Omar Khadr’s next home

Desperate to free his notorious client, an Edmonton lawyer offers a key to his house

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr

Update: May 7: After almost 13 years in jail, former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr will be freed on bail later this afternoon. In this piece from March 2015, Michael Friscolanti writes about Khadr’s next home: 

On Feb. 9, 2004, Dennis Edney mailed a letter—his first of many—to the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A veteran lawyer with Scottish roots and an Edmonton practice, Edney was introducing himself to a new client he had yet to meet in person: Omar Khadr. By that point, the Toronto-born teenager was in the early days of his incarceration, 19 months and counting.

“It is our intention to provide you with expert legal representation,” Edney wrote in that initial note. “Our ultimate objective is to secure your release.”

Eleven years later, Khadr is still behind bars (in Alberta now, not Cuba) and Edney is still battling to set him free. His next attempt is scheduled for March 24: a bail hearing in Edmonton, where Edney, and fellow lawyer Nathan Whitling, will try to convince a judge that Khadr should be sprung from prison while he appeals his much-maligned war-crimes convictions south of the border. (Their key argument is that Khadr’s sentence, set to expire in approximately 3½ years, could be over by the time his U.S. appeal is heard.)

A long list of supporters, from professors to psychiatrists, have rallied behind his application, vowing to help him readjust to the outside world after 4,600 days and nights—nearly half his life—in custody. But it’s Edney and his wife, Patricia, who are offering what Khadr will need most: a place to live. The couple is so determined to see Khadr secure bail (and so convinced that he poses no danger to the public, despite what many fellow Canadians suspect) that they’re willing to welcome him into their home. “Although it is no doubt unusual for a defence lawyer to extend this offer,” states their written brief to the court, “this is an unusual case.”

Unusual doesn’t even begin to describe it. As a child, Khadr shuttled between Pakistan and Afghanistan, at one point living in the same compound as Osama bin Laden. After that, home was the planet’s most notorious prison. And now, if a judge consents, his new address will be the unlikeliest of all: an upscale Edmonton neighbourhood, where he will share suppers with his lawyer’s family and walk their dogs (Jasper and Molly, both labs) around the block. “He can look forward to a loving household and a solid family,” Edney says. “A family that has good values, a family that talks to each other, a family that hugs and kisses each other. I say it with a bit of pride: Our family is not a bad place to start.”

Rarely has a young man’s life been so publicly dissected. To his many supporters, Khadr is the ultimate victim of circumstance, a 15-year-old boy thrust into war by an Islamist father and later abandoned by his Canadian government. To others, he remains a real and looming threat, a now 28-year-old committed jihadist who bragged about his grenade toss that killed a U.S. soldier. The Edneys, more than anyone, have heard it all—and are convinced they know the truth.

“He is a lovely young man: genuine, honest, talented and respectful,” says Patricia Edney, a manager at Alberta Health Services who works in the field of addiction and mental health. “His most remarkable characteristic is how normal he is. He just wants the chance to live a regular life.”

If that chance finally comes, Khadr will walk into a home—and a world, for that matter—he has never seen. Even before he was locked up, he had little connection to the West; though born in Canada, he lived here only a few sporadic years. Khadr’s last visit occurred a few weeks before 9/11, when an uncle took him to a Toronto Blue Jays game.

Now the same age as Sgt. Christopher Speer on the day he died, Khadr has never owned a cellphone or opened a bank account or applied for a job. Never purchased a pair of jeans or caught a bus. Never filed a tax return. “He is a fast learner who really wants to be part of society, but there is a lot of difference between the fantasy and the reality,” Dennis Edney says. “It’s going to be all baby steps.”

Omar Khadr's defence attorney, Dennis Edney. (Jason Franson/CP)

Omar Khadr’s defence attorney, Dennis Edney. (Jason Franson/CP)

The first step will be choosing a bedroom. Khadr’s first option is an upstairs room that belongs to the Edneys’ eldest son, who is now out of the country. With yellow walls and a large window that overlooks the backyard, the bedroom is just down the hall from the couple’s other son, now 19. Choice number two is a downstairs suite secluded from the rest of the house. It has its own bathroom and is steps from a small gym and sauna.

“He can have any room he wants,” Edney says. “But I will encourage him to be on the second floor for a little while, so that he can integrate into our family.” (Khadr’s real family, long linked to al-Qaeda, will be allowed to phone, but Edney is clear: “My home is open for Omar. It’s not for the Khadrs.”)

Though optimistic, Edney is not naive. He has won nearly every court challenge mounted on Khadr’s behalf, yet his client remains behind bars. In other words, the family isn’t planning a celebratory feast, or stocking the freezer with extra food, until they know Khadr is really coming. “He’s quite the meat eater,” Patricia says. “We’ve got a nice halal grocer near us, so we’ll be all ready.”

Filed under:

Omar Khadr’s next home

  1. “Rarely has a young man’s life been so publicly dissected.”

