Kitchener-Waterloo

Helmut Oberlander and Omar Khadr cases put spotlight on global justice system, expert says

Helmut Oberlander and Omar Khadr were both teenagers — 17 and 15 respectively — when they became involved in international conflicts. Both say they were forced to take part in war but despite long drawn out legal battles that followed their involvement, the similarity in the cases pretty much ends there, says an expert in international law.

Expert says 'there are a huge number of differences' in the 2 cases involving 2 Canadians

Oonagh Fitzgerald, director of international law research program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., says the Oberlander and Khadr cases show that Canada has had to deal with conflicts outside its borders that come into the country because of its multicultural nature. (Centre for International Governance Innovation )

Helmut Oberlander and Omar Khadr were both teenagers — 17 and 15 respectively — when they became involved in international conflicts. Both say they were forced to take part in war.

But despite long, drawn out legal battles that followed their involvement, the similarity in the cases pretty much ends there, says an expert in international law.

Oonagh Fitzgerald, director of international law research program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said Oberlander and Khadr were subjected to very different legal processes.

"There are a huge number of differences," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition on Thursday.

In Oberlander's case, the processes were framed by international law. In Khadr's case, the processes were determined to be contrary to international law. Khadr was also tortured. Oberlander was not.

 
Helmut Oberlander, now 93, of Waterloo, Ont., has said he was forcibly conscripted by the Nazis. He was 17 years. He has just been stripped of his Canadian citizenship for the fourth time. (CIJA)

Oberlander, 93, of Waterloo, Ont. has just been stripped of his Canadian citizenship for the fourth time. Khadr, 30, has just received an apology from the Canadian government and more than $10 million for what was deemed wrongful imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, where he was Canada's sole detainee.

She said the two cases, however, show that Canada has had to deal with conflicts outside its borders that come into the country because of its multicultural nature. 

As a country of immigrants and as an open society that respects human rights, Canada has had to work with other countries to develop processes to deal with people accused of committing war crimes in foreign countries, she said. There has much concern that Canada has let in war criminals, she added.

And there has been much collaboration between Canada and other countries to develop a body of law on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

"What you need to do in a country like Canada is have some sort of system for dealing with that. You don't want to meet somebody in the grocery store who murdered your parents," Fitzgerald said.

"This is what can happen in a country in Canada where the whole world comes together in our population." 
Omar Khadr, now 30, was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an American special forces medic. He was 15. He has just received an apology and payment from the Canadian government. (U.S. Department of Defence/Associated Press)

Oberlander's case

In the case of Oberlander, 93, of Waterloo, Ont., she said the allegation is he did not tell the truth when he applied for citizenship. 

Oberlander was an interpreter for the Nazis and served in Einsatzkommando 10a, which has been described as a group of mobile killing squads that targeted Jewish people in the former Soviet Union. Oberlander is not accused of taking part in any executions. Oberlander has said he was forced into service and he never subscribed to Nazi ideology. 

Fitzgerald said a federal court judge determined all the facts in the Oberlander case in 2000. There have been 16 reported decisions in his case.

Last week, the federal cabinet issued an order-in-council to revoke his citizenship again. According to the Supreme Court, a person has to be complicit in the war crimes of which he or she is accused.

"There have been various procedural applications. It has gone back and forth," she said. "It was looked at again by cabinet and that's what happened. They decided no, we are still proceeding." 

Fitzgerald said it's very difficult and controversial case.

The entrance to Camp 1 in Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta. Omar Khadr was Canada's sole detainee at this U.S. military prison. (Kathleen T. Rhem/Wikipedia CC)

Khadr's case

In the case of Khadr, 30, the allegation was that he committed murder. Born in Canada, Khadr was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an American special forces medic, U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. 

Khadr, who was suspected of throwing the grenade that killed Speer, was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission.

He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.

He returned to Canada two years later to serve the remainder of his sentence and was released in May 2015 pending an appeal of his guilty plea, which he said was made under duress.

"The question is: How do you have a criminal justice system that is global?" Fitzgerald asked.

With files from The Canadian Press