Amici Curiae: The Khadr Guilty Plea, Who’s Your Daddy, and Marijuana Prohibition (?) Edition

Omar Khadr Pleads Guilty

In the most recent development in the Omar Khadr saga, the now twenty-two year old Canadian citizen pleaded guilty Monday to five war crimes charges. Since being caught in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of fifteen, Khadr has spent the last eight years in the U.S. detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is now just the fifth Guantanamo inmate to be convicted by a military trial.

Khadr’s lawyer’s submitted that he was a child soldier forced into combat by his notoriously radical family. While the military court rejected this argument, Khadr was ultimately able to obtain a plea deal whereby he will face a maximum eight years in jail. Following the case, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, stated publicly that Khadr should be returned to Canada to be rehabilitated rather than be imprisoned in the US.

In January, the Supreme Court, in a rare per curiam decision, held that the Canadian government official’s participation in Khadr’s interrogations at Guantanamo violated his section 7 Charter right. However, the SCC stopped short of demanding that the government request Khadr’s return.

It remains unclear what action, if any, the federal government will take upon news of Khadr’s plea.

Do You Have a “Fundamental” Right to Know Your Biological Father?

In British Columbia, Olivia Pratten, a 28-year old B.C.-born Toronto journalist, brought a constitutional challenge against the British Columbia Adoption Act. The Act gives adopted children the right to obtain information about their biological parents, yet this right is not granted to people, like Ms. Pratten, who are conceived through artificial insemination using donated eggs or sperm. She claims that this double-standard violates equality rights (s. 15) under the Charter, which guarantees the right to “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination”.

This lawsuit seeks to introduce legislation that would enforce physicians to keep permanent records of all donors and give donor offspring the “fundamental” right” to know their biological fathers when they turn 19.

“Not having that right relegates Ms. Pratten to ‘second-class citizen’ status and represents the province’s ‘wholesale abandonment’ of equality rights,” Joseph Arvay, Pratten’s lawyer said in the National Post.

The provincial attorney general had tried to dismiss Olivia Pratten’s case based on privacy rights protection of sperm donors because they were promised anonymity when they made donations. Judge Gropper of the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed this claim, saying that “the declaration that she seeks will have an effect of resolving some controversy, which affects or may affect the rights of persons like Ms. Pratten and others who were conceived through gamete donation.” This lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

Chretien Wins Sponsorship Appeal

In what will likely form the last chapter of the Liberal Party sponsorship scandal, the Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a 2008 Federal Court finding that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did not bear responsibility for the sponsorship scandal.

The sponsorship program was initiated following the 1995 referendum to improve the visibility and reputation of the federal government in Quebec. In certain cases, the program resulted in federal money being transferred through advertising companies to the Liberal Party. The subsequent Gomery Commision concluded that Chrétien bore some responsibility for the scandal. However, in 2008, the Federal Court ruled that Justice Gomery’s conclusion lacked credibility, noting his repeated inappropriate comments to the media before the investigation was completed.

The current government now has sixty days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, although it seems unlikely that this case would be granted leave.

Man Released after Spending 27 Years in Prison

Ivan Henry, 64-year-old Vancouver man, has been acquitted of all three counts of rape and seven other sexual offences after spending nearly 27 years in prison in British Columbia. A three-judge panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal has unanimously decided that the trial judge made numerous legal errors and the “verdicts on all charges were unresaonable”. In a line-up photo, the police officers were physically restraining Mr. Henry while others were smiling for the camera; in addition, the trial judge instructed the jurors that they could infer Mr. Henry’s resistance to participate in the photo line-up as an admission of guilty mind.  

Mr. Henry filed more than 50 applications for appeal but were all dismissed as frivolous. In 2006, during a Robert Pickton police investigation, DNA evidence identified a man who committed three offences which were highly similar to Mr. Henry’s case. Thus, Henry’s case was reopened, which took another four years for the court to decide whether his conviction should be quashed. Upon acquittal, Mr. Henry told reporters “it wouldn’t heal me if I was angry.”

The Legalize Marijuana Movement in California

California was the first state in the U.S. to allow medical marijuana sales in 1996. It could become the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2010.

In November 2010, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, a ballot measure that would make it legal for anyone over age 21 to posses, share and transport of up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use, and cultivate up to 25 square feet of marijuana plants. Recent polls have shown that Proposition 19 has been drawing considerable support in polls. However, if state voters approve of the legalization, a legal challenge from the Department of Justice will likely follow. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Obama administration will continue to enforce federal law against marijuana in California even if they conflict with state law.

Advocates for Proposition 19 claim legalization could generate 1.4 billion in tax revenue, cut costs by saving law enforcements and prison resources, and put drug cartels out of business as marijuana price would plummet. On the other hand, opponents say legalization could increase health care cost and would not halt drug trafficking as other states remain illegal.

While Californians are debating the legalization of marijuana, British Columbians are worrying that such law would hurt B.C.’s marijuana economy. Currently, this B.C.’s illegal industry generates billions of dollars each year and is hugely dependent on smuggling into the U.S. market. If Proposition 19 is passed, California would dominate the industry.

Jocelyn Elders, a former surgeon commented on the NYT: “I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine, and alcohol. I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana.”

President Obama on the Daily Show

On a lighter note, Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to appear on a Comedy Central show this week as he partook in an interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

In advance of the upcoming U.S. Congressional mid-term elections, President Obama appealed to the American public (or, at least, Stewart’s primarily left-leaning viewer base) to vote for fellow Democrats as a means of rewarding them for the “tough votes they took on healthcare and financial regulatory reform”. While Obama recognized the existence of widespread frustration in American society, Obama also pleaded for patience in affecting the promise of “change” he so famously campaigned on in 2008.

Political pundits are expecting significant Democratic losses in these elections, particularly in light of the emergent Tea Party movement which has rallied supporters of less government spending to vote for Republican and libertarian candidates.

The Obama interview was part of the run-up to Stewart and fellow Comedy Central comedian-anchor Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” this weekend, which is a response to Fox News conservative pundit Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor Rally” and the perceived hysteria exhibited by movements like the Tea Party since Obama’s election.

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