    What remains perversely un-dissected is whether he has abandoned the ideology his family did their best – with great apparent success – to imbue him with at a young age. If Mr. Khadr and/or his devoted supporters wish to made headway against the perception that he is an unrepentant jihadist, it would be a good idea to show evidence of his repentance.

    It is an article of faith among said supporters that Khadr was an innocent child obligated to carry out his family’s wishes when the unfortunate circumstances that led to his incarceration happened. Is it too much for those of us who he will soon be living amongst to ask that he assure us that won’t happen again?

    • Obviously, he has “assured” his lawyer. Now, would you please tell us how he can assure you.

      I have a feeling that you will never be assured. May God forgive you.

      • It is, rather, obvious he has not. If he had, and notwithstanding this his lawyer refuses to use his contrition as a strong selling point for early release, he should fire his lawyer.

        As for what would assure me, I can live with a simple renunciation of the jihadi de jour for now and a couple of years of quiet existence once he is out. In contrast, I have a feeling you think that one of the reasons his incarceration is so unjust is that his cause was not.

    • For me, the big question is how many millions of dollars in settlement should Omar receive in compensation from the American government for malicious incarceration?
      I am sure that the Canadian Justice Department is considering this right now. Or is this a matter for the Hague in which Canada would be a co-defendant?

  2. I wonder if his friends would welcome Omar into their home if he had killed their son? He killed a soldier. How sick are you people who fight for this killer?

    • So let me get this straight, and we will use your facts to discuss this. A child ‘soldier’ is attacked by coalition soldiers. All of the child ‘soldiers’ comrades are killed or incapacitated and the coalition soldiers lose one of their own to a grenade, potentially thrown by Omar. Even if we assume, as you do, that he threw the grenade, should we not also realize that it was a short firefight/battle between two groups of combatants. Soldiers are apt to kill each others in battle. We, hopefully, don’t go out of our way to prosecute our soldiers who do their duty in battle, why should we deem it reasonable to prosecute other soldiers? I like your victors justice though.

      If Omar is just a ‘killer’ then who are we protecting when we send troops overseas? I don’t think that our military would take kindly to you calling them killers too, but you seem content to do so.

      • A 15 year old is hardly a child.
        He wasn’t a ‘soldier’ he was and is a terrorist.
        He admitted to, and bragged about, throwing the grenade that killed and injured real soldiers.
        Try to keep up Jake.

        • So the ‘bragging,’ if he did so, is a problem then? I guess soldiers like Chris Kyle are not celebrated for their skill and their literary works are not ‘bragging.’ He was a minor, and there is a great deal if legal precedence wherein 15 is still considered a child.

          The Taliban and their allies were the defacto government, whether rightly or wrongly so, and therefore equal in agency as any combatant. To them we were insurgents, we ‘won’ so now we can make that differentiation. Our Pashtun allies who support a local warlord and were fighting against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were no more ‘soldiers’ than their opponents yet they don’t get labelled as terrorists or insurgents.

          But I suppose, keeping up, as you put it is to have a non-fluid Western-centric view on on definitions that you define with rigid reliance that you are right. It is too bad that you can’t see the world a more complex than that and recognize the sheer preposterous of the entire situation.

          I find it funny that you are so quick to indict soldiers, even our own, for doing their job and their admissions as bragging. Do you tell every Canadian soldier that you see that they are murders just for doing their job, that is pretty sad dude.

          • Wow…quite the rant.
            Sorry, but the entire world (except you apparently) considers al-qaeda a terrorist organization.
            The U.N. and the ICC consider 15 years as the threshold for child soldiers. So you’re wrong there as well.
            In your first comment you said he ‘potentially’ threw the grenade. By bragging, oh AND admitting to it, he removed any doubt.
            Anything else?

        • Do you have a 15-year old child (teenager)? It sounds as if you have never enjoyed the privilege.

          He was in his home land, fighting against the US, who admit today that they shouldn’t have been there.

          He went to Guantanamo where you would say anything to get out.

          Get off of the couch and sez something intelligent.

          • Who’s talking to you?

    • He was a 15-year old child soldier who, it is said, killed a US soldier. The colleagues of the US soldier who, no doubt, killed killed many Taliban, are now enjoying their evenings drinking in some pub somewhere bragging (as most soldiers do) because they were the victors.

      “He killed a soldier”. Thousands of soldiers kill thousands every day … it was a war. How many US soldiers are in jail for doing that?

      • The evil of GITMO may be summed in a joke. America cannot close it if they still wish to claim there are human rights abuses in Cuba.
        I prefer my hummus with nuts & raisons orally. But then I have never had a 5-year extension to a sentence for being too innocent to release.

      • ..only the ones who reported atrocities ;)

    • America is a bully & a coward.
      It accuses others of what it is guilty of.
      It marches under the banner of: NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR THINKING, NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTIONATING! (gwb)
      It has declared it to be illegal to defend oneself or country against it.
      ~this at the very least must be call ‘unsporting’.
      Anus americanus is an genetically inferior species which should be quarantined to prevent cross pollination.

Sign in to comment.