Letter from Archbishop Brendan M. O'Brien, Chairman of the CCCB Human Rights Committee to the Honourable Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice concerning the situation of Mr. Omar Khadr

Wednesday, March 24 2010
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The Honorable Rob Nicholson
Minister of Justice
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

 

Dear Minister:

As Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, I wish to share with you our concerns regarding the situation of Canadian citizen Mr. Omar Khadr, who has been detained in Guantanamo by American authorities since 2002.

On 29 January 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a unanimous decision, concluded that “Canada infringed Mr. Khadr’s Section 7 rights”, and entrusted “the government to decide how best to respond to this judgment in light of current information, its responsibility for foreign affairs, and in conformity with the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms).”

When Omar Khadr was imprisoned on 27 July 2002, he was only 15 years old and could be considered a child soldier, as has been recognized by United Nations General Secretary Mr. Ban Ki-moon: “For example, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, faces charges for alleged offences committed at age 15 in Afghanistan, purportedly as a child soldier …. Despite his age at the time of the alleged offences, international standards of juvenile justice were not applied” (from the Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, 10 November 2008).

On 13 December 1991, Canada signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in July 2000.   Also, the  website of  Foreign Affairs and  International  Trade Canada,  under the section Children and Armed Conflict, clearly states: “Canada is committed to ending the use of girls and boys as soldiers and to ensuring that war-affected children around the world are protected. In pursuit of this goal, Canada continues to work with other governments and with international organizations to address these issues through multiple channels. The protection and promotion of children’s rights is of paramount concern to the Government of Canada.”

If Canada recognizes the reality of child soldiers, it is important to recall that their personal sense of responsibility can be seriously affected by ideological indoctrination which may distort their judgment. For this reason, Canada has a duty to act in conformity with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Even though the Court has confirmed “the constitutional responsibility of the executive to make decisions on matters of foreign affairs in the context of complex and ever-changing circumstances, taking into account Canada’s broader national interests,” fundamental rights and the dignity of the human person cannot alter, nor be sacrificed in the name of any interest, because “the human person…is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the object of every social organization” (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution The Church in the Modern World, no. 25, 1).

For these reasons, we respectfully request that you seriously consider repatriating Mr. Omar Khadr to Canada so he may be tried fairly and justly.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien
Archbishop of Kingston
Chairman of the Human Rights Committee
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

CC: The Honorable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs