TORONTO - The federal government's demand to view videotaped interviews that psychiatrists did with Omar Khadr is a "spurious" reason to delay his transfer to a Canadian prison, a lawyer for the convicted war criminal said Friday.
"It's, in our view, a transparent attempt at trying to justify delay which is going to fall flat," said John Norris after getting a copy of a letter Public Safety Minister Vic Toews sent to U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta demanding the materials.
In the letter dated July 19, Toews demanded copies of videos of interviews that two psychiatrists did with Khadr, who is serving his eight-year sentence at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
He also writes that he wants uncensored versions of the psychiatrists' reports, indicating he has been provided with an uncensored report from one of the psychiatrists and a censored report from the other.
"To that end, I am now writing to formally request that you obtain the unedited and unredacted copies of the two videotapes and interviews of Mr. Khadr," Toews writes.
"Once I have received these items, I will be in a position to render my decision."
Toews contends the information is necessary for the Canadian justice system to "effectively secure" Khadr and "appropriately administer his sentence in Canada."
Norris, however, questions the timing of Toews' letter, which came a week after Khadr's legal team filed a notice of application to ask the Federal Court to review the government's delay in submitting the transfer request.
“It's coming awfully late in the day," said Norris, who had just returned from Guantanamo Bay where he met with Khadr.
"Immediately after we file an application seeking a decision from him, they come up with this completely spurious reason for delaying."
"I wish I knew what the reason was, it appears to be nothing more than a lack of courage to do the right thing in this case."
The Federal Court challenge will proceed without delay and Norris said he is planning to make a motion next week asking a judge for an expedited timetable for hearing the application.
The plea bargain under which Khadr pleaded guilty to war crimes in 2010 made him eligible to transfer to a Canadian prison last fall.
The delay is very difficult to Khadr, Norris said.
"He's understandably very anxious about the delay and very frustrated," he said in a phone interview. "He remains hopeful that Canada is eventually going to do the right thing, but these are very difficult days for anyone."
The war crimes that Khadr was charged with include the killing of a U.S. army medic in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old at the time.