Justin Trudeau says he shares the concerns of Canadians who object to reports of the government's multi-million dollar settlement with Omar Khadr.
But the prime minister says if the government hadn't settled with the former Guantanamo Bay inmate, it would have cost as much as $40 million to put an end to the case.
"I can understand Canadians' concerns about the settlement. In fact, I share those concerns about the money. That's why we settled," Trudeau said Thursday.
Khadr had filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government for violating his Charter rights, and has received an out-of-court settlement reportedly worth $10.5 million.
"If we had continued to fight this, not only would we have inevitably lost, but estimates range from $30 to $40 million that it would have ended up costing the government," Trudeau said.
"This was the responsible path to take."
Khadr was sent to the notorious U.S. prison after being captured during a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old when he was wounded in a battle in which U.S. Sgt. Chris Speer was killed and fellow Delta Force soldier Layne Morris was blinded in one eye.
Khadr was interrogated in 2003 and 2004 by Canadian intelligence officials. Khadr says his jailers threatened him with rape and kept him in isolation, and once used him as a human mop to wipe up urine.
Khadr, now 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a widely condemned military commission at Guantanamo Bay in 2010. He said he agreed to the plea so he could get out of the American prison and return to Canada. He was released on bail in 2015 pending his appeal of the war crimes conviction.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian officials violated Khadr's rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms during their interrogations. It found they were participating in the "then-illegal military regime" at Guantanamo.
The government payout has angered rank-and-file Canadians, as well as veterans groups, and has exposed the Liberals to scathing political attacks from the opposition Conservatives.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper issued a statement last week condemning the settlement as "simply wrong" and now is reported to have contacted both Morris and Speer's widow to express his outrage.
The Toronto Sun reported Thursday that Harper called Morris at his Utah home on Wednesday and apologized for the settlement in a six-minute conversation.
The Sun said it is believed Harper made a similar call to Tabitha Speer, but added that has not been confirmed.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation dropped off a petition at Trudeau's office Thursday bearing the signatures of more than 133,000 Canadians opposing the payout.
Trudeau said the lesson for future governments is that when they violate a Canadian's rights, everyone pays.
"The measure of a society — a just society — is not whether we stand up for people's rights when it's easy or popular to do so. It's whether we recognize rights when it's difficult, when it's unpopular."
A group of veterans also voiced their unhappiness, given their ongoing battles to seek compensation for injured ex-soldiers.
The most prominent is a class-action lawsuit in B.C. that alleges the government is violating the rights of today's veterans by refusing to give them the same lifetime disability pensions as previous generations.
Some veterans have also threatened to sue the government after the military forced them to take the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, which they say caused psychological damage.
"This justice we see with Khadr is something we would like to see ourselves," said John Dowe, who says he was forced to take mefloquine while serving in Somalia.
That sentiment was echoed by the Equitas Society, which is leading the legal battle in B.C. for a return to the lifetime disability pension that Trudeau promised to bring back in the last election.
"I know many Canadians are outraged by Mr. Khadr receiving over $10 million dollars of tax payer money," Equitas Society president Marc Burchell said in a statement.
"But every Canadian should be even more outraged that Prime Minister Trudeau is treating our disabled veterans so very poorly."