Omar Khadr is still behind bars, 11 long years and counting after he was shot and captured by U.S. troops in war-torn Afghanistan. But his next fight—a battle with Ottawa over financial compensation—is just ramping up.
Khadr’s lawyers, due in Federal Court later this month, are asking a judge to approve yet another round of amendments to a lawsuit that’s been inching its way through the system for almost as long as he’s been locked away. Originally filed in 2004 as a mere $100,000 claim (and later bumped up to $10 million), Khadr’s latest submission says he now deserves $60 million from the Canadian government: $20 million for breaching his Charter rights, $20 million in punitive damages, and $20 million for failing to treat him like the 15-year-old child soldier he was.
The dollar figures, of course, are completely arbitrary. If Khadr ultimately wins his case against the feds, a judge will decide the value of his award, regardless of whether he asked for $1 or $1 billion. In fact, one of Khadr’s lawyers says the $60-million tally listed in the lawsuit isn’t quite accurate, even though the document says so. “We perceive the claim as being a $20-million claim,” says John Kingman Phillips, who plans to correct the record when he appears in a Toronto courtroom Dec. 18. “That’s what it’s intended to be.”
Whatever the sum, the new statement of claim contains a stunning new accusation from Khadr’s camp: that Canada engaged in a “conspiracy” with the U.S. to keep him shackled in Guantánamo Bay for as long as possible. Federal officials didn’t just fail miserably to protect the rights of a young citizen, the claim alleges. They failed on purpose, choosing instead to work “in concert” with his captors. “Canada’s conduct was flagrant and outrageous and calculated to produce harm, and in fact did produce harm,” it reads. “His story is more than a sad tale of a child soldier—it is the story of how Canada, his country of birth, not only failed to help him, but was complicit in, and a beneficiary of, the cruel and unusual treatment he received, and the torture he suffered, during his imprisonment.”
The Supreme Court has already ruled—twice—that Canadian officials violated Khadr’s Charter rights during his lengthy stint at Guantánamo. One visiting Foreign Affairs official famously interrogated the teen even though a U.S. guard specifically told him Khadr had been subjected to three weeks of systemic sleep deprivation, a torture tactic meant to make him “more amenable and willing to talk.” As the high court ruled in 2010, eliciting statements from a sleep-deprived teenager “offends the most basic standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”
But Khadr’s revamped statement of claim (again, a judge has yet to approve the amendments) alleges conduct far more sinister than the Supreme Court has confirmed. “We allege that Canada, through its agents, was working in conjunction with the U.S. authorities to ensure that one or the other would detain him and prosecute him for war crimes,” Phillips tells Maclean’s. “If this kid didn’t have the last name that he had, he never would have been put in custody—and we would be looking at whoever put him into the fray as a problem, not him as the problem.”
The Harper government has already spent millions fighting Khadr in court at every turn, and not surprisingly, federal lawyers oppose his request to amend the claim. By press time, however, the feds had yet to file any written arguments. (Ottawa’s most recent statement of defence denies that Khadr “has suffered any loss or damage as a result of the acts of Canadian officials” and insists “an award of monetary damages is not available.”)
Khadr will not be in court on Dec. 18. He remains in an Edmonton jail, a 27-year-old man who has been locked in a cell nearly half his life. Surely, someone is to blame for that. Someone should pay. But should that someone be Canadian taxpayers?
“The first obligation of government is to protect its citizens,” his statement of claim continues. “Over the course of his imprisonment, Canada has repeatedly failed Omar, shirking its legal responsibilities to him as a citizen, and in so doing, failing all Canadian citizens.”