Omar Khadr granted bail, but federal government to appeal

Omar Khadr, the Canadian transferred to an Alberta facility after serving time at Guantanamo Bay for war crimes, has been granted bail. Shortly after the decision was announced today, the federal government said it would appeal.

Convicted war criminal to remain at Bowden Institution in Alberta until bail conditions are set

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, shown in this undated image from Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., was granted bail by an Alberta judge Friday. (Bowden Institution/Canadian Press)

Convicted war criminal Omar Khadr, the Canadian transferred to an Alberta facility after serving time at Guantanamo Bay, has been granted bail.

Shortly after the decision was announced, the federal government said it would appeal the decision made by an Alberta judge.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross, in a 23-page decision, granted Khadr's bail request Friday morning. He will remain in custody until a May 5 hearing to set out his bail conditions.

"Even though the applicant has pled guilty to serious offences, he should be granted judicial interim release," the judge wrote, "because he has a strong basis for an appeal, and the risk to public safety is not such that it is in the public's best interest that he remain in pre-appeal detention in a manner that could render his appeal irrelevant."

Khadr's Edmonton lawyer, Dennis Edney, said the case will now go back before the courts to work out the conditions of his client's release, including where he will live and what he will do with his time. 

"Our court has said that subject to our Constitution, Omar Khadr is entitled to bail pending his appeal," Edney said. "It obviously means that the judicial system has faith in Omar Khadr.

"They agreed that he has a meritorious case before the appeal courts in the United States, sufficient to allow him to be released on bail. And they have also indicated that he presents no risk to Canada — all contrary to what our government has been saying for the last number of years."

Government plans appeal

"We are disappointed and will appeal this decision," Steven Blaney, Canada's minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said in a statement Friday. "Our government will continue to work to combat the international jihadi movement, which has declared war on Canada and her allies.

"Omar Ahmed Khadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes, including the murder of American army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer. We have vigorously defended against any attempt to lessen his punishment for these crimes."

While Speer's family declined any comment on the decision, retired sergeant Layne Morris, blinded in one eye during the fire-fight where Khadr was captured, called it "outrageous."

"I find that judge's ruling to be silly to the point of outrageous," he said. "Even though Omar Khadr has admitted to serious crimes — as the judge says — and so why you would want to let somebody out into the public who has admitted to serious crimes while you await appeal is just staggering to me."

Khadr has been in custody since he was arrested in 2002 when he was 15 years old. He was accused of throwing a grenade in Afghanistan that killed an American soldier.

Sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, Khadr later confessed to an American military tribunal. He was sentenced to eight years behind bars in 2010.

Transferred to Canada in 2012, Khadr, 28, has been serving what's left of his sentence at the Bowden Institution south of Red Deer, Alta. Khadr has recanted his confession and sought an appeal of his conviction.

​Lawyer offers Khadr a place to live

Edney said at his client's appeal in the United States, the defence will argue that Khadr is not guilty of a war crime, and only made his admissions under extreme duress.

"We had a Canadian government that allowed Omar Khadr to be in Guantanamo Bay," Edney said.

"We had a Canadian government that participated in his torture in Guantanamo Bay, said the Supreme Court of Canada. Under torture, Omar Khadr said he had thrown a hand grenade, when the government knows there's not one single piece of evidence that he threw a hand grenade. And then he faces the rest of his life in Guantanamo Bay and is forced to take a plea bargain.

"We don't torture children, and we don't use the evidence derived from torture."

Friday's court decision has nothing to do with Canada's relationship with the United States, Edney said.

"I've heard no evidence, whatsoever, to indicate that the United States is the least bit interested in Omar Khadr. In fact, my experience in Guantanamo Bay is that the United States wished to return Omar to Canada much sooner than the Canadian government would allow them."

Chance to study

King's University in Edmonton has offered Khadr the chance to study as a mature student. After his release, Khadr will live in Edmonton with Edney and his wife.

Releasing his client, he said, will allow "the world to see this individual out in the community, and to shatter the myth about Omar Khadr forever."

Nathan Whitling, another member of Khadr's legal defence team, called Friday's court ruling precedent setting.

"Justice Ross essentially has determined, as near as we can tell, for the first time that a right to bail pending appeal is protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even though it's not expressly spelled out in the charter or in any statute. Justice Ross has found that Mr. Khadr essentially has a charter right to bring this application and that's a significant step forward for the law."

Earlier this month, the prosecutor in the case argued a Canadian court had no jurisdiction to decide on Khadr's bail.