OTTAWA - Canada and the United States have sunk to the moral equivalent of terrorists in their handling of a young Canadian held at Guantanamo Bay, says Liberal senator and ex-general Romeo Dallaire.
Dallaire says the two countries have flouted human rights and international conventions in dealing with Omar Khadr and are no better than those who don't believe in rights at all.
He told a House of Commons committee Tuesday that Khadr is a victim - a child soldier who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society and not tried before what he called an illegal court.
Canada should be bending over backward to bring him home, said Dallaire, formerly Canada's special UN ambassador for children.
Khadr was 15 when he was captured after a fire fight in Afghanistan and has been held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for six years. American authorities now are attempting to try him before a special tribunal.
Dallaire, whose troubling experiences during the 1994 Rwanda genocide helped make him an outspoken advocate of human rights, said the Khadr case points out a moral equivalence among Canada, the United States and al-Qaida.
The United States is ignoring its own laws in prosecuting Khadr and Canada is betraying itself by not fighting for Khadr's return home, he said.
He said the Americans were acting out of panic after 9/11 and Canada was playing politics and that left them no better than the terrorists.
"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all," he said.
"We are slipping down the slope of going down that same route."
Tory MP Jason Kenney asked if Dallaire really believes that. He pointed to a number of al-Qaida outrages, including an incident in which the terror group reportedly outfitted mentally challenged young girls with explosive belts and sent them to their deaths in a Baghdad animal market.
"Is it your testimony that al-Qaida strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?" he asked.
Dallaire was adamant.
"If you want a black and white, and I'm only too prepared to give it to you, absolutely," he replied. "You're either with the law or not with the law. You're either guilty or you're not."
He added, though, that Kenney was using "extreme scenarios."
Kenney was dismissive: "I submit that the only thing extreme here is what you're saying."
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said he disagreed with Dallaire's choice of words, and hinted the senator could be disciplined.
"This is a matter to deal with the (party) whip, and we'll deal with that," Dion told reporters.
"I would express that in my own way. I would say that Canada should do like the other countries and ask the government of the United States to bring this Canadian home to be prosecuted in Canada."
"The inaction of the government is unacceptable."