Janice Williamson, editor. Omar Khadr, Oh Canada. 2012.McGill-Queen’s University Press Montreal, Canada ISBN 978-0-7735-4022-4

Review by Theresa Wolfwood


“The oppressors are playing with me,

As they move freely about the world…


They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

 But I explained to them that

Architecture is not justice.               -Sami al Haj. Quoted at beginning of the book


The “Khadar case is a black mark on my own country’s international reputation and standing.”     –Gen. Romeo Dallaire, one the book’s contributors

This collection by 34 Canadian academics, writers, poets and artists is an important contribution to our understanding of Canada’s treatment and public attitudes towards a Canadian child soldier, imprisoned and abused in the USA’s notorious prison camp at Guantanamo Bay; he is now serving the last years of his sentence by a USA military judge in Canada.

The bare facts are common knowledge. At the age of 15 years Omar Khadr was captured in Afghanistan, wounded in a shootout in 2002, by USA soldiers and accused of killing a USA soldier. Shipped from one torture jail to another, he languished in the USA’s tropical hellhole while our government did nothing to rescue him, branded by the USA as an “unlawful enemy combatant.”                                               Drawings of Khadr, 2002 and 2012 by Heather Spears

 In her introduction, Williamson says, “Omar Khadr is part of our national myth-making about militarization and war…Massive expenditures are realigning Canada with militarized interests…Part of the justification for this spending is the invention of national mythologies and the glorification of war.’”  Khadr may be a Canadian, but hisl mistake was to be on the wrong side of our mythology.

(For more on this read; PEOPLE’S CITIZENSHIP GUIDE: A response to conservative Canada   by Esyllt Jones and Adele Perry.  2012.  Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Winnipeg, MN, Canada; review: www.bookreviews.bbcf.ca )

Yet for many Canadians, including contributors to this book, our reaction to Khadr was and is still is shameful to this dark, unjust episode in our often dirty history. We are part of the process that made it possible for our government to deny any responsibility for this child, his capture and subsequent treatment.

But, this book is much more than a thoughtful and disturbing account of the travesty that our government enacted in our names. It is a serious and troubling look at our attitudes, our acceptance of our government’s blatant racism, its ability to ignore its responsibility and as the poet says, to think that architecture, including words, can be justice.

Rick Salutin writes, “The way a society treats its children is always the best indicator of its moral level.”  Our level is way below low tide by now. The Khadr case is far more than a mark on our reputation; it is a moral crime of far reaching econsequences.

Sherene Razack in her Afterword, writes, “This anthology has a story of torture on virtually every page.”  She quotes Tzvetan Todorov, “Torture leaves an indelible mark- not only the victim, but the torturer.”  Razack continues with, “Torturers reject the humanity of those they have tortured and derive satisfaction from the exclusion…when torture is sanctioned the mark that torture leaves spreads to all members of society.”

 Every contribution in this book is worthy of our attention and reflection. As citizens of  Canadian society we were and are complicit in torture and brutal injustice and must act to change our society and government or, as Kim Ecchlin writes, “How can we stand the sight of what we have done?”


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