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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Canada

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Canada, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 32.3 million (7.0 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 62,500
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 16
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 7 July 2000
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 182, ICC

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds continued to be recruited into the armed forces.


National recruitment legislation and practice

Recruitment into the Canadian armed forces was entirely voluntary under the terms of the National Defence Act. Most Canadian Forces programs permitted enrolment at 17, although 16-year-olds could enrol in the Regular Officer Training Plan (Junior Program) and the reserves.1 As of July 2007, 139 16- and 17-year-olds were serving in the regular Canadian armed forces, and 2,194 16- and 17-year-olds were enrolled in the reserves.2 Those serving in the Canadian Forces under the age of 18 were permitted to leave the forces at any time without penalty. However, those who had entered the Regular Officer Training Program under the age of 18 could be required to repay their educational costs should they choose to leave after a year's service. Under the National Defence Act, "members of the Canadian Forces who have not yet reached the age of 18 may not be deployed to any theatre of hostilities, or indeed, any area where armed combat is a possibility. The Canadian Forces also do not permit persons under the age of 18 to be deployed in any domestic emergency where weapon use cannot be ruled out."3

Military training and military schools

Canada's Royal Military College is operated and managed by the Canadian Forces. However, the government does not regard it as being bound by the restrictions on the age of recruitment required by Article 3 of the Optional Protocol.4 In June 2006 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child asked the government to "provide further information on the status of children attending the Royal Military College, particularly as to whether they are considered as just civilian students of a military college or already as military recruits".5


Omar Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian national, was taken into US custody in Afghanistan in late July 2002 when he was 15 years old, and subsequently transferred to the US naval base Guantánamo, Cuba. In November 2005 he was charged for trial by military commission under a military order signed by President George W. Bush in November 2001. The military commission system was replaced by a revised system under the 2006 Military Commissions Act (MCA). In April 2007 Omar Khadr was charged under the MCA with murder and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.6 In June 2007 a military judge dismissed the charges against Khadr on a jurisdictional question.7 On 24 September 2007 a newly established Court of Military Commission Review overturned the ruling, allowing proceedings against Khadr to continue.

In connection with a concern about rules and procedures regarding the capture of persons under the age of 18 in the context of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern in June 2006 about "the lack of information about measures taken to ensure that captured persons below 18 are treated in accordance with international standards of human rights and humanitarian law when transferred to other national authorities". The Committee recommended that the government ensure that transfers of such detained persons to national authorities only take place when "there is a reason to believe that their human rights will be respected and as long as the State party is satisfied that the receiving State is willing and able to apply the Geneva Conventions". Noting that Canada exported small arms and light weapons, the Committee recommended that "the State party ensure that its domestic legislation and practice prohibit in any case the trade of small arms and light weapons to countries where persons who have not attained the age of 18 may take a direct part in hostilities as members of their armed forces or armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State".8

With regard to dissemination of the Optional Protocol, the Committee urged the government to "strengthen education and training in all domestic languages on the provisions of the Optional Protocol for all relevant professional groups, in particular military personnel". It was likewise suggested that the Optional Protocol be made "widely known to the public at large and in particular to children and their parents, through, inter alia, school curricula in a child-friendly version".9

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Canada and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

1 Initial report of Canada to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/CAN/1, 29 July 2005.

2 Government Response to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights Report, "Children: the silenced citizens – effective implementation of Canada's obligations with respect to the rights of children", tabled in the Canadian Senate on 16 November 2007.

3 Initial report, above note 1.

4 Ibid.

5 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Canada on implementation of the Optional Protocol, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/CAN/CO/1, 9 June 2006.

6 Charge sheet available at

7 At his arraignment proceedings in Guantánamo on 4 June 2007, the military judge dismissed the charges against him because, while Omar Khadr had been designated as an "enemy combatant" in Guantánamo, nowhere was there a record of his designation as an "unlawful enemy combatant", the label which (when attached to a non-US national) is a prerequisite for trial by military commission under the MCA.

8 Concluding observations, above note 5.

9 Ibid.

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