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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

MARGARET WENTE

Would you apologize to Omar Khadr? Add to ...

So that’s done. The case of Omar Khadr versus the government of Canada has been settled. The former child enemy combatant will split $10.5-million with his lawyers, and the government will apologize. The mainstream media and the ruling class are unanimous in their approval. The rule of law has been upheld. Justice has been served.

In the rest of the country, the verdict is quite different. The rest of the country thinks this deal stinks.

“I, Charles Adler, would not apologize to Omar Khadr, even if you offered me $10.5-million,” declared Canada’s top private-sector radio host. “It would be a betrayal.”

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Mr. Adler, who works for Corus Radio Network in Vancouver, is no right-wing flame thrower. He’s an independent thinker with an uncanny ability to connect with what the voters think. He says the gap between the street and the elite on the Khadr settlement is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

“This is not residential schools we’re apologizing for,” he told me. “We’re apologizing to an enemy combatant who betrayed his country and went overseas to build roadside bombs.”

But wait. Omar Khadr was just a 15-year-old kid. He was brainwashed by his al-Qaeda-loving parents. He was terribly wounded by the Americans, who held him captive in Guantanamo for many years and, at the very least, mistreated him. Successive Canadian governments didn’t lift a finger to get him back. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada declared in no uncertain terms that the government had violated his basic rights – the rights that are enshrined in the Charter and guaranteed to every citizen. What about that?

“Sure, he checks off all the boxes,” says Mr. Adler. “He was technically a Canadian. But who believes his family were ever Canadians in spirit? He was technically a child soldier. But he wasn’t some kid who’d been kidnapped and turned into a robot and forced to kill people at gunpoint.”

No one is arguing against the Charter. But as many people see it, the Supreme Court decision also hinged on a technicality – the fact that two CSIS officers went down to interrogate him at Guantanamo and shared information with the Americans.

“It’s not that people on the street don’t understand the Charter,” Mr. Adler says. “They do. But almost every time they hear about the Charter, it’s about a bad guy – a drug dealer or a pedophile. And the lawyers tell them it was such a good thing that the Charter was upheld, because that means all our rights are upheld. But most of them aren’t contemplating being pedophiles or drug dealers. Most of them think that when you turn your guns on your own country, you stop being a Canadian. And they feel locked out.”

If there is a victim here, people feel, it’s not Mr. Khadr – it’s the family of the American soldier killed during the firefight in which Mr. Khadr played a part. (Mr. Khadr confessed to killing him, but later recanted.) If anyone deserves a settlement it’s them. If anybody should apologize, it should be him. He has a chance to start over and live his life in Canada, and that should be enough. The people who really violated his rights were his parents. Too bad he can’t sue them.

For years, the Khadr family played Canada for suckers. Omar’s Egyptian-born father, Ahmed, was a terrorist associate of Osama bin Laden. Canada was a country of convenience – a source of free health care and passports. The family spent much of its time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As one of Omar’s brothers told the CBC, “We are an al-Qaeda family.”

In 1995, Ahmed was arrested by Pakistani authorities for his involvement in an al-Qaeda attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, which killed 15 people. After heavy pressure from the family, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made an extraordinary personal plea for his release on a state visit to Pakistan. Mr. Khadr was freed, then continued to groom his own personal terrorist cell. At least four of the children – including oldest daughter Zaynab, now detained somewhere in Turkey – were allegedly involved in terrorist activities.

People’s anger over the Khadr deal isn’t a partisan thing. Plenty of people who vote Liberal are upset too. “The elites think these folks don’t understand the rule of law,” Mr. Adler tells me. “Well, they do understand the law. They just don’t like what the law tells them to do.” And when the constitutional and the human-rights experts and the editorial writers tell them this is a pretty good deal, they think of all the Canadians who serve their country, and sometimes die for it, and never get a $10.5-million cheque.

The Charter is lofty. But the deal was purely a negotiation, carried out behind closed doors. Everybody knows that Justin Trudeau is not about to invite Mr. Khadr to Ottawa and apologize to him in person. He’s too cowardly for that. He just wants this to go away, and for the voters to forget about it as soon as possible.

“People feel they’ve been had,” says Mr. Adler. “And they don’t like it.”

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