Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he did not reach out to Tabitha Speer in the wake of his government’s decision to apologize and compensate Omar Khadr.
Speaking to reporters in Rhode Island after delivering the keynote speech at the National Governors Association conference on Friday, Trudeau also would not comment on reports former prime minister Stephen Harper called both Speer and wounded U.S. soldier Layne Morris after the settlement became public.
“I did not reach out and I have no comment on what the former prime minister did,” he said.
Earlier this month, the federal government formally apologized to Canadian-born Khadr, giving the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner a reported settlement of $ 10.5 million.
In 2002, when Khadr was 15, he was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan after a firefight that resulted in the death of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer and the wounding of U.S. Sgt. Layne Morris.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian officials had failed to protect Khadr’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms while he was detained in Cuba. Based on that ruling, Khadr’s lawyers were suing the federal government for $ 20 million in damages.
On Friday, Trudeau offered his sympathy to Morris and Speer’s widow, saying he could not imagine the “anguish those families have gone through and are going through” and noting the situation is an extremely difficult one.
“I understand how Canadians are troubled by this, including by the settlement, as am I,” Trudeau said, explaining that he made the decision to settle with Khadr because he was advised that pursuing the matter through the courts could have ended up costing taxpayers four times as much.
Trudeau, who has been facing a public backlash since the settlement was leaked to the press, also repeated his hope that future governments understant that when a citizen’s charter rights are violated, it will end up costing taxpayers.
One of Khadr’s lawyers, John Phillips, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics he was surprised at the public backlash, but suspects that is why the information was leaked to the press in the first place.
“It strikes me as it was orchestrated by someone inside government that leaked information to cause the embarrassment to the Trudeau government for doing what it did,” Phillips said.
The lawyer also said that if Khadr asked him, he would advise not giving any money to Speer or Morris because of the potential legal problems it could cause.
“Omar can choose to do what he wants to do with his proceeds,” Phillips told host Rosemary Barton. ”My view is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts surrounding what happened in the firefight, where Omar, as a child, was apprehended by the Americans.
“And I think if you were to actually unpack the facts and the forensic evidence, there’s really nothing there that points to Omar as having done anything other than be present for the firefight.”
Utah court judgment in question
Since the federal government settled with Khadr, Speer’s widow and Morris have been trying to pursue the settlement in the courts. Part of that effort is to have a 2015 Utah court judgment for $ 134.1 million in favour of Speer and Morris made enforceable in Canada.
“Well, there are standard sets of enforcement techniques to have the judgment from Utah recognized in Canada,” said Phillips. ”I think it is a universal legal view that they don’t have a lot of chance of getting it enforced.”
Lawyers for Speer and Morris also tried to have Khadr’s assets frozen, but this week that effort failed when Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba refused the request.
“I think there were several reasons why that injunction didn’t have a chance to go ahead. But it was defeated on the basis of a lack of evidence,” Phillips said.
In an unrelated case, Phillips is representing five CSIS employees suing for $ 35 million in damages for allegedly suffering racist, sexist and homophobic discrimination by management and colleagues at Canada’s spy agency.
Asked about the suit Friday in Rhode Island, Trudeau was quick to say action was being taken.
“Harassment, discrimination, toxic work environments are things that I, this government, find absolutely unacceptable, and I can also assure you that the new director of CSIS David Vigneault also finds that to be unacceptable,” Trudeau said.
“I am confident that director Vigneault is working very hard to ensure that we get to the bottom of this issue.”
Phillips told Barton that the claimants tried to resolve their issues internally at CSIS, but “it just never happened, and so they were forced to court.”