Protecting Our Own Citizens

Review or handout the case study to students and assign the discussion questions as an individual assignment, or as a group discussion.

In 2002, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was captured by US forces in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention camp, in Cuba.  He was suspected of being involved in terrorist activities and alleged to have killed an American soldier.  At the time, Khadr was just 15 years old – still a child under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Since his apprehension in 2002, Khadr has remained in detention in Guantanamo Bay.  While detained, the US government failed to treat him according to international law applicable to child soldiers. He was denied contact with his family, subjected to abusive forms of interrogation and not given access to any form of education or rehabilitation.

Khadr is the only citizen of a Western country to remain in prison in Guantanamo Bay.  The United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia all successfully applied to have their citizens repatriated, or returned to their country of citizenship.  Despite his requests, Canada has refused to intervene on Omar Khadr’s behalf and repatriate him to Canada. 

Khadr has brought several notable cases against the Canadian Government in an attempt to challenge his detention. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the United States had violated the human rights of Khadr, and that the Canadian Government shared the blame for these violations because Canadian officials had participated in an interrogation process that denied him a right to a fair trial.  In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) again recognized serious breaches of international law, international human rights law, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Khadr’s case but fell short of ordering that Khadr be returned to Canada.

In 2010, the US Military Commission finally brought Khadr to trial.  He entered a plea bargain that will see him serve 8 more years in detention.  In 2011, he applied to come back to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence.

Discussion or Personal Reflection Questions

  • Are you surprised by Canada’s failure to repatriate Omar Khadr even though Canada has been aware of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?  Why?
  • In its 2010 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the decision to repatriate Omar Khadr was a decision best made by the federal government because it was within the scope of foreign affairs. Do you agree with the SCC that the federal government should determine the best course of action, even though it found that Khadr’s rights had been infringed? Why?
  • Both Canada and the United States have domestic laws that prevent children charged with crimes from being treated as severely as adults. At age 15, should Omar Khadr have been treated different from adults?
  • Khadr and his lawyers have alleged that he was a victim of torture while he was detained in U.S. custody. Do you think that if you were subjected to severe physical or mental suffering, you might confess to something you did not do in order to stop the punishment?
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has found that both national and international laws were violated in this case. Who should have the power to decide how to punish state governments for breaking international law? What kinds of punishments do you think would be appropriate in this case?

Activity: Construct a Group Timeline

In groups, ask students to identify and report on key events in the Omar Khadr case. Assign each group a time range: i.e., Group 1 researches 2002-2004, Group 2 researches 2005-2007, etc. Either provide research materials (newspaper and other media articles) or ask students to conduct independent research and evaluate sources.

Ask students to select newspaper articles, photos, or court decisions that represent key events, and create a logical graphic representation of their time period in poster format. Each group can also prepare a brief write-up explaining their poster. Have the groups present, in chronological sequence and display the posters as a timeline of events arising from Omar Kahdr’s detention.

Activity: Children involved in Armed Conflict - Graphic Scavenger Hunt

Introduce the topic of “Children involved in Armed Conflict” to the class. Have students research, collect and contribute media concerning child soldiers and the use of children during war and other armed conflict. Have students post their contributions on a wall within the classroom or on webpage or online classroom site. Discuss trends and themes in the coverage, including the average of children, the location of conflicts with child soldiers and the responses of international or national governments when called to protect children. Are there other cases in which a minor is prosecuted, rather than protected, because of their involvement in an armed conflict?