As the Canadian government offers an apology and millions in compensation for Ottawa’s role in the detention and torture of three Canadians held in Syria and Egypt, federal lawyers appear to be digging in for a long fight against former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old and grievously injured when he was captured in 2002.
Lawyers for Khadr, now 30, have been fighting the federal government since 2004 regarding abuses they say occurred to the Toronto-born captive under the Liberal and Conservative administrations.
The crux of the $20-million suit is Canada’s unwillingness to recognize that according to international law, Khadr should have been treated as a child soldier during his incarceration. Most damning is the allegation that Ottawa not only failed to protect Khadr as a passive bystander during the abuse of the teenage prisoner, but co-operated with the U.S. in violation of Canadian constitutional and international laws protecting the rights of minors.
The Supreme Court of Canada has already condemned the federal government’s treatment of Khadr in three separate cases, including a 2010 unanimous ruling that said the participation of Canadian officials in Khadr’s Guantanamo interrogations violated his constitutional rights and “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”
“It’s time for the government to close the door and apologize to him. Instead, they’re going to drag him back through the nightmares of his time in Guantanamo in examining him about his experiences,” Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney said in an interview Saturday.
Edney, along with Toronto lawyer John Phillips, said Khadr will testify if essential to settling the case, but object to the need when his case has been so well documented in the media and through years of other cases litigated both here and the U.S.
“With the information and evidence so available, is the examination of Omar intended to show that he did not suffer from torture and abuse, that he suffered no damage from his incarceration as a child and the loss of his adolescence through early manhood without any rehabilitation by either the U.S. or Canada?” Phillips asks in a February letter to Department of Justice lawyer Barney Brucker. “I do not see how the Minister can achieve any benefit by subjecting Omar to further interrogation.”
Khadr was 15 when shot and captured following a July 27, 2002 firefight in Afghanistan where U.S. Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer was fatally wounded. In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes under Guantanamo’s controversial military commissions, including “murder in violation of the laws of war” for Speer’s death. In return, the Pentagon gave Khadr an eight-year sentence and chance to return to Canada.
Khadr later said he agreed to the plea deal as he believed it as his only way out of Guantanamo and has only vague recollections of the firefight.
Their case was similar to that of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar, who received an apology and $10.5 million from the federal government after a 2006 inquiry found that Canadian officials passed information about Arar to the U.S. and Syria, leading to his detention and torture.
Khadr was transferred from Guantanamo into Canadian custody in 2012 and released on bail in 2015. The Liberal government dropped the appeal of Khadr’s bail last year, breaking with its Conservative predecessor that fought to keep the Toronto-born captive behind bars.
He has lived a quiet life as a student in Edmonton since his release, only recently moving out of the Edney’s home into his own apartment.
But he is back with the Edneys this weekend recovering from a lengthy and complicated surgery last week to try to repair damage to his shoulder sustained in the firefight.