Between theory and practice: Liveblogging law students at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights

12:02:28 PM

12:02:28 PM
.. at least, that’s the plan – presuming this meeting actually happens, which is looking less likely by the second; it was supposed to start at noon, but at the moment, only one MP is present and accounted for — Wayne Marston, for the record — which I’m pretty sure falls below the minimum required for quorum.

12:08:42 PM
Well, make that two MPs — Mario Silva just turned up — but no chair, and nobody from the government just yet. Meanwhile, the witnesses – law professor Craig Forcese and his team of lawyers-in-the-making from the University of Ottawa – look more than ready to get started.

12:11:53 PM
The chair – Scott Reid – has finally arrived, along with — oh, tell me that isn’t Pierre Poilievre, last seen attempting to smear Romeo Dallaire after his*appearance before the committee, when the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Apologizing to Ethnic Groups That Could Be Persuaded To Vote Tory Jason Kenney tried to trap the retired general with his USENET-calibre debating tricks.

12:14:52 PM
And it’s on! The meeting, that is – with a fifteen minute extension, even, so as to give the witnesses a full hour, rather than trying to cram all that testimony into a 45 minute

Craig Forcese introduces his students, and hands the floor over to his team.

I’m not going to recap every one of these mini-presentations by the law students, because they’re basically just recapping the report, which is available online, and is thoroughly readable.

Basically, they’re saying the same stuff we’ve heard from previous witnesses, the upshot of which is that there is no reason why Khadr couldn’t be brought before a Canadian court on various terrorism- and treason-related charges. Which pretty much demolishes the argument that repatriation would be tatamount to letting Khadr “walk free,” a favourite – if baseless – claim made by those opposed to the idea of bringing him back to Canada.

12:42:37 PM
And that’s it for the presentations; the chair compliments the law students on their brevity, and warns the members to be similarly succinct when posing questions to the witnesses, since time is a wastin’.
David Sweet complains that he wasn’t able to get a copy of the submission before the meeting. He thinks that the report is full of contradictions, and he wishes he would’ve been able to prepare his questions in advance. Why he couldn’t just read the report online, he doesn’t explain, and the clerk reminds him that he *did* receive the executive summary. That doesn’t seem to mollify Sweet, but it can’t be helped.

12:46:27 PM
Mario Silva spends what feels like forever setting up his question: How can Canada go about respecting our international legal and human rights obligations? He and Forcese mull over the *moral* obligation for Canada to act – which the professor suggests is even stronger than the legal obligation.

12:54:19 PM
Bloquiste Claude Bachand *seems* to agree with the students as far as the main conclusion, but they’re having some difficulty understanding him — it might be a language barrier, but I think it’s more because of his habit of cramming about nineteen separate ideas into one question. He does reiterate his party’s position – which is that Khadr should have received proper consular support at the time of his arrest, and should be brought back to Canada to face charges here, if warranted. I think that’s actually the position of at least two of the four parties, isn’t it? Do the Liberals have an official policy on Khadr at this point, or are they still in wait-and-see mode?

12:56:16 PM
Wayne Marston begins his round by reminiscing about Dallaire’s appearance, which he calls a “watershed moment” – particularly the exchange with Kenney over the rule of law – before moving on to the question that continues to plague him: why it seems to be taking so long for the government to reconsider its current position, given the fact that Khadr was just a teenager at the time that he was taken into US custody? Forcese admits to having no particular insight into the current ‘inertia’ on the Khadr case, although he acknowledges that the family – Khadr’s family, that is – may be part of it; whenever e a story on the Khadrs – or even just Omar – appears on the Globe and Mail website, he notes, the comment thread explodes into vitriol.

1:01:14 PM
David Sweet once again reminds the committee that Khadr is facing “serious charges” – one death, one blinding – and again expresses doubt that such ‘complex charges’ would result in a conviction here, particularly since so much of the evidence against him would be inadmissable in a Canadian court. The law student in charge of that section answers carefully, and concurs that yes, it might be difficult.

Moving on, Sweet once again compares Khadr’s situation to that of the child soldiers of Sierra Leone — and it’s odd, really, how that didn’t come up during the last meeting, when the former head of the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal there appeared alongside Senator Dallaire, and agreed that Khadr was, in fact, a child soldier. Forcese tells Sweet that, as far as he’s concerned, a child soldier is a child soldier, and dismisses the notion that he somehow doesn’t count.

1:08:04 PM
After the chair proposes extending the extension by another fifteen minutes, or however long it will take to give members a full second round of questions, Mario Silva once again spends four out of his allotted five minutes on his preamble. That leaves Forcese with just enough time to agree with Silva’s basic thesis, which is that, even in the United States, the military tribunal system is increasingly viewed as being of dubious legality.

Guantanamo is illegal, according to both the Canadian and American supreme courts, one of the law students points out – and last week’s decision by *our* court puts the onus on the government to act. More discussion on the rule of law — the new, improved, ostensibly Supreme Court-friendly military tribunal system still contains many elements that run counter to the rule of law, according to one student.

1:18:23 PM
Poilievre baffles the students with his opening question: When did Khadr leave Canada to go back to Afghanistan? Isn’t that in your briefing book, Boy Wonder? He gets surly when one of the students tries to figure out what he means – the family has gone back and forth several times – and Forcese reminds him that the facts are “opaque”, but tells him that the family allegedly travelled throughout the region in 2001. He also notes that the report was produced using only publicly available information, and much of the material that the US military allegedly has assembled is still secret.

1:21:57 PM
Okay, so Poilievre’s point seems to be that Omar Khadr, and his family, hadn’t been in Canada for years before his arrest, and somehow, this means he shouldn’t enjoy the protection accorded to Canadian citizens abroad, because — well, that’s not really clear. He just shouldn’t. Poilievre then goes into the usual rant about how Khadr was fighting “on the side of Al Qeyda and the Taliban” and accuses the law students of “twisting” the case to make it seem as though Khadr would face charges back here. It’s not clear to me why the Conservatives are so set on convincing themselves that Khadr would get off scot-free if brought back to Canada — I mean, if it happens, which it could, won’t those very same arguments come back to haunt them when Canadian crown prosecutors are looking at possible charges here?

1:24:59 PM
The chair interrupts to tell the committee that he and the clerk have been “feverishly” poring through Michelle Walker’s book on the Khadr family, but haven’t been able to definitively lock down the date when Khadr left Canada for the last time.

1:26:00 PM
For his final question, Wayne Marston asks the students whether they believe that Khadr should be repatriated, which seems an odd question, considering that they’ve written a joint report that comes to exactly that conclusion. They do, unanimously.

And with that, the second round comes to a close; the chair thanks the witnesses, and shoos the rest of us out of the room so that the committee can go in camera for some sort of schedule-related discussion.