The federal government has formally apologized to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr for any role Canadian officials may have played in his mistreatment while in U.S. military custody.
On Friday morning, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also confirmed that Khadr has received a controversial $10.5-million payout to settle a long-standing lawsuit over violations of his charter rights.
The apology was delivered to Khadr in a terse statement from Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“The legal settlement we are announcing today deals with a civil lawsuit launched by Omar Khadr against the government of Canada on a very precise question,” said Goodale, specifying that the question was whether the behaviour of the Canadian government contributed to the violation of Khadr’s rights.
“It is not about the battlefield in Afghanistan. It is about the acts or omissions of the Canadian government after Mr. Khadr was captured and detained.”
Khadr, now 30 and living in Edmonton, was 15 when he was captured by American soldiers after a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. The battle, during which Khadr threw a grenade, ended in the death of U.S. special forces soldier Chris Speer and the wounding of another U.S. soldier, Layne Morris.
Khadr was eventually transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and later pleaded guilty to five war crimes — including killing Speer — before a military commission. He has long claimed to have been tortured, saying he confessed only to be allowed to leave Guantanamo and return to Canada.
Goodale said the civil case launched by Khadr has already cost Canadian taxpayers $5 million in legal fees, and millions more would have been spent had it moved ahead, “not including the damage claim itself of another $20 million in a case with virtually no chance of success.”
He called the settlement the only sensible course of action.
Wilson-Raybould noted Friday that the Supreme Court of Canada has already found in two separate cases that Canada violated Khadr’s rights.
“Our government places a premium on rulings and respect for the Supreme Court of Canada,” the justice minister said.
“A Canadian citizen’s charter rights were violated … Our rights are not subject to the whims of the government of the day … there are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens.”
Supporters have argued that Khadr should have been treated as a child soldier from the start. But public opinion has been decidedly mixed, with many Canadians still considering Khadr a terrorist, and his case has been a lightning rod for controversy.
The Conservatives under new leader Andrew Scheer have called the settlement “odious.”
“This settlement is a choice made by Justin Trudeau … a slap in the face to the men and women in uniform who face incredible danger every day to keep us safe,” Scheer said Friday afternoon, criticizing the “rushed” and “secret” nature of the settlement. The legal agreement was only made public after leaks to the media.
“It’s not just wrong, it’s disgusting.”
WATCH: Andrew Scheer calls $10 million payout to Omar Khadr ‘disgusting’
Scheer said as prime minister, he would have refused to agree to a settlement and noted that the Supreme Court never set out the criteria for a remedy for Khadr.
“The repatriation of Omar Khadr is the remedy,” Scheer said. “This ordeal should have ended when Omar Khadr was repatriated.”
A petition launched by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation opposing the settlement money had gained over 50,000 signatures by Thursday.
Even with the money now in Khadr’s hands, legal wrangling may just be getting started.
On Friday morning, a lawyer representing the widow of the dead American soldier, Tabitha Speer, and the injured soldier, Morris, confirmed he would move ahead in Ontario Superior Court to freeze the payout to Khadr. If the funds have already been transferred to him and moved into an account under someone else’s name, however, that may prove difficult.
Tabitha Speer and Morris have already filed an application so that any money paid by the Canadian government to Khadr will go to them. A U.S. judge granted them $134.2 million in damages in 2015, but it’s unclear if that judgement, based on proceedings at Guantanamo, would be recognized by Canadian courts.
With files from the Canadian Press