After spending a decade at the notorious U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr is back in Canada to serve the remaining 6 years of his 8-year sentence. But now the question turns to whether he will be released when he becomes eligible for parole in six months.
Khadr was flown from the U.S. base in Cuba aboard an American military transport plane early Saturday morning, to Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario. From there, he was transferred to the custody of Canadian officials who took him to the maximum security Millhaven Institution.
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said the fact Khadr arrived without warning, aboard a U.S. military plane, underscores the tensions surrounding his case.
"All of our Western allies who have had to pick up prisoners from Guantanamo Bay flew their own military aircraft to pick them up. The Canadian government refused to do so," Fife told CTV's Canada AM early Monday, suggesting that was just one more sign of the government's reluctance to repatriate Khadr.
In an interview broadcast Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird admitted U.S. pressure was a factor in Khadr's surprise return.
"Obviously the Americans are closing down the prison and wanted to send him back," said a less-than-enthused Baird.
"He's a Canadian citizen, he has the right to come back. We didn't have much of a choice and he's back."
New Democrat MP Paul Dewar took aim at the government Monday in question period in the House of Commons on the Khadr file.
"The Conservatives delayed Mr. Khadr's case for years at a great cost to taxpayers. The government admitted that the U.S. pressured Canada to stop dragging its heels, secret American documents were leaked, a serious breach of trust...how is the mishandling of the Omar Khadr case and the alienation of the U.S. good for Canadian interests with our U.S. friends and our reputation on the world stage?" Dewar asked.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews rebutted Dewar, saying Canada never had possession of the transcripts of interviews with Khadr that were leaked. However, like Baird he acknowledged Khadr's return to Canada came at the behest of Washington.
"The transfer of Omar Khadr occurred following a process initiated by the American government and conducted in accordance with Canadian law and did not include consideration of foreign relations," Toews said in question period.
Baird also made clear that Khadr's future -- including his eligibility for parole in May, 2013 -- is out of the government's hands as well.
"In Canada, politicians don't make these decisions, they're made by an independent parole board. That's the way Canadian law works and this won't be treated any differently," he said.
Watching developments in Ottawa, Fife said it's unlikely Khadr will be considered for release when he first becomes eligible for parole in May, 2013.
But he may be moved from the maximum security Millhaven Institution where he's incarcerated now.
"He's going to have to be moved, probably, from Millhaven to a penitentiary that is not maximum security so they can make a better judgment of his ability to reintegrate into Canadian society," Fife said.
While the prospect of Khadr's return to Canadian society has divided opinion across the country, Liberal Senator and retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire said it's wrong, both morally and legally, to demonize him.
Dallaire told Canada AM that it's important to remember that Toronto-born Khadr, now 26, was just a teen when he was first recruited into the al Qaeda, indoctrinated and ultimately captured after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.
"And as such, (he) should have been rehabilitated and reintegrated as per the international convention on child rights," Daillaire said, referring to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which Canada was among the first nations to sign in 2000.
Considering that he squared off with the elite U.S. Delta Force, Dallaire said the psychological scars of that experience alone would require attention. Combined with the toll of spending years in detention at "Gitmo," he said the scars likely run deep, but can be healed.
"I believe that there will be still extensive work being done with him to make sure he's able to reintegrate into modern society," Dallaire said.
When asked what legal avenues Khadr plans to pursue next -- including whether he plans to sue over his years in detention -- one of his Canadian lawyers said it remains to be seen.
"Omar's sole focus for the last 10 years has been this moment: and that's to come home to his home country... and that has been the absolute focus of his energies, in addition to getting his education," Brydie Bethell told Canada AM.
"We've worked so hard to get to this point that whatever is beyond today is really new territory for all of us."
Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to five war crimes, including throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Sgt. 1st class Christopher Speer. He became eligible to serve his sentence in Canada last fall.
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