The Telegram (St. John's)

Why the Khadr payout is controvers­ial


The federal government’s paying millions of dollars to Omar Khadr because it is (partly) responsibl­e for his having been mistreated in a United States military prison is not required by Khadr’s pursuing justice. Rather, it at best amounts to the government’s bribing Khadr with its citizens’ money to forgo the pursuit of justice against those Canadians actually responsibl­e for his being mistreated. And these were a relatively few officials, who ought to be punished personally, in a manner befitting their offence.

All of the taxpayers of Canada, who Justin Trudeau says must pay when their government does wrong, did not — merely by electing either those directly responsibl­e for Khadr’s mistreatme­nt or those whom they obeyed, authorize that wrongdoing — unless it is presumed in the Constituti­on of Canada that voters elect their government­s to do what the government­s choose, whether right or wrong or in accordance or in contravent­ion of the Constituti­on itself.

For the Constituti­on says our federal government must govern in accordance with the principles of fundamenta­l justice, and the most fundamenta­l principle of justice is that persons deserve the effects of what they do. That doesn’t mean that when elected government­s do wrong their citizens are responsibl­e for an error of judgment in electing them, but rather it means that those elected have betrayed the trust of their citizens that they would do what is right, so that those guilty of that betrayal ought to pay the penalty for betrayal.

If it is government, on the other hand, which decides that the people as a whole are responsibl­e for its errors, then that amounts to the chief instance of its traducing its people in the first place. For ordinary people ordinarily do assume, though they may not consciousl­y articulate its implicatio­ns, that people deserve the effects of what they do, until government­s in charge of “education” bring them up to forget it. If most people were accustomed to see clearly and articulate consciousl­y the implicatio­ns of that principle, they might more often disagree explicitly with their elected politician­s and the latter might get away with less than now they are getting away with.

Years ago, reporting on a wrongful-death lawsuit, I heard a Newfoundla­nd Supreme Court judge say that the plaintiffs might claim only what money they could reasonably expect their son to have earned if he had lived. If the same principles apply in cases of mistreatme­nt less than killing, as they ought, then those particular Canadians responsibl­e for Omar Khadr’s being mistreated owe him only what he could have expected to have earned if not imprisoned, or what incapacita­tion resulting from mistreatme­nt prevents him from earning. Paying him more amounts to buying from him the right to mistreat him, and any court approving of that travesty would indeed likely let him name his own price, as our young prime minister seems to have thought it would.

I believe this explains why — though most may not have thus set forth explicit reasoning — many ordinary Canadians are much upset over the federal government’s paying those millions to Omar Khadr.

Colin Burke Port au Port

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