Omar Khadr’s Canadian lawyers are asking a federal court to order Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to make up his mind on whether to bring the Canadian convict back to serve time in Canada.
In an application filed on Friday, John Norris and Brydie Bethell asked judges to review what they argue is an unreasonable delay in deciding on Mr. Khadr’s transfer application. The 25-year-old was eligible to return to serve the rest of his sentence in Canada as of October, 2011.
Mr. Khadr was 15 when U.S. forces captured him after an Afghan firefight. He has been held in Guantanamo Bay for almost a decade. In October, 2010, he pleaded guilty to multiple war crimes, including the murder of U.S. soldier Christopher Speer, with a plea agreement stating he would be eligible to transfer from Guantanamo Bay to Canada a year into his eight-year sentence.
At the time, the Canadian government said it would look favourably on a transfer application; in November, 2010, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons that Ottawa “will implement the agreement between Mr. Khadr and the U.S. government.”
But little progress has been made in Mr. Khadr’s case since. His lawyers submitted a formal application for his transfer in April, 2011. They have been joined by Senator Romeo Dallaire in pressing the government to give them at least a time frame on a decision.
“The government was involved in the negotiations of the plea agreement. … They knew a transfer was part of the deal. And the minister has to make a decision. He has to stop stonewalling,” Ms. Bethell said in an interview. “Contrary to his obligations, [Mr. Toews has] refused to advise about the progress of this matter. … The assumption is that he’s doing nothing.”
If the court decides Mr. Toews’s delay has been unreasonable, it can direct him to decide right away. Mr. Khadr’s lawyers plan to file requests for an expedited hearing next week.
Ms. Bethell said she doesn’t know where Mr. Khadr might be sent to serve his sentence in Canada. He could be eligible for parole as early as summer, 2013.
U.S. officials, for their part, would like to get Mr. Khadr into Canada as soon as possible, not least because detainees at Guantanamo are weighing their own plea deal prospects on whether Mr. Khadr’s agreement works out.
“Clearly, if the government can’t carry through on their end of the bargain, it has a chilling effect on the willingness of others to plead,” Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, chief defence counsel for military commissions, was quoted as saying in the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “Certainly there was an expectation by all parties involved that Khadr was going to be home last fall.”
Last week, the U.S. transferred long-time Guantanamo detainee Ibrahim al Qosi to his native Sudan as part of the former al-Qaeda operative’s plea deal two years ago.
“Sudan has joined countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, who moved diligently to protect the rights of their citizens,” Ms. Bethell said. “You’ve got to ask yourself what Canada’s doing to protect its citizen detained in Guantanamo. And the answer is, ‘nothing.’”
Mr. Toews won’t comment on the application, spokeswoman Julie Carmichael said Friday evening.
“Omar Ahmed Khadr is a Canadian citizen that has pled guilty to the murder of an American Army medic,” she wrote in an e-mail. “A decision must be made on his application in accordance with Canadian law.”
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