Today, December 18, a Statement of Claim by Omar Khadr to the Canadian government was presented to the Federal Court. Omar Khadr’s original claim was amended to reflect the ongoing illegal detention and abuse.
As Phillips Gill, lawyers who represent Omar Khadr have stated: “The story of Omar Khadr and his continued detention is one of which every Canadian should be aware. But not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think. The importance for Canadians isn’t terrorism, or the U.S. war in Afghanistan, or even Omar’s guilt or innocence. This is about fundamental rights – rights that the Canadian government has guaranteed in our constitution to apply to every Canadian citizen – and how those rights appear to have been ignored in Omar’s case..
Citizenship and age
There are certain facts that, regardless of your position on Omar’s plea that allowed him to be moved from Guantanamo cannot be ignored when we talk about Omar.
First, he is a Canadian citizen. No one doubts that he was born in Ontario, and spent the first portion of his life here. His family moved around as he grew up, but throughout they have maintained connections to the Toronto area. And there is no suggestion that Canada has taken any steps to have Omar’s citizenship revoked. Like any person born here, Omar is subject to the same rights and responsibilities afforded any Canadian citizen. That includes protections afforded under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Second, at the time of the alleged attack that resulted in the death of an American soldier, Omar was a fifteen year old child. And being fifteen and in a war zone Omar was, at a minimum a child, by definition under Canadian and international law, and if he was involved in battles, a child soldier. As a country, Canada has recognized that child soldiers are not like other, older combatants. And so, we as a country have chosen to sign on to the U.N. International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and recognize the Riyadh Guidelines for the prevention of juvenile delinquency.
Together, these two facts, Omar’s citizenship and age, create a series of obligations that Canada was duty bound to follow upon his detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Basic tenets of Canadian constitutional law were ignored, and Omar was placed in the position of missing protections that are given to every accused person who has to face questioning. This is true even if we ignore the fact he was undergoing torture during his confinement.
In addition to any potential Charter violations, there is the issue of how child soldiers are to be treated.
Across the world we have seen the result of young people drafted into armed conflict.
The United Nations, in a convention that Canada has ratified, has recognized that children should be rehabilitated rather than punished for their involvement in wars. This is not a recognition that is done on a case by case basis. Rather, all child soldiers are treated as victims of war. Omar has never received any of the treatment required under the Riyadh Guidelines, and Canada at no point demanded this of the U.S., or offered rehabilitation since his return to Canada. Consistently, he has been treated as a “terrorist” rather than victim.
Why Canadians Should Care
So why should this matter to you? Because Canada does not have the ability to arbitrarily or capriciously pick and choose which of its citizens get the benefit of its full protection. Whether innocent or guilty, there is a duty on Canada to uphold the values of the Canadian Charter and any international conventions to which we are signatories. This civil suit is not about whether or not Omar threw a grenade. It is about what Canada needed to do, regardless of whether or not he is ultimately responsible. We do not have a two-tiered citizenship in Canada, and a failure to provide protection to one citizen is a failure for all of us. If Omar is to be detained, it should be in accordance with Canada’s responsibilities to all its citizens.
Ultimately this law suit is about accountability of the Canadian Government to all Canadians. This suit will determine first whether Canada breached its obligations under the Charter and in international law when it interrogated a Canadian citizen held at Guantanamo Bay, and then took no steps to enforce the Riyadh Guidelines either in Cuba or back here in Canada.
Then, if there were breaches, was Canada entitled to abandon one of its own. The results of this suit will have an impact on the rights of all Canadians”.
Please also review: the Notice of Motion and the Proposed Amended Amended Amended Fresh as Amended Statement of Claim that has been filed in the Federal Court.
Colin Perkel, Canadian Press: Judge won’t toss amended Omar Khadr lawsuit against Ottawa but wants changes
Michelle Shephard, Toronto Star: Omar Khadr’s lawyers in court on rights abuse case
Michelle Shephard, Toronto Star: Canada co-operated with U.S. in abusing Omar Khadr’s rights, lawsuit claims