Omar Khadr turns 30 years old today. Released on bail in May 2015, he still faces limitations to his freedom and legal challenges ahead. Canadians must not be complacent about our obligation to him. For 14 years, we allowed grave violations of his fundamental rights, including torture and abuse when he was a child. Our individual liberties and equality before the law depend on the universal enforcement of rights, and remedy for rights that have been violated. On Omar’s 30th birthday, we must acknowledge all the ways Canada failed him.
The Canadian government denied Omar the right to due process, freedom from arbitrary detention, presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, habeas corpus and all other fundamental legal rights.
The Canadian government violated Omar’s Charter and international human rights by allowing his torture.
The Canadian government violated international treaties and conventions (Geneva Conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict). Because Omar was a juvenile at the time of his capture, he should have been immediately returned to Canada, provided all appropriate care for medical issues, and ensured prompt determination of his case according to international standards of juvenile justice.
The Canadian government, throughout the decade of Omar’s Guantánamo imprisonment (2002-2012) and after his repatriation (September 2012), allowed high-ranking government officials to issue vilifying statements that misled the Canadian public regarding essential details of the case. For example, Vic Toews, the former minister for public safety, held a press conference to announce Omar’s return to Canada and stated, “Early this morning, convicted terrorist Omar Khadr was transferred to Canadian authorities. Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist.”
The Canadian government, throughout the decade of Omar’s Guantánamo incarceration and after his repatriation, allowed high-ranking government officials to interfere in the judicial process. For example, then prime minister Stephen Harper held a press conference the morning of Omar’s first appearance in a Canadian court (Sept. 23, 2013) and stated, “This is an individual who, as you know, pled guilty to very serious crimes including murder and it is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”
The Canadian government has failed to settle a 2004 civil suit seeking to compensate Omar for the violation of his rights, a violation acknowledged by the Supreme Court, and for the complicity of the Canadian government in his torture and mistreatment.
The Canadian government appealed, unsuccessfully, all legal decisions obtained by Omar’s lawyers including rulings by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, the Alberta Court of Appeal, the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Canadian government spent public funds challenging every court decision favourable to Omar, which resulted in millions of dollars wasted at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.
The Canadian government ignored the July 2012 recommendation of the UN Committee against Torture to “ensure that [Omar Khadr] receives appropriate redress for the human rights violations that the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled he experienced.” In Dec. 2015, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group reviewed Canada’s performance regarding its obligations under the Convention against Torture and stated that the government had contravened every aspect of its duties in this case, and its failure to prevent, investigate, and punish his torture and ill treatment constitutes a continuing violation of Omar’s rights.
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group found that throughout Omar’s 14-year imprisonment, Canada had failed to provide Omar with legal aid or any other resources to allow him to be fully represented as required by the UN Committee against Torture. (Omar’s dedicated legal team has worked on a pro bono basis throughout the entire legal odyssey).
The Canadian government allowed Omar, while in custody, to be subjected to isolation, solitary confinement, denial of access to education materials, denial of opportunity to write exams, denial of timely medical attention and treatment (which might have saved his eyesight and effectively treated a serious shoulder wound), and denial of contact with his family. (Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, detained children have the right to maintain contact with their family through correspondence and visits.)
The Canadian government failed to establish a prompt investigation of Omar’s treatment at Guantánamo Bay and Bagram prisons, despite overwhelming evidence from a variety of sources showing the use of torture and other treatment prohibited by the UN Committee against Torture.
The Canadian government failed to ensure Omar received a competent medical examination, focused on past torture and ill treatment, and failed to obtain a statement of opinion on such medical findings.
The Canadian government failed to provide any assistance to Omar in order to prevent potential psychological conditions deriving from the torture he experienced.
The Canadian government failed to implement programs for the treatment of physical and psychological trauma, and other types of rehabilitation provided to victims of torture and ill-treatment.
The Canadian government has failed to ensure appropriate redress for the human rights violations that Omar suffered.
The Canadian government has refused to consider awarding Omar compensation as required by the UN Committee against Torture.
The Canadian government has failed to take measures and to prevent public authorities and other persons from participating or being complicit in acts of torture as defined in the Convention Against Torture.
The Canadian government has failed to investigate, determine, and punish Canadian officials for participation in the torture and ill treatment of Omar as confirmed by the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Canadian government has failed to investigate and punish Canadian officials and others involved in subjecting Omar, while imprisoned at Bagram and Guantánamo Bay, to torture and treatment prohibited by the UN Committee against Torture.
The Canadian government has continued to wrongly inform the public that Omar had been convicted of serious offences and was therefore reasonably designated as a terrorist and a threat to national security.
The Canadian government has failed to establish an independent judicial body to determine the right to, and award redress to Omar for torture and ill treatment in Bagram and Guantánamo Bay prisons to which Canadian officials contributed through action or inaction.
The Canadian government supported or acquiesced to the use of information obtained by torture in Omar’s sentencing by the Guantánamo Bay Military Tribunal.
The Canadian government failed to adopt policies to ensure that confessions obtained under torture or ill treatment are not admitted in court proceedings and that judgments made by courts admitting such evidence will not be enforced within Canada.
The Canadian government did not oppose Omar’s sentencing by the Guantánamo Bay Military Tribunal, and even supported it. Because it was not a properly constituted court, imposing the sentence violated the four Geneva Conventions and the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
The Canadian government insisted that Omar serve the balance of the illegal Guantánamo Bay Military Tribunal sentence. The sentence itself was a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and contrary to Canadian law, since the “conviction” underlying the sentence was based on a coerced statement obtained through prolonged torture and a denial of due process.
The Canadian government failed to establish and provide adequate education and training about the UN Committee against Torture to police, judges, and others involved in the trial, custody, interrogation, and treatment.
The Canadian government failed to report fully and accurately to the UN Committee against Torture on the active participation of Canada’s agents and officials in breaches of UN Committee against Torture's obligations in relation to Omar, and to report on its refusal to meet its ongoing obligations to him.
The Canadian government failed to provide information requested by the UN Committee against Torture regarding Omar’s torture.
The Canadian government has failed to establish and provide public disclosure of the facts or publicly acknowledge and apologize and accept responsibility for providing redress as required by the UN Committee against Torture.
Canada cannot erase the shocking failure of successive governments since 2002 to provide justice to Omar. It is time for us to turn the tide and demand remedy for this terrible wrong. We owe it to Omar.