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Afghan detainees subject to Charter: Amnesty, BC CLA

A pair of rights groups were in federal court Wednesday as the next chapter of the battle over Canada’s treatment of Afghan detainees got under way.

Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association will try to convince the Federal Court of Appeal that the Canadian Charter should apply to Afghan detainees and prevent their transfer into the custody of Afghan authorities, a practice the groups say puts the prisoners at risk of torture.

The groups noted in a press release the irony that the appeal is getting underway on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“On a day governments around the world should be renewing and redoubling their commitment to universal human rights protection Canadian government lawyers will argue that Canada’s most important human rights standards, those enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, should be given narrow interpretation,” the statement reads.

There seemed to be enough irony to go around, however, as Amnesty and the BCCLA celebrated universal standards on human rights while beginning their appeal against a Federal Court judge’s March ruling that international law provides sufficient protection.

“For the reasons that follow, I have concluded that while detainees held by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan have the rights accorded to them under the Afghan Constitution and by international law, and, in particular, by international humanitarian law, they do not have rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” according to Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish.

The ruling continues: “Furthermore, although the actions of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in relation to the detention of non-Canadian individuals are governed by numerous international legal instruments, and may also be governed by Canadian law in certain clearly defined circumstances, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to the conduct in issue in this case.”

The government briefly suspended the handing over of detainees in November 2007 after Canadian diplomats uncovered evidence of torture in an Afghan prison. But the practice started up again three months later.

A Military Police Complaints Commission public inquest into the matter kicked off last week despite the government’s lack of cooperation and multiple attempts to prevent public hearings.

Those hearings are set to begin in February.

Rob Annandale is a Vancouver-based journalist.

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