Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was 15 years old when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan by the US army. He was detained in the Bagram army base, then in Guantanamo, for more than eight years. His status as a minor, pursuant to international law, was not taken into account either with respect to the conditions of his detention or with respect to the “trial” he had to face before the military commissions applying rules of exception in violation of the rules of due process. Following negotiations between the prosecutor and the defence, which were conditioned by a justice system that ignored international standards, an agreement was signed and Khadr pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him.
According to the agreement, Khadr would serve a sentence of eight years detention, of which the first part had to be completed in Guantanamo before he could be authorized to present a request for transfer to Canada. This request for transfer was finally presented before the Canadian authorities by his lawyers on April 18, 2012.
Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC) considers the Omar Khadr case to be important by virtue of its emblematic status vis-à-vis the respect for basic judicial guarantees and of Canada’s obligations regarding the respect for human rights.
LWBC have been involved in providing support for Omar Khadr’s case and hope that the following can be achieved:
LWBC first became involved in Omar Khadr in September, 2008. LWBC began mobilizing the legal community in support of repatriating the young Canadian citizen. LWBC formed a coalition, which included the Québec Bar; the Canadian Bar Association; the Young Bar Association of Montréal; the Amnesty International Legal Network (Francophone Canada); Amnesty International Canada Legal Network, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada; the Ligue des droits et libertés; and Canadian Lawyers Abroad. Together, these organizations represent more than 50,000 members of the legal community.
LWBC prepared and distributed to the public a declaration comprising 22 points demonstrating why no valid legal argument could sustain the opinion that Omar Khadr’s repatriation was not able to be sought. This 22 point declaration, as well as the coalition’s appeal to the legal community in favour of Omar Khadr’s repatriation, were made public at a press conference at the Place du Canada in Montréal.
This press conference also marked the launch of an information and awareness campaign seeking to explain why the Omar Khadr case was of great importance to all Canadians. The campaign received important media coverage via press, radio and television.
The mobilization of the legal community and the awareness campaign were followed by numerous public appearances by LWBC representatives regarding the various developments in the Khadr case.These positions were expressed in opinion letters published in leading daily papers and in radio and television interviews.
LWBC’s involvement in the Omar Khadr case was finally consolidated in the fall of 2009, when a coalition led by LWBC and comprised of the Québec Bar and of the Groupe d’étude en droits et libertés de la Faculté de droit de l’Université Laval (GEDEL), was authorized to act as intervener before the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Canada v. Khadr.
The interveners argued that the repatriation order for Omar Khadr was a just and appropriate remedy pursuant to Canadian law, as interpreted by international law. In order to provide this amicus, the parties were able to count on the volunteer services of a talented team from the law firm McCarthy Tétrault.
Even though the Supreme Court of Canada did not order the repatriation of Omar Khadr, the Court nevertheless came down harshly on the conduct of the Canadian government, issuing a decision which may become a seminal precedent.
The Supreme Court of Canada in fact concluded that the Canadian government had violated the rights guaranteed to Omar Khadr under article 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when Canadian agents participated in interrogating Omar Khadr in Guantanamo when aware at the time that Khadr had been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. The Court ordered the Canadian government to take measures to remedy this violation. The debate, unfortunately, continues on the question of repatriation and there will be a follow-up decision on this point before the Federal Court of Canada.
Since acting as an intervener before the Supreme Court of Canada on November 13, 2009, LWBC has been frequently contacted by the national media to bring legal clarity on the proceedings in the Omar Khadr case, in the US as well as Canada. Through frequent appearance in print and electronic media in relation to this case and LWBC’s successful involvement in the matter, LWBC have become a credible and reliable point of reference for the public. LWBC has been able to bring greater awareness to the public on the importance of this case for all Canadian citizens with respect to international justice and the rule of law.
In regards to Omar Khadr’s dealings with the United States military commission, Khadr’s trial commenced in August 2010 and continued until October 2010 despite persistent criticism. LWBC participated in its capacity as an international observer at the hearings where Omar Khadr’s plea was introduced and Omar Khadr was sentenced in November, 2010.