October 18th 2005 – Vancouver B.C.
Lawyers Against the War (LAW) has achieved what it is calling a "very important victory" in its battle to have George W. Bush face criminal charges in Canada for torture.
The charges stem from the notorious cases of torture carried out by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, first exposed in a series of gruesome private photos that scandalized the world in early 2004. Torture charges were laid against Bush on the occasion of his controversial visit to Canada in November of that year.
The charges were laid under sections of the Canadian Criminal Code enacted pursuant to the United Nations Torture Convention, which requires extra-territorial jurisdiction to be exercised against officials, even Heads of State, who authorize or oversee torture.
On Monday, the Supreme Court of British Columbia quashed an order banning publication of everything having to do with the case. In a secret hearing held December 6th 2004 in Provincial Court, the charges against Bush were rejected on the basis of arguments by the Attorney General of British Columbia that the visiting president was shielded from prosecution by diplomatic immunity. The ban on publication of anything to do with the proceedings was imposed at the same time.
The secrecy, the immunity claim and the ban were vigorously opposed by LAW, who appealed all aspects of the decision.
On Monday, Justice Deborah Satanove of the Supreme Court of British Columbia quashed the publication ban after government lawyers failed to come up with any argument to defend it. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association had intervened on the side of LAW against the ban.
“This is a very important victory”, said Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson, who laid the charges for LAW, “because it ensures that the proceedings will be scrutinized by people in Canada and throughout the world, to make sure that the law is applied fairly and properly and, above all, to make sure that Bush doesn’t get away with torture.”
“The American legal system seems incapable of bringing him to justice and there are no international courts with jurisdiction. So it’s up to Canada to enforce the law that everybody has signed on to but nobody else seems willing to apply.”
The next hearing in the case will take place on November 25th 2005, at 10:00 a.m. at the B.C. Supreme Court, 800 Smithe Street, Vancouver, B.C., when government lawyers have said they will argue that the issue is now “moot” because the Attorney General of Canada has not yet consented to the prosecution. Toronto law professor Michael Mandel, co-chair of LAW, calls this argument “bogus”: “It’s irrelevant to the issues before the court. Anyway it's hard to see how the Attorney General can withhold his consent to simply let justice take its course. Irwin Cotler's credo is supposed to be "Justice, justice shall you pursue" not ingratiation with superpowers who practise torture. Bush is still guilty, he’s still on the loose and we still have our obligations under the United Nations Convention to bring torturers to justice.”
Lawyers Against the War is an international group of jurists based in Canada with members in fourteen countries.