OTTAWA -- Omar Khadr's lawyer says his client shouldn't have to languish in a Guantanamo prison camp for a few more months before returning to Canada.
John Norris said Thursday he's encouraged by a Huffington Post Canada report that Khadr will be returned to Canada and likely home by November but doesn't understand why the Conservative government is still dragging its feet.
"The decision is long overdue and the transfer should be happening now and not in November. Obviously, we are encouraged by the positive signal, but really let's get on with it," Norris said.
HuffPost reported Wednesday that the Conservative government will approve Khadr's transfer back to Canada, although Toews is several weeks away from making the decision official.
The Prime Minister's Office and Toews' spokesperson, Julie Charmichael, insisted the public safety minister has not made a decision in the case -- although neither would deny that the transfer will be approved.
"The minister has said he wants to view the tapes as part of his deliberations before he makes a decision. That is still where things are -- the minister has not taken a decision," Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, wrote in an email Thursday.
Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire, who took on Khadr's case as a child soldier and has been championing his return, urged Toews to approve the convicted murderer's transfer immediately.
"Canada was intimately involved in crafting the plea deal of October 2010 that states that after one additional year in Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Khadr would serve out the remainder of his sentence in Canada. Yet, almost a year after becoming eligible to transfer to his home country, Mr. Khadr's rights as a Canadian, as a child and as a human being continue to be abused by this Conservative government," Dallaire said.
The NDP's human rights critic Wayne Marston said the government's reaction gives the impression that they are "very indecisive" on the file.
"This is a situation that has been politicized beyond what is necessary. He was a combatant in a war situation and there was a plea agreement and we should be following through on it," Marston said.
"We are the only Western country that hasn't repatriated the citizens that were in Guantanamo," he added. "If he had been a young man who had shot somebody in Canadian society he would have been out already."
As part of a plea deal, Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was captured on an Afghan battlefield in 2002, pleaded guilty to the murder of a U.S. Army medic in exchange for an eight-year term, with the understanding that one more year would be served in Guantanamo and then he would be transferred to Canada. A diplomatic note attested that the Canadian government was "inclined to favourably consider" it and then-foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon assured Canadians in November of 2010, that while Ottawa had not negotiated the deal, they would respect the terms of the agreement.
Although the 25-year-old Canadian citizen, who turns 26 next week, was eligible for a transfer last October, documents filed in Federal Court late Wednesday provide a glimpse as to why the Conservative government says it is taking more than 10 months to decide his fate.
Ottawa blames Washington for delaying the approval of Khadr's transfer until this April, saying American authorities didn't provide a complete hard copy file until May.
The Canadian government also claims it was waiting to receive sealed video footage of mental assessments done on Khadr for the prosecution, which it did not discover until February 2012, apparently through media reports. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews waited until July to request the documents and they were finally delivered on September 5.
"We find that the explanation they offer completely wanting, they have not provided any information that would [justify the delay]," Norris said.
The approximately 20-hours of raw video interviews were used by forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner and military psychologist Maj. Allan Hopewell to prepare their evaluations and they don't add anything that is important that wasn't already included in their reports, or in Welner's case, his testimony, Norris said.
Welner, who condemned Khadr as an unrepentant and dangerous extremist, starred as the prosecution's main witness at the 2010 military commission trial. Hopewell's view was decidedly less negative, calling the Toronto-born Khadr manipulative, mentally stable and someone who sees himself as a Canadian.
Norris said there is a clear obligation on Canada's part not to drag its feet and move on Khadr's transfer as soon as a decision has been made.
"Why Canada just can't own up and admit that they fumbled the ball and get this dealt with is frankly beyond us."
With files from The Canadian Press
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