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Don't persecute a child soldier, Dallaire tells MPs

If Canada doesn't act to protect human rights in the case of Omar Khadr, the country is no better than terrorists, Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire told a parliamentary subcommittee yesterday.

The former general, one of the most high-profile personalities to speak out in favour of bringing the detained Canadian home from Guantanamo Bay, told MPs that Mr. Khadr is a victim - a child soldier who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society and not tried before what he calls an illegal court.

Mr. Dallaire, whose troubling experiences during the 1994 Rwanda genocide helped make him an outspoken advocate of human rights, said the Khadr case points out a moral equivalence among Canada, the United States and al-Qaeda.

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The United States is ignoring its own laws in prosecuting Mr. Khadr and Canada is betraying itself by not fighting for his return home, he said.

"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all," Mr. Dallaire said.

That prompted a heated exchange with Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who asked Mr. Dallaire if he meant that Canada's failure to act to protect Mr. Khadr was equivalent to recent al-Qaeda atrocities in Iraq.

"Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?" he asked. "Is that your position?"

Mr. Dallaire was adamant. "If you want a black and white, and I'm only too prepared to give it to you, absolutely," he said. "You're either with the law or not with the law. You're either guilty or you're not."

Until a year ago, Mr. Dallaire said he had mistakenly thought Canada was working out a deal with the Pentagon to bring Mr. Khadr home. Mr. Kenney implied that the former general only took up the cause when the Conservatives took office.

Mr. Dallaire addressed MPs yesterday along with David Crane, a law professor and former war crimes prosecutor with expertise in African child-soldier recruitment.

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As a war crimes prosecutor in Africa, Dr. Crane chose not to bring charges against soldiers under the age of 18, he said.

Mr. Khadr, now 21, has been detained in Guantanamo Bay for six years. He faces multiple charges in connection with a 2002 Afghan gun battle in which a U.S. soldier was killed. One of those charges is murder, and, if convicted, Mr. Khadr could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Mr. Dallaire said that it is very clear Mr. Khadr was a child soldier at the time of his capture, "unless you don't want to see it." He also challenged the Conservative government's claim that it cannot interfere while Mr. Khadr faces a legal procedure in Guantanamo Bay.

While all three opposition groups agree the detained Canadian should be brought home, the Conservative government has so far refused to act on the case, as did the previous Liberal government.

In response to virtually every public question about the Khadr case, the Conservatives have repeated three talking points: Mr. Khadr faces serious charges, the government has been assured he is being treated humanely, and any effort to act on his case while he is still before the courts would be "premature."

With a report from

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Brodie Fenlon

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