Our obligation to Omar Khadr

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The federal government recently announced they would not proceed with the Conservative government's appeal of Omar Khadr's release on bail. There was a collective sigh of relief from those who have followed his tragic case.

Although Omar is no longer in prison, Canadians cannot be complacent. We must question how we allowed such a gross travesty of justice to occur; how, for over a decade, we sanctioned or acquiesced to the most serious violation of a citizen’s rights and to the torture and abuse of a child.

A letter writing campaign launched by the Free Omar Khadr Committee calls on the Canadian government to finally address our obligation to Omar. 

Our individual liberties and equality before the law depend on the universal enforcement of rights and remedies for violations. Violations of those rights must be remedied; otherwise rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international treaties are meaningless. 

In 2004 a civil claim was filed against the Canadian government seeking compensation for the violations of Omar's protected rights due to the actions of Canadian authorities and the participation of Canadian officials in his torture and abuse in the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Rather than accepting the conclusion of the Supreme Court that Canadian officials were complicit in the human rights violations suffered while Omar was detained in Guantánamo, the Canadian government, at taxpayer's expense, persistently has fought Omar's legal team at every level of court -- only to lose each and every time.

A settlement of the civil suit is long overdue. It is urgent that our government provide redress to Omar for the 13 years of suffering caused to him by Canada.

Canada must also launch a commission of inquiry into the actions of Canadian authorities in the human rights abuses Omar suffered during his illegitimate imprisonment by the U.S.

A series of Canadian governments (both Liberal and Conservative) from 2002-2016 stand accused of being complicit in the violation of virtually all Omar's Charter rights and have contravened Canada's duty to protect rights under the Convention against Torture, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Successful court challenges launched by Omar's legal team in both Canadian and U.S. courts reveal the scope of the injustice:

  • the  U.S. Supreme Court (2006) ruled that the U.S. Pentagon military commissions which "charged" and "sentenced" Omar were unconstitutional;          

  • the  Supreme Court of Canada (2008) ruled that the conduct of Canadian interrogators violated Omar's fundamental human rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and principles of fundamental justice;          

  • the  Federal Court ruled (2005) that Canadian agencies (including CSIS) had violated Omar's Charter rights by turning information obtained by torture over to his U.S. captors to be used against him in his "trial"

  • the Federal Court of Appeal ordered (2009) Canada to arrange for Omar's immediate return (an order ignored by the federal government)          

  • the Alberta Appeal Court ruled (2015) that Omar should not have been placed in a federal penitentiary upon his repatriation to Canada. Furthermore, the judgment highlighted the illegitimacy of the Guantánamo military tribunal, stating "...the evidence against [Khadr] would have been excluded in a Canadian court. The legal process under which [Khadr]  was held and the evidence elicited from him have been found to have violated both the Charter and international human rights law...".                  

The United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT) recommended in July 2012 that Canada "ensure that [Omar Khadr] receives appropriate redress for human rights violations that the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled he experienced."

The remedial action required has been outlined by Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LWRC) and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group in their 2012 report to the UNCAT on the Omar Khadr case in which the numerous contraventions of obligations by Canada were identified.

LRWC identified Canada's duties under the Convention against Torture to: fullyinvestigate the torture and ill-treatment of Omar Khadr; punish those responsible; and adopt effective measures to prevent further occurrences. According to LRWC: "The continuing failure to prevent, investigate and punish the torture and ill-treatment in the Omar Khadr case not only constitutes a continuing violation of the rights of Omar Khadr, but also encourages and enhances the danger of torture by state and non-state actors alike."  

The UN Committee Against Torture has posed the question: "Has Omar Khadr received appropriate redress for the human rights violations that he suffered, as ruled by the Canadian Supreme Court?" Until our government takes that responsibility, our obligation to Omar must continue.


Kathleen Copps is a retired B.C. teacher and member of the Free Omar Khadr Committee.

Photo: Free Omar Khadr Committee

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