TORONTO – Canada is blaming the delay in repatriating the last remaining Western detainee at Guantanamo Bay on the lack of a final approval from Washington, though the U.S. defense secretary has signed off on the transfer, court documents revealed Thursday.
Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, was eligible to return to Canada last October under a plea deal approved by the United States.
An affidavit filed in Canadian federal court earlier this week shows that the country's correctional service finished processing the application in October 2011, but Public Safety Minister Vic Toews refused to accept the file until the U.S. formally approved it.
"The minister does not, as a practice, consider applications from offenders in the U.S. unless the U.S. has first approved the application," said Mary Campbell, the Correctional Service of Canada's director general in her affidavit. "The minister did not receive the file at that time."
Khadr's lawyer John Norris said Toews' refusal to handle the file before receiving formal U.S. approval makes no sense because Washington had already agreed to the transfer at Khadr's trial in October 2010.
"Clearly, it's the minister's office that is mishandling the file," Norris said Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed off on Khadr's transfer in April.
Norris said Toews should have rendered his decision at least two months ago,.
In the Federal Court application filed in July, Khadr's Canadian lawyers called the delay in deciding the case "unreasonable" and "an abuse of process."
Khadr, who turns 26 next week, was 15 when he was captured in 2002, and he has spent a decade in Guantanamo. He agreed to a plea deal, receiving an eight-year sentence in 2010 — but only one year had to be served at the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has denounced Khadr as a convicted criminal, and Toews denied a news report that Canada had approved the transfer but was delaying the announcement.
Harper's Conservative government has steadfastly refused to request the return of Khadr, the youngest detainee held at the prison. Khadr's family has been referred to in Canadian media as "the first family of terrorism."
The son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, Khadr was convicted of throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.
Defense attorneys have said Khadr was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.
Khadr's Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.