Warning: This article contains potentially triggering descriptions of sexual abuse and torture.
On October 21, Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s defense lawyer, gave a speech at McGill entitled “The Rule of Law in an Age of Terror.” Edney was invited by the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and the Association des juristes progressistes.
In 2002, 15-year-old Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was accused of killing an American soldier with a hand grenade in Afghanistan, then detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, making him the detention camp’s youngest prisoner.In May, after over a decade of lengthy trials and non-stop advocacy, Edney was finally able to secure Omar Khadr’s release.
Edney’s talk questioned first and foremost whether justice is really executed in the name of civilians. “Since 9/11, many nations have exploited their international law obligations in the name of security, creating an overwhelming climate of fear” Edney said.
Edney condemned both the Harper government and Bush administration’s politics of fear, stating that their liberal use of the terms “terrorism” and “war on terror” had created an atmosphere of intolerance, bigotry, and public anxiety.
“Can we say that the world has become more stable since 9/11?” he asked. ”No. [That event] has only led to an increase in attacks against Muslim minorities in both Canada and the United States. […] Since September 11, 2001, race, ethnicity, and religion have become proxies for suspected terrorist activity, which in turn has become a pretext for the application of Canadian immigration laws in an unequal manner toward Arabs, South Asians, Muslims and so on.”
“Since September 11, 2001, race, ethnicity, and religion have become proxies for suspected terrorist activity.”
Edney specifically pointed to the Conservative anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. He deemed the bill “a failure to respect rights,” and stated that it will only burden Canadians with “expensive, useless procedures that are supposed to protect us – but won’t.”
He also reprimanded the Harper government’s inaction on the existence of Guantanamo Bay, as well as its denial of the torture that Khadr was subject to. According to Edney, the Canadian government is “the only Western government that never criticized Guantanamo Bay.”
“So when former PM Harper stands up and consistently says the same dogma, that Omar Khadr was a terrorist who committed a heinous crime, he knows he’s lying. He knows there’s no evidence whatsoever,” Edney said.
In addition, Edney spoke about cases of sexual assault, rape, physical and emotional humiliation, waterboarding, and denial of basic medical attention in Guantanamo Bay, and accused the Canadian government of “ruthless ignorance and neglect toward human rights law”.
According to Edney, what pushed him to continue the trials was his belief in the law. “I had no stronger moral fibre than anybody else here, but I also arrived there with a very strong sense of who I was as a lawyer, and what law is,” he noted.
Edney concluded that it is never too late to stand up for human rights. He said, “The only crime equal to wilful inhumanity is the crime of indifference, the crime of silence, the crime of forgetting.”