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Amnesty International Canada's response to Minister Jason Kenney's Open letter about "Wanted by the CBSA"

    August 10, 2011

    Dear Minister Kenney,

    The Open Letter that you wrote on 9 August and posted on your personal website, in response to the Open Letter we wrote and sent to you and Minister Toews on 2 August, has been brought to our attention by journalists.  We are writing to respond and clarify to some of the points you raise.

    You begin by chastising Amnesty International for raising these concerns when we should instead be focusing on human rights concerns in countries like Iran and North Korea.  Minister, we most certainly do.  A casual review of our most recent reports, actions and news releases covers such countries as Iran, Syria, Bahrain, China, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Georgia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.  We do regularly point to areas where we believe Canada’s own human rights laws, policy and practice are in need of reform.  Universal human rights principles apply as equally to Canada as they do to other countries.  Furthermore, the stronger Canada’s domestic human rights record is; the greater our leadership on the world stage. 

    It is also important to highlight that with respect to the specific debate that has arisen through our exchange of letters, Canada has an important role to play in ensuring that individuals who may be responsible for grave human rights violations in countries such as Iran, North Korea and elsewhere will in fact face justice for their crimes.  In doing so, Canada makes a vital contribution to improving human rights protection in those countries.  We are simply calling on Canada to strengthen its efforts on that front.

    You make some strong accusations.  You suggest that by raising the concerns we have outlined in our initial letter we have been recklessly imprecise, and that we are simply engaged in what you term self-congratulatory moral preening.  We certainly regret that you see our concerns in that light for they are entirely and solely based on Canada’s international human rights obligations. 

    We have certainly not at any time said that Canadian authorities should not take action with respect to these or similar cases.  What we have highlighted include the following key principles:

    - The overarching goal and binding international obligation in such cases is to ensure that when there are credible allegations that an individual may have committed genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or other crimes under international law, all of which are subject to universal jurisdiction, the state in which the individual is present (Canada in this case) is obligated to ensure the allegations are promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated and that, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, the individual will be criminally charged and tried in keeping with international fair trial standards.

    - If it is not possible to extradite, surrender or otherwise transfer the individual to his or her home country, another country, or an international tribunal, Canada is obliged to launch criminal proceedings domestically.

    - No individual should ever be deported to a country where they face a serious risk of torture, “disappearance”, extrajudicial execution, the death penalty, unfair trial or other human rights violations.

    - There should be care to ensure that the way cases of this nature are publicized does not infringe the principle of presumption of innocence, given that they have been dealt with through immigration proceedings, with a lower standard of proof and relaxed rules of evidence, rather than through the criminal justice system.

    Minister, all of these concerns and recommendations arise from Canada’s binding obligations under international human rights and international criminal law.  There is nothing recklessly imprecise about highlighting those obligations and urging the Canadian government to adopt an approach that meets those requirements.

    We are confident that the Canadian government shares the goal of continuing to strengthen global and national mechanisms for tackling the impunity that has for too long protected serious human rights violators from facing justice and doing so in conformity with international human rights standards.  That is what we have called on the Canadian government to pursue in this instance.  Working together with other governments, and by prioritizing investigations and prosecutions over deportation, Canada can make vitally important contributions to that ultimate objective.


    Alex Neve, Secretary General,  Amnesty International Canada (English branch)                                    


    Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice Générale, Aminstie internationale Canada francophone


    John Tackaberry,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    613-744-7667, ext 236