Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, is a communications consultant based in London.
The long-term political impact of the Omar Khadr settlement depends principally on one man: Omar Khadr.
If Mr. Khadr keeps his nose clean, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely to survive his decision to apologize and compensate the former child soldier and prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. If he does not, there could be hell to pay at the ballot box come 2019.
That is a lot of trust to place in a young man who spent his formative years following his father around terrorist training camps and living cheek by jowl with some of the most crazed jihadis on the planet.
The two years since Mr. Khadr’s release on bail seem to augur well for the Liberals. Mr. Khadr has kept out of trouble and clear of the media, no doubt helped by his onerous bail restrictions and residence in unshowy Edmonton.
But even with a reported $10.5-million in his pocket, the path forward is still exceedingly narrow. Every misstep, no matter how minor, will be noticed and amplified by the media and opposition parties.
If an offhand comment by Mr. Khadr on the bus rubs someone the wrong way and is posted to social media, it will kick off a storm. If Mr. Khadr loses his temper because of an incorrect order at the drive-thru, it will be noticed. Mr. Khadr will have to keep his cool even if he is accosted or provoked by a hostile citizen or media outlet.
Nor is his physical conduct the only land mine.
If Mr. Khadr now buys a car that is too flashy, a house or apartment that is too ostentatious, or even a Canada Goose parka that most Canadians without a settlement from their government cannot afford, he will (once again) face an online mob.
Even if Mr. Khadr were to contribute some of his money to the widow of U.S. Delta Force Sergeant Christopher Speer, or to a fund that helps Canadian veterans, it is not clear that help would be welcomed or appreciated. Short of handing it all over, any action would be seen as public relations.
The surest way to avoid these and other pitfalls is for Mr. Khadr to keep his head down, forget his money and start working hard and paying taxes. Mr. Khadr said in a recent interview that it has been hard to find jobs since his release, but he is now training as a nurse, a position that is hopefully in high demand.
Even if Mr. Khadr succeeds in doing all of these things, there are still other trapdoors for the Liberal government.
If Maha Elsamnah, the controversial matriarch of the Khadr family, or her other children say or do the wrong thing, it could also reflect badly on the government’s decision.
Mr. Khadr might have renounced his jihadi beliefs, but his eldest sister, Zaynab, for example, has a long record of extremist sympathy, including declarations of support for Osama bin Laden.
And then there are the more oblique angles.
What if Canada suffers another terrorist strike? What if jihadis were to proclaim the attack in Omar Khadr’s name, or if an enterprising jihadi chose to lob some grenades into a hospital? How many Canadians would link the two issues: settlement and attack, even if Mr. Khadr had nothing to do with them?
Mr. Trudeau can rest assured Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives will jump on every angle – no matter how tangential – if it means they can rub Mr. Trudeau’s nose in his decision. They smell blood and have public opinion on their side (for now).
Maddeningly for Mr. Trudeau, there isn’t much he can do to mitigate any of this fallout. All that can be done is to ride out the wave of discontent at the settlement and hope the issue fades from the national consciousness.
And, of course, hope Mr. Khadr does not revel in his new-found good fortune.Report Typo/Error
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