Last Western Guantanamo detainee returns to Canada

Courtroom sketch image of Omar Khadr
Courtroom sketch image of Omar Khadr REUTERS

TORONTO — The last Western detainee held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay returned to Canada on Saturday after a decade in custody and was transferred to a maximum security prison where he awaits parole, Canada’s public safety minister said Saturday.

Vic Toews said that 26-year-old Omar Khadr arrived at a Canadian military base on a US government plane early Saturday and was transferred to the Millhaven maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario.

The son of an alleged Al Qaeda financier, Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a US soldier in Afghanistan and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo Bay last October under terms of a plea deal.


Canada’s conservative government took almost a year to approve the transfer.

The US Defense Department confirmed the transfer in a statement and said 166 detainees remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan and has spent a decade at the Guantanamo prison set up on the US naval base in Cuba to hold suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He received an eight-year sentence in 2010 after being convicted of throwing a grenade that killed Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during a 2002 firefight.

‘‘His head is spinning a bit and it’s going to be a real adjustment for him, but at the same time he is so happy to be home,’’ said John Norris, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer.

‘‘He can’t believe that it is finally true. He simply can’t. For very good reason he was quite fearful that the government would not follow through on its word and he’s pinching himself right now not believing that this government has finally kept its word,’’ he said.

Norris said Khadr would be eligible for parole as early as the summer of 2013. He said he has been returned to Canada 10 years too late.


Toews said the US government initiated Khadr’s transfer and suggested that Canada had little choice but to accept him because he is a Canadian citizen.

It will be up to Canada’s Parole Board to release him, Toews said.

‘‘Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,’’ Toews said.

Toews called for ‘‘robust conditions of supervision’’ if Khadr is granted parole. Toews said in his written decision that he reviewed all the files forwarded by the US government and said the Parole Board should consider his concerns that Omar ‘‘idealizes’’ his father and ‘‘appears to deny ‘‘Ahmed Khadr’s lengthy history of terrorist action and association with Al Qaeda.’’

Toews also said Omar Khadr’s mother and sister ‘‘have openly applauded’’ his father’s ‘‘crimes and terrorist activities’’ and noted that Omar has had ‘‘little contact with Canadian society and will require substantial management in order to ensure safe integration in Canada.’’