TORONTO -- The Canadian government criticized a United Nations agency for issuing a report condemning Canada for complicity in torture and human rights violations in Afghanistan and Syria.
A report from the U.N. Committee Against Torture issued Friday said Canadian military commanders didn’t do enough to ensure the safety of detainees handed over to Afghan security forces during the Afghan combat mission, which ended last year, despite a substantial risk that they would be tortured.
During its review, the panel also found that Canadian officials were complicit in human rights violations of a Canadian detainee held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Omar Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence, to be split between Guantánamo and Canada, after pleading guilty to war crimes for throwing a grenade in Afghanistan when he was just 15 that killed a U.S. soldier.
Documents surfaced in 2009 showing Khadr’s U.S. captors mistreated him through sleep deprivation and isolation ahead of an interview with an official from Canada’s Foreign Ministry in 2004. The Canadian government later said it was aware of media allegations of mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees, but it had no reliable proof that Khadr had been mistreated before interviewing him.
The agency recommended that Canada promptly approve the transfer of Khadr, the youngest and only remaining Western detainee in Guantánamo, to Canadian custody.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture is dedicated to reviewing the record of compliance and implementation of U.N. treaties by member states. The committee reviewed Canada’s record with respect to human rights and torture prevention going back to 2005.
Its report said the Ottawa government shared inaccurate information with Syrian authorities linking three Arab Canadians to al-Qaida, resulting in them being tortured in Syria. Officials shared the information before Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin traveled separately to Syria on personal business between 2001 and 2003.
The U.N. agency also faulted changes to Canada’s immigration laws which it said may increase the risk of human rights violations including a legal provision that allows the Canadian government to detain and deport permanent residents or foreign nationals considered to be a security threat based on secret evidence that the accused is not allowed to see.
Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Public Safety Minister, said Saturday that it’s disappointing the U.N. agency spent time condemning Canada “when there are serious concerns regarding human rights violations across the world.”
She added that “Canada is a nation of laws and the actions of our Government uphold the highest standards in the protection of human rights.”
The report also urged the Ottawa government to pay compensation to the three Arab Canadians for their mistreatment in Syria.
Among its other recommendations, the agency also said Canada should adopt a policy for future military operations that clearly prohibits prisoner transfers to another country when there are substantial grounds for believing that the detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture.