Canada will pay Omar Khadr over $10 million to settle his lawsuit against the government for breaching his Charter rights. Though the decision is controversial, it isn’t unprecedented in the Commonwealth world.
Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen. At 15 years old, he participated in a firefight with American soldiers in Afghanistan. During the battle, American solider Christopher Speer died from a grenade blast. Captured and brought before a military commission in 2010, Khadr plead guilty to throwing the grenade.
While imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Khadr suffered torture at the hands of his American captors. He was not allowed to speak to a lawyer. He claims he took the plea deal as a way out.
As a citizen of Canada, Khadr is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. That includes the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada violated his rights by being complicit in Khadr’s torture and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.
In response, Khadr sued the Canadian government for $20 million. Rather than fight him in court, the Trudeau government chose to settle the case for half that amount.
This was a difficult calculation for the government to make. On one hand, Khadr’s legal affairs have already cost us over $5 million. The lawsuit would have cost taxpayers millions more, and that’s not including the $20 million in damages Khadr claimed.
But Canadians are far from welcoming of this decision. An Angus-Reid poll showed 71% of respondents thought the government should have fought the case to the end. Interestingly, 74% also believe Khadr should have been treated as a child soldier rather than a terrorist, seeming to acknowledge Canada’s wrongdoing while denying its responsibility to pay damages.
While the decision is highly controversial, Canada isn’t the first government to pay out settlements to citizens who were imprisoned at Guantanamo. In 2010, Australia settled with Mamdouh Habib, an Australian who was captured and transferred to Gitmo following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Britain gave the equivalent of $30 million to 16 citizens in similar cases that same year.
What is different about Canada’s decision is the government’s willingness to acknowledge wrongdoing. Britain and Australia both settled begrudgingly. Britain claimed it was necessary to avoid disclosing sensitive information. Australia continues to deny involvement. But the Canadian government has not only owned up to its complicity in Khadr’s imprisonment, but has apologized to him.
In a statement last week, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said, “I hope Canadians take away two things today: First, our rights are not subject to the whims of the government of the day. Second, there are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens.”