Supreme Court of Canada stands up for Omar Khadr’s human rights for a third time
On 14 May 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a rare decision made from the bench immediately after the hearing, formally recognized Omar Khadr’s status as a juvenile offender. Amnesty International, represented by Fannie Lafontaine of Laval University, François Larocque and David Taylor of Power Law, and assisted by Articling Student Ania Kwadrans, intervened in the case.
Omar Khadr was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment by a US Military Commission in 2010. That sentence is subject to an appeal before American courts, and expert evidence indicates that it has a high likelihood of succeeding.
In 2012, Mr. Khadr was transferred back to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence. Upon arrival, Correctional Services Canada deemed him to be serving an adult sentence under Canadian law, and incarcerated him in a maximum security federal penitentiary.
On 7 May 2015, Mr. Khadr was granted bail pending the resolution of his American appeal. Among the factors leading to that decision was a recognition that Mr. Khadr was a 15 year old child at the time he was apprehended by American authorities and sent to Guantanamo Bay. As Justice Bielby of the Court of Appeal for Alberta noted in her decision: “[Mr. Khadr] has already been incarcerated for over twelve years for a crime committed while he was a young offender. If he had been sentenced as an adult for similar crimes committed while he was a young offender in Canada […] the maximum duration of the sentence, which he would have served, was ten years’ incarceration, four years of which would have been in open custody.”
Today’s decision marks the third time that the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld Omar Khadr’s rights in the face of the federal government’s actions, and the first time where it has officially acknowledged his status as a juvenile offender in determining that his sentence (in the event that the government’s appeal of his bail succeeds and he is returned to prison) should be administered as a youth sentence under Canadian law. The effect of this decision is that Omar Khadr will finally be out of the hands of the federal government that has violated his rights time and time again in such an egregious fashion, and place him in a provincial facility in the event that he is re-incarcerated.
The decision upholds the strong standards and principles set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Amnesty International argued in its intervention, these documents provide the framework for the manner in which we treat children who come into conflict with the law, including that children are entitled to special protection, that because of their age they are less morally blameworthy for their actions, and that the best interests of the child should be a guiding principle in determining how sentences are determined and administered.
“This third unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada – on top of the numerous other positive judgments in Omar Khadr’s favour from the Federal Court of Appeal, Federal Court and courts in Alberta over the year – starkly illustrates that the Canadian government has consistently and defiantly stood on the wrong side of human rights and the rule of law when it comes to his case,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “It is time for the government to stop the unrelenting campaign of denying and violating Omar Khadr’s rights and instead live up to the many important human rights obligations that have always been at stake in this case.”
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