POLITICS

Ban On Media Interview With Omar Khadr Ruled Not Political By Federal Court

02/14/2015 03:27 EST | Updated 04/16/2015 05:59 EDT
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this artists rendering, Omar Khadr appears in an Edmonton courtroom, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Khadr's lawyer is arguing that his client should be moved from a maximum security prison to a provincial jail. The Toronto-born Khadr was 15 when he was captured by American soldiers in Afghanistan. He last appeared in court in Guantanamo Bay, where he pleaded guilty to five war crimes in October 2010 before a U.S. military commission. He was given an eight-year sentence. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Amanda McRoberts)
TORONTO - Media fighting for access to Omar Khadr have failed to show a prison-interview ban was politically motivated and violated their constitutional rights, a Federal Court judge has ruled.

In his ruling, Judge Richard Mosley rejected suggestions that authorities worried a sympathetic portrayal of Khadr would fly in the face of government statements branding the former Guantanamo Bay detainee as an unrepentant terrorist.

"I have not ignored the unfortunate history of apparent interference and public statements by government officials since Mr. Khadr’s repatriation," Mosley said in his decision.

"However, there is nothing before me to suggest that the decision by (correctional) officials to deny the interview request was made otherwise than in good faith, applying the statutory and regulatory framework."

In March 2014, the CBC, Toronto Star, and White Pine Pictures requested an interview with Khadr, who was returned to Canada from Guantanamo in 2012.

Nancy Shore, acting warden at the Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., turned down the request on the grounds that it could jeopardize both Khadr's safety and that of others in the prison. An interview would require an almost complete and disruptive lockdown of the facility, Shore said.

In court, the media group argued the interview refusal violated press freedoms and the public's right to know — especially given government statements about the case.

Mosley acknowledged the important constitutional values at play.

"Unjustified restrictions on press freedom do not only infringe the rights and interests of media institutions, but also those of the general public," he said in his 23-page ruling released Friday.

At the same time, he said, the only legal question was whether the warden's decision was reasonable and, he concluded, it was.

"A penitentiary is not a place where the public has an expectation of exercising its right to freedom of expression," Mosley said.

"The warden was called upon to balance freedom of expression against security and safety imperatives. She has the recognized experience and expertise to make such discretionary decisions, and she is owed significant deference."

In 2013, then-public safety minister Vic Toews squelched warden approval for a Khadr interview with The Canadian Press in what insiders described as extraordinary political interference.

Mosley called that "ancient history."

Khadr's lawyer, John Phillips, could not immediately be reached Saturday, while government lawyer, Sean Gaudet, had no comment.

The judge also discounted a 2012 case from Britain that he himself had raised during the Feb. 9 hearing in which the BBC had won court permission to interview a high profile detainee over government objections. The judge said there were too many differences to make the case useful.

The Toronto-born Khadr, 28, who was not party to the media action, is seeking release on bail next month pending an appeal of his 2010 war-crimes conviction before a widely maligned U.S. military commission. He is also seeking parole in June. His sentence expires in 2018.

Given the public-interest nature of the media court battle, Mosley declined to award legal costs.

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