Recently, the Canadian government formally apologized and awarded $10.5 million to Omar Khadr. In July 2002, the then 15-year-old Canadian was living in Afghanistan. He had been taken there by his father who had connections to Al-Qaeda. Khadr was in the middle of a firefight between U.S. soldiers and the Taliban. He allegedly threw a hand grenade that killed Sergeant Christopher Speer, a Delta Force soldier in the US Army. Khadr was captured and detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he was interrogated by U.S. and Canadian officials.
In 2010, Omar Khadr was found guilty of offenses considered war crimes under U.S. law, but are not recognized as war crimes under international law. He was sentenced to eight years in prison with the opportunity to be transferred to a Canadian prison after one year. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that Khadr’s treatment offended the basic standards of detention for youth suspects. He was transferred to a Canadian prison in 2012 and released on bail in 2015. The federal government appealed the bail but it was rejected in court. In 2013, Omar Khadr launched a $20 million civil suit against the Canadian government.
Reaction against the Khadr apology was widespread and vocal. Recent opinion polls have shown that a large majority of Canadians oppose it. Even a majority of those asked who said they normally vote for the governing Liberal Party said the oppose the settlement. This could be the first major test Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s popularity has faced. The Prime Minister has called the $10.5 million payment “responsible,” and said it could have been up to $40 million if the government chose not to settle. Trudeau has said that future governments need to remember that ignoring the civil rights of citizens can be expensive. The Liberals have criticized the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper for not acting sooner. However, the Liberals are already two years into the current term.
Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Layne Morris, who was blinded in one eye during the firefight involving Omar Khadr has called Prime Minister Trudeau a “groupie” of Khadr. Morris, and the family of Sergeant Speer have unsuccessfully attempted to have Khadr’s compensation payment blocked in court.
Opposition Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the Khadr compensation “disgusting.” The government contends that Khadr was a victim and his civil liberties as a Canadian—even as one living outside Canada, were violated. Scheer has insisted that Khadr is not a victim.
From a financial perspective, organizations like the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, which generally opposes taxes and big government, has launched a petition against the Liberals over the payment to Omar Khadr. The federation has however trod into more ideological territory by also opposing the fact that the government even made a formal apology to Khadr.
Meanwhile, the opinions of average Canadians, most of which are manifested on social media, are highly polarized. There are three distinct camps: Canadians who think the Trudeau government has done the right thing, Canadians who think Omar Khadr deserved an apology and compensation, but not $10.5 million, and Canadians who are completely opposed to the settlement and blame Justin Trudeau personally for it. The third category tends to be the most vocal. References get made to Khadr’s payment in comparison to the number of benefits veterans receive. Patriotism is measured by support or opposition to the payment. Elements of Islamophobia and personally disparaging remarks about the Prime Minister and his government also appear in some material against the apology.
The Canadian government announced the apology and payment to Omar Khadr just after the Canada 150 celebrations. Parliament is on summer break. There was likely hope that it would go unnoticed while Canadians were celebrating or going on vacation. That hasn’t happened though and the issue is showing no sign of going away both in and out of the official corridors of political power.