PM sidesteps comment on Khadr settlement rumours
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is keeping mum on a reported $10 million settlement offer for Omar Khadr, a former child soldier who was detained in Guantanamo Bay and in Canadian prison for 10 years.
Speaking to reporters in Dublin on Tuesday, where he was meeting with Irish Taoiseach (the equivalent of a prime minister) Leo Varadkar, Trudeau didn't address the rumoured compensation amount or the reasoning behind it.
"There is a judicial process underway that has been underway for a number of years now and we are anticipating, like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion," Trudeau said.
Khadr is suing the federal government for $20 million over abuses he suffered during his detention. Khadr was subjected to sleep deprivation and interrogated without counsel. He argues Canada was complicit in his detention.
If Khadr is compensated $10 million, that is close to what was provided to Maher Arar, a Syrian Canadian who was brutally tortured for a year after U.S. officials deported him to his birth country. Arar was cleared of any alleged terrorism ties. A federal inquiry led by former justice Dennis O'Connor found that bad information provided by the RCMP to American officials likely led to Arar's imprisonment.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed an ongoing court process, but wouldn’t say anything further.
“Settlement processes are always strictly confidential by nature. Accordingly, the government is not in a position to provide any comment one way or another,” Scott Bardsley said in an email to CTV News.
Federal Court of Canada records show Khadr’s lawyers had a mediation scheduled in Ottawa for June 21-22. The records suggest the mediation was assigned to Justice Anne Mactavish last March.
'Khadr was tortured,' government 'complicit'
There’s no record of a notice of discontinuance by Khadr, a government official pointed out to CTV News, which would signal an end to the proceedings. That means a settlement could have been proposed but not yet accepted.
Khadr was injured and captured in a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, accused of throwing a grenade that killed American Sgt. Christopher Speer. He was 15 years old at the time, and became the youngest detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. He pleaded guilty in military court to throwing the grenade, and was convicted on a range of other offences. He was eventually transferred into Canadian custody, and released on bail in 2015 to live with his lawyer, Dennis Edney.
Arar defended the reported compensation for Khadr.
"Let's set the record straight: [Omar] Khadr was tortured [and] the [Canadian government] was complicit. This is regardless [of] whether he committed a crime or not," Arar said on Twitter.
Let's set the record straight: O. Khadr was tortured & the Cdn govt was complicit. This is regardless whether he committed a crime or not.— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) July 4, 2017
"Ask any victim of torture whether they'd trade their entire compensation for his life back and you will hear a loud YES," he added.
Ask any victim of torture whether they'd trade their entire compensation for his life back and you will hear a loud YES.— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) July 4, 2017
"Those bigots complaining about Omar Khadr compensation would be asking for $1 [billion] if a fraction of what happened to him happened to them."
Those bigots complaining about Omar Khadr compensation would be asking for $1B if a fraction of what happened to him happened to them.— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) July 4, 2017
Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, said in an interview with CTV News Channel that Canada didn't maintain international child protection standards in Khadr's case.
"It seems that it's taken a long time to learn those lessons, but there have been lessons learned," she said of the reported settlement.
Conservative MP Erin O'Toole acknowledged the controversy around Guantanamo Bay, but said he doesn't consider Khadr to have been a child soldier.
"He was with his family," O'Toole said in an interview with CTV News Channel. "It's not like he was a conscript in an army in the traditional sense of a child soldier."
O'Toole called the reported settlement "outrageous" and said the federal government is flotaing it in the middle of the summer because they know it's going to be controversial.
They're "hoping people will forget about it when they're camping and on their holidays," he said.
Human rights experts, however, disagree.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, calls the reported settlement hugely significant and long overdue.
"Omar Khadr has endured years and years of human rights violations that go back to 2002 -- very serious human rights violations. And obviously there's considerable responsibility for that on the part of the U.S. government, but Canada has complicity in his situation, Canada has something to account for," he said.
"We know that child soldiers shouldn't simply be seen as perpetrators of acts of violence and treated like other soldiers are. We should actually view them as victims who should never have been propelled out onto the battlefield in the first place and, by virtue of having been foisted into fighting a war, have become victims of human rights violations."
The Supreme Court of Canada sided with Khadr in three cases, including a 2010 decision that found the conduct of government officials had violated his rights.
"Canada actively participated in a process contrary to Canada's international human rights obligations and contributed to Mr. Khadr's ongoing detention so as to deprive him of his right to liberty and security of the person guaranteed by [section seven] of the Charter, contrary to the principles of fundamental justice," the court said.