HAMILTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a woman heckling him about Omar Khadr during a town hall Wednesday in Hamilton that he, too, is angry about the $10.5 million his government paid last summer to the former Guantanamo Bay inmate.
"The anger that some people feel, and that a lot of people feel about the payment the government made to Omar Khadr is real and quite frankly — this might surprise you — but I share that anger and frustration," he said.
That money, which was paid to settle a lawsuit alleging the government violated Khadr's Charter rights, could have been put toward programs to help people, Trudeau said, but it is a "bit of a consolation" that if the government hadn't settled, the lawsuit could have cost between $30 and $40 million.
"That settlement had nothing to do with what Omar Khadr might have or might not have done," he said. "It had to do with what the Canadian government did or did not do and when a Canadian government wilfully turns its back on defending a Canadian's rights and allows a Canadian to be tortured and mistreated, we all end up paying."
The prime minister addressed another heckler at the end of the event, pleading with the man to listen, saying, "I listened to you — sort of."
The crowd was a largely friendly one, lobbing few tough questions his way and attempting to silence the hecklers with booing.
Since the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau has made a virtue of interacting with ordinary Canadians, be it posing for selfies with star-struck teens or absorbing the vitriol of disgruntled voters. In government, it's proven a handy way of beating back the opposition narrative of a privileged prime minister who prefers to hobnob with the upper class.
Trudeau fielded no shortage of voter anger last year during the first iteration of what has now become an annual tradition of sorts: venturing into carefully selected locales sans jacket, sleeves rolled, to show off his people skills — and generate more than a few Liberal-friendly photo-ops — while communing with supporters and detractors alike.
"Sometimes in the bubble in Ottawa, we get wrapped up in things that aren't resonating, and aren't really top of mind for a lot of Canadians," Trudeau said in a radio interview Tuesday before kicking off the tour at a high school in Lower Sackville, N.S.
If that sounds like trying to change the channel, consider that Trudeau was hounded by many questions Tuesday about his controversial family vacation on the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas, a trip that took place more than a year ago but continues to generate damaging entitlement fodder for opposition MPs in the national capital.