MacKay's Activist Wife Supports Khadr's Return Home

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NAZANIN AFSHIN JAM
Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay, a human rights activist who advocates for youth and is married to Canada's defence minister, says she is "confident" that Omar Khadr will end up back in Canada. (Nazanin Afshin-Jam) | Nazanin Afshin-Jam

Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay, a human rights activist who advocates for youth and is married to Canada's defence minister, says she is "confident" that Omar Khadr will end up back in Canada.

Khadr is the Canadian citizen being held at Guantanamo Bay after he was convicted of murder and other crimes for acts committed on an Afghanistan battlefield in 2002 when he was 15 years old.

Khadr, now 25, signed a plea deal in 2010 and admitted to throwing a hand grenade that killed an American soldier. Under his October 2010 plea deal, Khadr became eligible to transfer to a Canadian prison last fall to serve the rest of his eight-year sentence.

But the federal government has yet to authorize the transfer, saying Khadr's potential threat to Canadians needs to be evaluated. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is asking for access to videos of psychiatrists interviewing Khadr, saying the information is necessary for the Canadian justice system to "effectively secure" Khadr. The government has been accused of stalling Khadr's return.

Afshin-Jam MacKay has added her support to those who say Khadr should be brought back to Canada. She made the comments to The Guardian newspaper while in Prince Edward Island this week to promote her new book and to attend a dinner for the Progressive Conservative party.

"Omar Khadr was a child when he was involved in combat under the UN (United Nations) definition and so we should abide by the international laws and rules that we expect of other countries as well,'' she is quoted in the newspaper as saying.

"So I'm not saying that he shouldn't be kept in prison but definitely I think it's time to bring him back to Canada. He was a Canadian citizen and he can be tried here or looked after here in terms of how long his sentence is going to be or what is going to be his fate.''

Personal view was 'distorted'

Afshin-Jam MacKay, according to a message posted on her Facebook account, wasn't pleased with the newspaper's story and said that the interviewer tried to draw her into a conversation where she would criticize the federal government. She married MacKay, defence minister since 2007, in January.

"When responding I specifically qualified that what I said was my personal view. I am very disappointed that once again my personal view has been distorted," she wrote on Wednesday night.

She did not elaborate on how her view was distorted, but wrote that she is tired of being referred to only as MacKay's wife.

Afshin-Jam MacKay became active in social and human rights issues long before she met MacKay. She worked with the Red Cross as a university student and later co-founded a charity dedicated to ending child executions in Iran. Her family fled from Iran and settled in Canada where she grew up in Vancouver and studied international relations and political science at University of British Columbia.

She has been an outspoken advocate for human rights in Iran and helped gain global attention for a 17-year-old woman who was scheduled to be executed there in 2006. Afshin-Jam MacKay's campaign to save her helped lead to the young woman's eventual release from prison. She has written a book about the experience called The Tale of Two Nazanins.

"I am confident that Mr. Khadr will be transferred back to Canada. Let's leave it to the Canadian and U.S. governments who have all the facts and details about the case to take the proper actions in due course," she wrote on Facebook.

In an interview with CBC Charlottetown's The Compass, Afshin-Jam MacKay was asked about whether being married to a high-profile cabinet minister helps or hinders her work as a human rights activist.

"I wouldn't say it's helped or hindered. Peter's very supportive of the work I do, he's never said I can or can't say certain things," she responded. "In terms of going to a lot of different gatherings, meeting different people from different walks of life, I'm able to spread awareness to a larger audience so in that way I guess it's helped."

Afshin-Jam MacKay, who is also known for her second place finish at the Miss World competition in 2003, said she first started doing beauty pageants in order to give her a bigger platform for her advocacy work.

"It seemed like people were listening more to sports stars and celebrities than they were politicians, so I said 'let me give it a shot,'" she said. "It really did give me the platform I was looking for to further these causes."

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