Unpopular

I’m a little reticent to post this, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I think I’m ready for all the trolls and hate and malarky. I get that what I’m about to say is an incredibly unpopular opinion, and that probably I don’t understand the details and am putting my own family’s lives at risk by having this opinion.

It’s about both Omar Khadr and Vincent Li.

I want to start this off by saying I am not going to comment at all about what either of these men did, are alleged to have done, were proven in a court of law to have done, or were morally or criminally responsible for. I also want to say that their actions caused a lot of harm and hurt to a lot of people, and there is simply no way anyone can ever, ever “make up” for that. Ever. That’s kind of the thing about taking human lives. There really is no way to “make it up” to the survivors of homicide. You just can’t bring them back, no matter what you do.

So here is what I’m going to talk about: due process. I am not a lawyer and I do not have a law degree. I do not know the fineries of the legal system. I do know this, though. Canadian citizens are afforded a few very important rights. We are fortunate (truly) to live in a country in which freedom of expression is a protected human right, for instance. Another right we have as Canadian citizens is the right to due process.

What does that mean? What is “due process”? Well, at its core, due process means that citizens of a country have legal rights which must be respected. The state has rather a lot of power when compared to a single citizen, and due process is intended to be a balancing act between the power the state wields and the rights of an individual. Due process started with the Magna Carta, which was a charter of rights between King John and a bunch of barons who were pretty pissed off that kings kind of took liberties (like access to swift justice, limitations on taxes, etc.) because they were kings. I’m paraphrasing of course, and oversimplifying things, but I don’t think that’s inaccurate.

I don’t know enough about international law and the history of law to comment any further than that, but from what I understand (and I am willing and eager to be edumacated if I have this wrong), Canadian citizens have the right (enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) to life, liberty and security of the person. Even if we have been charged with committing a criminal offence, we have the right to be treated fairly. We have the right to our freedom until there is proof we did something wrong. We have the right to be tried for the charges against us in a reasonable time. We have the right to not be forced to testify against ourselves. We have the right to not be tried more than once if acquitted of charges of a crime. If you haven’t read the charter of rights and freedoms, I recommend you do. There’s probably not a lot in there you don’t already know, but it’s pretty important to know your rights.

Anyway, here’s my problem: I’ve heard you say that Omar Khadr and Vincent Li should be deported. That they should be put to death for the crimes for which they were charged. I respect your opinion, however, there are some problems of fact.

1) Canadian citizens cannot be deported. I mean, that’s actually impossible. When you are a citizen of Canada, there is nowhere you can be deported *to*, because Canada is, by definition, your home country. Now, you could make the argument to have the courts attempt to strip either of these acquitted men of their Canadian citizenship, and I have *no* idea what that would entail. You’d probably have to prove treason, which is, as I understand it, incredibly difficult to prove. In Canada, in order to be charged with treason, you have to kill or attempt to kill or restrain the Queen; start a war or try to start a war against Canada; assist an enemy or any armed forces at war or against whom the Canadian forces are engaged in hostilities, regardless of whether or not Canada is in a state of war; use force or violence to overthrow the government; sell or trade or give away state secrets of military or scientific nature that could put Canada in danger; conspire to commit treason; form an intent or manifest an intent to commit treason; conspire with anyone to do anything mentioned above, inside *or* outside Canada.

The penalty for treason, though, is imprisonment for up to a maximum of life or up to 14 years.

And I don’t think charging someone with treason would remove their citizenship. They still wouldn’t be deported. They’d be imprisoned (if found guilty) in Canada. In 2014, the federal government received royal assent for the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, which does contain information about how *dual citizens* could have their Canadian citizenship revoked. Most involve being convicted of treason (Gov’t of Canada: http://news.gc.ca). So I didn’t know if it’s even possible to revoke citizenship for Canadians who are *not* dual citizens. Smart folks, chime in here and let me know if that’s possible.

The point is, you can’t deport a Canadian citizen. You just can’t.

2) You can’t put people to death in Canada because we don’t (thankfully) have capital punishment in this country. You are welcome to think we should. And it’s certainly easy to get me completely out of an argument by saying “so-and-so should get the death penalty”, because that is the point at which I know we will never see eye to eye on the issue.

3) Both of these men were acquitted of their crimes in courts of law. I could argue that Omar Khadr did not receive ‘due process’, because he was charged with military crimes, which meant he could be held without charges for way longer than is legally “right”. He did not receive a timely trial. His rights *as a Canadian citizen* were not upheld. It actually does not matter what he did or is accused to have done. As a Canadian citizen (and as a minor at the time of his alleged criminal acts), he had the right to a fair trial in a reasonable amount of time. Thirteen years in prison is not a “reasonable time”. In fact, if he had been charged and found guilty of murder, he might have been released from prison in less than that amount of time.

Vincent Li was found not guilty by reason of mental illness. Because he is a Canadian citizen, he has the right to a fair trial in a reasonable amount of time. He was tried fairly and in a reasonable amount of time. And the court found him not guilty. That doesn’t mean he didn’t commit a crime. It meant he could not be found criminally responsible for his actions. You might not like that application of law, but it is there to protect people from being unjustly imprisoned.

Ultimately, these two Canadian men received (eventually) fair treatment (although one could argue that Khadr did *not*, in fact, receive fair treatment) under Canadian law. It’s okay to disagree about the nature of the laws that protect us and that govern us. As Canadians, we have that right. It’s okay to think and to say that Canadian laws have to be changed so that people like Khadr and Li don’t get to “roam around free as the birds” (which isn’t the case; both men have fairly strict conditions placed on their release). If you don’t like the laws that govern and protect Canadian people, you can change them. How? Well, you have to vote for the people who will make those changes.

It’s not a fast process, and it’s not an easy process, but you have the power to do it. I certainly wouldn’t like it if you changed our laws to bring back capital punishment and to rescind rights from Canadians, and I would vote for the person who would block that bill. I guess what I’m getting at here is that you and I both have the right, the power, and the responsibility to take part in our country’s legislative process. Please do so. I don’t care if you don’t share my opinions – in fact, it’s better for the country and for democracy if you don’t. But please, please. Stop advocating violence and hatred against these two men. Blame the system that set them free. Blame them for doing wrong. But don’t make their actions meaningless.

Change the system instead of being like them, if you hate what they did or are alleged to have done.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

7 Comments

  1. Not my country, but we do share most of these basic rights in some form, and there is a system exactly for the reason you state: it is one individual against a huge state, and the power of the state MUST be applied fairly and with a light hand, and with a huge amount of restraint AND due process.

    Unfortunately (though I have NO knowledge of these particular cases), abuse of power is well documented: police lie sometimes, prosecutors sometimes make the wrong decisions on which evidence to mention to defense, poor people have fewer effective rights than rich people because of things like posting bail, etc., etc., etc.

    And no country in the world has a perfect record of executing only the guilty.

    Prisons are horrible enough places – that should be generally cleaned up, as well.

    But if people are adjudicated not guilty after the whole process, then they are not guilty – until and unless they are convicted for a DIFFERENT crime later.

    It always has to be what I would want for myself, if I found myself in the same situation. And I hope I never do!

  2. That is exactly my point, Alicia – that even if you don’t like that the justice system worked exactly the way it is supposed to (with the notable exception of Khadr being imprisoned somewhat illegally for 13 years), it exists that way *for our protection*. Because we all ought to have the same rights. What the hell would this place look like if we didn’t have these rights?

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I get that people may be upset about what happened, but it’s done. It’s time to move on. Really terrible things happen sometimes, and you can’t undo those things in the past by removing rights now. If you don’t like the justice system, work for long-term reform, not knee-jerk rule-breaking for your own particular hobby horse.
    Urg.

  4. Years ago, someone said to me about Vincent Li, “I understand that he’s not responsible and I agree with the verdict but I still FEEL like I’d feel better if he’d been locked away forever or even executed. Why do I feel this way?”

    I said that I couldn’t speak to why she does, specifically, but that I thought it was hard for people to accept that this could be done by a guy who was ill because it makes the world seem too scary. It’s easier to think there are good people and bad people and you and your family and friends are good people and the key is to avoid/imprison bad people and then we can all be safe.

    It’s much more difficult to accept that you could do everything “right” and be a “good person” and still lose your mind (or make a bad decision, or even have a moment’s inattention) and become someone that you would previously have hated or feared.

    It’s the same reason people are so incredibly shitty to parents who forget their kids in the car (not leave them in the car on purpose for hours; that is very different.) They’re scared that they could do something like that (and the science indicates that anyone could), so they have to create as much distance as possible between themselves and those other parents.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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