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Any request by the United States for Canada to allow Omar Khadr to serve part of his sentence in this country would present Prime Minister Stephen Harper with an exquisite political dilemma.

The Conservative government has earned a reputation within legal circles for doing everything it can to avoid repatriating Canadians who want to do their time in their homeland. It would have little incentive to welcome home one of this country's most notorious citizens, accused of murder and terrorism.

If Mr. Harper is to agree, that request will have to come from the highest levels, probably U.S. President Barack Obama himself.

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Under the bilateral Treaty on the Execution of Penal Sentences, any Canadian citizen incarcerated in the United States can apply to serve out their sentence in Canada. The U.S. Department of Justice must first review and approve the transfer, which is then sent to Corrections Canada for review. Final approval rests with Vic Toews, Minister of Public Security.

Legal authorities who asked not to be named said that the Harper government, unlike its predecessors, is reluctant to repatriate Canadians imprisoned abroad. Review can take eight months or more, and ministers reject requests whenever they can come up with a plausible, or even implausible, reason to do so.

A government that resists taking even garden-variety criminals back would hardly be expected to approve the transfer of an alleged criminal and terrorist.

That is not to say there could not be an agreement, based on negotiations under way. But if the Americans want to be quit of Mr. Khadr, Mr. Obama may have to ask it of Mr. Harper as a favour.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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