About the book
This multidisciplinary anthology is multi-genre and intended to appeal to general readers and specialists. Distinguished contributors write with expertise in various disciplines from legal studies to communications, sociology to social history, cultural studies to political science. The book also features interpretations of Omar Khadr’s history by award-winning Canadian artists and writers: a short play, most of a documentary film screenplay, as well as original poems, drawings, reflective essays, and memoir.
Contributors: Maher Arar , human rights activist, publisher of Prism-Magazine; Craig Kielburger, child labour activist and co-founder of “Free the Children” foundation; George Elliott Clarke, poet, novelist, librettist, scholar, Professor, U of Toronto; Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez, makers of “YOU DON’T LIKE THE TRUTH – 4 days inside Guantánamo”; LGen the Hon. Roméo A. Dallaire, Senator, author; Gail Davidson, Executive Director, Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada; Nathalie des Rosiers, General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties; Robert Diab, lawyer and author ; Alnoor Gova, broadcaster, writer, PhD student UBC; Shadia Drury, CRC in Social Justice, U of Regina; Kim Echlin, novelist, essayist, film producer; Dennis Edney, former lawyer for Omar Khadr; Charles Foran biographer, novelist; Deborah Gorham Professor Emeritus, History, Carleton University; Yasmin Jiwani, Assoc. Professor of Communication Studies, Concordia University; Hasnain Khan, graduate student, University of Toronto; Sheema Khan, columnist and author; Andy Knight & John McCoy, Political Scientists, University of Alberta; Audrey Macklin, professor of Law, University of Toronto; Monia Mazigh, author and human rights activist; Marina Nemat, human rights activist and author of Prisoner of Tehran; Gar Pardy former diplomat, journalist; Sheila Pratt, journalist and author; Sherene Razack, Professor, Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE, University of Toronto; Rick Salutin, writer and columnist; Heather Spears, poet and artist Judith Thompson, playwright; Lola Lemire Tostevin, poet and novelist; Janice Williamson, Professor, English and Film Studies, Uof Alberta, Richard J. Wilson, Professor of Law, American University’s Washington College of Law; Grace Li Xiu Woo, legal scholar, Jasmin Zine, Assoc. Professor, Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier U; Rachel Zolf, poet, Assistant Professor, UofCalgary. (see contributors page for full bios) (See Contributors to learn more.)
The anthology is edited by Janice Williamson and is a trade paperback by McGill-Queen’s University Press (June, 2012.) The e-book will be published in the summer 2012. The award-winning nonfiction writer, poet, and editor Mark Abley was the McGill-Queen’s Acquisitions Editor and an editor throughout. Other committed people at McGill-Queen’s were dedicated to this project.
The collection is multidisciplinary and multi-genre with contributions from leading legal experts, poets, novelists, sociologists, political scientists, essayists, playwrights, documentarians, military experts, diplomats, human rights activists, communications scholars, and literary critics. Any royalties will be donated to PEN Canada, an association of writers and supporters who “assist writers around the world who have been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their ideas.”
Book launches, talks, and readings for the Omar Khadr, Oh Canada anthology are listed at – (“Events” page for details)
There are five sections in the book:
- The Saga of Omar Khadr
- Omar Khadr in Guantanamo, “architecture is not justice”
- The Case of Omar Khadr
- Omar Khadr, Child Soldier
- “Oh Canada”
Excerpt from Janice Williamson’ s “The Story So Far: an introduction” to Omar Khadr, Oh Canada –
The cover of this anthology pictures a sharp dialogue – a twinned trajectory investigating Omar Khadr’s experience and the Canadian world to which he expects to be released. We have gazed at images of Omar in photographic portraits and court drawings, but the screen-capture shots of his Guantánamo interrogation in 2003 provide an especially disturbing trace of the story – a diptych that displays the prisoner’s gestures of despair in a freeze-framed record of traumatic breakdown.
Omar Khadr’s critics look at his picture and see a man justifiably treated. Neither an innocent nor a victim, he is for them “the enemy” whose punishment cleanses us all. But others see Omar Khadr as a man – at first a boy – whose last decade has been barely a life. Canadian citizen and child soldier, Omar Khadr speaks back to many of us in the troubling echo of our national anthem’s opening words. In the title of this collection, the phrase “Oh Canada” is a direct address that asks us to reflect on what has been done in our name during the era of Omar Khadr, not only to the person but to our country. “To what world am I being released?” Omar asked in 2010 – and, we might add, to what country?
