Omar Khadr is anxious to return to Canada and "become a contributing member of our society," his Toronto lawyer says, as the federal government confirmed today the Canadian Guantanamo Bay prisoner's fate is now in its hands in the form of a transfer application.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews's office said it has received a completed application from Khadr to transfer to Canada from the U.S. military detention centre in Cuba, and a decision will be made "in accordance with Canadian law."
Khadr, 25, is the last Western prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for killing a U.S. soldier when he was 15.
P.O.V.: Should Omar Khadr be allowed to return to Canada? Have your say here.
The Toronto-born Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to five charges brought before a controversial U.S. military tribunal, including killing Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer in Afghanistan in July 2002.
Khadr has been in custody at Guantanamo since then. He has been eligible to return to Canada since last October under terms of a plea deal.
However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been reluctant to accept Khadr, but is also concerned the 25-year-old could again associate with extremists if he were to return to Canada a free man after serving his full sentence in U.S. custody.
His lawyer, John Norris, told CBC News on Wednesday that his legal team submitted the application to the Canadian government about a year ago, and there is "no reason at all" for Toews to delay making a decision in Khadr's request.
"Through no fault of his own, he has been at Guantanamo since he was a 15-year-old," Norris said. "And he will benefit from a lot of support as he moves through the correctional system and returns to Canadian society — something that he is anxious to do — and to become a contributing member of our society."
Opposition politicians immediately reiterated their call for the government to immediately bring Khadr back to Canada, questioning why it has taken so long for the transfer request to reach Toews's office.
In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the U.S. Department of State and Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs on October 2010, Canada said it is "inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr's application to be transferred to Canada."
Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, told CBC's Power & Politics host Evan Solomon on Wednesday that Khadr is a convicted criminal, which means the government must now examine the transfer request under the International Transfer of Offenders Act to ensure it "meets with the laws of our country."
Despite Khadr's lawyers' claims the request was sent to Ottawa almost a year ago, Obhrai insisted the government had just received the application from the U.S. government.
But NDP MP Libby Davies told the CBC's Solomon that the Conservatives, and the Liberal government before them, "have not really wanted to deal with this case."
"The whole situation has been quite a travesty since Day One in terms of the process that [Khadr] had to go through," she said.
Asked Wednesday about the Khadr request, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. government recently approved his transfer to allow Khadr to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada, but could not provide a transfer timeline.
"But we're working quickly and deliberately to close this process out," Toner told reporters in Washington.
Canadian government sources said Wednesday the Americans need to "get rid of this guy for their own reasons" and are bending over backwards to make that happen."
The United States "basically asked Canada for a diplomatic favour and Canada previously agreed to look at a request of this nature favourably," the sources said.
Minister sets pace of process, lawyer says
In 2010, in response to a challenge by Khadr's legal team to try to force the Canadian government to seek his repatriation, the Supreme Court of Canada court ruled Canadian officials violated Khadr's human rights, and that he continues to be threatened by the effect of those violations.
However, the court concluded that ordering the government to ask the U.S. for Khadr's repatriation would interfere with the government's jurisdiction over foreign relations.
Norris said the humanitarian considerations in Khadr's case "cry out for a prompt decision" and a quick transfer to Canada.
"Diplomatically, I think Canada will be under pressure from the Americans not to delay," he said.
"I think Omar's case is a thorn in their side right now because it suggests to some that they're not able to follow through on terms of deals that they struck with people charged in that process."
As in every case of a request for transfer, there are several steps that need to be followed, Norris noted.
Canada notifies the individual seeking transfer about how it will be administered under Canadian law, including what the transfer applicant can expect in terms of parole and length of remainder of sentence to be served.
The Public Safety Ministry would not likely have detail on the location if the transfer applicant were to have to serve more time, Norris said.
The transfer applicant then looks at how the case will be administered and decides whether to proceed. It is unlikely that Khadr would choose not to pursue the transfer at that stage.
According to his plea deal, once in Canada, Khadr:
- Will not be allowed to fly into U.S. airspace.
- Will be subject to normal Canadian laws and be able to apply for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.
- Will not be able to profit from his story.
The complexity of the Khadr case has been heightened by Omar's upbringing.
His father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was identified by U.S. and Canadian intelligence sources as an associate of Osama bin Laden and a reputed financier of al-Qaeda operations. Khadr's father was killed in October 2003 by Pakistani forces — a firefight that left a brother, Abdul Karim, paralyzed.