TORONTO – A Canadian judge wasted precious few minutes on Thursday in refusing to freeze a reported $10.5-million payout to Omar Khadr so the widow of a slain American soldier he was accused of killing in Afghanistan can have more time to go after the money.
In his ruling, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said he had heard nothing to show Khadr planned to hide assets to thwart possible enforcement of a massive American court award against him.
“People might have a lot of opinions. But this is not a coffee shop. This is a court of law,” Belobaba said during the hearing. “We don’t, thank goodness, in Canada have one law for Omar Khadr and one law for all other Canadians.”
Tabitha Speer, widow of U.S. special forces soldier Sgt. Chris Speer, and a former American soldier Layne Morris blinded in one eye, wanted an injunction freezing Khadr’s assets pending their battle to have a Canadian court force him to pay the US$134.1-million judgment from Utah.
Their Toronto-based lawyer David Winer found himself struggling to persuade Belobaba to hand down what the judge called an “extraordinary and very drastic remedy” and a “nuclear weapon.”
Grabbing someone’s property, the judge said, demands solid, credible evidence that the person planned to thwart creditors or flout court orders.
“We’ve got to deal with that,” he told Winer. “If you can’t clear this criterion, we’re done.”
Winer’s evidence, however, amounted to media reports on Khadr’s recent settlement of his lawsuit against Ottawa, announced last week, for breaching his rights during his 10 years as a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Sources said the deal with Khadr, 30, included a government payout of $10.5 million — money the Americans want to get their hands on.
In one article, the Globe and Mail cited an anonymous source as saying Khadr had already legally sheltered the money, court heard.
“Everything that he has reported on this matter has so far turned out to be correct,” Winer said of Globe reporter, Robert Fife.
“Newspapers get it right a heck of a lot of times; they have great people working for them,” Belobaba allowed. At the same time, he said it was difficult to rely legally on one anonymous source, a point Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyer, Nate Whitling, pressed home during his brief submissions.
“There’s just nothing here for Mr. Khadr to respond to. There’s just a bare allegation that assets will be dissipated,” Whitling said. “The parties simply wish to deprive Mr. Khadr of the benefits of his property.”
At one point, Belobaba asked why Khadr would not “for goodwill” put the money aside pending trial on the Utah judgment.
Stacking $10 million against the US$134-million judgment made little sense, Whitling replied.
“Mr. Khadr has plans for his property, like everybody else does. It’s his property. He’s got the right to do with it as his wishes,” Whitling said. “There’s no reason it should be tied up. It’s as simple as that.”
Belobaba also saw little merit in Winer’s second point: Khadr’s refusal to promise the money would be available to the Americans suggests something nefarious. If Khadr had no plan to hide his assets, Winer said, it would have “been so easy to say so.”
The judge said he recognized the American families had been “horribly devastated” by death and injuries but said he saw no evidence Khadr would be “jumping on a plane to Venezuela” or somehow putting his money beyond their reach. Ultimately, Belobaba needed just a few minutes to reject the injunction application.
“You have to be really careful when you go around freezing people’s assets before trial,” he said. “This is not a difficult decision in law.”
The two sides are now expected back in court in the fall — likely October — to begin working toward a trial on the Utah judgment.
Legal experts say it will be difficult to have a Canadian court enforce the Utah award given that it is based almost entirely on Khadr’s 2010 confession before a widely condemned U.S. military commission that he had, as a 15-year-old, killed Speer in Afghanistan in July 2002.
Khadr later said he pleaded guilty to five purported war crimes as the only way to get out of Guantanamo and return to Canada, which he did in 2012.