Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced tough questions from a disabled veteran last week about the government's commitment to those who serve.
The question came during a public town hall Thursday eventing where Trudeau appeared before a large audience in Edmonton, Canada. The prime minister was asked by Brock Blaszczyk, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who is permanently disabled after losing a leg on deployment, if he had broken his campaign promise to give veterans the compensation and support they earned.
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Blaszczyk cited a promise Trudeau and the Liberal Party made during the 2015 federal elections; Trudeau made the claim that if he was elected, elected veterans would no longer have to fight the government in court for equitable compensation for injuries sustained while in service. The Liberal Party also promised to bring back life-long disability pensions to veterans, a program that was replaced by lump-sum payments in 2006.
"You made the promise that, and I'll quote here, ‘no veteran would be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned,'" Blaszczyk said. "Yet you are still currently in a legal battle with veterans regarding equal support and compensation to their peers … We have two standard of veterans who fought in the same war. The ones prior to 2006 and the ones after 2006."
"My question is, what veterans were you talking about? Was it the ones who fought for the freedoms and values that you so proudly boast about or was it the ones who fought against?" Blaszczyk asked.
The latter was a reference to Trudeau's government deciding to settle a lawsuit, for $8 million, brought by accused terrorist Omar Khadr for civil rights violations. Khadr, the son of a suspected al Qaeda affiliate, was born in Canada but grew up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was captured by the U.S. military in 2002, at the age of 15, after partaking in an ambush on U.S. soldiers by the Taliban. Khadr allegedly threw a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the ensuing firefight. Khadr was detained at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba for over a decade where he pleaded guilty to Speer's murder in 2010. He later recanted his guilty plea, and he alleged the Canadian government violated international law and his human rights by not protecting him and conspiring with the United States while he was detained at Guantanamo Bay.
"I was prepared to be killed in action," Blaszczyk said to applause. "What I wasn’t prepared for, Mr. Prime Minister, is Canada turning its back on me."
Trudeau thanked Blaszczyk for his question, as well as his passion and "justifiable anger" before responding.
"Why are we still fighting certain veterans groups in court? Because they're asking for more than we are able to give right now," Trudeau said.
In response to boos from the crowd, he added, "You are asking for honest answers."
"On the issue of Omar Khadr, it's an issue that a lot of people are really frustrated about, and I count myself to be one of them," Trudeau said. "We made a significant payment to Omar Khadr. If we had continued to fight in court, it could have been 30 or 40 million dollars in payment and costs."
"And its not about anything that Omar Khadr might have done or didn't do … It has everything to do with what the Canadian government did or didn't do. The Canadian government–previous governments–were complicit in the violation of Omar Khadr's fundamental charter rights as a Canadian," Trudeau said in reference to the allegations underlying Khadr's suit.
The Conservative Party, Canada's official opposition party, has criticized Trudeau's comments. It has gone as far to cite an itemized list of expenditures approved by the Liberal government it believes should have been cut instead of veterans benefits. The list included $256 million for a China-led infrastructure bank and $200,000 for Trudeau's 2016 Christmas.