Amnesty International was represented in this case by Michael F. Battista and Michael Bossin. 


Manickavasagam Suresh was a refugee from Sri Lanka who applied for landed immigrant status in Canada. In 1994, the government of Canada alleged that he was a security risk to Canada because he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an alleged terrorist organization. Canada detained Mr. Suresh and commenced deportation proceedings. Mr. Suresh argued that he should not be deported because he faced a serious risk of torture if returned to Sri Lanka. His case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada, which needed to determine whether Canadian law permits deporting individuals to a risk of torture.


Amnesty International intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mr. Suresh’s case. In our submissions, Amnesty International argued that the absolute prohibition on returning a person to a risk of torture constitutes a norm of customary and conventional international law which is binding on Canada. We submitted that there are substantial grounds for believing that Mr. Suresh would be in danger of being subjected to torture upon his return to Sri Lanka. Amnesty International argued that because of this danger and the absolute prohibition on refoulement in international law, Canada should not deport Mr. Suresh to Sri Lanka.


The Supreme Court of Canada recognized that international human rights law rejects deportation to torture and that non-refoulement is an emerging peremptory norm of international law. However, while the Supreme Court stated that the Minister should generally decline to deport refugees to a risk of torture, Canadian law leaves open the possibility of refoulement in undefined “exceptional circumstances” where individuals pose a serious risk to the security of Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s judgment is inconsistent with Canada’s absolute obligation under international law to prohibit deportation to torture. Amnesty International has continued to advocate against Canada’s stance on international law in domestic and international fora, urging it to amend its laws to bring them in line with the obligation of non-refoulement.  Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee against Torture have repeatedly called on Canada to amend immigration laws to be consistent with the absolute prohibition on refoulement to torture.


Amnesty International’s application to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mr. Suresh’s case

Amnesty International’s submissions to the Supreme Court of Canada in Mr. Suresh’s case

Supreme Court of Canada judgment in Suresh