Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
An Alberta judge granted bail to former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr on Friday, saying keeping him behind bars while he appeals his American war crimes convictions would not be in the public interest.
In her ruling, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross said terms of his release will be determined by May 5.
“This is a circumstance where balancing a strong appeal and the public confidence in the administration of justice favour the same result,” Ross said in her decision.
“He has a strong basis for an appeal and the risk to public safety is not such that it is in the public’s best interest that he remain in pretrial detention in a manner that could render his appeal irrelevant.”
The Toronto-born Khadr, 28, is currently in the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., where he is serving out an eight-year sentence handed down by a U.S. military commission in 2010.
There was no immediate word on whether the government might try to appeal Ross’s decision.
“Omar is fortunate to be back in Canada where we have real courts and real laws,” said Nate Whitling, one of Khadr’s lawyers.
In court last month, Khadr’s lawyers argued their client has been a model prisoner who poses no threat to the community. They also said the appeal of his conviction by a widely maligned military commission stands a good chance of success, but was dragging on.
For its part, the government argued Ross had no jurisdiction to hear the unprecedented bail application from an offender convicted abroad and returned to Canada. Giving Khadr bail would undermine Canada’s international relations and obligations, the government argued.
It also said Ross had to take into account the fact that Khadr pleaded guilty to serious offences — including murder in violation of the laws of war for the death of an American special forces soldier in Afghanistan in 2002.
Khadr has said he only pleaded guilty to the five war crimes he was accused of committing as a 15-year-old to get out of Guantanamo Bay and be sent back to Canada.
Several prominent citizens in Edmonton — including academics and business people — have offered their support for his bail application.
His longtime lawyer, Dennis Edney, and wife, Patricia Edney, offered to take him into their home.
Next month, the Supreme Court will hear the government’s appeal of an Alberta court’s decision that Khadr should be treated as a juvenile offender.
In June, he applies for parole for the first time. Either way, he is eligible for statutory release in October 2016, after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
His sentence expires in 2018.