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Trudeau says Omar Khadr case could have cost $40-million

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, 30, is seen at a home in Mississauga, Ont., on July 6, 2017. The federal government has paid Mr. Khadr $10.5-million and apologized to him.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he understands why Canadians are angry about the $10-million payout to Omar Khadr, but insists a court case would have ended up costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more.

The Liberal government has faced a public backlash against the apology and payment to Mr. Khadr, with a public opinion survey showing 71 per cent of Canadians opposed the deal.

"I share those concerns about the money. In fact, that's why we settled," Mr. Trudeau told reporters at a news conference announcing the appointment of Julie Payette as the country's next governor-general. "If we had continued to fight this, not only would we have inevitably lost, but estimates range from $30- to $40-million dollars that it would have ended up costing the government."

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Globe editorial: Omar Khadr, Canada and the fragile rule of law

Watch: Trudeau says Khadr settlement about Charter rights

Video: Justin Trudeau says Omar Khadr case could have cost more (The Canadian Press)

Related: Ex-Guantanamo detainee says Canada should be proud of Khadr settlement

Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty in 2012 to throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Speer in Afghanistan in a deal that allowed him to be moved to a Canadian prison. He later recanted.

The Prime Minister's comments came just hours after an Ontario Superior Court judge turned down a request from Sgt. Speer's widow and a soldier injured in the same incident to freeze Mr. Khadr's assets.

Lawyers for Mr. Khadr had launched a $20-million civil lawsuit against Ottawa over the role of Canadian officials in U.S. interrogations of the former child soldier at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While there, he faced abuse, including sleep deprivation. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that Mr. Khadr's Charter rights were violated.

"The measure of a society – a just society – is not whether we stand up for peoples' rights when it is easy or popular to do so, but whether we recognize rights when it is difficult, when it is unpopular," Mr. Trudeau said. "We are a society that stands up for peoples' rights and when governments fail to respect peoples' rights, we all end up paying and that is the lesson hopefully future governments will draw from this settlement."

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Lawyers for Tabitha Speer and Layne Morris were in a Toronto courtroom on Thursday seeking an injunction pending the outcome of their bid to get an Ontario court to force Mr. Khadr to hand over his settlement to them.

In 2015, they won a $134-million (U.S.) civil judgment against Mr. Khadr in ‎a U.S. federal court in Utah for his alleged actions at the age of 15 in the 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that ended with his capture. They want courts here to recognize and enforce that judgment.

But to win a freeze order, the plaintiffs needed to show evidence of a "real risk" that he plans to spend or hide his assets from potential creditors.

And on Thursday, Justice Edward Belobaba – in a quick ruling from the bench after a 90-minute hearing – concluded the plaintiffs provided no actual evidence to justify a freeze order, which he said would be "draconian."

"We don't, thank goodness, in Canada have one law for Omar Khadr and one law for all other Canadians," Justice Belobaba told the courtroom in announcing his decision.

The lack of a freeze order does not stop the attempt to have the Utah ruling recognized and enforced in Ontario. A hearing on that case is expected in October. The two sides are then expected to battle over whether the Utah ruling, which relies on confessions to a widely criticized U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay violates Canadian public policy.

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On Thursday, the main piece of evidence lawyer David Winer, acting for Ms. Speer and Mr. Morris, relied on in his request for the freeze order was a Globe and Mail report from last week that a source said the money had been sheltered. Justice Belobaba ruled that this "hearsay statement" was not enough for a court to consider a sweeping freeze order.

Speaking to reporters outside Toronto's Osgoode Hall courthouse, Mr. Winer said he and his clients would consider whether to seek leave to appeal the freeze-order ruling while continuing their bid to have the Utah judgment enforced in Ontario.

"We hope that pending the hearing … Mr. Khadr does not dissipate his assets or deal with them in a way which will make them unavailable to creditors," Mr. Winer said.

Nathan Whitling, a lawyer for Mr. Khadr, told reporters there was no evidence Mr. Khadr is trying to hide his assets: "There simply just wasn't any evidence of that in this case, because there's just no indication at all that Mr. Khadr's doing any such thing."

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About the Authors
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More

Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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