Omar Khadr and the Meaning of Citizenship

May 9, 2012
Montréal QC

Section : Criminel
Président : Me François Dadour

Me Brydie Bethell
Me John Norris

On July 27, 2002, after a firefight in a compound near Khost, Afghanistan, Khadr was found by U.S. Delta Forces lying injured under rubble.  He had sustained injuries to both his eyes, and had large, open wounds in his chest.  He had also been shot twice in the back.  He was 15 years old. He was later transferred to Guantanamo, where he remains in confinement today.

In October 2010, Khadr struck a plea agreement with the U.S. government.  In exchange for his plea of guilty to charges of murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder, spying, conspiracy, and providing material support for terrorism, the U.S. government agreed to a sentence of 8 years of imprisonment (not including time already served of 8 years and 3 months). 

Under the terms of the agreement, Khadr was required to serve one additional year of his sentence at Guantanamo Bay.  The U.S. government agreed to approve Khadr's transfer to Canadian custody upon the expiry of that year.

Despite the fact that the additional year concluded on October 31, 2011, Khadr has still not been transferred to Canadian custody.

We will examine the significance, if any, that Khadr's Canadian citizenship has had at three key junctures: the 2008 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada ordering disclosure of the fruits of interrogations of Khadr by Canadian intelligence officials in Guantanamo Bay; the 2010 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning Khadr's request that the Canadian government seek his repatriation as a Charter remedy; and the ongoing process for seeking his transfer to Canada to serve the remainder of his military commission sentence here.

In addition to addressing the jurisprudential significance of Khadr's case, we will discuss the special challenges of representing a client who is being held in what has aptly been described as a legal "black hole".  For example, access to our client is tightly controlled by the U.S. military and there are nearly insuperable difficulties in maintaining a solicitor/client relationship with him.  Another challenge posed by this brief from an ethical and professional perspective is its inescapably political character.  From the very beginning, decisions at every stage of Khadr's case have been fundamentally political, with broad and essentially unreviewable discretion asserted by both governments.

We have been Canadian counsel for Khadr since the summer of 2011. Previously, we appeared at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of intervening public interest groups in both  Khadr 2008 and Khadr 2010.

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