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Federal $31M payout underscores Charter protection for all Canadians

The payout of roughly $31 million in compensation to three Canadians who were tortured in Syria shows the current government is ready to do the right thing in situations where the privacy and liberty of citizens are breached by the complicity of federal security and intelligence agencies, says Toronto criminal lawyer Ayo Akenroye.

“This payout also reinforces the Liberal government’s campaign slogan that ‘a Canadian is a Canadian,’” he says. 

“It underscores that all Canadians — no matter where they migrate from — are guaranteed protections under the Charter and will not be exposed to torture at the hands of foreign governments.”

Akenroye, principal of Akenroye Law, comments after the Canadian Press reported the federal government paid out the compensation to three individuals to settle long-standing lawsuits. 

In October 2008, an inquiry led by Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci found that Canadian officials contributed to the torture of those individuals by sharing information with foreign agencies, says the article. 

“All three men deny involvement in terrorism and none has ever been charged,” it says.

In March, the government apologized to the men, says the wire service.

Akenroye says this case is important because it initiates conversations about the importance of striking the necessary balance between the protection of national security interests and the rights and liberty of Canadians.

He says this matter and others, including Omar Khadr’s case, show there’s a need for a continuous overhaul of the operating policies and procedures of this country's security and intelligence agencies in the collection, processing, analysis and sharing of information about Canadians with foreign agencies, especially those with abysmal human rights records.

“Information shared about Canadians arrested outside of this country must be properly vetted and the right qualifying labels must be used,” he says. 

“It is important that security and intelligence agencies here lay down strict operating protocols so that foreign agencies known for human rights violations will not interpret their continuing relationship with Canada as a tacit endorsement of their activities. 

“Beyond the Canadian Charter, there is a plethora of international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions, that prohibit extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances,’ torture, and ill-treatment in any circumstance. Canadian security and intelligence agencies must be alive to their responsibilities under these treaties.”

Akenroye says that while people may see this $31 million payout in different lights, he views it as a signal to the public that Ottawa is “ready to own its mistakes, as well as put in place adequate measures and protocols when sharing information with foreign agencies, and make restitution where Canadians’ rights and freedoms are breached by the direct and indirect complicity of the government here.

 “It is also a lesson learned that an over-reaching and unchecked approach to national security will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in compensation in the future,” he says. 

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