Editorial

Trudeau’s $10-Million Payout to Khadr Saved Money, But Cost the Liberals Big Time

The payout to the child soldier might have been the ethically right move, but it was a huge political misfire.

by Drew Brown
Jul 11 2017, 4:10pm

Image sources: Canadian Press

Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen-cum-Taliban child combatant who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and spent nearly a decade in the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay on charges of war crimes, has received $10.5 million and an apology from the Canadian government.

It is rare to see almost complete unanimity among the pundit class about anything, but the question of whether or not Khadr is entitled to the Charter protections afforded him by his Canadian citizenship brought almost everyone together. When even the terminally ornery Colby Cosh is going to bat for the boy soldier, you know it's a pretty open-and-shut case.

Khadr has been in the process of suing the Canadian government for $20 million, arguing that the government was complicit in the violation of his civil rights as he languished in the torture camp at Guantanamo for the killing of US Special Forces Sgt. Christopher Speer. (Khadr initially confessed to the killing but then said he was forced into the confession under threats of rape and violence. He later pleaded guilty to five charges and was returned to Canada several years later and received bail in 2015 while he appeals the US ruling. Read the full timeline here.)

Given that the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in 2010 that "the deprivation of [Khadr's] right to liberty and security of the person is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," it is almost inevitable that Khadr would have won. No doubt the Liberals, somewhere along the line, thought cutting the taxpayers' loss in half by settling out of court could be spun as a political victory.

As it turns out, they were catastrophically (politically) wrong. The considered (if lukewarm) endorsement for Khadr's payout from the government and the media are at sharp odds with the prevailing mood among the rest of Canada. Despite Justin Trudeau's half-hearted defence that "the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects all Canadians, even when it's uncomfortable," more than two-thirds of the country oppose the settlement—including most Liberals and New Democrats. Nearly as many also still see Khadr himself as a potential terrorist threat, set loose on Canadian society with millions of dollars for nefarious schemes.

There was at least one protest in Halifax, where veterans gathered to ask why Khadr gets millions of dollars from the feds while so many of them have to struggle financially. CBC brought on a former US special forces soldier wounded in Afghanistan to lambast the prime minister as a Khadr "groupie" who lusted after the chance to throw money at him. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the payout "disgusting" and Stephen Harper even came out of retirement on Facebook to announce that "Canadians deserve better than this. Today my thoughts are with Tabitha Speer and the families of all Canadian and allied soldiers who paid the ultimate price fighting to protect us."

Ironically, losing to Khadr in court and eating a $20 million loss might have been less costly for the Liberals than their attempt to proactively save some money (or amend the gross violation of justice that has characterized most of Khadr's life in custody). All the worse for Trudeau that he's the one who will have to pay politically for the way Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and Harper all mishandled their responsibility to ensure Khadr's humane treatment as a child soldier and a Canadian citizen.

If nothing else, the fallout from all this should finally put to rest the smug suggestion that Canada is somehow specially immune to right-wing populism. Khadr has always been a bellweather for public opinion over the course of the War on Terror, whose lasting legacy in the West might be the final severing of patriotism from the civil rights it claims to uphold. This latest furor reveals just how deep and wide the gulf is between the progressive image Canadian media projects abroad and the actual feelings of Canadians here at home.

It's interesting that the same polls that found such strong opposition to the settlement also revealed that the vast majority of Canadians also believe Khadr was a child soldier when he was captured in 2002 and that he should have been treated as such. I wonder—how much is a wasted youth, marred by torture, actually worth? What price would Canadians be willing to pay to a child soldier who lost the prime years of his life in an American gulag? A million dollars? Five million? More? Less?

Maybe $10.5 million is too much; maybe nothing would ever be enough to either fix him or absolve us.

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