Omar Khadr’s lawyers tried diplomacy, then a media campaign, but with still no word from Ottawa as to when the Toronto-born prisoner will be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, they’re taking the fight to the courts.
An application for judicial review of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ delay in deciding Khadr’s transfer was filed with the federal court late Friday.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the Minister’s inaction has made it necessary to take this step,” Toronto lawyer Brydie Bethell said.
“We warned the Minister that if he didn’t comply with his statutory duty, we would have no choice but to take legal action. We’ve tried literally everything. And, we’ve been patient. We’ve waited. We’ve waited until we can’t wait anymore.”
Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire also started an online petition Friday in an attempt to pressure Ottawa.
“After years of dragging its feet, Canada finally agreed to (Khadr’s) return in 2010, so long as he served one additional year in Guantanamo,” the petition states.
“No one forced the government’s hand. It made its promise voluntarily. That year has passed, and yet the transfer request continues to gather dust on the minister’s desk awaiting his signature. This is simply unacceptable.”
Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 to five war crimes, including murder for the death of U.S. Delta Force soldier Christopher Speer, in return for an eight-year sentence.
Part of his plea deal agreement included a diplomatic note from Canada’s embassy in Washington that stated Ottawa would “favourably consider,” Khadr’s transfer after one more year served in Guantanamo.
The chief counsel for Guantanamo’s military commissions says he can’t understand why Ottawa has not yet approved the transfer as he was led to believe it was a done deal after the year had passed.
“It seemed everything had been done between the two countries to get Omar home after a year,” U.S. Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell said in an interview Friday, calling the delay “disappointing.”
Harsh words for Ottawa also came Friday from Guantanamo’s former chief prosecutor, Col. Morris Davis, who has been openly critical of the military commissions he once defended.
“The United States and Canada like to believe we’re shining examples of what rights and justice are all about,” Davis said.
“Treating Omar Khadr like some political hot potato that neither government wants to get stuck holding takes some of the shine of the credibility of what we claim we represent.
“And it’s not a bunch of bleeding hearts saying our governments need to do better in this case. I spent 25 years in the U.S. armed forces and Senator Romeo Dallaire was a Canadian lieutenant-general who took on and testified against war criminals.”
But not everyone wants Ottawa to follow through on its promise and bring Khadr back.
A small but vocal movement against Khadr’s transfer is planning protests in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday – advertising that they are against Khadr’s return and “the unholy alliance of Islamism and the Left.”
Ottawa maintains there is no delay, but rather that Toews is following the normal procedure in deciding whether to approve the transfer.
“The U.S. no longer wants him and has asked us to take him,” Julie Carmichael, Toews’ spokesperson said again Friday, reiterating the same “media lines” that journalists have been given for months.
“A decision must be made on his application in accordance with Canadian law.”
But not all cases follow the same timeline. In 2008, Jason Kenney, then the secretary of state for multiculturalism, traveled to Mexico to help arrange the transfer of Canadian Brenda Martin, who had been convicted of money laundering.
The Conservative government paid a fine she owed to help expedite her transfer. Kenney said it was paid through a special Foreign Affairs fund for distressed Canadians abroad and Martin would be expected to repay the government.
Colwell said Ottawa’s decision not just impacts Khadr’s fate but other cases the Pentagon is pursuing in Guantanamo. “It definitely has an effect. The detainees know, they see the news, they talk and here’s this guy that made the leap of faith to plead guilty …. with the expectation he’d be back in Canada last October.”
On Wednesday, a Sudanese prisoner who had pleaded guilty to being a member of Al Qaeda was transferred home after serving a two-year sentence, becoming the first detainee convicted under the Obama administration to be released.
“The U.S. had to transfer someone to Sudan to prove that the U.S. can live up to its promises because the U.S. has obviously figured out it can’t rely on Canada,” Bethell said after news broke. “Sudan and the U.S. can keep their promises, but Canada can’t?”