Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mississauga South.
I would like to start by outlining a few facts. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen born in September 1986, was captured by U.S. forces near Khost, Afghanistan, in July 2002, following a battle between U.S. forces and insurgents which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Speer and two Pashto interpreters. Omar Khadr was seriously injured in the battle and was transferred to the military base at Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was detained until October 2002. He was then transferred to Camp Delta, a U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has since been detained.
In April 2007, charges were laid against Mr. Khadr and forwarded to the U.S. military commission. These charges are very serious: murder in violation of the law of war; attempted murder in violation of the law of war through the conversion of land mines into improvised explosive devices and planting these explosive devices in the ground in order to kill U.S. or coalition soldiers; conspiracy, through wilfully joining al-Qaeda; providing material support for terrorism, through training.
But Omar Khadr was 15 when the acts of which he is accused were committed, and he was captured and imprisoned. Since his capture, he has been held in facilities for adults, first at the Bagram air base, then in Guantanamo. He was not sent to Camp Iguana, a detention facility for adolescents, when he was transferred to Guantanamo.
The subcommittee heard several witnesses express concern about whether Mr. Khadr's detention, the case against him, and his trial before a military commission complied with accepted international human rights standards, particularly the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the optional protocol signed and ratified by both Canada and the United States.
In respect of children engaged in armed conflict, the subcommittee emphasized the fact that the UN international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada signed and ratified and the United States signed but did not ratify, states that “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years”. It also states that:
Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity [...] in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances
The international Convention on the Rights of the Child also provides that:
States Parties shall ensure that:
(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;
In the preamble to the optional protocol, state parties say the following:
Convinced that an optional protocol to the Convention that raises the age of possible recruitment of persons into armed forces and their participation in hostilities will contribute effectively to the implementation of the principle that the best interests of the child are to be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children—
Although it does not strictly prohibit participation in hostilities by soldiers between 15 and 18 years of age who have been voluntarily recruited into national armed forces, the optional protocol does provide that:
Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.
The optional protocol does not prohibit trying children for crimes they allegedly committed while involved in armed conflicts. However, it does provide that:
States Parties shall cooperate in the implementation of the present Protocol, including in the prevention of any activity contrary thereto and in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims of acts contrary thereto, including through technical cooperation and financial assistance.
In addition, in the UNICEF guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, which Canada agreed to in 2007, we read that:
A child rights approach—meaning that all interventions are developed within a human rights framework—should underpin all interventions aimed at preventing recruitment or use, securing the release of, protecting, and reintegrating children who have been associated with an armed force or armed group. Funding should be made available for this programming, according to the rights and needs of the children, irrespective of formal or informal peace processes or the progress of formal adult DDR [disarmament, demobilization et reinsertion] processes.
In light of the fact that Canada has always played an international leadership role in protecting children involved in armed conflicts, a role that has included negotiating the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, and in light of the specific commitments made by Canada and the United States in ratifying the optional protocol, the information available on Omar Khadr's recruitment by a group linked to al-Qaeda and the fact that he was 15 when he allegedly engaged in combat and was captured and originally detained, the subcommittee is of the opinion that Mr. Khadr should be considered “a child involved in armed conflict” and therefore should enjoy the protection set out in the optional protocol.
In addition, the subcommittee notes that Mr. Khadr is the only citizen of a western country still in detention in Guantanamo Bay and that all nationals of other western countries have been repatriated. Many of these were subsequently detained and/or tried in their home countries in accordance with applicable domestic laws. In some cases, former detainees were subjected to national security measures, including being placed under surveillance or being refused travel documents.
Finally, the subcommittee notes that under Canadian law, Canadian courts can exercise jurisdiction in relation to certain crimes committed abroad, including offences created under the anti-terrorism provisions of the Criminal Code and under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
I will finish with a statement from my colleague, the hon. member for Mount Royal and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who said:
By allowing the Americans to decide whether or not to repatriate Mr. Khadr, the Prime Minister has shown an appalling failure to live up to his responsibilities towards citizens holding a Canadian passport.
The government was wrong to continue, inexplicably, to say that it was “premature” to talk about repatriating Mr. Khadr, even after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that detainees like him had been denied their right to a full and fair trial, even after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the practices at Guantanamo were in contravention of international law, even after proof of “enhanced interrogation” and violence in detention surfaced, and even after we knew with certainty that the new American government would close Guantanamo.
That is why the subcommittee's recommendations from June 2008 still hold today.