OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday defended the C$10.5 million payout to a Canadian man held at Guantanamo Bay for a decade, calling it the best choice in difficult circumstances but said he understood why many opposed the settlement.
Trudeau said fighting a lawsuit by Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan and sent to the U.S. military base in Cuba, would have cost the government more money in the end but acknowledged it was not a popular thing to do.
“I can understand Canadians’ concerns about the settlement. In fact, I share those concerns about the money; that’s why we settled. If we had continued to fight this, not only would we have inevitably lost, but estimates range from C$30 to C$40 million that it would have ended up costing the government,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference outside Parliament.
Last week, Canada formally apologized to Khadr as part of a settlement of a C$20 million civil suit he filed against the Canadian government, a move that re-ignited a national debate about the case.
An Angus Reid poll found 71 percent of Canadians believed Trudeau made the wrong choice in settling with Khadr and should have instead fought Khadr in court.
Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer has said the payout is “disgusting” and sends a terrible message to Canada’s military members and veterans.
A judge in Ontario on Thursday rejected a bid by a U.S. soldier’s widow and an injured veteran to freeze the assets of Khadr after the he received the settlement.
Khadr was held at Guantanamo after his 2002 capture in Afghanistan. He was charged with throwing the grenade that killed U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Speer in 2002, when Khadr was 15. He pleaded guilty to murder but later recanted and said he was coerced into making the plea.
Trudeau said “we all end up paying” when governments fail to respect the rights of its people.
“The measure of a just society is not whether we stand up for people’s rights when it’s easy or popular to do so, it’s whether we recognize rights when it’s difficult, when it’s unpopular,” he said.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Steve Orlofsky