OTTAWA - Opposition parties slammed the government Wednesday for asking the United States to withhold any Canadian-gathered evidence against Omar Khadr, the accused terrorist held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
NDP Leader Jack Layton called the diplomatic note sent by Ottawa to Washington a "slap in the face" to the Supreme Court of Canada.
He also blasted the timing of the Conservative government's decision, which came in a news release Tuesday evening - minutes before the puck was to drop in the debut match of the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team.
Layton joined Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in criticizing the government for failing to tell Washington that Khadr was a child soldier at the time of his arrest in 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan, in which a U.S. army medic was killed.
The high court ruled last month that the Canadian government violated Khadr's constitutional rights by questioning him in U.S. custody. But the justices did not order the government to seek repatriation, and the government has already said it will not do so.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in the release Tuesday the United States has instead been asked not to use any evidence gathered from Khadr by Canadian officials in any American legal proceeding.
"It's a disgraceful slap in the face to the Supreme Court and to the concept the Canadian government should be defending human rights pursuant to our charter," said Layton.
"Our government has been the worst of all the various governments that had citizens in Guantanamo in terms of stepping forward and ensuring due justice is provided for an individual."
Khadr, born in Toronto and now 23, is the last Western national in the U.S. military prison at the tip of Cuba.
"This was the ultimate in cynicism," said Layton. "You've shut down Parliament, you put out a press release rather than actually facing the media to answer some of the tough questions and defend yourself.
"And you do it at a time when everybody's preoccupied with our national sport on the world stage at an Olympic games taking place in Canada."
Ignatieff said the diplomatic note Canada sent Tuesday should have specified that Khadr was a child soldier at his arrest.
The Liberal leader acknowledged most Canadians do not sympathize with Khadr's plight, but said his citizenship rights should be protected by the government.
"They did the absolute minimum," said Ignatieff. "We think this is a test case in the indivisibility of Canadian citizenship.
"Many Canadians, including myself, take a very serious view of the accusations against Mr. Khadr. But he's a Canadian citizen. And you don't pick and choose here. You defend them all. Otherwise, no one's citizenship is worth very much. That's the key issue."
Khadr's legal team is to file a motion in Federal Court to quash the government's decision.
His lawyer said the Justice Department simply ignored a letter he sent last week requesting the right to make submissions about how to interpret the Supreme Court ruling.
The evidence Nicholson wants kept out of the trial includes seven hours of videotaped interrogations of the then-teenaged Khadr by a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent.
The video shows Khadr sobbing, moaning and dropping his head into his palms. He asks for protection from his American captors.
Nicholson said in his Tuesday statement that Khadr was still receiving consular services.
The Khadr family has apparent long-standing ties to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.