Harper appears unmoved following Omar Khadr’s release on bail, public statements

The Harper government appeared largely unmoved Friday by Omar Khadr’s apologetic remarks and vow to become a peaceful law-abiding citizen — cementing the longstanding divide between the two camps.

OTTAWA — The Harper government appeared largely unmoved Friday by Omar Khadr’s apologetic remarks and vow to become a peaceful law-abiding citizen — cementing the longstanding divide between the two camps.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay showed signs of giving Khadr a benefit of the doubt, which set him apart from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Conservatives — all of whom held firm to their long-held view that Khadr remains a convicted war criminal.

MacKay said Khadr’s public declaration that he had renounced violence was a good first step after his release from prison, but cautioned people shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Khadr was involved in terrorism.

“What I hope will happen is that Mr. Khadr will abide by Canadian laws, respect people’s safety, and he is now in a position where he is going to be given that opportunity to prove that,” said MacKay, speaking at an event in Halifax.

“Let’s look ahead with optimism, but with caution, when it comes to individuals who have past proven tendencies that have resulted in the loss of human life.”

But Khadr’s remarks didn’t seem to sway Harper much Friday as he defended his Conservative government’s efforts to keep the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner behind bars.

“Mr. Khadr, as we all know, pled guilty to very grave crimes, including murder,” Harper told a news conference as he offered his thoughts and prayers to the family members of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer.

“Our government’s priority in these matters is always to make sure, first and foremost, we keep in mind the protection and security of the Canadian population.”

Harper said little else, citing the fact the matter remains before the courts.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Friday said he had been in contact with Speer’s family in the last week, and that he sides with them.

Asked at an event in Montreal whether he thought Khadr might have reformed, he replied: “Well, I hope so.”

Khadr, now 28, pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a widely discredited military commission to five war crimes — including murder in the death of Speer, a U.S. special forces soldier.

On Thursday, he walked free on bail after an Alberta judge rejected the government’s final attempt to block his release, saying the government had failed to prove Khadr posed a risk to the public or could do harm to Canadian interests. Khadr’s release came with a list of restrictions, including wearing a tracking bracelet and a curfew.

During a remarkable news conference on his lawyer’s Edmonton driveway, Khadr apologized for the pain he has caused and urged Canadians to give him a chance to demonstrate his worth.

“I will prove to them that I’m more than what they thought of me, I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person,” Khadr said.

“Give me a chance — see who I am as a person, not as a name — and then they can make their own judgment after that.”

Khadr spent almost 13 years behind bars — four of them as a convicted war criminal.

He was captured, badly wounded, by American forces in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15 years old. At one time, he was the youngest prisoner at the American prison compound in Guantanamo Bay.

After his release on bail, Khadr offered a comment on Harper’s hard-line stance: “I’m going to have to disappoint him, I’m better than the person he thinks I am.”

A pair of Conservative MPs was left cold by Khadr’s comments as they arrived Friday morning on Parliament Hill.

“Words are just words,” said Saskatchewan Conservative Tom Lukiwski. “I reject the notion he was a child soldier. I think it was a very deliberate, premeditated act, and he should pay the price for that.”

Added Ontario Conservative Costas Menegakis: “He killed a soldier; he admitted to it; he’s guilty; he knows he’s guilty. I think he should be in prison.”

In Halifax, MacKay also said that legislative changes were being contemplated that might make it harder for the accused in terror cases to be granted bail.

But the minister did not elaborate, and his office did not provide further clarification.

MacKay, a former criminal prosecutor, also displayed some deference to the discretion of judges — a stance many of his fellows Conservatives don’t always share.

“I think most judges are well-versed in the importance of their decision when it comes to releasing somebody, whether it’s while serving a sentence on appeal or awaiting trial,” said MacKay.

“I’ve seen for the most part very thoughtful and appropriate decisions taken on bail, but judges are not infallible — just like politicians.”

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

Dharmesh Goradia, and his daughter Vidhi and wife Chaitali, at the 2017 festival for the Godess Durga, held at the Golden Circle. (Photo contributed)
Draft curriculum misses the mark for central Alberta Hindu society

Meeting scheduled with Alberta Education officials

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Air Canada says it will recall more than 2,600 employees who were furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta’s tourism sector hurt by COVID-19 pandemic: ATB Financial

Between border closures, public health measures and hesitancy to travel, Alberta’s tourism… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021 in Montreal. Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for Canada to donate some of its doses to other countries or international aid organizations and in at least three cases, for the doses to be resold.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada’s vaccine contracts allow for doses to be donated, in some cases resold

OTTAWA — Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for… Continue reading

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, responds to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Vancouver, on Monday June 3, 2019. As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Two sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

VANCOUVER — As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after… Continue reading

A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday's hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Four members of a family in London, Ont., are set to be buried today. The public has been invited to help celebrate the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Funeral to be held today for London family killed in attack

LONDON, Ont. — Four members of a Muslim family killed in what… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden listen to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliver opening remarks at a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, United Kingdom Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to discuss foreign policy with G7 leaders at second day of summit meeting

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL, ENGLAND — Foreign policy is on the agenda for… Continue reading

Most Read