Word that the federal government has agreed to pay former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr more than $10 million and apologize to him to settle a long-running lawsuit sparked a furious and at times virulent reaction on Tuesday among those who see him as a terrorist killer and those who believe he deserves compensation.
The settlement, confirmed by sources familiar with the deal, exposed the deep chasm that has divided Canadians over Khadr almost since 2002 when he was dragged horrifically wounded as a 15-year-old from the battlefield in Afghanistan.
“When a Canadian soldier is injured in battle, the government provides a disability award up to a maximum of $360,000,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said in a tweet. “Despite this, the current government is willing to provide $10 million to a convicted terrorist.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation started an online petition aimed at Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Ireland, deploring the deal one source said was signed last week.
“This is offensive to many Canadians,” the petition states. “Canadians should not be forced to pay millions of dollars to a killer.”
Social media exploded with denunciation of the agreement, which sources said would see the government pay Khadr $10.5 million – part of which would go to his lawyers – and the justice and public safety ministers formally apologize to him.
Posters used words such as “disgraceful,” some called for the Canadian citizen to be kicked out of the country, while others argued the money should go to the family of Chris Speer, the U.S. special forces soldier Khadr is alleged to have killed in 2002.
“Most Canadians’ thoughts would be with Christopher Speer’s widow and family, who are reliving their terrible ordeal once again because of the actions of the Canadian government this time,” said Tony Clement, another Conservative MP.
The Toronto-born Khadr, 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a much maligned military commission in 2010. He has claimed, with some evidence, his American captors tortured him.
Khadr’s $20-million lawsuit – initially launched in 2004 – alleges the federal government breached his rights by, among other things, colluding with the Americans in his mistreatment.
Those who see him as a terribly abused “child soldier” called the apparent settlement long overdue.
“For 15 years, Omar Khadr’s case has been a stark reminder of the many ways that an overreaching and unchecked approach to national security readily runs roughshod over universally protected human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty in Canada, said in a statement. “In Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and in Canadian prisons, Omar Khadr’s rights were consistently violated and ignored.”
The Canadian Press