OTTAWA — The Harper government is denying an accusation that its latest bid to avoid bringing former child soldier Omar Khadr home from a U.S. military prison smacks of racism.
Critics pounced Tuesday on news that the government will seek to appeal to the Supreme Court the latest court ruling ordering Ottawa to request Khadr’s return from Guantanamo Bay.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Dennis Edney, one of Khadr’s lawyers.
“The Harper government is a mean-spirited government that picks and chooses which Canadians it should help and represent. And Omar Khadr, being a person of colour, doesn’t fit into that list.
“It’s very clear that there are racial overtones in dealing with Omar Khadr and other Canadian citizens who have been in trouble abroad.”
Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said talk of an ethnically biased system is “absolutely untrue.
“I can assure everyone here that there’s no two-tier system,” he said.
“Each case carries its own merit. Canada has over 200,000 consular cases every year of which we participate very heavily. Many of those cases that are successful never come to the attention of the public.”
Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada blames Conservative and Liberal governments for past actions that suggest “two tiers of citizenship — that Canadians who were perhaps not born here, Canadians who gained their citizenship later in life, can’t necessarily count on the same level and degree of protection and assistance as other Canadians might.”
The federal government lost at the Federal Court of Appeal this month in a 2-1 ruling that dismissed its challenge of an earlier judgment ordering Khadr’s repatriation.
Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have refused to ask the United States to return Toronto-born Khadr from Guantanamo Bay where he has been held for seven years.
Khadr, 22, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier in Afghanistan seven years ago.
Documents and testimony have shown he was mistreated by U.S. interrogators.
Opposition MPs and human rights advocates said Tuesday that Khadr’s case is among a growing list involving dark-skinned Canadians who’ve languished in overseas jails or mired in red-tape nightmares.
Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Toronto woman stranded in Kenya for three months over false consular claims that she was an impostor, is now suing Ottawa for $2.5 million.
“This government has a terrible record about protecting Canadian citizens overseas,” said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
“It is not just Omar Khadr … In case after case after case they appear to pick and choose which Canadians they want to protect and which they don’t.”
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said the government has to obey the law.
“This government seems to have a masochistic streak about this,” he said. “How many times do they have to be told that they must abide by the Charter and protect the rights of Canadian citizens?”
Cannon stressed that the federal stance on the matter has not changed.
“The government of Canada has consistently stated that Omar Khadr faces serious charges,” he said in a statement.
“After careful consideration of the legal merits of the ruling from the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal, the government has decided to seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.”
The statement notes that Khadr faces murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism and spying charges — “all in violation of the laws of war.”
It does not address the issue that Khadr was 15 when he was arrested, and the fact that he was a minor at the time the alleged offences took place.
It could be several months before the top court decides whether to hear the case, and up to two years for a final judgment if it does.