Omar Khadr Settlement

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr / Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, I have heard concern and dismay regarding the settlement of the civil suit brought by Omar Khadr against the Government of Canada.

At every step of the way for more than a decade, Mr. Khadr’s case was mishandled, from high handed and illegal actions by Canadian officials during the Chrétien, and Martin governments, to on-going mistreatment under the Harper government.  The Harper government, in fact, was rebuked three times by the Supreme Court of Canada:  in 2008, in 2010, and again in 2015.

This settlement was not any kind of gift or reward, and has nothing whatsoever to do with what Mr. Khadr might or might not have done as a child in Afghanistan.

This settlement is, strictly, compensation for damages to Mr. Khadr due to actions by Canadian officials after he was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

There are some who say that, as a matter of honour, perhaps, this suit should have been fought all the way to the end, ultimately to be decided in court.

But the facts are not in question.  There is no grey area here;  there is no more definitive legal finding of fact than the Supreme Court of Canada, which twice ruled — unanimously:  in 2008 and in 2010 — that the Government of Canada failed in its responsibility and egregiously violated Mr. Khadr’s Charter rights.

The only thing left for a court to decide was how much the damages should be?  (For added context, in 2007 Mr. Harper approved a $10.5 million settlement and issued an apology to Maher Arar for similar misconduct by Canadian officials in 2002 and 2003 that led to his rendition by the US to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.)

The Harper government spent $5 million fighting this suit, against the near certainty of a resounding loss — with damages at least in the realm of the $20 million claimed, plus, possibly, punitive damages, plus Mr. Khadr’s legal costs, plus however many more millions the government would likely have had to spend to carry on the fight.

We do not (officially) know the specific amount of this court-mediated settlement, but it undoubtedly saved taxpayers many millions of dollars.

It is also consistent with the Minister of Justice’s mandate to review the government’s litigation strategy to ensure consistency with our commitments, the Charter, and our values.

This settlement does that:  it is legally prudent;  it is fiscally prudent;  and it is morally imperative — for breaches of Charter rights for anyone jeopardize the rights and freedoms for everyone.

The Charter exists to protect us, all of us, particularly against negligence or abuse by our own governments.  It is there to keep our governments in line.  When governments obey the law, generally only those who really are guilty will endure the penalty.  But when a government fails to do so, it is the innocent who are most at risk.  Shortcuts around the Charter do not bode well for justice, and can be expensive.

One doesn’t have to look far in this world to see what can happen when a government gets out of control, when the systems and agencies of law and order that are supposed to protect and defend us are instead turned against us.  From vast injury and loss of life, sweeping devastation upon nations and entire regions, and massive numbers of refugees and internally-displaced people — such catastrophes can span years, or even generations.

That’s what the Charter is for, and that’s what it does:  it draws the lines within which our governments must remain.

Our men and women in uniform have fought to defend these Charter rights, and so will we;  we will always stand up, and fiercely do so.

Additional Reading:

  1. What if Omar Khadr isn’t guilty?
    — Sandy Garossino, National Observer 2017-07-07
  2. Canada failed Omar Khadr. We owed him compensation and an apology
    Romeo Dallaire (Lt. Gen. (Rt)) and Alex Neve, Globe and Mail 2017-07-08
  3. Khadr was a victim, not a terrorist
    Scott Taylor, Esprit de Corps Military Journal 2017-07-10
  4. Omar Khadr and the Shame of the Canadian Press
    — Omer Aziz, The Walrus 2017-07-11
  5. Unpopular cases test commitment to human rights
    Ralph Goodale, Regina Leader Post 2017-07-17
  6. Dislike of Khadr settlement does not entitle critics to disregard law or facts
    — Michael Spratt, Canadian Lawyer Magazine 2017-07-24
  7. U.S. army medic has no regrets about saving Omar Khadr’s life
    — Colin Perkel, Canadian Press 2017-07-24
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