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john ibbitson

The Liberal government's decision to offer Omar Khadr $10.5-million and an apology is a political albatross that Andrew Scheer will hang around Justin Trudeau's neck all the way to the next election.

The new Conservative leader will make sure that the Prime Minister pays the highest possible price for kowtowing to a young man many Canadians consider a cold-blooded terrorist.

Yes, the Liberals had little choice. Mr. Khadr's lawyers have the government dead to rights in their lawsuit alleging Canadian complicity in his imprisonment and mistreatment by the United States government.

Read more: Ottawa pays out $10.5-million to Omar Khadr

Three separate Canadian administrations – led by Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper – failed to protect and defend a Canadian citizen who was badly abused by American authorities.

Instead, Canadian security officials profited from that abuse during their own interrogations, even as Canadian courts repeatedly warned that the federal government was violating Mr. Khadr's rights under the Constitution and international law.

Compounding that complicity, Ottawa accepted Mr. Khadr's guilty plea – in which he admitted to throwing a grenade that killed one American and injured another during a firefight in Afghanistan – as uncoerced, when it was more likely a desperate effort to trade the hell of a Guantanamo cell for the relative safety of a Canadian prison. The settlement and apology flow from a travesty of justice, and were practically inevitable.

And none of that matters in the least.

Millions of Canadians believe that Mr. Khadr was the poisonous fruit of a family tree of terrorists. The fact that he was 15 during the firefight that killed U.S. Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer and partially blinded Sgt. Layne Morris matters not a jot, the likelihood that Canadian courts would sustain his lawsuit not a tittle.

The Liberals caved to the legal blackmail of a terrorist and confessed murderer, many Canadians will conclude, and they will demand vengeance. The Conservatives will ride that anger.

Within hours of the first reports of the settlement, Mr. Scheer was condemning it. "Canadians know this is wrong," he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "If Omar Khadr is truly sorry for what he did, he'll give every cent to Tabitha Speer and her two children."

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel went considerably further. "When a Canadian soldier is injured in battle the government provides a Disability Award up to a maximum of $360,000," she tweeted. But "the current government is willing to provide $10-million to a convicted terrorist."

The Conservatives gave the Liberals months of grief over Mr. Trudeau's decision to accept a free helicopter ride from the Aga Khan as part of a family holiday in the Bahamas. How much bigger is this than that?

You may say that Justin Trudeau should not be held responsible for the mistakes and abuses of previous Canadian governments. Hah. Paul Martin was not responsible for the abuses of the sponsorship scandal, but he paid the price nonetheless. Politics is like that.

The good news for the Liberals is that this story broke in July, more than two months before the House returns. The bad news is that Mr. Morris (now retired from the military) and Tabitha Speer, Sgt. Speer's widow, are going to court in an effort to prevent Mr. Khadr from receiving the money. Many Canadians will support them all the way. This could go on for years.

That said, the Khadr settlement is unlikely to prove fatal to the Liberals' chances of re-election. First of all, even in this day and age, facts still matter. The government is acting in good faith to acknowledge past mistakes made by previous governments and limit the liability of taxpayers.

Second, both the sponsorship and Senate expense scandals meshed with a public desire to replace governments that had been in power too long. Mr. Trudeau is not even halfway through his first mandate.

Nonetheless, public outrage over this settlement is real and understandable, legal reasoning be damned. Conservatives paint Liberals as soft on crime and terror. Apologizing to Mr. Khadr and making him a multimillionaire fits that narrative perfectly. Mr. Trudeau will be damaged by this.

Sources say the federal government has reached a $10.5-million settlement with former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr. In Dublin Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not confirm the settlement.

The Canadian Press

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