With Washington poised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military prison, it's in Canada's best interest to bring terrorism suspect Omar Khadr back home to monitor his situation, a trio of opposition MPs said Wednesday.
The opposition call came shortly before one of Khadr's lawyers and a group of Muslim leaders outlined a proposed reintegration plan for Khadr if he is returned to Canada.
Liberal MP Bob Rae, Bloc Québécois MP Paul Crête and NDP MP Paul Dewar held a news conference in Ottawa, a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the country's capital.
Obama halted the controversial military commission trials after taking office in January.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Rae said it's time to "move forward with this case."
"It's in the interest of the Canadian state and security to have a followed-up return, with all the guarantees that involves," he said.
"Because if the American courts decide that they won't continue the process, then he'll be free and we can't follow him up and there will be no guarantee of Canada's security."
The MPs said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe have sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama calling for Khadr's repatriation and for any evidence against him to be released to Canadian authorities.
'Khadr has to go somewhere'
Dewar said he asked Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Tuesday whether the government has sought a legal opinion or had plans for Khadr's possible return.
"The answer was a blunt, no," said Dewar.
"We seem to have a government that is in deep denial at a time that in Washington, the writing is being put on the wall for Canada: Guantanamo is going to be closed. Guess what happens next? Mr. Khadr has to go somewhere. I don't think Mr. Obama really cares to have him there. We need to be doing our job here."
The MPs also repeated their argument that Khadr should be considered a child soldier because he was recruited at 13 and captured at 15.
The U.S. and Canadian governments are signatories to a United Nations protocol that states fighters under age 18 are to be considered child soldiers and must be released and helped to reintegrate into society.
Khadr was captured following a battle in Afghanistan in 2002. He has been held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison ever since, accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer during that battle.
Harper has refused to get involved and has rejected suggestions that Khadr should be considered a child soldier, because he was not part of an army.
'Reintegration plan' released
Later Wednesday, Khadr's lawyers and Muslim leaders unveiled details of a plan they say will help Khadr gradually integrate back into Canadian society during a news conference in Toronto.
The group, which included lawyer Dennis Edney, Islamic Society of York Region president Zafar Bangash and Canadian Arab Federation head Mohamed Boudjenane, urged Harper to meet with them before Obama's visit so he can pass along a formal request.
"Call us. Meet with us. Whatever it takes. But your obligation, Mr. Harper, is to bring Omar home and allow him to heal," said Edney.
The group has signed and delivered a three-page letter to Harper outlining details of the plan.
"We urge you to act expeditiously and request the repatriation of Omar Khadr to Canada, without further delay," says the letter.
"Our plan is designed to allow eminent organizations, representing a broad cross-section of Canadian institutions and agencies, to take legal responsibility for designing, implementing and supervising all aspects of Omar's life in Canada, until such time as he is able to become a fully functioning member of the Canadian mosaic."
Khadr will live with host families and receive spiritual counselling from leading Muslim clerics, it says. Much of his living costs will be paid for by dozens of Canadian Muslim organizations.
Edney said he has the full co-operation of Khadr's family, who recognize Khadr cannot live with them during his rehabilitation. In the past, the family has admitted it had close ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The King's University College, a Christian college in Edmonton, will design and fund a custom education curriculum for Khadr, who would be home-schooled, said the group. The school's student body became interested in the case following a talk by Edney, he said.
Khadr, who the group said would receive a trauma assessment upon his return, would also attend sessions with a noted Toronto psychiatrist and torture expert Dr. Donald Payne.
Edney said Khadr would be "vigorously" defended if he faces charges in Canada and called him a "wounded young boy" who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Omar Khadr, in my view, is not a Taliban warrior in need of rehabilitation," he said.
Also in attendance at the news conference were King's University College dean Roy Berkenbosch; United Church Rev. Vicki Obedkoff; and Canadian Federation of Students representative Shelley Melanson.
opposition m.p.s call for omar khadr to come home
Not a ringing endorsement, but at least he'd be back in Canada. From CBC: