OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada must press Washington for the release of Omar Khadr, a Canadian who has been held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since October 2002, an appeal court said on Friday.
The minority Conservative government had appealed a judgment by a lower court in April that ordered Ottawa to intercede on behalf of Khadr, who is charged with killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002, when Khadr was 15.
The Federal Court of Appeal decision marked another setback for Ottawa in the case. The government has refused to intervene because it says Khadr faces serious charges.
The lower court judge ruled in April that Ottawa had to help Khadr because his rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been infringed.
The appeal court said the initial judge “did not err in law or fact when he concluded that, in the particular circumstances of this case, the Crown’s refusal to request Mr. Khadr’s repatriation is a breach of Mr. Khadr’s rights”.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the federal justice ministry would review the decision. He would not say whether Ottawa might appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Khadr, now 22, is the only citizen of a western nation still imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Opposition legislators and other critics say Canada should press for the Khadr’s release on the grounds that he was a child soldier when the alleged killing took place.
Nathan Whitling, one of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, said he expected Ottawa to drag its feet.
“We’ve won so many of these major victories before ... and none of them have done our client any good,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “Ultimately it is going to have to be a political process ... that’s going to get him out of there and we think it’s inevitable.”
Though Canadian-born, Khadr is from a family that lived much of the time in Pakistan and had close ties to al Qaeda -- at one time staying in Osama bin Laden’s Afghan compound.
Bob Rae, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Liberal Party, said the government had to act now.
“It is no longer acceptable for a Canadian to be held in these circumstances,” he told a news conference.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman