Canadian Charter Extended to Guantanamo Bay

Canadian Supreme Court Repudiates the Legal Black Hole Paradigm

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a judgment relating to detainees in Guantanamo Bay on May 23, holding that the one Canadian detained there may rely upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to obtain some due process protection from the Canadian government.

Overview

The decision has already been reviewed briefly from the perspective of Canadian constitutional law on the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall law school blogs, so I will not repeat that process here. But the decision has importance from the perspective of international law, and the relationship between international and constitutional law.

I would suggest that the judgment refutes the arguments, voiced most recently by several scholars at the ASIL conference in April, that there are circumstances in the so-called “war on terror” in general, and the treatment of detainees in particular, in which neither constitutional law or international law (whether human rights or humanitarian law) ought to govern the conduct and procedures of the detaining forces.

The Supreme Court held that it is precisely when the agents of the Canadian government participate in conduct and circumstances that constitute violations of international law, that the application of the Charter will be triggered and its protections available to detainees (or at least Canadian detainees – more on that distinction below).

Background

Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July, 2002. He was one of the few detainees who has been arraigned and who is actually moving towards a trial before the much-disputed Military Commissions in Guantanamo Bay. He has been charged with murder and with conspiracy to commit other acts of murder and terrorism. The murder charge arises from the death of a U.S. soldier during the skirmish in which he was captured.Read more…

Canadian Government Hiding Behind “Operational Secrecy”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is reported to be refusing to answer questions as to when he learned of the military’s decision to cease turning detainees over to Afghan authorities (Jan. 26 – “PMO Backtracks”), on grounds that to do so could “endanger the lives of Canadian Forces personnel”.

This is utter rubbish, as there is no conceivable scenario in which the disclosure of when he learned of the decision could be of any value to insurgent forces in Afghanistan, far less impact on any actual operations in Afghanistan. But it is far more dangerous that we increasingly allow our government to use assertions of “national security” and “military operations” considerations to shield their own acts, omissions, and policy decisions from the public eye. The detainee issue involves questions of Canada’s compliance with international law, and is thus of public importance.

There are times when national security requires secrecy, but we must be rigorous in demanding that the government justify with precision their attempts to invoke such secrecy. The media, in particular, should demand explanations of public figures as to how, exactly, the disclosure that is being refused would pose a threat to national security.


Establish Limits on Japanese Naval Support

(Initially published in the Japan Times, January 10, 2008)

As the debate continues in Japan’s Diet this month over a new Antiterrorism Special Measures Law (ASM Law) authorizing Japanese naval force activities in the Indian Ocean, serious attention must be paid to the issues of exactly how such activity is to be limited, and how the Diet can meaningfully monitor compliance with such limitations.

These are not simply political or operational issues, but constitutional issues.

The current draft of the ASM Law purports to authorize the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) to supply fuel to coalition forces engaged in maritime interdiction operations related to Afghanistan. The law would restrict, among other things, the MSDF’s area of operations, its involvement in any use of force, and the purpose for which the fuel it provides may be used. These limitations have been explained as being necessary to ensure that Article 9 of the Constitution is not violated. … Read more…