Alberta Court of Appeal reserves judgment on Khadr’s incarceration case

Alberta Court of Appeal reserves judgment on Khadr’s incarceration case by Sheila Pratt, April 30, 2014, Edmonton Journal
An Alberta Appeal Court panel of judges had tough questions for the federal lawyer defending Omar Khadr’s incarceration in a federal penitentiary for five crimes committed when he was 15 years old during the Afghanistan military campaign. Khadr, who sat quietly in the courtroom Wednesday, is appealing a lower court decision that denied his bid to transfer out of the federal adult prison and into a less violent provincial jail where a juvenile sentence would place him. Federal lawyer Bruce Hughson told the appeal court judges that Khadr was given a sentence of five concurrent eight-year terms for each conviction by the U.S. military. Four of those five convictions are adult sentences, therefore he should stay in the federal system.

Both Chief Justice Catherine Fraser and Appeal Court Justice Jack Watson repeatedly challenged that view, noting that expert evidence shows that the U.S. military commission did not hand out separate sentences for each crime but only a single “global” sentence. A single eight-year sentence for these crimes, which include murder, would have to be considered a juvenile sentence in Canada, given the adult sentence for murder is much longer — life in prison, Fraser noted.

In a 2010 plea bargain in Guantanamo, Khadr pleaded guilty to five crimes, including the murder of a U.S. soldier, spying and aiding terrorism during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. He was held for 10 years in the Guantamano prison, subject to abuse and sent to Canada in the fall of 2012 to a federal penitentiary to serve the rest of his eight-year sentence under the plea bargain. The U.S. military commission did not specify whether the single, eight-year sentence was youth or adult.

The complications arise when Correctional Service of Canada applied the sentence under the terms of the International Transfer of Offenders Act, said Hughson. It assumed five concurrent sentences.

Fraser then raised the question whether that the prisoner transfer legislation, now about 40 years old, might be out of date because it does not reference the global sentences handed out by newly established military commissions.

“The legislation just doesn’t match up,”
said Fraser.

The judge’s panel, including Appeal Court Justice Myra Bielby, reserved its decision.

This was Khadr’s second appearance in a Canadian courtroom and more than 60 supporters packed the courtroom sporting orange ribbons. Khadr made his first appearance in the Court of Queen’s Bench in September. Khadr was recently transferred to to Bowden Institution after some months in Edmonton’s maximum security prison. [Emphasis added]

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