Partisan politics and a focus on optics over the rule of law mean that nobody’s hands are clean in the Omar Khadr case, says a Canadian political scientist.
“The partisanship around this is really just hypocrisy on both sides,” Emmett Macfarlane, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, told the National Post on Friday. “The blame is on everyone.”
On Friday morning, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a public apology to Khadr, who was held at Guantanamo Bay for 10 years. During his imprisonment, Khadr pleaded guilty in the death of Sgt. Christopher Speer, an American medic who died in Afghanistan in 2002.
The government has also reached a settlement with Khadr, though the details are being kept confidential. Reports surfaced this week that the government paid Khadr $10.5 million for the violation of his charter rights by Canadian officials.
Khadr filed a $20-million civil suit against the federal government in 2013.
Liberals defend payout in Omar Khadr settlement 3:31
During the announcement on Friday, Goodale said the government has already spent nearly $5 million on legal expenses, and proceeding with the civil suit would have cost millions more “with virtually no chance of success.”
Still, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisted he would have fought against a settlement. “I believe that there is value in fighting for that principle, that we don’t pay convicted terrorists compensation,” he told reporters in Calgary.
But Macfarlane said it’s high time the government stop making decisions based on the optics of the Khadr case. The Liberals presumably agreed to settle after getting legal advice about their slim odds of winning in court, he said.
“I think we have to remember that successive governments thinking about politics instead of principle is what got us into this mess,” he said.
Omar Khadr hopes to turn a page after settlement,… 3:18
NDP justice critic Alistair MacGregor said he understands why some Canadians are angry about the settlement, but the situation could have been avoided if the government had “followed due process.”
“I think people should be angry at the actions taken by previous Canadian governments that got us into the mess that we’re in today,” he said.
The blame game was strong on Friday, with both Goodale and Scheer pointing fingers at the other party for its role in the Khadr saga.
“Despite the Supreme Court of Canada, the Harper government refused to repatriate Mr. Khadr or otherwise resolve the matter,” Goodale told reporters. “They could have, but they didn’t, and the Conservatives under Mr. Scheer continue in that exact same vein, as we have seen this week.”
In fact, the Harper government did bring Khadr back to Canada in 2012, albeit reluctantly.
In Calgary, Scheer said Khadr’s repatriation was a remedy in and of itself, and no further compensation should have been required. “That’s where this story should have ended.”
He was quick to pass the buck back to the Liberals, who were in power under former prime minister Jean Chrétien when Khadr was sent to Guantanamo in 2002.
“I know that Trudeau wants to blame the previous government, but this situation started under a Liberal government,” he said.
But it’s that kind of posturing that has produced this outcome, Macfarlane said.
“The Liberals don’t have much ground to be pointing at the Conservatives. Similarly, the Conservatives foot-dragged on bringing Khadr back from Guantanamo Bay,” he said. “It’s very difficult how to see how the government could have come out on the winning side of this.”
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Scheer said Khadr should give the entire settlement to Tabitha Speer, the widow of the soldier who was killed in the firefight in Afghanistan. But the path for Speer to get compensation in the courts has gotten murkier.
Speer won a $134-million wrongful death claim against Khadr in a Utah court, but has not yet been able to have that decision enforced across the border. Speer’s lawyer David Winer was in Ontario Superior
Court in Toronto Friday morning in an attempt to freeze the funds Khadr received in the settlement until Speer’s attempt to have her claim enforced against him is resolved.
With the government choosing to pay Khadr before announcing the settlement, it means the original application no longer applies and the lawyers will have to go after Khadr himself, rather than the government.The court will rule next week on the request to freeze the funds.
“The government has deliberately helped Mr. Khadr block Sgt. Speer’s widow from executing the $134 million court judgment against him,” said Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney, who was at the cabinet table in Stephen Harper’s government when Khadr was repatriated.
“They issued the cheque in the dark of night. If anything they should have cooperated with the counsel for Mrs. Speer to ensure her claim could be heard at a Canadian court prior to the transfer of these funds,” he said.
While the announcement was being made in Ottawa, reaction poured in on social media from around the country. Maher Arar, who also received a $10.5 million settlement from the government after being tortured in Syria, tweeted his support for Khadr and said the murder conviction that the settlement hinges on could be reversed.
“Omar Khadr’s ‘conviction’ will eventually be overturned in the US as it did not meet the very basics of due process,” Arar wrote on Friday.
With files from Joseph Brean