The 2012 Summer Series is a collection of essays, articles and op-eds published by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The Summer Series explores some key questions about rights and responsibilities in democracy and examines topical issues through a civil liberties lens.
To view all articles of the Summer Series, click here.
Every year, thousands of Canadians are arrested around the world. Some are guilty, others are not. Some are treated fairly, but many are not, for various reasons. Whether it is because there is prejudice against foreigners, a weak justice system, corruption, a mistaken application of the law, or a failure to apply international standards, some people are abused, wrongfully accused, subject to torture or imprisoned in abusive conditions. Subsequently, these Canadians will be judged more or less impartially or plead guilty in more or less coercive circumstance. Later, their country of imprisonment may decide to accept that they be transferred to a Canadian prison to complete their sentence. At that point, they become completely at the mercy of the Minister of Public Security. All Canadians can apply to complete their sentence in a Canadian prison and, if the country where they are detained agrees, they may request the transfer. Most countries engage in transfer of prisoners because this enables the country of citizenship to support the rehabilitation of its nationals in a context where they will return to their country of citizenship at the end of their sentence anyway. In Canada, the Harper government has expanded the discretion of the Minister to deny such transfers. This increased the politicization of such transfer decisions.
This is certainly the case in the context of Omar Khadr. The guilty plea entered by Khadr before a military court and after already eight years in Guantanamo prison provided for an additional year in prison in Guantanamo and that the remainder 7 years could be in a Canadian prison. Omar Khadr who was 15 at the time of his participation in combat in Afghanistan has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002, the only citizen of a Western country to still be there. The Canadian courts who have had to review his case concluded that the Canadian intelligence services violated his rights during interrogations, and he was not treated in accordance with international conventions, including the Convention on the rights of the Child. The Americans agreed to the transfer of Mr. Khadr to a Canadian jail nine months ago. Minister Toews still refuses to accept the transfer request and weighs the political costs of such a decision. The National Post invites people to vote on the question: who wants the return of Omar Khadr? People express themselves: they do not like the Khadr family, are afraid of terrorists, want murderers punished more severely. A decision that should be taken on the basis of legislative criteria is converted into a popular plebiscite.
All Canadians should be concerned about the way this case has been handled. The Khadr case dramatically exposes the inconsistencies of our politics: we sign international agreements such as the Convention against Torture or the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ignore their application in concrete cases. We claim to want impartial justice, free from politics, but when the courts rule in the Khadr case, the Minister refuses to comply or to acknowledge the implications of the judicial pronouncements. Detention conditions at Guantanamo violate international conventions of human rights, and Canada still does not care.
Nathalie Des Rosiers