar Khadr and Dennis Edney need our help to ensure it turns out well. And so it’s our turn to step up to the plate.
We can write letters to the editor; send cards with our best wishes to Omar Khadr and Dennis Edney; send a donation to Dennis Edney for Omar; and write to our MPs to let them know that we want the Canadian government to drop its appeal of the recent decision allowing Omar Khadr to remain out of prison on bail.
I am doing all these things because I know how easy it is for kids to fall off the rails. Omar Khadr was pushed. He needs to know that Canadians believe in him. Dennis Edney needs help for ongoing legal costs that he has so honourably been absorbing.
And all parents need to ensure that the world is safe for children and young adults. It may not be our kid this time, but it could be our kid the next.
When I see Omar Khadr, I think of my son and when I see Dennis Edney, I think of my brother. I wouldn’t want to let either of them down.
To send a card or message to Omar Khdar and Dennis Edney, write to:
or to send a donation, contact:
Free Omar Khdar Now Campaign, Box 57112, RPO E. Hastings, Vancouver, B.C. V5K 1Z0
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