TORONTO – Former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr woke up in an Alberta prison Wednesday after months stuck in isolation at a penitentiary in Ontario where an inmate had threatened his life, The Canadian Press has learned.
Khadr was flown to the Edmonton Institution Tuesday, potentially ending a situation in which he had been deprived of prison programming that complicated efforts to seek parole, his lawyer Dennis Edney confirmed.
“Hopefully, this is a positive step in his long journey to freedom,” the Edmonton-based Edney said.
“I hope that this is a new start for Omar, an opportunity for people to see him as he really is — as someone who poses no threat to Canada, someone who has no radical viewpoints.”
The transfer allows Khadr to be closer to his lawyer and should obviate concerns about any negative influence from his family in Toronto, some of whom expressed sympathy for al-Qaida several years ago.
The maximum-security Edmonton Institution is home to about 225 inmates.
The Toronto-born Khadr, 26, was transferred to Canada last September to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence handed down by an American military commission for war crimes he pleaded guilty to committing as a 15 year old in Afghanistan.
He spent the next several months in segregation in Millhaven penitentiary west of Kingston, Ont., classified as a maximum-security inmate even though he was considered minimum security before leaving Guantanamo.
Khadr was finally allowed onto the range in February. In March, prison authorities asked him to work on the food line, handing out pieces of butter to other prisoners. When an inmate asked for more than was allowed, Khadr refused.
“This guy threatened to stab Omar,” Edney said in an interview.
As a result, authorities moved him back to strict solitary confinement, where he remained isolated in his cell for at least 23 hours a day ostensibly for his own protection.
“This is someone who has just spent 10 years of his life in that hell-hole that is Guantanamo Bay,” Edney said.
“Is there any difference between Guantanamo and what has taken place here?”
Efforts to reach Khadr were stymied by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who overturned the Millhaven warden’s decision allowing him to talk to a reporter, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press.
According to Correctional Service Canada, Khadr was eligible for day parole in January, but he has yet to have a hearing. He is also eligible for full parole on July 1.
Edney said stringent rules around the “hole” made it difficult for the prisoner to take part in programming, something a parole board would want to see in considering whether to grant him any early release.
“Nothing works for this kid,” Edney said Tuesday ahead of the transfer, adding Khadr was “just desperate” to get on with his life.
“He tells me it’s horrible in prison.”
Correctional authorities have repeatedly refused to discuss any aspect of Khadr’s case citing privacy concerns.
Edney, who said his client poses no risk to public security, said he wondered whether the “illogical” maximum-security classification was another example of political interference by a government determined to portray him as a hardened terrorist.
Prison guards over the years have described him as friendly and compliant.
“Consultation with the unit staff indicates that he has not presented with any behavioural problems,” according to a recent internal Millhaven assessment.
Khadr has been following a special curriculum developed for him by faculty at King’s College in Edmonton. He was recently assessed as having the equivalent of a Grade 10 education, scoring marks that ranged from 91 to 97 per cent in the five subjects tested.
However, the restrictions made getting on with his studies difficult.
The last book sent to him, a short story called “The Hockey Sweater,” was returned as unauthorized.
Khadr is also looking to appeal his military commission conviction based on similar successful appeals by two other former Guantanamo prisoners.
Essentially, they argued they were found guilty of crimes that did not exist at the time they committed the offences.