EDMONTON – An Edmonton judge deciding if former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr should be transferred from a federal prison says his ruling will come down to whether he believes the 27-year-old is serving time as a youth or an adult.
Justice John Rooke said Monday that the U.S. military did not specify whether Khadr was a youth or adult offender when it handed down an eight-year sentence for killing an American special forces soldier in Afghanistan when Khadr was 15.
Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crime offences, including murder, in 2010.
He is now an inmate at the maximum-security Edmonton Institution. His lawyer, Dennis Edney, is arguing that he should be treated as a young offender and moved to a provincial jail.
Edney told the court that an eight-year sentence for murder and other crimes only makes sense as a youth sentence.
But the government argues that Khadr was given eight years as a youth for murder and the sentences on the four remaining offences were to be served concurrently as an adult.
Lawyer Bruce Hughson, representing the federal government, told the court that Canada has no role to amend the decision of a foreign court on an offender who committed crimes in another country.
The court cannot “re-sentence” a person, he said.
“That’s the process Canada adopted. Canada adopted enforcement.”
Edney called the government’s position an “absurdity.”
He filed an affidavit from a U.S. military law expert stating there’s no such thing as concurrent sentences in their law books.
Monday’s appearance was the first time Khadr has been seen in public in more than a decade.
Khadr flashed a broad smile as he was led into the courtroom, sporting a white polo shirt and full beard. He shook hands with his lawyers and waved at some of the dozens of supporters in the courtroom.
Born in Toronto, Khadr was 15 when he was captured by American soldiers in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was transferred to Canada last fall to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Rooke said he’s done his homework on the legal arguments in the case, but the lawyers involved still expect him to reserve his decision.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the debate during a Monday news conference in Ottawa.
“This is an individual who, as you know, pled guilty to very serious crimes including murder and it is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts,” Harper said, while answering a larger question about fears Muslim youth are being radicalized.
The federal government, which blocked a request by The Canadian Press earlier this year to interview him, has insisted that Khadr is a dangerous terrorist who deserves to be treated as such.
Transferred to Canada in September 2012, Khadr was first incarcerated largely in isolation at the maximum security Millhaven Institution in eastern Ontario before moving to the maximum security Edmonton Institution in May.