I could almost end the column right now. Khadr’s supporters will be furious and stop reading it. His detractors will assume my thesis fits their worldview and gloss over it.
But if you’ll divulge me for several hundred more words, I’m going to examine why Canadians are more emotional about this controversial case than most others in recent memory.
Khadr’s story is well known. Briefly, he was accused in 2002 of killing U.S. Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, a combat medic, with a hand grenade during a skirmish in Khost Province, Afghanistan. He was captured, linked to the terrorist organization al-Qaida (likely through his father), and pleaded guilty in 2010. He spent 10 years in Guantanamo Bay before being repatriated by Canada in 2012.
Everything else the then-15-year-old did roughly 15 years ago is a matter of dispute.
Some people believe Khadr was a naive child soldier who was brainwashed by his family to join a vicious terrorist group. They felt he was coerced into providing a guilty verdict, and that American and Canadian officials were complicit. They strongly supported his release from Guantanamo Bay, and the apology and settlement from the Canadian government, which they felt did him wrong.
Others question whether Khadr should be classified as a child soldier under international law, because he didn’t belong to (and wasn’t forced into) an army. They’ve gone through audio and transcribed interviews conducted with him in his jail cells, and didn’t detect any expressions of remorse about Speer’s death. They point out there’s no proof (i.e. audio file, video tape) that he was coerced into his guilty plea. They don’t support the need for Ottawa to apologize and give money to a convicted murderer with links to terrorism.
Many Canadians are also furious at the sleazy, and almost covert, manner in which the federal government handled the $10.5-million settlement.
The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemingly had no intention of ever being forthcoming about the large settlement paid by Canadian taxpayers. It only came to light due to solid reporting by the Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife. Otherwise, we may have remained in the dark.
Meanwhile, this money was reportedly sent to Khadr before Speer’s widow, Tabitha, and her legal team were able to apply for an emergency injunction at a Canadian courthouse. Considering she’s never received a dime for her terrible loss and her two children have grown up without a loving father, this is beyond offensive.
As well, many Canadians struggle on public assistance each month to pay for rent, food and utilities. Imagine what they think and feel when Khadr receives millions of dollars from the government.
Finally, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale noted that legal fees related to Khadr’s $20-million lawsuit against the government have “already cost taxpayers close to $5 million.” In his view, in “a case with virtually no chance of success, reaching a settlement was the only sensible course.”
Not necessarily. A significant number of Canadians would likely have supported the use of more taxpayer dollars to prevent this questionable person from receiving a massive financial settlement until the final court ruling. The longer it’s out of his hands, the better.
While some believe racism and bigotry have fuelled the rage and opposition to Khadr, they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a combination of what he did, the lack of remorse he showed (up until recently), the crime he admitted to committing and, most notably, the secrecy behind Ottawa’s decision to reach a financial settlement with him.
The Liberals should be ashamed of themselves. The sad thing is, they aren’t. Khadr’s padded bank account is proof of this.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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