Canadians rely on the law for protection against abuse

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Canadian Muslims live in a country where citizens generally enjoy equality and freedom. But sometimes they are forced to turn to the courts in order to protect themselves from abuse from their own government. For this blessing they have to thank the country’s judicial system and former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who left behind the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom as his legacy for Canadians for all times to come.

The most recent example is that of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, whom the government has agreed to compensate and to whom it has apologized for violating his rights and for being complicit in his severe abuse by US authorities. The government had to do so because the Supreme Court of Canada decreed that the government had violated Khadr’s “most fundamental rights,” acted “contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations” and offended “the most basic Canadian standards.”

Khadr was 15 when he was taken to Afghanistan by his notorious father, Ahmed Khadr. Omar, a child soldier who had himself been injured, hurled a grenade in a battlefield against American forces. He was captured by US forces and detained by US authorities for 10 years in Guantanamo Bay where he was tortured. Canadian officials interviewed him there and passed on their findings to US authorities.

On his return to Canada, Khadr sued the government. When the courts sided with Khadr, the government decided to settle the matter by issuing a public apology and by paying him some $10 million in compensation.

This trend started in 2007 when the government paid Canadian citizen Maher Arar $10.5 million and another $1 million for his legal costs. This came after the Supreme Court blamed Canadian authorities for their role in the US arresting Arar, when he was passing through the US, and shipping him to Syria where he was tortured. A judicial inquiry in Canada found that Arar had done no wrong and that the Canadian government was partly responsible for his plight. Arar sued the government on his return to Canada and the government settled out of court.

The government took the same action this year with three other Canadian Muslims - Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. They sued the government after an inquiry, led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, declared that Canadian officials’ actions had contributed to the torture of these Canadians in Syria and Egypt. They launched a $100-million suit against the government that had to apologize to them and pay compensation because of its role in their torture.

This year the government also settled out of court one of two lawsuits by Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik, who was stranded in the Sudan - sometimes in jail - because Canadian governments made his return to Canada impossible. A federal court judge intervened and the Conservative government had to relent in 2009.

Two years ago, the Conservative government also settled out of court with Canadian citizen Benamar Benatta. In 2001, Canadian authorities handed over Benatta who was then a refugee claimant from Algeria, to the FBI as a terror suspect. The Americans kept him in jail for five years before finding that he was not a terrorist. He then returned to Canada.

In all these cases the government settled out of court because the judiciary found Canada complicit in the mistreatment or torture of its own innocent citizens.

This year the National Council of Canadian Muslims also withdrew the libel lawsuit that it had filed against the former Conservative government and Jason MacDonald, director of communications for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

MacDonald had made a statement in January 2014 implying a link between NCCM and terrorist organizations. The NCCM promptly sued MacDonald and the government.

This March, NCCM withdrew its case after reaching an agreement with MacDonald. It is not known what compensation was paid to NCCM. But a statement was issued that said in part:

“Mr. MacDonald accepts that his statement in January of 2014 does not accurately reflect the activities of the NCCM, its Board of Directors or its employees....

Jason MacDonald accepts that the NCCM is a Canadian Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization committed to civic engagement and the promotion of human rights; that the NCCM is an important contributor to public discourse on issues that impact diverse Canadian communities; and that the NCCM categorically condemns terrorism, violent extremism, and all individuals and groups who espouse violent goals.”

Canadian Muslims remain thankful to be living in a country where their rights are safeguarded by the courts and by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, a legacy of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains popular with Canadians. But it his late father Pierre Trudeau whose priceless legacy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom keeps Canadians safe from abuse, sometimes by their own government.

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.


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