The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 04/28/2013 9:01 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 04/28/2013 2:16 PM
TORONTO - A federal cabinet minister rejected a request for a prison interview with former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr even though the warden gave it a green light — a move some are denouncing as extraordinary political interference.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show the warden of Millhaven Institution, where Khadr is in maximum security, approved the interview request made by the news agency in January, only to be overruled.
The refusal came from the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to Correctional Service Canada, records show.
Under normal procedure, the warden of an institution makes the final call on granting a reporter access to an inmate, subject to a CSC policy known as Commissioner's Directive 022.
Among other things, the directive requires agreement from the prisoner to talk to the reporter, and any interview cannot pose a security threat.
The documents show Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own department immediately flagged the initial interview application, and asked to be kept in the loop.
"We'd be interested if anything develops on the (request)," Christopher Williams, a senior analyst with Privy Council Office, wrote in an email to Correctional Service Canada.
In this case, Millhaven Warden Kevin Snedden approved a telephone interview with Khadr. Documents show regional headquarters supported his decision.
"Following the warden's detailed assessment of the request against Commissioner's Directive CD-022, it was concluded that the request complies," Christa McGregor, senior media relations adviser, wrote in an email Feb. 22 to senior ministry and ministerial staff in Toews' office.
Within 90 minutes, however, the request was nixed.
"This interview is not approved," Julie Carmichael, Toews' director of communications, responded in a terse internal email.
The decision to overrule the warden took Correctional Service insiders by surprise, prompting a further flurry of emails that reached the highest levels of the ministry.
A public servant familiar with the file, who insisted on anonymity out of fear of government retribution, said what had happened was highly unusual.
The interview request was "subjected to significant and extraordinary scrutiny from CSC's national headquarters and overt political interference," the person said.
"The warden approved of the interview taking place — and approved again after being told to reassess — before finally, and after much 'off-line' conversation with direct pressure from headquarters and the minister's office, denying the request."
It was not immediately clear what role the cabinet office played.
Wayne Easter, a former Liberal solicitor general, expressed surprise at Toews' involvement, saying he couldn't think of an instance where something similar had happened during his time in office.
"It's very much overstepping the bounds of the minister's jurisdiction," Easter said. "As long as the protocols are met, (the interview) should go ahead."
The Toronto-born Khadr, 26, has been housed in Millhaven west of Kingston, Ont., since his transfer last September to Canada from Guantanamo Bay, where he had already spent 10 years behind bars.
Khadr had pleaded guilty before a widely discredited military commission in October 2010 to five war crimes — among them killing a U.S. special forces soldier — committed as a 15 year old in Afghanistan. He was given a further eight years behind bars.
In its refusal — denounced by Khadr's lawyer as Conservative government "propaganda" aimed at demonizing him by keeping him out of the public eye — Correctional Service Canada cited the commissioner's directive for rejecting the interview.
It said access could pose a security risk or be disruptive, and would undermine his correctional plan.
Nowhere in the records is there any indication the warden initially found those to be issues.
Asked to comment on the minister's interference in the process, Carmichael would only say Toews expects consideration of interview requests to take into account the "nature of the offences" of which the individual has been convicted.
All requests to talk to other bureaucrats or political operatives involved were denied, with media relations officials citing the Privacy Act.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
'The dialogue has started' on missing women
Canada tops Carruthers in Brier opener
Nemtsov a possible 'sacrificial victim,' investigators say
2015 Brier in Calgary has a freshmen feel
We failed on ER fixes, WRHA says
Crowdfunding nets $20,000 for woman in hijab dispute
Better plane tracking trialed after Malaysia plane mystery
Hellebuyck, IceCaps blank Sharks 2-0
Blackhawks acquire Antoine Vermette from Coyotes
Ice cream parlour? Bike shop? Submit your ideas for Esplanade Riel
Next stop? Broadway... in Crystal City
Heat say Bosh has been released from hospital
B.C. polygamous leader seeks to quash charge
Jagr makes Florida debut in Panthers' win over Sabres
Your weekend weather
Milder, but still cold
Madonna's comedy plans
Jets' Wheeler ready to go back to work against Kings
Police seek help in finding 15-year-old girl
No more overnight parking ban on snow routes
Kingsbury wins sixth straight World Cup event
Fighting the evil within: The case for and against the Anti-Terrorism Act
Carruthers? Win? Yeah, right
First 2015 flood forecast a mixed bag
Hundreds attend funeral for Elijah Marsh
Murder mystery slays new series competition
Oh, brother: The MacIvers will do almost anything on their crazy car commercials