The government of Canada on Friday formally apologized to Omar Khadr, the only Canadian imprisoned at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It also said that it had paid compensation to Khadr, a former child soldier, for violating his rights under Canadian law.
“On behalf of the government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Khadr for any role Canadian officials played in relation to his ordeal abroad and any resulting harm,” the government said in its apology. “We hope that this expression, and the negotiated settlement, will assist him in his efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in his life.”
When he was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002, Khadr, 15 years old at the time, was severely wounded. Later, at a military commission, he pleaded guilty to using a hand grenade to kill a member of the U.S. military during a battle. But Khadr and his lawyers subsequently said that he had made his plea to avoid being detained indefinitely.
A Liberal Party government was in office at the time of Khadr’s capture, but the subsequent Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, who was then prime minister, repeatedly characterized Khadr as a terrorist and made little effort to secure his release.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada sternly rebuked the government. It found that the interrogation of Khadr by Canadian intelligence officials at Guantánamo “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.” Separately, another court, the Federal Court of Canada, also found that the Conservative government had violated Khadr’s rights by not actively seeking his return.
Khadr has been a polarizing figure here. He was taken from Canada to Afghanistan by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who was thought by Canadian intelligence officials to have been associated with Osama bin Laden. The elder Khadr was eventually killed by government forces in Pakistan. Other members of his family also publicly offered inflammatory statements that many Canadians viewed as condoning terrorism.
While Harper sided with Canadians who held such sentiments, Khadr received support from Canadians who viewed him as a child victim of war, a position generally taken by the courts.
The strong findings in favor of Khadr in earlier court decisions made it inevitable, said Ralph Goodale, the public safety minister, that the government would have to settle his lawsuit for damages. Neither the government nor Khadr’s lawyers would disclose the amount. But several Canadian news outlets reported this week that the amount was $10.5 million Canadian, or about $8 million in U.S. currency without being challenged by either party in the dispute.
After announcing the settlement, Goodale acknowledged that some Canadians would not like having the government pay money to a man they viewed as a terrorist.
But he said that the country could not deny the wrongdoing by its officials.
“You may want to dismiss the rule of law and the Constitution,” Goodale told reporters in Ottawa. “But if you do that, you are fundamentally undermining the integrity of the country.”
Andrew Scheer, the current Conservative leader, argued that the Canada’s responsibility for Khadr ended when he was repatriated in 2012. Scheer told reporters in Calgary, Alberta, that he found the settlement “disgusting.”
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which appeared to have been recorded before the announcement, Khadr, who was held in a Canadian prison until 2015, said he hoped the apology would help his efforts to lead a normal life.
“I never was angry or upset about what happened,” said Khadr, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, and who said it had been difficult to attend school and find jobs because of his “past reputation.”
Asked about the family of the soldier he killed, Sgt. Christopher Speer, Khadr said that he was “really sorry for their pain.”
While the settlement is the end of Khadr’s 15-year legal battle with the government of Canada, he is still not free of the courts.
Two years ago, a U.S. federal court in Utah awarded Tabitha Speer, Speer’s widow, and Layne Morris, a former member of the U.S. military who lost some of his eyesight because of the grenade thrown by Khadr, about $134 million in a default judgment.
David Winer, a lawyer for the Americans, was in a Toronto court Friday to set a date for a hearing to order a freeze on Khadr’s compensation. He declined to speak with reporters.
Many legal experts say it will be difficult for Tabitha Speer and Morris to collect the Utah judgment in Canada or to freeze Khadr’s compensation.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the justice minister, said that Khadr’s story provided two messages for Canada: “Our rights are not subject to the whims of the government of the day,” she said. “And there are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens.”