Omar Khadr: War Criminal, Child Soldier… or Neither?
Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.
If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantánamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.
Omar’s case is complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing certainly died from a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever threw one. And while Omar confessed to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture—and given his option to either insist upon his innocence and stay in Gitmo or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, the context of his confession was problematic at best.
The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that that Omar’s right were violated, but left the remedy up to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who of course declined to provide any solution.
Harper himself has been making strong statements about the trial in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings—he’s said that “It is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”
Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, argued that he should be transferred to a provincial prisonfrom a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.
Heather Marsh, a journalist who has followed Omar’s case closely, was in court on Monday and wrote about it for us.
The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing. Photo by the author
The court was filled with what seemed to be Omar’s supporters. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high schooler who said she was done with classes for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze together, 120 people were in the courtroom and a live feed was set up for those who had to watch from the overflow room.
The Canadian Prison System Is Keeping People Doped Up on Methadone
“Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction is already happening to some extent in our own society.”
Orange Is the New Black is providing lazy Netflix watchers all over the place with an opportunity to escape into the lives of prisoners, but however fashionable prison entertainment may be, the truth is that Canada’s prison system, on all levels, is pretty fucked up right now. When you look at stories of cost cutting, population growth, and the rise of inmates suffering from mental health issues, it’s hard not to shudder at what else might be going on behind bars.
Drugs, in one form or another, have always been present within the prison system, and the failed war on drugs has only made the problem worse. In the last few years, however, one drug in particular has been sounding alarm bells for prison staff: methadone.
Methadone is a synthetic-opioid similar to heroin, and is often referred to as ‘liquid-cuffs’ because the habit is so hard to kick. It comes in a liquid form, and is often mixed with Tang of all things. The drug is used to treat opioid addiction, but many users will end up being hooked on methadone itself for the rest of their lives.
Chemical Valley, Part 1
Forty percent of Canada’s petrochemical industry is packed into a 15-square-mile area in Sarnia, Ontario, called the Chemical Valley. More than 60 chemical plants and oil refineries operate there 24/7. As a result of the Chemical Valley’s emissions, in 2011 the World Health Organization gave Sarnia the title of the “worst air” in all of Canada.
Watch the documentary
I Have Dated Several Crack Dealers
The source of this story, who lives in Canada, wished to remain anonymous for fairly obvious reasons.
Just last week, I was at a trap house with my ex in Cloverdale, British Columbia. The front door was covered in what looked a lot like bullet holes, but I’m not sure. There were a lot of unexplainable holes in the wall. Some of the holes were so big I could almost fit through them. The whole place smelled faintly like ammonia and dirty laundry. I was hanging out in the living room while they were all in the kitchen. On one burner they were cooking crack and on the burner next to it, they were cooking dinner. I think that’s kind of funny, but I also couldn’t help but wonder why I was there? I mean, it’s not like I seek this shit out, or anything. I think I just attract it.
Crack dealers tend to approach me. I’m not chasing them down. It’s not like I ever said to myself, “I’m going to date crack dealers now!” But when you meet one, you meet a lot of others. And then you just start dating.
I’ve met some of them through friends, some I’ve met randomly at the club, or at a bar, or on the street. I don’t smoke crack. I’m not about that. I’ve never tried it, probably never will. I guess I date them because I like their personalities. Maybe it’s because I thought it would be exciting—but it’s actually kind of boring. They always want to chill at home. They’re always so tired. They don’t want to do anything. They barely have time to sleep, let alone have fun.
The first time I was approached by a crack dealer, I was 19 and at a party somewhere in East Vancouver. He was a friend of a friend. I thought he was really tough. He had muscles and he was wearing a shirt with no sleeves. I liked that. We dated for a couple of years. He was actually my last serious boyfriend. No one’s held me down like that since.
The Canadian Government Is Withholding Documents Concerning the Torture of Children
In the early 1990s an affiliation of Cochrane, Kapuskasing, and James Bay’s OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) detectives were assigned to investigate one of the largest claims of sexual and physical abuse against children in Canadian history. The testimony they amassed by talking to hundreds of survivors of St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany Ontario was horrifying. The investigation provided 7,000 pages of stories that wouldn’t be out of place in memoirs of concentration camp survivors, or of individuals trapped in a country where ethnic cleansing is a government policy.
The accounts of physical and sexual abuse are brutal and numerous—hetero and homosexual child rape, children being beaten with strops and rudimentary whips, forced ingestion of noxious substances (rotten porridge that children would throw up and then be forced to eat), sexual fondling, forced masturbation… the list goes on and on. But one of the most appalling and debasing examples of the indignity and the abuse suffered by children at St. Anne’s is that of being strapped down and tortured in a homemade electric chair—sometimes as a form of punishment—but other times just as a form of amusement for the missionaries, who, while committing these acts, were supposedly the ones “civilizing” the “Indians.”
No One Knows Exactly Why the Canadian Military Is in Haiti
Perhaps understandably, the Canadian media has been having a hard time covering any news that doesn’t have to do with one of the following: the mayor of Toronto maybe smoking crack with a murdered drug dealer; the mayor of Montreal being charged with cavorting with the mafia; Calgary being swallowed by floods; and the Prime Minister allegedly paying off a corrupt senator to put out a political firestorm.
Which makes it the perfect time for the Canadian government to quietly announce the deployment of an infantry platoon of 34 soldiers to Haiti. The island nation, which is still dealing with the ramifications of the devastating 2010 earthquake, is currently controlled by the Brazilian troops who’ve led the UN peacekeeping effort in Haiti since 2004. The move to partake in a UN peacekeeping mission is significant: Stephen Harper’s conservative government is voluntarily getting back into the traditional peacekeeping game.
