It's a bit rich for Liberals to be accusing Conservatives of doing something wrong by appearing in the American media, talking about a live Canadian political issue. The issue is the government's $10.5-million payout to Omar Khadr; last week, after several Conservative MPs aired their criticisms in The Wall Street Journal and on Fox News, senior Liberals cried foul, suggesting that in criticizing the Khadr deal in front of the neighbours, the Conservatives were undermining Canada's bargaining position in the NAFTA negotiations, and even putting Canadian jobs in jeopardy.
Oh come on.
One of the Liberal Party's preferred methods of generating memorable coverage of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canadian media and especially social media – aside from staging photo-ops of him just happening to pop up shirtless at a wedding or jogging by a high-school prom – is to get his face on an American TV show, or his photo in a U.S. magazine. Softball interview or fashion spread, either will do. Call it the Go American strategy.
The Liberal brain trust understands that, given the nature of Canadians' media habits, what's shown in America does not stay in America, but immediately enters the Canadian media space, usually in a highly privileged position. The PM will never get coverage as admiring in the Canadian press – so going stateside is a great way to generate positive, laudatory and highly Facebookable "news."
The Liberals are experts at using Go American, and sometimes Go Global, for building Mr. Trudeau's brand and amplifying his party's message in Canada. The Conservatives are merely learning from the masters.
On the substance of the Khadr case, the Conservatives could not be more wrong – and we'll come back to that in a moment. But they have every right to criticize the government's decision, whether it's because that's what they genuinely believe, or because they see political advantage in it. They even have the right to talk about it outside of Canada's borders.
The Conservatives aren't bringing up the Khadr settlement in order to cause the NAFTA negotiations to fail. The only people making the Khadr-NAFTA linkage are Liberals. There's simply no sign that the Conservative Party is using the Khadr case to undermine the existing pact or any hopes for renegotiation.
Conservatives are criticizing the Khadr settlement because they disagree with it, as is their right. It would be helpful, honest and a winning strategy if the Liberals, instead of trying to change the subject by casting aspersions on critics, would simply defend the Khadr arrangement, on its merits. Because the Trudeau government is right on the merits. And the Conservatives are dead wrong.
The government did the right thing in agreeing to compensate Mr. Khadr. A lot of Canadians may not see it that way, but the government's decision has the law and the facts on its side. So does Mr. Khadr.
Reasonable people can debate whether the amount paid is too much, but it's impossible to argue that Mr. Khadr would have lost in court. He had a Supreme Court ruling in his favour, saying that his constitutional rights had been grossly abused by the Canadian government. (Note: A previous Liberal government.) How many plaintiffs launch a lawsuit with that kind of evidence on their side?
Even though all of the lengthy, extensive and illegal torture he was subjected to happened while he was a guest of Uncle Sam, the Canadian government was partly complicit in those abuses; he was at one point subjected to days of sleep deprivation in order to soften him up for an interrogation by Canadian officials. The Supreme Court said as much.
As a result, it was certain that his lawsuit would ultimately be decided in his favour. The Conservatives are essentially saying the government should have spent thousands or millions of dollars in lawyers' fees to fight a case it was bound to lose.
And leaving utilitarian questions aside, the Conservatives are wrong on the case's legal and moral issues. Mr. Khadr's "conviction" comes from a U.S. military tribunal of questionable legality; even the charge against him does not appear to be legal. Given the torture he was subjected to; given that he was a child at the time of his capture, having been placed in an impossible position by his parents; and given that the chief evidence against him was a coerced confession, it's impossible to imagine that he could have been convicted under Canadian law. For the Conservatives to continue calling Omar Khadr a "convicted and self-confessed terrorist," as they do on the KhadrQuestions.ca website, is just wrong.
It would be good if the Liberals, having finally made the right decision, would stick to defending it on its merits. And it would be nice if the Conservatives, allegedly the party of individual liberties, could see the Khadr affair for what it is: An example of what happens when when a giant government bureaucracy is untethered from the constraints of law. It crushes people.