What Trudeau should say about Khadr
Canada’s Liberal Government and its camera-friendly leader Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are conspicuously quiet (almost hidden) these days, as the nation wrestles with the settlement of the Omar Khadr lawsuit.
The PM’s silence on this was a regrettable error, agitating and extending the public debate about the $10.5 million payout to confessed terrorist Khadr. He emerged today for 21 seconds, to say that the deal was “uncomfortable” but we all had to pay for the violations of the Charter of Rights. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s about 15 steps short of where he should go.
Being low-key about all this leaves Trudeau open to be a punching bag for a highly hypocritical, braying Conservative opposition complaint. He has been savaged and will continue to be, if he shrugs his way through this. The approach misses the chance to offer a valuable lesson about civics, which Canadians are entitled to (and apparently, need).
Worst of all, the Prime Minister has failed to deliver to Canadians what they deserve most in this mess: an apology, to THEM. That is why he should talk to Canadians, for more than 21 seconds, and he should say something like this:
- In the early days of the War on Terror, Canada joined in an international effort to stop terrorists like those complicit in the 9/11 attack. The Canadian Forces served nobly in that effort for many years, particularly in Afghanistan.
- At the same time, some Canadians suspected of terrorism were sent overseas to be questioned, sometimes tortured, and imprisoned for years.
- Omar Khadr was one such Canadian. He was a boy when he was taken into battle by his family, who were avowed terrorists and traitors.
- His father took him into battle, where by his own admission, Omar Khadr injured and killed American combatants. Then 15 year old Khadr himself was seriously wounded when captured.
- Then, with Canadian authorities’ involvement, this boy was sent away to be the prisoner of the American military justice system. He was imprisoned there for many years.
- During that time, lawyers on his behalf argued that as a Canadian, Omar Khadr was entitled to the same due process as anyone else. They said he should not have been handed over to a foreign government. The Courts agreed. The Supreme Court of Canada twice ruled that Mr. Khadr had been unlawfully treated in this case.
- He was returned to Canada, served more time in Canadian prison and was recently released. His lawyers continued in their legal action against the Government of Canada. The decision had to be made, what to do about that case.
- Canada broke the law when it sent Omar Khadr overseas without due process. Were we going to keep defending that? Would we spend many years and millions of tax dollars, in litigation defending actions which the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled were unlawful? No, we would not.
- And so, we made the very difficult decision to negotiate a settlement that would be less costly to the people of Canada, than to fight a case we should not fight and could not win. And we apologized to Mr. Khadr because what was done to him, was wrong.
- Many Canadians are offended by this. I understand that feeling. It does not make me happy to do this. But we inherited this problem and we weren’t going to avoid it. Someone had to make the tough decision. So we did.
- Some people think this is a partisan issue. It is not. A Liberal Government committed the initial wrong in handing a Canadian citizen over to a foreign authority; a Conservative Government continued that wrong, by ignoring requests to help get him back – and by ignoring the two decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Both governments were wrong.
- Our government today will not perpetuate the wrongs of past governments, Conservative or Liberal. And we will not spend your money fighting a case that should not be fought and that cannot be won. So we have ended it.
- The rule of law protects each of us – it protects you – against the kinds of arbitrary uses of power that occurred in this case. Each of us has rights. And when one Canadian’s rights are violated, every Canadian’s rights are violated. Your rights were violated.
- We cannot change what happened in the past. We can only pledge to do better, and we must apologize for the wrong that was done to you.
- And so the Government of Canada apologizes to the Canadian people for the unlawful actions of previous governments, actions which violated the rights of all Canadians. We are committed to doing better.