TORONTO – The federal government has decided against pursuing an appeal of an Alberta court’s decision to grant former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr bail.
The decision came in a joint statement Thursday from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
“The government of Canada respects the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, which determined that Mr. Khadr be released on bail in Canada pending his U.S. appeal of his U.S. convictions and sentence,” the statement said.
“Withdrawing this appeal is an important step towards fulfilling the government’s commitment to review its litigation strategy.”
The decision caught one of Khadr’s lawyers by pleasant surprise.
“We’re pleased with the government’s decision. We think it’s the right decision. We never did think there was much merit to this appeal,” Nate Whitling said in Toronto.
“Now Omar can get on with his reintegration.”
The Liberal government decision is a sharp break from its Conservative predecessor, which fought hard to keep Khadr behind bars for the duration of his sentence.
Khadr, 29, was freed on bail last May after almost 13 years behind bars — four of them as a convicted war criminal. He has since been living with his lawyer, Dennis Edney, in Edmonton without incident.
The Americans captured a grievously wounded Khadr in Afghanistan in July 2002 when he was 15 years old. He was soon sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was charged with several war crimes before a widely discredited Military Commission.
Khadr ultimately pleaded guilty in October 2010 to five war crimes — including murder in the death of a U.S. special forces soldier. In exchange, the commission handed him a further eight-year sentence.
He returned to Canada in 2012 under an international transfer treaty, and later said he had only pleaded guilty to get out of the notorious prison.
In April last year, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross granted his bid for bail while he appeals his war crimes conviction — an appeal that could still take years.
Khadr’s lawyers argued the offences to which he pleaded guilty were not crimes at the time and the military commission had no jurisdiction to try him.
His $20-million civil lawsuit that claims the government conspired with the Americans to torture him and breach his rights is still ongoing.
Khadr’s late father was a friend of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his mother has previously angered Canadians by expressing support for al-Qaida.