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Rights groups criticize government “most wanted” lists

In a statement issued today, the BCCLA and other rights groups express their deep concerns about the government‟s use of “most wanted” lists to enlist the public in tracking down individuals for deportation. In July 2011, the Canadian government published a list of individuals described as “suspected war criminals”. It asked the public for help in identifying those listed so that they can be apprehended for deportation. The individuals on the “most wanted” list, however, have not necessarily been charged with committing war crimes.

Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA: ““Wanted” posters, Amber alerts, “most-wanted” lists and other public announcements by the police seeking “persons of interest” may be appropriately used as part of the communications between law enforcement and the public in a democratic community. But that is only so where proper grounds exist and they are used to protect public safety and apprehend individuals for trial under the rule of law. That requires a justice system with fair and open hearings before independent and impartial judges. What the government is doing here brands individuals as „suspected war criminals‟ without having charges in place and, in some cases, without having evidence of any criminal conduct. The government‟s goal appears to be to round up persons alleged by foreign authorities whose track record of dealing justly with their citizens is questionable and then using Canadian immigration enforcement measures rather than the criminal law to send these individuals off to places where there is no guarantee of anything Canadians would recognize as a fair trial or justice.”

Under international law, Canada has an obligation to help bring war criminals to justice. The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act allows Canada to prosecute suspected war criminals in our domestic courts, regardless of where the crimes took place. Canada may also assist in the extradition of suspected war criminals to foreign or international courts for prosecution. But by choosing to deport suspects, Canada is simply removing them from Canada‟s jurisdiction and sending them to countries where they may never face further investigation or criminal charges.

Carmen Cheung, Counsel at the BCCLA: “The government suggests that the „most wanted‟ initiative is designed to ensure that there are no safe havens for suspected war criminals. But deportation of suspects to countries that lack the capacity or willingness to prosecute them in a fair trial means that actual war criminals may never answer for their crimes. If the individuals on the „most wanted‟ list are truly suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, then Canada has a duty to see that they are brought to justice.”

Click here to see the Coalition letter


Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, 604-838-6856

Carmen Cheung, Counsel, 604-630-9758