Canadians expect their government to respect and protect their rights. A group of human rights lawyers are claiming that 21-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian in Guantanamo Bay, has been denied this luxury.
On Monday, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada member Gail Davidson came to campus as part of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary. Her speech, entitled, "Canada's Duty to Protect Human Rights Abroad: The Case of Omar Khadr," addressed Khadr's lack of Canadian legal support despite obvious illegal practices used against him.
Born in Ottawa on Sept. 19, 1986, Khadr grew up in both Canada and Afghanistan. On July 27, 2002, at the age of 15, he was captured by American troops in Afghanistan.
"It was a U.S. firefight, land attack and air attack of approximately five hours on a group of small buildings in Afghanistan," explained Davidson. "At the end of the firefight, Mr. Khadr was the only one living. We don't know how many of them were killed."
One American soldier was killed in the attack and several were injured. Davidson said the initial report claimed the man who threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer was also killed in combat. Khadr is currently charged with Speer's death. An edited version of the report that used the word "engaged" instead of "killed" was later publicly released.
Khadr was shot twice and spent three months in Bagram Prison before his transfer to Guantanamo Bay. He has been imprisoned there for six years.
"Canada knew that for anyone going to Guantanamo Bay, their rights would be violated," said Davidson. "Every other western nation that had nationals in Guantanamo Bay quickly secured their release. Great Britain got out non-citizens who had lived there."
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detention and withholding a fair trial violated U.S. law. Congress later supported the Combatant Status Review Tribunals as a viable substitute, but they were rejected by the courts this June.
Canadian officials met with Khadr several times, but violated his legal rights by sharing information gathered from the meetings with Americans.
"This is an issue of critical importance, not only to Omar Khadr, but to Canadians," she said. "What he told Canadians was that the Americans, in order to make Mr. Khadr more amenable, they subjected him to sleep adjustment-- what was called by Guantanamo Bay chaps as 'the frequent flyer program.' Prisoners were moved every three hours for several days."
The United Nations categorizes this treatment as torture when continued for several days. Khadr underwent sleep adjustment for 21 days. He was also short shackled and kept in isolation with extreme temperatures, said Davidson.
"What the U.S. has done is said, 'Hey, come on, it's not torture,' " she said. "Omar Khadr is entitled to these rights as a human and as a Canadian and because in law, he's a child. Partially, I think the government is doing it because they can. It'll get them some marks with the U.S. If you could go to jail for not being nice, I would've been there a long time ago."
LRWC sent letters to prime minister Stephen Harper and former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier after they stated Khadr must exhaust all U.S. remedies before the Canadian government will act. Legally this is not the case when local remedies are futile, ineffective or delayed.
"Your answer is based on wrong facts and wrong law," Davidson said in regards to the government's reply. "Our response was that Mr. Bernier's calendar didn't allow time for consultation with people who knew the facts. It's up to citizens to complain that they want an investigation."
Khadr's trial is set to start Nov. 10, but his lawyer argues it may not allow time for psychiatric assessments.