Omar Khadr bail hearing: Release would likely come with strict conditions
28-year-old former Guantanamo Bay inmate appealing U.S. conviction for war crimes
Omar Khadr's new life in Edmonton, should he be granted bail today, could involve studying at a Christian liberal arts college, learning to drive, and doing the dishes after supper as an adopted member of his lawyer's family.
The level of freedom he could enjoy, however, would depend on conditions set by the judge in his Alberta bail proceedings.
That's presuming Khadr will be released at all, an outcome human rights advocates are hoping for — 13 years after the Toronto-born Khadr allegedly threw a grenade that killed U.S. soldier Christopher Speer in Afghanistan.
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Andrew Gerolymatos, a member of the Canadian Advisory Council on National Security, expects wide-ranging lifestyle restrictions if the convicted terrorist can convince Judge June Ross he deserves release.
"There's going to be a long list of things he can and cannot do," Gerolymatos said from Vancouver. "In light of people going to the Middle East to join ISIS, certainly you can expect travel restrictions, restriction against him buying any kinds of rifles or guns, maybe even travel restrictions within Canada."
To security officials, Gerolymatos believes, Khadr will be viewed as "a natural recruit" for jihadists.
"I'm sure they'll ask him what does he think of ISIS? Al-Qaeda? Any terrorist group," he said.
'A wonderful young man'
Those kinds of concerns might dictate parameters for Khadr's internet activity or who he would be permitted to communicate with.
His family lives in Ontario. In an affidavit, he said he could keep in touch by phone or Skype.
Khadr, who was imprisoned at the notorious U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp at age 15, then transferred last year to the Bowden medium-security penitentiary in Innisfail, Alta., is considered by rights advocates and some legal scholars to have been a child soldier brainwashed by his father, an al-Qaeda lieutenant.
Now Canada has a duty, advocates say, to reintegrate Khadr into a peaceful society.
"I find him to be a wonderful young man. Cheerful, gentle, positive despite everything that's happened to him," said Alberta author Rudy Wiebe, who last visited Khadr at Bowden in February.
At some point — a point that should have happened years ago — he'll be a free person.—Tony Doob, Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies
"What I understand from Omar is he wants to have a normal Canadian life. He wants to go to school."
One of Khadr's "greatest pleasures" at Bowden, he said, was being taught to drive a forklift.
"He was hauling loads around outside. He could see the mountains. It was a delight to somebody who's been incarcerated in four walls for years," Wiebe said.
King's University College in Edmonton has offered Khadr a place as a mature student. If he is released, he has expressed interest in working part-time.
Dennis Edney, Khadr's attorney for the last decade, has welcomed his client to live with him and his wife, Patricia, their son, and their dogs.
Life with lawyer's family
That arrangement appears to satisfy bail conditions under the Criminal Code, said Tony Doob, a professor emeritus at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto.
"There are a couple of considerations: One is to make sure that he's available to come back to court; the second is that he doesn't commit any other offences," said Doob.
By having his legal counsel take responsibility for him, legal experts say, Edney can ensure that Khadr meets all his court dates and remains in a positive family environment that will prevent him from committing further offences.
"He's got the equivalent of a surety as he's likely to be living with his lawyer. If he's going to live there, you have in a sense both the first and the second grounds for holding him dealt with," Doob said. "It seems sufficient."
The question of how much freedom Khadr would be permitted to enjoy as an ordinary, repatriated Canadian remains a difficult one for Doob to even consider.
"The reality is, had he been tried in Canada at the time he committed that offence — aside from the fact he was a child soldier and the offence was committed from his perspective during war — he would have been freed and cleared so many years ago," he said.
Although Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to murder in violation of the law of war, supposedly to avoid a possible life sentence without parole, no such war crime existed in 2002 when he allegedly threw the grenade that killed Speer. Khadr has said he only pleaded guilty so he could get out of Guantanamo.
Khadr's lawyers have since challenged his eight-year sentence, arguing in an appeal that retroactive prosecutions were not authorized at the time.
Whether or not Khadr's release would come with extreme restrictions, Doob says it's only a matter of time before he's in line for statutory release sometime next fall anyway.
"The thing you have to remember is that at some point — a point that should have happened years ago — he'll be a free person," he said.
"My feeling would be to try to address the issue of what will make him a peaceful member of society in the long run, and I would start by trying to deal with him fairly and humanely, rather than pushing him in another direction. That's a good place to start."