Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 20

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Foreign Affairs

Status of Omar Khadr

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate concerns Omar Khadr.

We know the circumstances surrounding prisoners kept at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay are changing rapidly under the new U.S. President’s administration. On February 24, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs met for the first time with the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. We know Minister Cannon addressed the issue of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. What was the agreement between Canada’s foreign affairs minister and the U.S. Secretary of State on Omar Khadr? What will happen to this young man?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, my answer remains the same. Mr. Khadr has been charged with very serious crimes, as Senator Jaffer noted. The U.S. administration has recently taken decisions to close Guantanamo and halt the judicial process to evaluate the situation there. Minister Cannon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stated clearly, and made it very clear to our American friends, that we are most respectful of the process put in place by the new administration and that we will await the outcome of their review of the process before any further action is taken.

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, why can we not bring Mr. Khadr to Canada and have him face our judicial system, since he has been languishing in that jail for five years and he was originally captured as a young child soldier?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, Omar Khadr was arrested by the Americans. He is in the American system. There is a process under way. President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, support a new process concerning the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. Minister Cannon has simply indicated to our American friends that he is mindful of the process they are going through and that we will respect their process before any further action is taken here.


After all, Mr. Khadr has been charged with a serious crime against an American. At the present time, he is part of the American system. Until we have further word from the Americans, we will simply respect their process — as I am sure most people would want us to do — and await the outcome before deciding what to do next.

Senator Jaffer: What I do not understand, honourable senators, is that we let Mr. Khadr languish in a prison that even the President of the United States has condemned, while we have the Minister of Transport travelling to Ethiopia, a country that we have identified as a country we support heavily with funds from the Canadian International Development Agency. We understand that John Baird will go there to find out about a person who has been charged in Ethiopia. Why do we have different ways of dealing with people who are captured?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I saw those press reports. I will not comment because I have no way of knowing whether they are accurate. The case of Mr. Khadr is clear. He has been charged with a serious crime. He has been charged with murder and he is in the American system. He is at Guantanamo Bay. The President of the United States has indicated that the U.S. will close Guantanamo Bay. Even the opponent of the President of the United States, Senator McCain, has indicated he wants to see Guantanamo Bay closed.

The Americans have now taken the decision to close Guantanamo Bay. They have established a review process to go through all of the cases at Guantanamo Bay. It behooves us, as the Government of Canada, to allow the American government — the Government of President Barack Obama — to finish the review process before we start interfering and telling them what we think they should do with their system. I do not think that interference is appropriate at all.

Hon. Yoine Goldstein: Honourable senators, every other western country, without exception, patriated some time ago the prisoners of their nationality in Guantanamo, charged or not, and subjected them to their national criminal law process rather than allowing them to languish in Guantanamo.

Canada is the exception. Is the minister telling us that she has no faith in the Canadian criminal law system?

Senator Comeau: What can you say?

Senator LeBreton: What can you say?

I am well aware, because the honourable senator has told me many times, of what other countries are doing. I can only tell him what Canada is doing. Canada is respecting a process put in place by the United States to deal with an individual who has been charged with a serious crime. The administration of President Barack Obama has made the decision to close Guantanamo Bay. This decision is viewed popularly not only in the United States but all over the world. The United States now has a process and they are reviewing all of the cases at Guantanamo, including the case of Mr. Khadr. I believe that we should allow the Obama administration to complete this process.

As I mentioned in answer to the question of Senator Jaffer, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated clearly that we are respectful of the process put in place by the Obama administration and we will await the outcome of that process before deciding what to do next.