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Canadians angry at Omar Khadr deal donate to kin of slain U.S. soldier

TORONTO — Canadians across the country have been reaching into their wallets to donate money to the family of an American soldier whom Omar Khadr is accused of killing in Afghanistan 15 years ago.
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TORONTO — Canadians across the country have been reaching into their wallets to donate money to the family of an American soldier whom Omar Khadr is accused of killing in Afghanistan 15 years ago.

The online fundraising effort — part political protest, part generosity — comes amid a furor over the $10.5 million sources said the federal government paid Khadr for breaching his rights while he was an American prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

Jerome Dondo, of St. Claude, Man., who said he donated $10 to the campaign, decried the federal payout while the widow and children of U.S. special forces soldier Sgt. Chris Speer were fighting in Canadian court for that money.

"The Canadian government should have at least waited until a court decision was made before sending the payment," said Dondo, a married accountant with nine children. "This was my way of showing the Speer family support for their loss.

Over the past week, more than 2,200 donors in both Canada and the United States have contributed $134,000 to Tabitha Speer and her two children Taryn and Tanner, now in their mid and late teens.

The family, and blinded former U.S. soldier Sgt. Layne Morris, failed this week to freeze Khadr's assets while they try to enforce a US$134-million wrongful-death award against him from a Utah court.

Heike Pfuetzner, a retiree in Abbotsford, B.C., called it a "personal thing" to donate $15.

"I am disgusted with the government giving so much money to a convicted criminal," Pfuetzner said. "I'm just really upset."

Ottawa-based talk-radio host Brian Lilley, co-founder of right-wing Rebel Media, who started the fundraising campaign, said he shared the anger of many Canadians over the settlement and wanted to channel the outrage into something positive.

"It's trying to show generosity out of a political situation," Lilley said.

While most people tell him they're are glad he started the fundraiser, he said, a small number have accused him of "grandstanding."

Speer has not responded to requests to talk about the situation but in the past expressed appreciation for a similar fundraiser in 2012, when Khadr was returned from Guantanamo Bay to Canada to serve out his sentence. That campaign raised about $100,000 — with about half coming from the Edmonton-based South Alberta Light Horse Regiment.

The current campaign aims to raise $1 million over a month. Donors who give at least $2,500 will have their names engraved on a "solidarity" plaque that will be sent to Speer but most donated amounts range from $10 to $100. Lilley could not say how many donors were from the United States.

Georges Hallak, 47, a businessman in Montreal put up $25.

"It's very simple: I find it unfair that (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau is allowed to give money to a convicted terrorist...and (the widow of the) person that he killed — or supposedly what he was tried for — she's getting nothing," Hallak said.

Khadr, now 30, is on bail in Edmonton while he appeals his 2010 conviction for five war crimes before a widely discredited military commission in Guantanamo Bay.

He argues that the acts he is accused of committing as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan were not war crimes at the time. He says he only pleaded guilty to throwing the grenade that killed Speer as a way out of American captivity.

 — with files from Brennan Doherty in Toronto

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press



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