Edmonton

Omar Khadr's war crimes sentence is finished, Alberta judge rules

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr has completed his sentence, an Alberta judge ruled Monday.

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner was released on bail in May 2015

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr with his lawyer, Nate Whitling, outside the Edmonton courthouse on Monday. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr has completed his sentence, an Alberta judge ruled Monday.

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau counted the time Khadr spent on conditional release for nearly four years as counting toward his eight-year sentence.

Moreau declared his sentence over. After the judge left the courtroom, a beaming Khadr embraced his lawyer, Nate Whitling.

Outside court, Khadr said he is pleased with the decision.

"I think it's been a while but I'm happy it's here, and right now I'm going to just try to focus on recovering and not worrying about having to go back to prison, or, you know, just struggling," Khadr told reporters.

Whitling said efforts to overturn Khadr's U.S. convictions will continue. But the completion of his sentence will mean more freedom for his client, Whitling said.

The lawyer also noted that under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is no right to appeal Monday's decision. 

"So it's a final decision," Whitling said. "So we do expect this is the end of the road in terms of having to deal with Mr. Khadr's sentence." 

Restrictions on his liberty 'gone'

"All those conditions that were restricting his liberty up to this point are now gone, so for example he can apply for a passport, he can talk to his sister, he can travel around the world or around Canada without having to seek permission," Whitling said. 

Khadr and his lawyer will now focus on a dismissal of his U.S. military commission conviction for killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. His eight-year sentence, which was imposed in 2010, would have expired last year if he had remained in custody.

"We think that these convictions will eventually be overturned," Whitling said. "And I think it will be determined there was never any jurisdiction to try Mr. Khadr for these offences."

Khadr has been free on bail with conditions since 2015.

Moreau found those conditions mirrored those that would have been imposed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act if he had been serving his sentence in the community. 

In her 23-page decision, Moreau wrote: "Keeping in mind the YCJA principles emphasizing that young persons are entitled to both timely and prompt intervention and to effective rehabilitation and reintegration, I credit Mr. Khadr for the time spent under the bail conditions."

'I'm glad it's over for him'

After the judge left the courtroom, Janice Williamson made her way over to shake Khadr's hand. The University of Alberta professor is the editor of Omar Khadr, Oh Canada and has been a long-time member of the Free Omar support group.

Williamson hoped Monday's court decision would pave the way for more normalcy in Khadr's life.

Omar Khadr supporter, Janice Williamson. (Peter Evans/CBC )

"I think he wants to live an ordinary Canadian life, and I think this will allow him to do so," Williamson said. "I hope it's a signal to his detractors that the rule of law and the justice system supports him in embarking on that ordinary life."

Those sentiments were echoed by University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin.

"I'm glad it's over for him," Macklin said. "He has, when given the opportunity, demonstrated that he is not a danger. That he is somebody who wishes only to live a life in peace and make a positive contribution."

'Omar Khadr is a lightning rod for Islamophobia'

Social media was quick to erupt Monday with messages for and against Khadr.

"Social media has a tendency to disseminate misinformation and hatred," Williamson said. "Omar Khadr is a lightning rod for Islamophobia."

In Ottawa, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer suggested Khadr should turn over millions in federal compensation money he received to the American soldier's widow.

Williamson called that comment "a bit of a dog whistle."

"It's him alerting people who think that somehow Omar Khadr was unfairly compensated, or that somehow think Canadian citizens are hard done by because the justice system is treating him with the rule of law," Williamson said. "That to me is a bit of a dog whistle, and it's simply wrong."

Macklin noted Khadr has been forced to deal with political attacks for years.

University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin. (John Lesavage/CBC)

"I think Mr. Khadr has had to find a way of getting past this for a very long time," Macklin said. "There are and will continue to be political leaders who opportunistically exploit Mr. Khadr for their own political gain. This is not the beginning of that. I hope it is nearing the end."

When asked for comment on Monday's court decision, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "We are a country that respects the rule of law, and very much respects the judicial process."

Khadr spent several years in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was captured in 2002 and accused of tossing a grenade that killed special forces soldier Christopher Speer in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 at the time. 

He was later transferred to Canada, where the Supreme Court ruled Khadr's punishment was to be served as a youth sentence. Khadr was released on bail in May 2015 pending an appeal of his war crime convictions in the United States. Since then, he has lived in Edmonton and Red Deer without incident.  

Last month, Whitling told the court Khadr's U.S appeal hasn't advanced "even an inch."

Khadr received a $10.5-million legal settlement and an official apology from the Canadian government in 2017. Whitling said Khadr wants to move past the sentence and "get on with his life."

Read the full decision

With files from Terry Reith, Janice Johnston and The Canadian Press