Tab to keep Khadr out of Canada: $1.3-million and counting

Friday, October 30, 2009 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

The federal government has racked up a tab of more than $1.3-million in legal fees in its continuing bid to keep Canadian Omar Khadr out of the country. And as its latest appeal of a judge’s order to repatriate the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr is set to go to court next month, the bills are likely to keep piling up.

Mr. Khadr, who was 15 when he was detained after a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, has been held in Guantanamo Bay ever since on five charges, the most serious of which is for the killing of U.S. Sergeant Chris Speer.

In a written statement released earlier this week, the Justice Department stated it has spent a total of $1,335,342.37 on legal fees in relation to Mr. Khadr’s case.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said yesterday that the figure was relevant as of July, 2009, and that all costs relate to legal actions brought against the government.

Since July, Ottawa has pursued its appeal of an April order from Mr. Justice James O’Reilly that ordered the government to attempt to repatriate Mr. Khadr. It’s expected to be heard in the Supreme Court of Canada on Nov. 13, the latest government response to numerous legal actions brought against it by Mr. Khadr’s lawyers since they sought an injunction in 2003 barring Canadian intelligence agents from conducting interrogations in Guantanamo.

The spokesman noted Ottawa’s oft-repeated position that Mr. Khadr faces “serious charges” in the United States remains unchanged.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation, including the work of the American committee formed to study the fate of Guantanamo detainees, including Mr. Khadr,” said spokesman Alain Cacchione.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was not available for comment.

Mr. Khadr’s Canadian lawyers say the mounting expenses aren’t surprising, and indicate the lengths to which Ottawa is willing to go to keep the young man out of the country.

“That just gives you an extent to which they have chosen to fight this case at the taxpayers’ expense,” said lawyer David Edney, who, along with Nathan Whitling, has been fighting Mr. Khadr’s case in Canada for the past several years.

“Canada has fought us every inch of the way … at every level of the federal court system.”

Mr. Khadr’s Canadian and U.S. lawyers have continued to maintain his innocence, and for years have claimed evidence from the firefight indicates Mr. Khadr would have been physically unable to lob the grenade he allegedly used to kill Sgt. Speer.

Canada is the only Western country not to have repatriated its nationals held in Guantanamo to try them at home. NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said it’s ludicrous for the government to use public money to keep a Canadian citizen in detention outside the country.

“How many millions of dollars are we going to spend to keep Mr. Khadr in Guantanamo Bay? … It’s illogical, not responsible and turning out to be very, very, expensive,” he said.

The annual report of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, released yesterday, reiterated previous findings that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service acted without due consideration to human-rights issues or Mr. Khadr’s age when questioning him in Guantanamo Bay in 2003.

At that time, the report states, “there was widespread media reporting of alleged mistreatment and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. … SIRC did not find any evidence that CSIS took this into account in deciding to interview Khadr.”

The report also said there is no evidence CSIS agents took into account “the fact that their interview subject was still a youth at the time.”

A decision on whether Mr. Khadr will stand trial, and whether he will face a military tribunal in Guantanamo or a trial in a Washington court, is expected by Nov. 16.

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