TORONTO – Omar Khadr’s official criminal record in Canada contains oddities and errors that are at odds with how the federal government viewed him on his return from the notorious prison on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The record, obtained by The Canadian Press, makes no reference to the fact that Khadr, 30, was convicted by an internationally condemned U.S. military commission for purported offences he committed as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.
Instead, the document states only that he was convicted at “Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Youth Court).” It makes no reference anywhere to the United States or the commission.
While it’s not clear when the record was first created, Khadr’s Canadian lawyers call it bizarre. For one thing, they note there’s no such thing as a Guantanamo Bay youth court.
However, despite the document, the Canadian government argued strenuously for years against treating Khadr as a young offender — placing him, for example, in a series of maximum security adult prisons on his return to Canada in September 2012.
Additionally, the lawyers say, the record appears to formalize the fact that Khadr was convicted as a youth for alleged crimes that occurred in a war zone, which would make him a child soldier — a label the government has also always avoided.
Dennis Edney, one of Khadr’s lawyers, who was initially unaware of the document, expressed profound surprise at its contents.
“There’s not such a being as a criminal youth court in Guantanamo,” Edney said from Edmonton. “Why would you do that? Internationally, the place was condemned because it didn’t distinguish between Omar being a child and Omar being an adult.”
The Americans captured the horrifically wounded Khadr in the rubble of a bombed out compound in Afghanistan in July 2002 following a fierce firefight that left an American special forces soldier dead and another partly blinded.
In October 2010, the Canadian citizen pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, and was handed an eight-year sentence. The Toronto-born Khadr, who has long maintained the Americans tortured him during his lengthy captivity, later said he only pleaded guilty so he could return to Canada.
Edney said it’s important people understand the context of the convictions — something sorely lacking in the official record.
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“It shows absolute ignorance. It misstates itself in a very fundamental way,” Edney said. “It shows no understanding of what Guantanamo is (and) demands an explanation as to why it is so described.”
The RCMP document also erroneously states that Khadr was sentenced to five concurrent eight-year terms for each of his five charges, In fact, Canadian courts have ruled Khadr was handed a single eight-year sentence on all counts.
Co-counsel Nate Whitling, who also had not seen the document, called it unsurprising Khadr has a record in Canada given his transfer here to serve out his sentence. But Whitling still called it “weird.” He noted there’s no such thing as a concurrent sentence at Guantanamo Bay, and suggested Canadian authorities had “tried to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
Khadr’s lawyers say his conviction record should not enjoy legal recognition in Canada given that it has no reference to a legitimate court in a foreign country but arises out of military commissions that were set up to avoid U.S. constitutional scrutiny. Still, the criminal record could have an impact on Khadr, who hopes to study nursing, when he applies in the future for employment.
Barney Brucker, the Justice Department’s lead lawyer on the Khadr file, did not respond to a request for information. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was not immediately available to comment on Monday.
Khadr was granted bail in Alberta in 2015 pending an ongoing appeal of his U.S. conviction — a process that will likely take several more years at least. The appeal rests on the fact that he was convicted for acts that were not crimes at the time he did them.