The House

Midweek podcast: A 'totally unprecedented' G20

The week on The House midweek podcast, we look ahead to what's at stake during the G20 summit later this week with Tom Bernes, a CIGI fellow and former Canadian representative at the IMF. We also dive into the Omar Khadr settlement with human rights lawyer Paul Champ and the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation.
Police officers clear a camp as people protest at a park before the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (The Associated Press)

There's never been a G20 like this before.

Later this week Hamburg, Germany will host the leaders of the world's top leading economies for a two-day summit.

But it's some of the side acts, including a face-to-face meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, renewed concern over North Korea, Turkey and Russa's opposing views on Syria, and what's shaping up to be a Merkel-Trump showdown over the Paris climate agreement, that could be the most interesting headlines.

Tom Bernes, a former Canadian representative at the IMF and now a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said the G20 was set up to promote multilateral economic cooperation, but Trump's protectionist approach could act as a hindrance. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump pose for a family photo with G7 leaders at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (The Associated Press)

"For the first time, we're looking at the possibility that in fact there's a rollback of agreements within the G20," said Bernes, who is already in Hamburg for the summit. 

"This is totally unprecedented." 

Bernes said the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. president puts the institution's effectiveness at managing global issues at risk.

"Nobody is expecting, unfortunately, big progress at this meeting. The biggest hope is that maybe we at least stay where we are and there's no rollback of past progress, which is a pretty sad objective," he said.

"I don't think anybody is under any illusions that Donald Trump is going to change his mind on the environment and on trade. What would be useful, though, is a sign of respect and a willingness to work to overcome differences of views. That would be a major step forward."

Omar Khad's settlement

(Bowden Institution/Canadian Press)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already overseas for the G20 and has largely ducked one of the biggest domestic stories.

On Tuesday a government official revealed Ottawa will apologize and pay $10.5 million in compensation to Omar Khadr, the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner.

Khadr, who confessed to killing a U.S. army medic when he was 15, had been seeking $20 million in a wrongful imprisonment civil suit against Ottawa. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012 to serve the remainder of his sentence and was released in May 2015 pending an appeal of his war crime convictions, in which he argued that his admissions of guilt were made under duress

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that Canadian intelligence officials obtained evidence from Khadr under "oppressive circumstances," such as sleep deprivation, during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in 2003 and then shared that evidence with U.S. officials.

"There is a bit of redemption or vindication there for him, that now finally Canada is recognizing its responsibilities and accepting accountability," said Paul Champ, a human rights lawyer who helped fight for Khadr's cause at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008.

"The Canadian Supreme Court has found in his favour three times, and I think that he no doubt still felt that he was being mistreated by the government of Canada because they weren't accepting those decisions, despite the fact he had been mistreated and abused."

Tuesday's news received swift reaction from some Conservative MPs.

Public safety critic Tony Clement rejected the argument that Khadr was a child soldier because he "admitted his guilt." Clement called it "completely inappropriate" that the government would strike a deal to compensate and apologize to Khadr, forcing the Speer family to relive the ordeal.

The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation has started an online petition slamming the settlement.

"I think people's opinion about the situation depends on whether you focus more on what Mr. Khadr did, or what happened to him afterwards. No matter what happened to him afterwards, there are a lot of Canadians that are shocked that an individual who killed an American soldier and was fighting against Canadian interests is now getting $10 million courtesy of Canadian taxpayers," said federal director Aaron Wudrick.

Wudrick said he doesn't dispute that Khadr was mistreated after he was incarcerated, but is concerned with the amount of the settlement.

"This is the equivalent of a lottery winning, and we can't forget that whatever Mr. Khadr has gone through he does now have his freedom, he does now have a second chance at life. We can't say the same for the victim."

Champ said the settlement isn't out of line with what other Canadians who have been wrongfully imprisoned receive.

"There's been so much heightened political rhetoric around his case for the last 10 years, people politically exploiting his situation to raise fears and concerns and so forth for their own narrow political gain, that we have this controversy when there really shouldn't be," he said.

"Continued attacks on this settlement really erodes our respect for the rule of law."