Justice Not Served: Canada Failing to Prosecute War Criminals, Rights Lawyers Say

June 30, 2020 Updated: June 30, 2020

Not only is Canada lax in keeping out war criminals, it is also failing to prosecute known war criminals in the country due to funding limitations, leaving victims dissatisfied, human rights lawyers say.

“From my own experiences working on these types of cases, it’s very frustrating and it’s very disappointing for us,” Amanda Ghahremani, legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice, told The Epoch Times.

“It takes a lot of victims and survivors to relive these traumatic experiences, to share their stories, to share the information that they have with authorities. They’re willing to give of themselves if there is the hope for the opportunity that justice can be served.”

Bill Horace, a man accused of war crimes who arrived in Canada in 2002, died June 21 after being gunned down by four masked men at his home in London, Ontario. Horace lived as a free man for 18 years in Canada, married, fathered children, and was not brought before a court prior to his death.

Horace was a warlord in the rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NFPL). Statements to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission alleged that Horace and men under his command crucified, beheaded, tortured, and raped civilians.

The case drew the attention of the Canadian Centre for International Justice. Then-CCIJ legal director Matt Eisenbrandt made research trips to Liberia and handed a 34-page dossier to Canada’s Department of Justice in 2012.

The Department approached Eisenbrandt and his successor Gharemani to provide evidence to help deport Horace instead of prosecuting him. They refused.

Hassan Bility, a Liberian and executive director of the Global Justice and Research Project, worked with the CCIJ in their attempts to bring Horace to justice.

“I was shocked and surprised when the Canadian government did not show any interest in the case,” Bility said in an interview.

“This is a form of threat, in my view, against justice campaigners and human rights defenders. Providing a haven and shelter to suspected war criminals negates the raison d’etre what I thought Canada stood for. It empowers these suspects to earn money, plan, and execute the same atrocious acts they are accused of in their countries.”

Other countries are pursuing war criminal cases, he adds, including France, England, Switzerland, Finland, the United States, and Belgium.

Canada has had mixed results with attempted prosecutions under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, which was passed in 2000.

Désiré Munyaneza was found guilty in 2009 of seven offences related to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Dejan Demirovic was accused of murdering more than a dozen villagers during the Yugoslavian civil war. His prosecution in Canada failed to result in a conviction, however, and he was deported to Serbia in 2005.

Deportation, says Ghahremani, is “worse on multiple levels. … They’re going to be living among people that they terrorized. Not only is it not accountability, but that’s actually worse for the many people who are still living with the trauma of what happened.

“If they are elite, if they have contact with elite people in those communities, they can also go back to a country get into politics or get into government and become destabilizers of a country that is trying to kind of move past trauma of a war or of other types of atrocity.”

The notorious Charles Taylor led the NFPL that Horace fought in. Taylor became president of Liberia in 1997 following the conclusion of the civil war. He resigned in 2003 and was sentenced in 2012 to a 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

An international prosecution is laborious and expensive. The war crimes program, founded in 1998, has the same $15 million annual budget as it did at its inception. Inflation ensures prosecution becomes less likely each year.

“Canada has very good laws in place to prosecute war crimes cases,” Eisenbrandt says. “It’s really just a matter of political will to actually move those cases forward and properly fund the program in charge of the prosecutions.”

Eisenbrandt encouraged Ottawa to prosecute other war crimes cases during his 10 years with the CCIJ, but authorities preferred the easier route of extradition.

In 1982, a special forces unit of the Guatemalan Army known as the Kaibiles murdered more than 200 civilians in the community of Las Dos Erres for suspicion of supporting or sheltering guerrillas. Jorge Sosa Orantes, a soldier with the Kaibiles, fled to Canada in 2010.

An eyewitness, one of just two survivors, was willing to testify against Orantes, who allegedly used a grenade, gun, and sledgehammer to kill villagers during the massacre. Eisenbrandt and the CCIJ tried on two occasions to get Canada to prosecute Orantes, but Canada extradited him to the United States instead. There, Orantes was sentenced to 10 years for citizenship fraud for lying to U.S. authorities about his history with the Guatemalan Army.

“The Canadian government once upon a time was a real leader in the world on these issues of injustice for war crimes and genocide,” says Eisenbrandt. “Canada has really fallen by the wayside in the last decade, and that’s a real shame to say.”

In 2015, the Harper government passed the Removal of Serious Foreign Criminals Act in an effort to close loopholes that delayed or prevented extradition. However, a 2018 investigation by Global News found that the number of foreign citizens who were deemed a risk to public safety or security rose from 291 in 2012 to nearly 1,200 in 2017. Removals have declined by one-third since 2014.