Public debate over federal government’s $CA10.5 million payout to former “child terrorist” has tarnished Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
On the surface, it seemed a simple, honest, “right thing” to do. Omar Khadr, then a 15-year-old “child soldier” was accused of allegedly throwing a grenade in a firefight in Afghanistan which killed a US soldier – Christopher Speer – and blinded another US soldier, Layne Morris, in the eye.
In the post-911 mood of the United States, Khadr was arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay where he spent the next ten years, among hard-core terrorists and sadistic US interrogators. His “confession” to the killing of Speer is suspect, given the questionable interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay. Among those “questioning” Khadr in Guantanamo were Canadian security officials.
Khadr was eventually released to Canadian officials and finished his jail term in a Canadian facility. Once finally released, he began a $20 million legal action against the Canadian government, based on his time in GITMO where Canadian security services personnel gave US security agents confidential information which should not have been shared and which allegedly added to Khadr’s overall treatment at the prison facility. Khadr was convicted by a US military commission using this “flawed” information.
That legal trail eventually lead to Canada’s Supreme Court, which agreed that Khadr’s arrest and detention at GITMO “offended Canada’s most basic values and principles” as laid down in Canada’s Charter of Rights.
Trudeau’s Liberal Government gave Khadr the $CA10.5 million settlement as a means of stopping any further court claims – Khadr’s $20 million lawsuit over unlawful imprisonment – and the legal fees the federal government would have been saddled with. Once the settlement and its amount became public knowledge, there was a major public outburst in Canada over the amount. A national survey showed 71 per cent of Canadians were against the payout.
The survey, by the Angus Reid Institute, showed “broad and strong” public opposition to the settlement. The survey also found that the majority of Canadians felt the government should have fought Khadr’s court case and “left it to the courts” to decide whether Khadr was wrongly imprisoned.
There doesn’t seem much doubt that the public sentiment against what many see as a “large” payout could cause political danger to Justin Trudeau. The same survey says 61 per cent of Canadians felt the Trudeau government made the wrong choice. Sixty-five per cent didn’t accept the idea the government had no choice.
A political cartoon in Canada’s national newspaper showed problems with settlements and hearings for the country’s indigenous people and beside it a racing car labelled “$10.5 million”.
Alongside the payout, is yet another potential legal action from the relatives and family of the two American soldiers killed and injured by Khadr’s alleged actions in Afghanistan. Their lawyers wanted Khadr’s $10.5 million settlement “frozen”. Canada’s government has said “no” to that.
The American lawyers also want to ensure that the Khadr payment isn’t moved – presumably offshore – or hidden in some way. And they were also claiming $134 million in damages on behalf of their respective clients.
A hearing in Toronto last week effectively tossed these claims out of court.
As for Omar Khadr; he’s basically a free man. There are some restrictions on where he can live and who he can see. At age 32 he is trying to get his life together, to improve his education and to see – in a limited way – more of his family. He’s living in a Toronto suburb with his lawyer and keeping his head down.
Recently,there has been a similar pay-out deal,where asylum seekers,who alleged they endured physical and psychological harm on Manus Island between 2012 and 2016, were paid $AU70million in compensation.
Louis Cooper is an Australian-born veteran television executive who lives in Canada