As a State party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the ‘Convention’), Canada has enforced many of its obligations under this Convention through domestic law. The Committee Against Torture (the ‘Committee’) recently undertook a review of Canada’s performance of these obligations with respect to the Convention. Based on this review, the Committee published its Concluding Observations Report on June 25, 2012 (‘Report’). This Report outlined 18 specific subjects of concern as well as recommendations calling for remedial action by Canada in relation to its Convention obligations. During the review process, the Committee received submissions from non-government entities, including a report filed jointly by Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (‘LRWC’) and the International Civil Liberties Group (‘ICLMG’). The LRWC/ICLMG Report’s recommendations in relation to the Omar Khadr case are highlighted and supported by the Committee in its Concluding Observations. These recommendations are outlined below.
The Establishment of a Royal Commission to Investigate the Treatment of Omar Khadr
The first recommendation called for by the LRWC is for the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate the treatment of, and provide redress for, Omar Khadr. This recommendation is made in light of the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized a number of human rights violations committed by government officials against Mr. Khadr during his detention at Guantanamo Bay – specifically with respect to the interrogation tactics used against him at that time. The LRWC’s Report recognizes the failure on the part of the Canadian Executive to promptly investigate Mr. Khadr’s circumstances as well as its active resistance of attempts to seek adjudication and redress of the abuses through court proceedings. Additionally, the Canadian Executive has also disputed demands for disclosure of Mr. Khadr’s interrogations. It is the position of the LRWC that a Commission of Inquiry is the only suitable means for comprehensively addressing the deficiencies as required by law and to ensure the establishment of policies and practices necessary to prevent similar violations.
This recommendation is supported by the Committee in its Concluding Observations. Under Paragraph 16 of its report, the Committee calls for the State party to promptly take action in order to ensure that Omar Khadr receives appropriate redress for human rights violations that the SCC has ruled he has experienced. The Committee’s observations also recommend that the State party ensure that redress and remedy is accessible by all victims of torture. Additionally, it calls on the State party to strengthen efforts to enforce impartial investigation of all allegations of ill-treatment and excessive force and to ensure that those responsible for such violations are appropriately prosecuted and punished.
A Call For Education and Training About the Convention and the Prohibition on Torture
The LRWC’s second recommendation calls on Canada to provide greater education and training about the Convention as well as the absolute prohibition on torture for the judiciary, the public and for police, security, intelligence and other public officials. According to the LRWC there is currently a lack of familiarity amongst these officials with regard to the Convention, the prohibition on torture, and other international human rights treaty obligations. For example, the LRWC’s research for the publication, Right to Know Our Rights: International law obligations to ensure international human rights education and training, indicates that education for police and law enforcement officials about the Convention and other international human rights treaty obligations is practically non-existent and that police training in Canada fails to address international human rights.
The position of the LRWC is that without adequate education in these areas police officers and other public officials responsible for upholding Canada’s legal duty to prevent and punish torture cannot effectively enforce this obligation. It also points out that in the absence of awareness among the public, police, judiciary, and bar of the requirements and mechanisms of the Convention, prosecutions, which are a critical means of preventing and punishing torture, are unlikely to take place. The LRWC highlights that the need for greater education for public officials on these issues is itself echoed in Article 10 of the Convention. It is for these reasons the LRWC has called on Canada to work with the Provinces and Territories to provide adequate education on these subjects to the public and public professionals as well as to monitor the education systems in place. The Committee reiterates this recommendation through its Concluding Observations by calling for increased awareness of Convention provisions among members of the judiciary and public in general. Paragraph 17 of the Concluding Observations states that the “State party should strengthen its provision of training on the absolute prohibition of torture in the context of the activities of intelligence services.”
Greater Cooperation between Canada and the Committee on Implementation and Enforcement of Convention Obligations
The Third recommendation of the LRWC calls on Canada to cooperate with the Committee against Torture and civil society on the implementation and enforcement of Convention obligations. The LRWC suggests compiling a national database, submitting reports to the Committee in a timely fashion, and creating a process for ensuring transparency and consultation with civil society in order to enforce this recommendation. This recommendation is also supported by the Committee’s Concluding Observations. Paragraph 23 of the Committee’s report calls on the State party to compile statistical data with respect to monitoring the implementation of the Convention obligations at the national level. This should include data on complaints, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of torture and ill-treatment. In addition, data on detention conditions, abuse by public officials, administrative detention, trafficking and domestic and sexual violence and on means of redress, including compensation and rehabilitation, provided to the victims should also be included. Paragraph 4 of the Committee’s report reiterates Canada’s obligation to implement the Convention in full at the domestic level.
Call for Canada to Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention
The fourth recommendation of the LRWC states that Canada ought to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention. According to the LRWC, Canada has expressed interest in signing this Protocol but has been slow to conduct the analysis required to implement it. For this reason it urges Canada to take prompt action to ratify the Optional Protocol. This recommendation is supported by the Committee’s Report. In its report the Committee urges Canada to “accelerate the current domestic discussions and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as soon as possible (Paragraph 25 of the Report).” The LRWC hopes that further action will be taken by the Committee and Canada to implement this recommendation, as well as the others outlined above, in the near future.