Human Rights vs. Foreign Affairs

Last week we heard that the Supreme Court of Canada has overturned lower-court orders that the federal government must try to repatriate Toronto-born Omar Khadr from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

But the decision isn’t sitting well with the thousands of citizens who have been watching the case for decision that would demonstrate the way the top court views Canada’s role in asserting the human rights of its citizens around the globe. 

In a unanimous decision released Friday, the court declared that Canadian officials breached Khadr’s right to life, liberty and security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  However, it concluded that ordering the government to ask the U.S. for Khadr’s repatriation to stop the continuing violation of his rights would interfere with the government’s jurisdiction over foreign relations. Therefore, it chose not to issue the order, even though it had the authority to do so.

Khadr, 23, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since he was arrested in Afghanistan at age 15, accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. He is scheduled to be tried in July by a U.S. military court on charges of murder, conspiracy and support of terrorism.

Citizens have responded with anger at the Court’s decision, arguing that the Court should force the Canadian government to seek his return.  But is this the role of the Courts?  Or should they leave foreign affairs to the government and, as they have done here, just tell the government what they should be doing but not ordering them to do it?

The Canadian government could now voluntarily ask for Khadr’s return to Canada, but there is no guarantee that U.S. officials would agree.  The ball is clearly in the government’s court now, so it will be interesting to see what it decides to do.  Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says that, "The only thing it can’t do is to do nothing because the court clearly said that the rights of a Canadian citizen have been violated."  Human rights group Amnesty International echoed the opinion that the government has to respond to the ruling.  What will happen next?


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