Over the past decade and a half, a lot of people have had their say on the case of Omar Khadr. The one person we haven’t heard from is Mr. Khadr himself. And the Conservative government is fighting to keep it that way.
Mr. Khadr spent a decade in American custody, most of it at Guantanamo Bay. He was not allowed to contact the outside world, let alone give interviews. Which is, in a sense, understandable. Had his hosts allowed him to speak, he might have gone on about his capture as a 15-year-old child soldier, his years of severe mistreatment by his American captors, and how coercion and torture were used to compel him to plead guilty before Guantanamo’s kangaroo court.
But why is Canada stopping him from speaking? It makes no sense. Two years ago, Mr. Khadr was returned to Canada to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Since then, journalists have tried to speak to him, and he to them. These requests have been denied. Why? This week, the Toronto Star, the CBC and a documentary film company took the government to court in a bid to end this arbitrary and illegal muzzling.
Reasonable people can disagree on the question of whether Mr. Khadr should remain behind bars until the end of his sentence in 2018, or be paroled sooner, or whether he should have been set free the minute he crossed the border into Canada. (Given that he was convicted by a rigged legal process that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we’ll vote for that last option.)
But there can be no debate on the issue of whether a Canadian, even a Canadian in prison, should be prevented by his government from speaking, writing or being interviewed. Absent a compelling legal reason, he should be allowed to speak. The state doesn’t get to muzzle people, even people behind bars, just because they may say inconvenient things.
The purpose of our prison system is to detain people. It is not to hold them incommunicado. Didn’t Mr. Khadr experience enough incommunicado detention in the black hole of Guantanamo?
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