For the Conservatives, Omar Khadr was an opportunity. Now he’s just a problem.
Mr. Khadr has finally returned to Canada, to serve out the remainder of his sentence for crimes committed against the United States in Afghanistan. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had done everything in its legal power, short of a diplomatic breach with the U.S. government, to keep him interned at Guantanamo Bay, America’s problem.
But those efforts ran out, and now Mr. Khadr is coming home, where he will earn more than his share of unwelcome attention.
When Mr. Khadr was first apprehended on an Afghanistan battlefield by American forces and sent to Guantanamo, the Liberal government of the day treated him like the embarrassment he was. Foreign and Justice ministers spoke about him only when pressed, and then only in the most guarded of sentences. Ottawa was happy to let the Americans prosecute his crimes.
The Conservatives were less circumspect. Mr. Khadr was a wedge, one they were happy to exploit.
Human rights advocates saw Mr. Khadr not as a criminal or terrorist, but as a victim. At worst, he was a young offender, duped by his family into joining a war he was too immature to comprehend.
He was, in their eyes, a child soldier, no more complicit than the children impressed into the armies of African warlords. And his detention at Guantanamo was part and parcel of the Bush government’s abusive war against terrorists.
Conservatives have no truck with such talk; nor, they believe, do most Canadians, especially those Canadians inclined to vote Conservative.
Not only did the Harper government continue its predecessors’ policy of not assisting Mr. Khadr’s efforts to return to Canada, they made it abundantly clear that he could languish in Guantanamo for the rest of his life, as far as they were concerned.
But for the Obama administration, Guantanamo is a political liability, its continued existence a promise not kept. Prosecutors secured a guilty plea, and under a treaty between the two countries that allows each other’s nationals to serve their sentences in their home country, the Americans hoped Canada would take their unwelcome guest back.
But not only was the Harper government in no hurry to expedite Mr. Khadr’s repatriation, it used every means it could think of to delay it. In acknowledging Saturday morning that he had approved the prisoner’s return, Mr. Toews was tacitly admitting that he had run out of options.
From now until he completes his sentence in 2018, Mr. Khadr will be in the news. There will, doubtless, be incidents in prison. There will be parole applications. There will be petitions for his release. Both the left and the right will demand that justice, as each side perceives justice, be done.
The Conservatives will continue to portray Mr. Khadr in the least flattering light possible. But the fact remains that, despite this government’s best efforts, Mr. Khadr is back on Canadian soil, out of the Obama administration’s hair, and in the Harper government’s.
He’s their problem now.