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Dennis Edney, lawyer for former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, dead at 77

Lawyer for Omar Khadr, Dennis Edney

Dennis Edney, a lawyer who played a critical role in the release of former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, has died at 77.

An obituary published in the Edmonton Journal said Edney had dementia and died Saturday.

The soccer-player-turned-lawyer took on many high-profile cases throughout his career. But his Scottish accent became known across the country as he spent more than a decade acting in defence of Khadr, who was detained in the infamous U.S. military prison in Cuba as a teen.

“Dennis was a great lawyer and friend. In all my years in the legal profession, I've never met a lawyer more dedicated to his clients,” said Alberta Court of King's Bench Justice Nathan Whitling, who was a lawyer on Khadr's legal team with Edney.

Edney was born in Dundee, a coastal city in eastern Scotland. A Scottish tabloid profile of Edney in 2012 said he was a lorry driver's son.

“What has made me a fighter, taking on governments, is my own Scottish character. We don't like to see the underdog being picked on,” Edney told the Daily Record.

He left home at 17 and became a low-level professional soccer player in San Francisco. He was also a truck driver and a carpenter before he sets his sights on law and went to Northumbria University in England.

Edney was about 40 when he became a criminal lawyer and made Canada his permanent home. His obituary said he embraced Edmonton as his home for most of the last 45 years.

“Dennis put his heart and soul into everything. His legal practice reflected his passion for justice and his indomitable spirit,” the obituary said.

Edney's legal practice focused on criminal and human rights law and he appeared in front of the Supreme Court of Canada numerous times. Edney and Whitling were widely celebrated as paragons of pro bono - or unpaid - work. He was a co-recipient of the 2008 National Pro Bono Award.

Edney became a constant irritant to Ottawa officials when he took on the legal representation of the young Guantanamo Bay detainee, often calling out then prime minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

“Mr. Harper doesn't like Muslims,” Mr. Edney said in 2015 after a Supreme Court hearing.

The Toronto-born Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops in 2002 following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an American special forces soldier. Khadr was accused of throwing the grenade that killed the soldier.

Edney has said he cold-called Khadr's family in Toronto to ask if they had legal representation when the boy was initially detained. Edney travelled to Guantanamo and met Khadr, whom he described as shattered and withdrawn.

Khadr later said he pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo Bay, where he was the youngest detainee. A Supreme Court of Canada decision later found Canadian intelligence officials obtained evidence from Khadr under “oppressive circumstances,” such as sleep deprivation, during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, then shared that evidence with U.S officials.

The Canadian government would later provide a $10.5 million settlement and an apology for breaching Khadr's constitutional rights.

Edney was appointed as a foreign attorney consultant by the U.S. Pentagon to participate in Khadr's legal defence at the naval base in Cuba. He continued to represent the young man when Khadr returned to Canada in 2012 to serve out the rest of his sentence.

When Khadr was freed on bail three years later, he moved in with Edney and the lawyer's wife.

Patricia Edney told CBC soon after that Khadr was welcome in their home and could stay as long as “he wishes.”

The obituary said the lawyer and his wife were soulmates from the beginning. They met in 1986 and married six weeks later.

The best man at their wedding predicted to Patricia Edney that life would never be dull, the obituary said.

The couple had two sons, Cameron and Duncan. Edney loved talking over the dinner table, going to hockey arenas and ski hills, and spoiling the family dogs, the obituary said.

“His ultimate and enduring passion was family.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2024.