Omar Khadr’s return in country’s best interest, say opposition MPs – PMO dismisses plea as ‘PR campaign’

CBC.ca

With Washington poised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military prison, it’s in
Canada’s best interest to bring terrorism suspect Omar Khadr back home to
monitor his situation, a trio of opposition MPs said Wednesday.

The opposition call came shortly before one of Khadr’s lawyers and a group of Muslim
leaders outlined a proposed reintegration plan for Khadr if he is returned to Canada.
Despite the plea, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaffirmed there will
be no change in policy regarding Khadr unless the U.S. changes its position and
dismissed the plan as a “PR stunt and nothing more.”

“We are not interested in what Mr. Khadr’s lawyers have to say or opposition leaders or,
frankly, the media,” Kory Teneycke told the Canadian Press.

“We are not going to make decisions on this case on the basis of PR campaigns by his
lawyer, by his media, or the opposition coalition.”

Liberal MP Bob Rae, Bloc Québécois MP Paul Crête and NDP MP Paul Dewar held a
news conference in Ottawa, a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled
to visit the country’s capital.

Obama halted the controversial military commission trials after taking office in January.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Rae said it’s time to “move forward with this case.”
“It’s in the interest of the Canadian state and security to have a followed-up return, with
all the guarantees that involves,” he said.

“Because if the American courts decide that they won’t continue the process, then he’ll
be free and we can’t follow him up and there will be no guarantee of Canada’s security.”
The MPs said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc
Leader Gilles Duceppe have sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama
calling for Khadr’s repatriation and for any evidence against him to be released to
Canadian authorities.

‘Khadr has to go somewhere’

Dewar said he asked Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Tuesday whether
the government has sought a legal opinion or had plans for Khadr’s possible return.
“The answer was a blunt, no,” said Dewar.

“We seem to have a government that is in deep denial at a time that in Washington, the
writing is being put on the wall for Canada: Guantanamo is going to be closed. Guess
what happens next? Mr. Khadr has to go somewhere. I don’t think Mr. Obama really
cares to have him there. We need to be doing our job here.”

But Teneycke said the Khadr file will not come up when the prime minister meets
Obama.

“I don’t anticipate either [leader] will raise it,” Teneycke said.
He added that “it’s not our process” and that there has been no change in the U.S.
position regarding Khadr.

“We will respond to changes in the U.S. position if and when they occur,” he said.
The MPs also repeated their argument that Khadr should be considered a child soldier
because he was recruited at 13 and captured at 15.

The U.S. and Canadian governments are signatories to a United Nations protocol that
states fighters under age 18 are to be considered child soldiers and must be released
and helped to reintegrate into society.

Khadr was captured following a battle in Afghanistan in 2002. He has been held at the
Guantanamo Bay military prison ever since, accused of throwing a hand grenade that
killed U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer during that battle.

Harper has refused to get involved and has rejected suggestions that Khadr should be
considered a child soldier, because he was not part of an army.

‘Reintegration plan’ released

Later Wednesday, Khadr’s lawyers and Muslim leaders unveiled details of a plan they
say will help Khadr gradually integrate back into Canadian society during a news
conference in Toronto.

The group, which included lawyer Dennis Edney, Islamic Society of York Region
president Zafar Bangash and Canadian Arab Federation head Mohamed Boudjenane,
urged Harper to meet with them before Obama’s visit so he can pass along a formal
request.

“Call us. Meet with us. Whatever it takes. But your obligation, Mr. Harper, is to bring
Omar home and allow him to heal,” said Edney.

The group has signed and delivered a three-page letter to Harper outlining details of the
plan.

“We urge you to act expeditiously and request the repatriation of Omar Khadr to
Canada, without further delay,” says the letter.

“Our plan is designed to allow eminent organizations, representing a broad crosssection
of Canadian institutions and agencies, to take legal responsibility for designing, implementing
and supervising all aspects of Omar’s life in Canada, until such time as he is able to become a fully functioning member of the Canadian mosaic.”

Khadr will live with host families and receive spiritual counselling from leading Muslim
clerics, it says. Much of his living costs will be paid for by dozens of Canadian Muslim
organizations.

Edney said he has the full co-operation of Khadr’s family, who recognize Khadr cannot live with them during his rehabilitation. In the past, the family has admitted it had close ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The King’s University College, a Christian college in Edmonton, will design and fund a
custom education curriculum for Khadr, who would be home-schooled, said the group.
The school’s student body became interested in the case following a talk by Edney, he
said.

Khadr, who the group said would receive a trauma assessment upon his return, would
also attend sessions with a noted Toronto psychiatrist and torture expert Dr. Donald
Payne.

Edney said Khadr would be “vigorously” defended if he faces charges in Canada and
called him a “wounded young boy” who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Omar Khadr, in my view, is not a Taliban warrior in need of rehabilitation,” he said.
Also in attendance at the news conference were King’s University College dean Roy
Berkenbosch; United Church Rev. Vicki Obedkoff; and Canadian Federation of
Students representative Shelley Melanson.

With files from the Canadian Press

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