Omar Khadr’s lawyer speaks at SLS conference

Dennis Edney talks about the rule of law in an age of fear

Keynote speaker Dennis Edney addresses TRU law students. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

Keynote speaker Dennis Edney addresses TRU law students. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

Last Thursday, TRU’s Law Society of Students invited a special speaker for their annual conference’s final keynote address. Dennis Edney, famed for being Omar Khadr’s defence lawyer, spoke in front of an audience on Old Main’s third floor.

Edney covered an array of topics in his hour-long address, including his experiences with Khadr, though the theme behind Edney’s speech on Feb. 4 concerned something else entirely.

Edney came to TRU with the specific purpose of challenging young university students to question whether the concept and the practice of justice is truly being carried out in their name.

“It is a depressing fact, that the world today faces great challenges to the rule of law and to human rights,” Edney said. “Through what I would suggest are ill-conceived responses to terrorism, many achievements in the legal protection of human rights are under attack.”

Edney went on to explain how in a post-9/11 world many countries have adopted new counter-terrorism measures that seemingly go against their international obligations. He added that some countries have used this post-9/11 climate of fear to justify long-standing human rights violations as well.

In particular, Edney listed United States’ National Security Agency as an example where national security has trumped civil liberties and human rights.

“In limiting civil liberties, you just have to take for example the NSA, who have been accused of overstepping its boundaries in recent years. Its activities are not simply confined to eavesdropping on terrorists and potential security risks,” Edney said. “Instead it is spying on the everyday lives of average Americans.”

Edney also noted CSIS’s attempts to limit civil liberties here in Canada.

“The 2015 Anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, allows for unprecedented and excessive powers to CSIS in collecting and sharing extensive information and details about citizens without them even knowing about it,” Edney said. “In a climate of exaggerated fear, we have now changed our domestic spy agency CSIS into something that disturbingly looks like a secret police force.”

Edney went on to further warn about sacrificing our civil liberties over national security, saying that in many ways preserving our liberties is how we preserve our democratic way of life. Only by the rule of law, Edney said, can we as citizens of a democratic society define the boundaries of permissible and legitimate government action.

Of course the only way to do this, Edney believes, is to hold politicians accountable for their actions. “We elect them, we don’t work for them. They work for us,” he said.

Later on in his speech, Edney touched on his experiences during the trial of Omar Khadr. He described, in gory detail, the abuses carried out on Khadr, who was only 15 when he was captured. Between his internment at both Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Bagram, Afghanistan, Khadr survived interrogation techniques that have killed full-grown adults.

“He would be threatened with snapping dogs, while ropes were tied so tightly around his neck that he started to choke and panic,” Edney explained. “After this, Omar would be taken into a different interrogation room, where different interrogation techniques would be tried on him, and this happened to every detainee.”

Despite all this, Edney finished his speech on a positive note, claiming that Khadr holds no grudges over his torture and internment.

“Omar Khadr is an example to all of us in an age where we have been confronted with hatred and violence every day, because Omar has retained his humanity,” Edney said. “He bears no anger to anyone, he just wants to get on with his life, and stop the abuses he went through from happening to anyone else.”