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If we mark the beginning of our summer as Canada Day, Justin Trudeau may look back fondly on that day, realizing forgetting Alberta from the Ottawa stage was the highlight of his summer.
This is shaping up as the antithesis of the shirtless selfie summer of 2016 for the prime minister.
In the space of 10 days, the government’s decision to apologize to and compensate Omar Khadr has sparked fierce blowback that shows no signs of abating.
And his Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, was forced to stand before the microphones in Ottawa Tuesday, offering a rather shaky vote of confidence in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, following its most recent resignation.
On the Khadr file, perfectly sound Liberal arguments regarding the Charter of Rights, Supreme Court judgments, mistreatment of a child soldier, a fruitless court pursuit and a savings of tax dollars has crashed on the rocks of a Canadian public that sees only a terrorist and $ 10.5 million.
The MMIWG inquiry was supposed to be the lowest of hanging fruit for a government, a key stepping stone on the way to promised Indigenous reconciliation. But it is proving to be toxic fruit, riven with competing views and philosophies and communications breakdowns.
Tuesday, Marilyn Poitras became the fifth staffer to step down; the first commissioner.
Which of these two early summer messes will prove more costly to the Trudeau government?
One aspect of the Khadr settlement which has been largely overlooked is how the Trudeau government managed to ensure that it did not seep across the border and draw the wrath of U.S. President Donald Trump.
While government sources say there was no direct contact with the White House before last Friday’s formal announcement, there were heads’ up given to the U.S. state department and department of defence.
They attribute the U.S. silence to the fact that the U.K. and Australia had similarly compensated a number of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Most notably, the sources were referring to Moazzam Begg, who was compensated by the U.K. government after arguing that Britain’s MI-5 had been complicit in his mistreatment in Guantanamo, just as Canadian officials denied Khadr’s rights by interrogating him, without legal representation.
Begg was denied entry into Canada in 2011 by the Stephen Harper government when he sought to speak to Khadr’s legal counsel and speak out on torture and the U.S. war on terror.
Australia compensated Egyptian-Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib who was taken to Egypt, then held for more than two years at Guantanamo Bay in a case Australian media compared to Canadian Maher Arar, who received $ 10.5 million from Ottawa after he was rendered to Syria, where he was tortured.
But those cases were settled before Trump, who has publicly backed torture and spoken out against coddling terrorists. If he saw an injustice against the family of U.S. soldier Christopher Speer, he remained mum.
Sources say the subject was never broached when Trump and Trudeau spoke at the G20 in Germany.
Seeking U.S. silence might have been prudent for the Liberals, but the outrage fomented by opportunistic Conservatives might be playing differently in this country if Andrew Scheer was echoing Trump.
Every time a government compensated one of their nationals held at Guantanamo, outrage ensued. This may play out longer than the Liberals anticipated, but it will play itself out this autumn.
The imploding Indigenous inquiry is more important to not just the government, but the country.
Bennett was sufficiently concerned that she met with commissioners Monday, but came away believing they have the “vision, values, tools and the plans to get this work done.’’
She wasn’t sure herself they had a plan. Now she thinks they do “but I just think people don’t know about it.’’
The commission has not brought Canadians with them, as successful inquiries do, Bennett conceded.
But a letter released by Poitras made it clear there are fundamental differences between the commissioners, and Chief Commissioner Marion Buller told the CBC that whenever you put five people (commissioners) “in a room, you’re going to have five different opinions.’’
That hardly bodes well.
The government can let the Khadr furor play out.
It can’t let a flawed inquiry play out. It is losing the confidence of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. It can’t be allowed to slide into a ditch.
Its success is important to the government and the country, but most importantly to families who have lost loved ones.
Inevitably, this government will have to take action to get it back on the road.
Tim Harper writes on national affairs. email@example.com , Twitter: @nutgraf1