Canadian S Ct on Gitmo

Here's an interesting little decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. Last week, in Minister of Justice v. Khadr, the Court applied the rule that the ordinary principle under which Canadian law does not apply extra-territorially, itself does not apply (and so Canadian law does apply extra-territorially), where Canada has participated in a process that violates its international law obligations. At issue was a request by Omar Ahmed Khadr---a Canadian being held at Gitmo---for records of interviews conducted there by Canadian officials.

Under the Canadian Charter, if the interviews had occurred in Canada, Khadr would have a right to the material. The Charter normally would not apply because Gitmo is not in Canada, but Khadr's detention there violated the Geneva Conventions. The Supreme Court of Canada---which has long had a John Marshall-esque ability to say a lot while not actually saying very much---avoided the delicate question of whether Gitmo in fact violates international law by instead relying on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions (especially Hamdan) that say as much. As Canada is a party to those same Conventions, the Canadian high court says, it cannot escape its Charter obligations.

The ruling may or may not have significance for Khadr's own case, but its larger importance stems from its symbolic effect. Under rules of comity, courts of one nation routinely give effect to legal processes of other nations. The exception invoked by the Supreme Court of Canada is usually reserved for truly uncivilized or tyrannical regimes in which the legal system lacks rudimentary due process. Its invocation by our closest ally against the United States is a reminder of just how much damage the Bush Administration has done to the international reputation of the U.S. as a nation committed to the rule of law.

Posted by Mike Dorf