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Federal government officially apologizes to Omar Khadr

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, 30, is seen in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday, July 6, 2017.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

The federal government officially apologized to Omar Khadr on Friday for the role Canadian security officials played in the abuses he suffered as a teenage prisoner of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The written apology came after Ottawa paid $10.5-million to the former child soldier to settle a $20-million civil lawsuit over violations of Mr. Khadr's rights as a Canadian citizen.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service "offended the most basic Canadian standards of detained youth suspects" when they participated in abusive U.S. interrogations of Mr. Khadr while he was imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility for captured and suspected terrorists.

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"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 official apology stated. "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 with his fellow Canadians."

At a news conference on Parliament Hill, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould would not reveal how much compensation was paid because the settlement agreement is confidential, but sources have told The Globe it was $10.5-million.

Video: Omar Khadr hopes to ‘turn a page’ after settlement, apology (The Canadian Press)

Mr. Goodale insisted the apology and settlement had nothing to do with Mr. Khadr's role as a former al-Qaeda child soldier in Afghanistan, where he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Delta Forces Sergeant Christopher Speer and injured special forces soldier Layne Morris.

"The settlement that we have announced has to do with the wrongdoing of Canadian officials with respect to a Canadian citizen," he said. "The Supreme Court of Canada has stated clearly and unequivocally that that behaviour on the part of those Canadian officials was wrong."

The Justice Minister said Ottawa had little chance of winning the $20-million lawsuit, and she noted its legal fees had already cost $5-million and were rising.

"A Canadian citizen's Charter rights were violated; as a result, the government of Canada was required to provide a remedy," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer denounced the Liberal government for making a millionaire out of what he called "a convicted terrorist."

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"Justin Trudeau should never have agreed to a secret deal that gave a convicted terrorist millions of dollars. Seeking money from the Canadian taxpayer is just a sign of continuing contempt for the country that Khadr has fought against," Mr. Scheer said.

Mr. Scheer said the former Harper government's repatriation of Mr. Khadr in 2012 was a sufficient response to the Supreme Court's ruling that his rights were violated.

"The fact that [Mr. Khadr] is in Canada today is the remedy, that is the compensation," he said. "If Omar Khadr is truly sorry for what he's done, that money would be given directly to the family of Sgt. Speer."

Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty in 2012 to killing Sgt. Speer so he could be moved to a Canadian prison. He later recanted the confession and is appealing the U.S. conviction.

In two interviews on Friday, Mr. Khadr called on Canadians not to judge him for his conduct as a teenage enemy combatant in Afghanistan, where his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was a top al-Qaeda commander before he was killed in Pakistan.

"I'm not a hardened terrorist bent on doing anything," Mr. Khadr told The Canadian Press. "We all do things we wish we could change. All I can do now is focus on the present and do my best to become a productive member of society."

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Mr. Khadr said he knows many people will say he is profiting from what happened in Afghanistan, but he said the government's apology is about reconciliation and healing.

He told the CBC's Power and Politics the apology will allow him to move on with his life and hopes the financial compensation he received does not cause pain for the family of Sgt. Speer.

"I think it restores a little bit of my reputation here in Canada, and I think that's the biggest thing for me," he said. "I really hope that the talk about settlement or the apology does not cause people pain and if it does, you know, I'm really sorry for the pain."

Mr. Khadr, who spent a decade at the Guantanamo prison, said he holds no grudges against U.S. interrogators for the abuses, which included solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and shackling in stressful positions.

Mr. Goodale also expressed sympathy for Tabitha Speer over the death of her husband in the 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

"Obviously, our hearts go out to the family for the loss that they have suffered in the situation in Afghanistan. They are pursuing their legal rights and they will no doubt seek the redress that they think is appropriate and due to them," Mr. Goodale said.

A Utah law office that represents Ms. Speer and Mr. Morris said its clients "had no comments at this time."

Ms. Speer and Mr. Morris have filed a court application in Toronto in a bid to enforce a $134-million (U.S.) wrongful death judgment against Mr. Khadr that a Utah civil court handed down in 2015. Mr. Khadr was in prison and did not defend himself in the case.

The government paid the compensation to Mr. Khadr and his lawyers on Wednesday before the Canadian lawyer for Ms. Speer and Mr. Morris was able to ask the courts to block it.

Mr. Goodale denied that federal lawyers circumvented the court application.

"The administrative management of the case was according to normal practices and procedures and had nothing whatsoever to do with any other legal proceeding," Mr. Goodale said.

A Toronto lawyer acting for the pair was in court on Friday in Toronto to set a date for an "urgent hearing" that could start a potential legal battle over the settlement.

Lawyer David Winer told Justice Thomas McEwen of the Ontario Superior Court he may try to seek an interim preservation order, which would maintain the assets pending the final outcome of a legal battle.

Justice McEwen noted that the application filed against Mr. Khadr last month looked out of date. "If anyone's read the newspaper, they would know there has been an alleged payout," the judge said.

The two sides are expected to file submissions next week, before a hearing on Thursday.

A legal attempt to force the government to take the compensation back from Mr. Khadr would likely be difficult. One source told The Globe that the money has been legally sheltered to prevent Ms. Speer's lawyers from gaining access.

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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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