In 2005 the headline on a Globe and Mail editorial, “Omar Khadr’s Limbo,” condemned the Canadian government’s paralysis: “Fighting terrorism does not justify discarding the rule of law … Canada, unlike Britain and Australia, has made little attempt to secure the release or speak for the due-process rights of its lone citizen at Guantánamo … There is not and may never be a groundswell of opinion that Omar Khadr’s rights need protection. But they do. The Canadian government’s eagerness to exploit Guantánamo in the case of a Canadian teenager incarcerated since he was 15 is shameful.”[i]
But Omar Khadr and others held in Guantánamo are not so much in an in-between “limbo” as in “organized oblivion.”[ii] Guantanámo is “a space of exception,”[iii] where people can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial, a penal institution that disappears citizens beyond the law of any nation.
Omar Khadr’s case represents “the first modern-day prosecution of a child soldier and the only captive to be held responsible for a battlefield killing of a US service member in Iraq or Afghanistan.”[iv] A prisoner from 2002 until the time of this writing, almost a decade later he is the only citizen of a Western country remaining in Guantánamo. In an October 2010 US Military Commission that played by its own rules, he plea-bargained for one more year in Guantánamo and an additional seven years in a Canadian prison. Back in 2002, then Opposition leader Stephen Harper mused about trucking and transport and national security in relation to Omar Khadr’s capture.[v] Almost ten years later as leader of the governing party, Harper has not advocated for Omar’s transfer back to Canada, even though this is now part of a high-level diplomatic and legal commitment that is expected to take place sometime in 2012.[vi]
For years, as though exiled, Omar Khadr disappeared below the radar of what matters. Why? Philosopher Simone Weil believed that we create distance between ourselves and those who suffer. Weil asked, “What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another (no matter whether his need be slight or great), the latter draws back from him?” She answered, “Gravity.”[vii]
If the gravity of violence and suffering makes us avert our eyes, this anthology reminds us of our responsibility to not look away. Collective stories of human rights abuses demand our attention.
As I write these words, we still await Omar Khadr’s return to Canada. And many questions remain – about his child soldier status, the meaning of Canadian citizenship, his near-decade of imprisonment without trial, and the legitimacy of the justice meted out by a Guantánamo Military Commission condemned around the world.
[i] “Omar Khadr’s Limbo,” Globe and Mail, 11 August 2005, A14, Canadian Periodicals Index Quarterly, web, 11 September 2011.
[ii] “Organized oblivion” is the term used by philosopher Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism to describe the concentration camp. Sherene Razack explores connections to the contemporary US prison systems including Abu Ghraib and how they are part of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore characterizes “as a ‘regime of abandonment’ in which surplus and unwanted populations who are mostly of colour are permanently imprisoned and evicted from law.” See Sherene Razack, Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 60–1.
[iii] In Nazi Germany, undesirables were subject to new laws that defined “a state of emergency” where some citizens deserved special treatment in a hierarchy of citizen rights. The “state of emergency” was formulated by German Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt. The “state of exception” is discussed by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who compares Guantanamo Bay to the Nazi camps, both “removed from the law and from judicial oversight.” See his Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and the Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
[iv] Michelle Shephard, “‘Khadr is Rock Star of Gitmo’: Psychiatrist,” Toronto Star, 27 October 2010, http://www.thestar.com/article/881132–khadr-is-rock-star-of-gitmo-psychiatrist-testifies (accessed 20 December 2011).
[v] “The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has issued reports that terrorist groups are active in Canada … Those risks could threaten the Canadian economy … Canada cannot be seen as being an insecure country in the eyes of its major trading partners … Ultimately, it is the biggest concern we have … in terms of trucking and airports, Harper said.” Rick Mofina, “The Arrest of a Canadian Teen Suspected,” CanWest News, 6 September 2012 (accessed 27 January 2012) CBCA Current Events (document ID351822751).
[vi] The United States appears eager to return Omar Khadr to Canada. In her 10 January 2012 article, “Analysis: Guantanamo Marks a Decade of Detention,” Michelle Shephard notes, “A Pentagon official told me a couple months ago: ‘We’d drop him off at the border if we could.’” At http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1113578–analysis-guantanamo-marks-a-decade-of-detention.
[vii] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1992).