An online petition calling on the Harper government to bring Omar Khadr home from Guantanamo Bay has attracted thousands of signatures in less than a week: nearly 17,000 as of midday Tuesday.
Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire set up the petition on Change.org last Thursday, calling on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to honour the plea deal made with the former child soldier and return the Canadian citizen to his family in Toronto.
The Harper government made a deal with the U.S. in 2010 for his repatriation, provided he serve one more year at Guantanamo. But that transfer has yet to happen.
"No one forced the government’s hand. It made its promise voluntarily," Dallaire wrote on the petition.
"That year has passed, and yet the transfer request continues to gather dust on the minister’s desk awaiting his signature. This is simply unacceptable," the retired general said.
Last Friday, Khadr's lawyers filed a notice of application seeking to ask the Federal Court to review the federal government's failure to request that the U.S. transfer Khadr to Canadian custody. They called the government's delay in setting the wheels in motion "unconscionable."
The petition quotes marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, the chief defence counsel for U.S. military commissions, accusing Canada of undermining other plea agreements by not complying with the set terms of the deal.
"It has a chilling effect on the willingness of others to plead. There was an expectation by all parties involved that Khadr was going to be home last fall. It’s July, and he’s not," Colwell said last week.
The Harper government said in the past that a decision would come in due course and has offered little explanation as to why it hasn't made a request for Khadr's transfer.
Dallaire, who commanded the UN's ill-fated mission in Rwanda in 1994, founded a child soldiers initiative based at Dalhousie University.
“My hope is by using this petition, and leveraging social media, we can engage with Canadians everywhere to help build a tidal wave of support for Omar Khadr’s return,” said Dallaire in a release.
“Not only is the patience of our closest ally wearing thin, but the world has been watching Canada's missteps in this case,” said the senator.
Paperwork for Khadr's transfer to a Canadian jail was filed by his lawyers last November. Canadian corrections officials had to determine if Khadr was eligible to return to Canada to finish out his sentence, and then send an official request to American officials. If U.S. officials agreed, the public safety minister had the final say.
Toews has the option of refusing the transfer if he decides Khadr is a risk to public safety. The entire process was expected last fall to take until early in 2013 to complete.
In 2009, Khadr pleaded guilty to five charges of war crimes and was convicted by a military commission tribunal at Guantanamo, sentenced to eight years for his participation in a July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer.
He was 15 when he threw the grenade that killed Speer, a 28-year-old combat medic.
The now 25-year-old has been in U.S. military custody for 10 years, ever since his capture in the aftermath of the battle. Khadr is the youngest prisoner held at the American naval base, and the only citizen of a Western country who remains.
His supporters believe he's been denied the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to protection from torture, and the rights stemming from the UN convention on the rights of the child and its protocol on children in armed conflict.
Khadr was the first combatant since the Second World War to be prosecuted by a military commission for war crimes committed while still a minor.
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