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Federal government apologizes to former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr

Last Updated Jul 7, 2017 at 3:35 pm EST

Omar Khadr watches as his lawyer Dennis Edney speaks to media after his bail conditions hearing in Edmonton on Friday, September 11, 2015. An attempt by Canada's Omar Khadr to have a judge thrown off his appeal panel has raised important legal questions that U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress should deal with quickly, a court in Washington has ruled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The federal government formally apologized Friday to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr for any role Canadian officials may have played in his mistreatment while in U.S. military custody.

The apology, delivered in a terse statement from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, followed reports of a controversial $10.5-million settlement to a long-standing lawsuit over violations of Khadr’s charter rights.

“On behalf of the government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Khadr for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to his ordeal abroad and any resulting harm,” the statement reads.

“We hope that this expression, and the negotiated settlement reached with the government, 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, Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould drove home the point that the settlement dealt exclusively with the fact Khadr’s charter rights were violated by the previous Conservative government. Watch the video below or click here.

“Reaching a settlement was the only sensible course,” said Goodale, who acknowledged that the debate about what happened on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2002 would surely continue.

“In the pursuit of justice and national security, governments must respect human rights and charter rights and the rule of law.”

Not settling the case would have surely cost Canadian taxpayers millions more, he added.

Said Wilson-Raybould: “A Canadian citizen’s charter rights wrere violated; as a result, the government of Canada was required to provide a remedy.

“I hope Canadians take two things away from today: Our rights are not subject to the whims of the government of the day, and there are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens.”

The statement does not confirm any payment details, nor media reports that the money has already been paid. “The details of the settlement are confidential between Mr. Khadr and the government.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source familiar with the situation told The Canadian Press that the government wanted to get ahead of an attempt by two Americans to enforce a massive U.S. court award against Khadr in Canadian court.

“The money has been paid,” the source said.

Word of the quiet money transfer came on the eve of a hearing in which a lawyer planned to ask Ontario Superior Court to block the payout to Khadr, who lives in Edmonton on bail.

The Toronto lawyer, David Winer, is acting for the widow of an American special forces soldier, Chris Speer, who Khadr is alleged to have killed after a fierce firefight and bombardment by U.S. troops at a compound in Afghanistan in July 2002, and another U.S. soldier, Layne Morris, who was blinded in one eye in the same battle.

Tabitha Speer and Morris two years ago won a US$134.1-million default judgment against Khadr in court in Utah. Khadr was in prison in Canada at the time, after being transferred in 2012 from Guantanamo Bay, where he had spent 10 years.

Legal experts have said the application, aimed at getting any money Khadr might be awarded to satisfy the Utah judgment, would be extremely unlikely to succeed, in part because Khadr’s conviction in Guantanamo Bay runs counter to Canadian public policy.

The American judgment was based almost entirely on the fact that Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes — including killing Speer — before a military commission, which has widely been condemned.

Khadr, now 30, has long claimed to have been tortured after American forces captured him, badly wounded, in the rubble of the bombarded compound. He said he confessed only to be allowed to leave Guantanamo and return to Canada, because even an acquittal would not have guaranteed him his freedom.

In a statement issued shortly after the apology was released, Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, savaged the way his client was treated by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

“Omar Khadr was abandoned in a hellish place called Guantanamo Bay, for ten years, a place internationally condemned as a torture chamber,” Edney said.

He cited a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that said Khadr’s treatment “offends the most basic Canadian standards” of how youth suspects ought to be handled.

“After more than a decade of Ottawa failing its moral and legal obligations to defend Khadr’s human rights, prime minister Trudeau has made a formal apology and financial settlement. He is to be congratulated in taking such a principled step, despite the hateful comments from others, including members of the former Harper administration.

“These individuals choose not to face the truth, preferring to trade in bigotry and divisiveness.”

Supporters have also long pointed to the fact that he was just 15 years old when he committed the acts he confessed to — and therefore he should have been treated as a child soldier in need of protection, not prosecution.

Word earlier in the week that the government was planning to pay Khadr and apologize to him sparked anger among many Canadians who consider him a terrorist now profiting from his crimes.

A look at the long legal odyssey of Canadian-born Omar Khadr:

July 27, 2002: Khadr, 15, allegedly throws grenade that kills United States Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during an American attack on a compound in Afghanistan. A badly wounded Khadr is taken prisoner.

October 2002: Khadr is transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

February 2003: Investigators from the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service interview Khadr at Guantanamo.

Aug. 10, 2005: Federal Court judge says Canadian agencies, including CSIS, violated Khadr’s rights by giving information from interviews with him to U.S. investigators.

Nov. 7, 2005: The U.S. military charges Khadr with conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

March 17, 2008: Khadr alleges he was threatened with rape and violence by interrogators seeking a confession.

May 23, 2008: The Supreme Court of Canada concludes Canadian officials illegally shared information about Khadr with the U.S.

Aug. 14, 2009: The Federal Court of Appeal upholds a ruling requiring Ottawa to press for Khadr’s return from Guantanamo Bay.

Jan. 29, 2010: The Supreme Court overturns court orders that the Canadian government should repatriate Khadr, despite agreeing his human rights were violated.

Aug. 9, 2010: Khadr pleads not guilty to five war crimes charges, including murder. Judge Col. Patrick Parrish rules Khadr’s confessions admissible.

Oct. 25, 2010: Khadr changes his plea to guilty on all five counts; gets opportunity to apply for a transfer to a Canadian prison after one more year at Gitmo.

Oct. 31, 2010: Khadr is sentenced to 40 years in prison but pre-trial deal limits sentence to eight more years.

April 2012: U.S. defence secretary signs off on Khadr’s transfer.

Sept. 29, 2012: A U.S. military airplane brings Khadr to Canada. He is sent to Millhaven Institution near Kingston, Ont.

April 28, 2013: Khadr’s lawyer says he plans to appeal his convictions.

May 28, 2013: Khadr is transferred to the maximum security Edmonton Institution.

Sept. 23, 2013: An Edmonton judge hears arguments on whether Khadr is serving a youth sentence and should be in a provincial jail.

Oct. 18, 2013: Khadr is denied transfer to a provincial jail.

Feb. 11, 2014: Khadr’s lawyer confirms his client’s move to medium-security Bowden Institution near Innisfail, Alta.

July 8, 2014: Alberta’s Appeal Court allows Khadr to transfer to a provincial jail but his lawyers consent to a stay of the ruling.

March 26, 2015: Khadr asks for bail pending his appeal in the U.S. of his war-crimes conviction.

April 24, 2015: Alberta judge grants Khadr bail.

May 14, 2015: The Supreme Court rejects government efforts to have Khadr ruled an adult offender and says he should be in a provincial jail.

Aug. 19, 2015: Khadr is eligible for statutory release after serving two-thirds of his sentence as a youth.

Sept. 11, 2015: Alberta judge eases some bail conditions: Khadr’s curfew is relaxed.

Sept. 18, 2015: Judge allows him to visit his grandparents in Toronto if he travels with his lawyer. He can also get rid of his monitoring bracelet.

March 2017: Khadr undergoes 19-hour operation in Edmonton on shoulder damaged during his capture in 2002.

April 2017: Khadr’s official Canadian criminal record contains errors, such as referring to the military commission as “youth court,” The Canadian Press reports.

July 4, 2017: Sources say the federal government will pay Khadr $10.5 million and apologize to settle his ongoing lawsuit against Ottawa.

July 7, 2017: Government publicly apologizes to Khadr. Sources say the $10.5 million payout has already taken place.