SHELBURNE, N.S. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the cross-border Conservative campaign lambasting him for a generous federal payout to Omar Khadr, saying "domestic squabbles'' should be left at home.
Speaking at a summer camp in southwestern Nova Scotia on Friday, Trudeau said domestic politics should stay within Canada's borders.
"When I deal with the United States, I leave the domestic squabbles at home,'' he said. "Other parties don't seem to have that rule, but I think it's one Canadians appreciate.''
Trudeau said he'll continue to work with opposition parties ahead of talks to rejig the North American Free Trade Agreement next month, but that Canadians expect domestic disputes won't derail those discussions.
Senior Liberals have accused Conservatives of fanning anti-Trudeau sentiment in U.S. ads ahead of NAFTA negotiations, but Tory Leader Andrew Scheer has argued that the Grits are to blame for any American backlash over the Khadr payment.
Trudeau said he understands if people are frustrated by the settlement, but that the decision was taken to save the country money and to defend the basic rights and freedoms of all Canadians.
"Omar Khadr was going to show up in court...with a note from the Supreme Court with his name on it saying that his rights had been violated,'' he said. "There is no question we were going to lose this case because governments of different stripes violated his fundamental rights and freedoms.''
Trudeau said Canadian leaders can't only stand up for those rights when it's easy and popular.
"Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of government you are. Are you a government that stands for what is right, or are you a government that stands for what is easy?'' he said. "Are you willing to play the politics of division, of fear, of looking for partisan gain any time there is a tough decision to make, or are you going to stand there and make those tough decisions?''
He said the U.S. administration is focused on growing the economy and helping the middle class, not on political controversies in Canada.
Fifteen years ago, the Canadian-born Khadr was imprisoned in the notorious U.S. detention facility Guantanamo, accused of killing an American soldier/medic during a firefight in Afghanistan. Khadr was just 15 years old at the time.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that Canadian authorities violated Khadr's charter rights when they interrogated him there.
Khadr launched a $20-million civil suit against Ottawa, which was settled earlier this month when the government agreed to pay him compensation — reportedly $10.5 million — rather than pursue a costly court battle.
Trudeau also fielded questions on his plans to march in Halifax's Pride Parade with his kids on Saturday, making him the first prime minister to take part in the event.
"I talk about our diversity a lot, but it's not just diversity of backgrounds,'' he said. "It's diversity of everything that makes us Canadians and that includes standing up strongly for the rights of the LGBTQ community.''
He became the first sitting prime minister to march in a Pride parade when he did so in Toronto last year.
Meanwhile, Trudeau and his family roasted marshmallows and made s'mores with young boys and girls at the day camp in Shelburne, N.S.
"I'm glad to see you all so happy and normally eating healthier than this and really just having a great time this summer,'' Trudeau said to the children gathered at picnic tables.
Dressed in a dark blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, jeans and brown hiking shoes in the sweltering heat, a casual Trudeau recalled his experience as a camp counsellor.
"I want to say a big thank you to all your counsellors,'' he said. "Being a counsellor was probably one of the best jobs I ever had. It taught me about responsibility. It taught me about service. It taught me about leadership. And who knows, maybe one of your counsellors will end up as prime minister one day and she might be here with us right now.''
As he made his way out of the park the prime minister took time, as is his custom on these summertime tours, to greet the well-wishers who lined the pathway to his waiting motorcade.
Trudeau stopped and briefly chatted with several people while posing for a number of selfies — some with young children and babies.
He then headed to Kejimkujik National Park Seaside in Port Joli.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, hiked inland to a spectacular beach with glistening white sand and turquoise coloured water.
"Now that's a beach,'' he remarked to his wife who replied, "I wish we could stay here forever.''
Later, Trudeau was expected to appear at a Liberal Party Laurier Club reception at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.
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