For a country that basically invented the concept of the peacekeeper, Harper has overseen a nose-dive to the point where the Canucks now rank 57 out of 114 troop-contributing nations worldwide. And throughout his time in office, Harper has rarely engaged in a foray abroad that he willingly signed up for. It was the Liberal Party that volunteered Canada for Afghanistan (and it was Harper’s decision to pull out), there was the limitedcontribution to the Nato Libya mission, and he’s been extremely hesitant of Syrian intervention. In fact, Harper has only seemed gung-ho about taking down Assad at the G8, when he was in a lion’s den of world leaders clamoring for Assad’s demise (although he still stopped short of advocating arming the rebels).
The change of heart for Harper certainly raises questions, even if 34 troops is only a minor contribution. So why now—and why Haiti?
Phony Abortion Clinics Are Scaring Women with Lies
Warning: This article contains extreme imagery. All images are from the literature given out at the Aid to Women crisis center.
If you’re pregnant and panicking, there’s a good chance your research will lead you to the website of a crisis pregnancy center. There are about 200 of them across Canada and 4,000 in the United States, and if you believe their advertising, they offer no-judgment counselling services for women who want to know what their options are. Most of the time, they won’t tell you they’re religious organizations hell-bent on convincing you to avoid having an abortion. They’ll have innocuous-sounding names, like “Aid to Women” or “Pregnancy Care Center,” and to the untrained eye, they won’t look like they’re being run by nutjobs who have no problem lying to women.
When I call Aid to Women, a Toronto crisis pregnancy center, to schedule a pregnancy options consultation, I speak with Enza Rattenni, the executive director. She seems friendly enough at first, but it’s not long before what should be a pretty simple phone call starts feeling like an interrogation.
None of what I tell Enza on the phone is true. I’m not six weeks pregnant, I don’t have a boyfriend, and I don’t need options counselling. But I’ve heard a ton of horror stories about crisis pregnancy centers and wanted to find out for myself.
“Where did you get our number?” she asks. My boyfriend. “What’s your boyfriend’s name?” I blurt out the first name that comes to mind. “Oh, OK. Where did he get our number? Just curious because it’s always interesting to hear how people find out about us.” Shit. I’m a terrible liar and haven’t thought this through. I mumble something about finding the center online. Luckily, Enza seems satisfied that I’m not a reporter—just a vulnerable pregnant girl in need of some advice.
She tells me if I’m only able to come in after hours, it’s fine and that she knows how important it is to have these conversations. Sometimes, she tells me, girls walk out of abortion clinics and find out they’ve been LIED to, and she doesn’t want this to happen to me. It makes me wonder how the women who mistakenly stumble into the clinic must feel when they realize they’ve wandered into the hands of an anti-abortion organization.
Medical Weed Growers in Canada Are Ready for a Fight
If you haven’t heard of marijuana activist and grower Mik Mann, he’s the articulate hippie and Frank Zappa look-alike we interviewed for our documentary BC Bud. He lives out in Port Alberni, a pretty remote town on Vancouver Island where he grows medicinal weed from the comfort of his basement garden.
For the last decade, Mik has enjoyed the benefits of a legal marijuana-growing license under Canada’s now-defunct federal Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). He’s been floating on a healthy dose of seven grams of marijuana a day, which he cultivates from 35 plants with a doctor’s prescription for various debilitating conditions like spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease. All that is officially set to change under the newly implemented and conservative-devised Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which, among other things, makes it illegal for users to personally grow their own pot. Instead, medical users like Mik, who predominantly make less than $30,000 a year and suffer from various diseases, will be forced to purchase corporate dope: only for-profit companies can afford the extensive requirement for licenses to grow in the new system.
Right now, patients pay an average of $1.80 a gram for marijuana. That will rise to $8.80 a gram when the MMPR takes effect in 2014. Estimates slap those same patients with an additional $166 million a year for the next ten years. In other words, the 28,115 Canadians using marijuana to ease chronic pain will be forced to rely on pricier government-sanctioned companies instead of personally growing it themselves for basically nothing.
How the Rob Ford Smoking Crack Scandal Is Just Like ‘The Wire’
The allegation that a crew of drug dealers had a video of mayor Rob Ford smoking crack has resulted in a prolonged and sad controversy in Toronto. Our city’s once triumphant king—who we have heralded for his ability to charmingly pose for terrible photographs, or conquer his rivals after getting fired—has become a political pariah while keeping both ass cheeks firmly on the throne. After the firings and resignations of several disloyal staff members and some accusations from the Globe and Mail that his brother Dougie used to sell hash, his other brother Randy kidnapped a dude who owed him money, and his sister Kathy (who was shot in the face by her boyfriend) hung out with Nazis, the once sparkling face of the Ford dynasty is now looking pimply and scabbed up.
What with City Hall, the police, Toronto’s drug dealers, and the media playing a major role in events, there’s no real-life parallel to this evolving story—it’s more like a work of fiction, specifically David Simon’s much-lauded TV series The Wire, and even more specifically the really implausible plot points in season five. (You can imagine a writer pitching a hard drug–abusing mayor to Simon and Simon tossing that suggestion out for being unrealistic.) But if Toronto’s crackgate (or whatever we’re calling it now) is The Wire, who are the analogues to the major players in the scandal? Here are the answers I came up with.