On news that Omar Khadr had been released on bail, the federal Conservative government moved quickly to use the development to position itself as tough on terrorists—and portray the opposition parties as lax.
“We are in fact disappointed with today’s decision and regret that a convicted terrorist has been allowed back into Canadian society without having served his full sentence,” said Conservative MP Roxanne James, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney.
With Blaney away from the House, James was responding in question period to one of those set-up queries from another member of the government caucus. Tory MP Laurie Hawn, a former Air Force officer, set the tone by prefacing his question to her on the court’s bail decision by declaring that Khadr came from a family of “proudly admitted terrorists.”
James built on Hawn’s premise. “Omar Ahmed Khadr admitted to heinous crimes, including the murder of American army medic, Sgt. Christopher Speer,” she said. “And he has admitted that his ideology has not changed.” She suggested the Liberals haven’t ruled out compensating Khadr for time he’s spent behind bars and asserted that the NDP actually support compensating him.
But neither opposition party was talking along those lines today. “We said from the very beginning that Mr. Khadr’s case should be dealt with in Canada by Canadian law,” said NDP MP Randall Garrison, his party’s public safety critic. “The courts have made their decision and we think that we should respect that decision.”
Asked about the way the Conservatives were framing the news, Garrison added, “I said from the beginning that the government should stop trying to score cheap political points off this case and respect the court.”
Liberal MP Marc Garneau not only said his party respects the judge’s decision to grant bail, but also that Liberals think that was the right one. “The Liberal party respects the decision with respect to Omar Khadr. There have been conditions imposed on his bail; he will have to follow those conditions,” he said. “But we are satisfied that in this particular case the judge has made the correct decision and we must respect that decision.”
However, Garneau was careful to distance the Liberal party from the comments of Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, who told reporters he views Prime Minister Stephen Harper as “a bigot” who “doesn’t like Muslims.”
Asked about Edney’s remarks, Garneau said just outside the Commons, “I think it’s very dangerous to make those kinds of comments.”
The timing of the Khadr bail decision was interesting on Parliament Hill, since it came just a day after the House passed Bill C-51, the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act. The Conservatives’ controversial law was supported by the Liberals, but opposed by the NDP. Among other things, it will give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service new power to not just gather intelligence, its longtime role, but directly intervene to stop suspected terrorist plots.
Some legal experts had argued the law oversteps what’s needed to truly combat terrorism and raised serious civil liberties and privacy concerns. The Khadr case offers the government another chance to underscore the brand of extremism Harper says Bill C-51 was designed to thwart.