Skip to main content

Omar Khadr appears in an Edmonton courtroom, on Sept.23, 2013 in an artist's sketch. Lawyers for several media outlets are arguing for access to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amanda McRobertsAmanda McRoberts/The Canadian Press

Let Omar Khadr be seen and heard. There is no reason why journalists should not be allowed to speak to a young man in whom the public have an enormous and justified interest.

Mr. Khadr is now an inmate at the Bowden Institution, a medium-security prison in Alberta – the most recent of a number of places of confinement. The Toronto Star and the CBC want to interview him, before his bail application next month – and, for that matter, before his highly questionable sentence ends in 2018.

The warden has refused, saying unconvincingly that an on-camera interview would disrupt "the functioning of the operational unit," requiring unprecedented security precautions, including a lockdown of the whole prison. And if you believe that, we'd like to sell you a tropical island near Red Deer.

Canadians are entitled to assess for themselves whether Mr. Khadr was caught up as a naive kid in an extraordinary terrorist family without any real volition of his own, or a consummate hypocrite – or somewhere in-between, or something else yet again. They have a right to hear what he experienced during his years in American custody. The government can't shut him up just because his words and his existence are politically inconvenient. This is Canada.

Omar Khadr does not pretend he took no part in the former family business; in an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, he forthrightly said he had been a 15-year-old child soldier. It's common ground, then, that he was a child soldier. For that very reason, he should have been treated from the start as a child in need of protection, not as an adult war criminal – let alone subjected in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to abuses euphemistically known as aggressive interrogation.

On Monday, a Federal Court judge heard an application by the media to let the interview go ahead. It is encouraging that Justice Richard Mosley had some knowledge of a British case in 2012, in which the BBC was allowed to interview an incarcerated terror suspect.

Canadians have the right to see and hear from Omar Khadr himself. If free speech means anything, then a man with a strong claim of wrongful conviction, not to mention an experience of abuse partly at the hands of the Canadian government, has the right to speak.