TORONTO – The federal government has apologized to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr and, sources say, paid him $10.5 million to settle his long-standing lawsuit over the violations of his charter rights. Canadian Press reporter Colin Perkel talked to Khadr about the settlement and the widespread anger it has engendered:
The Canadian Press: What do you say to those Canadians who view you as an unrepentant terrorist who deserves no mercy, let alone an apology and compensation?
Omar Khadr: I’m not a hardened terrorist bent on doing anything. But they don’t have to believe what I say. Look at my actions. My past: I’m not excusing it, I’m not denying it. We all do things that we wish we could change. All I can do right now is focus on the present and do my best to become a productive member of society, a good person, a good human being. Look at my actions and judge me on that.
CP: How do you react to those who say you’re now profiting from a criminal past?
O.K.: I can’t discuss any details of the settlement but I don’t look at this as profiting. This is not a time for profit or for gaining or for thinking, ‘I hit the jackpot.’ This is a time for remembering. It’s a time of reconciliation. This is a time for healing and it’s not about forgetting. I’m sorry if this is causing people pain. I’m trying to turn a page. Not to forget that page, but just trying to turn a page and move along.
CP: Do you think you deserve an apology from the Canadian government on behalf of Canadians?
O.K.: I don’t look at it in a way that I deserve it. It’s not a matter of deserving. It’s a matter of trying to find the best way where we can reconciliate what happened and move forward in a way that is going to be healthy for everybody.
CP: What does the government’s apology mean to you?
O.K.: The good thing about this apology for me is that it’s going to restore a little bit of my reputation here in Canada. It’s been a struggle to find jobs. People see you with that past reputation. An apology helps people say, ‘We acknowledge the past.’ Maybe that will give people an opportunity to give me a chance and think there might be more than what is said in the media.
CP: You’re close to your family, some of whom have angered Canadians by expressing in years past pro-al-Qaida sentiments. How do you reconcile that?
O.K.: It would have been easy for me to be very upset and frustrated with my family with what they said. But my frustration and anger is not going to change what they said. I’m not excusing what they said. I’m not justifying what they said. All I’m trying to do right now is explain that they were going through a hard time. This is not an excuse but it’s an explanation. They said things out of anger or frustration.
CP: Some might say you’re trying to sweep the past under the carpet?
O.K.: How are we going to see what’s ahead of us and move forward, if all we can see is the past? Not forget. This is how I survived: I tried to focus on the things I can change. All I can do right now is try to become the best person I can.
CP: What’s next for you?
O.K.: I want to finish my nursing program. I want to work as a nurse somewhere it’s needed. I want to be able to use my languages and my ability as a nurse to relieve people from pain. I have a lot of experience with pain and I have an appreciation of pain. With my past, I don’t know who’s going to be comfortable with hiring me.
CP: Would you like now just to fade into the background?
O.K.: Definitely. I just want to be the next person on the road that you don’t look twice at. Listen, I want to be in a place where I don’t have any more legal cases, I don’t have any prison time. I just want to be a normal person who doesn’t have to worry about going to court. Hopefully, eventually, it will come.
This interview was edited and condensed.