The Canadian family that just won’t go away

When I was growing up in London (Ontario) there was a famous quasi-mythical family that lived near the town of Lucan, about a half-hour away, in the 19th  century.  The Donnellys, or the ‘Black Donnellys’ as we were taught about them, were Irish immigrants who were killed by a mob in 1880 in a feud that may have followed the family from Ireland to Canada.  Their reputation was not stellar.  Since that time, the clan has become a legend, at least in southwestern Ontario, and led to several plays and even two Stompin’ Tom Connors songs (if there is anything more Canadian than that I don’t know what is!).

The 21st century equivalent of the Donnelly’s may very well be the Khadrs.  Canada’s number 1 family of terrorism, the Khadrs are seldom out of the news and have been a thorn in the side of the Canadian government – especially its security and law enforcement services – for decades.  For those not as familiar with this family here is a short primer:

  • the family patriarch, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an Egyptian immigrant who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, joined Al Qaeda, was incarcerated over his ties to the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in 1995, was freed following pressure by Canadian Prime Minister Chretien and later died fighting with AQ against US forces in 2003.
  • the matriarch, Palestinian Canadian Maha El Samnah, praised the 9/11 attacks and said she left Canada, her adopted home, to get away from “drug addicts and homosexuals”.
  • one daughter, Zaynab, was investigated by the RCMP for allegedly helping AQ and is believed to be currently in custody in Turkey.  She infamously defended the Toronto 18 during their trials in the late 2000s.
  • Abdullah Khadr was accused of running an AQ camp in Afghanistan, a charge he denies.  Arrested in Pakistan he was released when the Federal Court ruled the US had violated his rights.
  • Abdurrahman Khadr may have fought with AQ and once said that he had been raised (by his family) to become a suicide bomber
  • Omar Khadr has become a folk hero for many in Canada.  A former member of AQ who was wounded on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, returned to Canada in 2010 and successfully sued the Canadian government for violating his rights (CSIS interviewed him in Cuba), receiving a $10.5 million settlement.

And then there is Joshua Boyle, Zaynab’s third (fourth?  I’ve lost count) ex-husband, who survived five years’ captivity in Afghanistan where he and his wife were ‘backpacking‘, and returned to Canada only to be arrested today on serious charges of assault, sexual assault and issuing threats.  None of these charges have been proven in court but it must be pointed out that police in this country do not have the luxury of arresting people without due cause.  We’ll see where this goes.  He is only tangentially linked to the Khadrs but nevertheless here we go again.

The point here is that this family won’t go away. They have not only expressed their hatred for what we stand for (democracy, human rights) but some of them have actually joined a terrorist group and expressed sympathy for terrorist goals.  Yet some Canadians seem not only to give them a pass but have turned at least one of them, Omar, into some kind of counter-culture heroic figure.  In this story, CSIS, tasked with investigating threats to national security, is the bad guy for having interviewed the son of an Al Qaeda lieutenant.  Go figure.

If public polling is any indication I am not alone in opposing the money given to a former terrorist.  Yes, he had little choice in the matter having grown up in an AQ compound, but would anyone make the argument that the murderous offspring of a murderer should be let off because he had a rough upbringing?  I didn’t think so  – so why is Omar Khadr treated differently?

I just want the family to go away.  They are anathema to Canada and they have wasted enough of our time.  Just. Go. Away.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply