CALGARY – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says some of the people he met during his Calgary Stampede visit on Saturday lightheartedly mentioned a gaffe he made during a Canada Day speech, during which he skipped Alberta as he rattled off Canada’s provinces and territories.
“I got a couple of people teasing me for it, but no one’s made a big deal of it. It’s sort of a gentle ribbing,” Trudeau told reporters on the second-last day of the 10-day western celebration.
“I think everyone understands that mistakes happen every now and then and the fact that I keep coming back to Alberta regularly to connect with people, to work on issues that matter to Albertans is something that I know people appreciate very much.”
It was earlier thought that Trudeau would miss the Stampede — a popular schmoozing event for politicians of all stripes — as it coincided with G20 meetings in Hamburg, Germany, and a U.S. governors’ meeting in Rhode Island.
But Trudeau says he managed to rearrange his schedule for Saturday’s whirlwind visit.
The day started off with a meeting with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi at a downtown hotel.
From there, he headed to two community breakfasts, where he held babies, took selfies and served up pancakes amongst big crowds.
He then visited with Indigenous leaders at the Stampede’s Indian Village, where he spoke with community members inside a tipi and accepted gifts that included a blanket, a hand-made beaded medallion, sweetgrass and smudge box.
He capped off the day with an appearance at the rodeo.
The controversy over the Omar Khadr settlement followed Trudeau on his trip, with a man who lives across from one of the pancake breakfasts putting up a big sign on top of is garage that read: “Trudeau, why don’t you pay the widow Speer?” — referring to the wife of Sgt. Chris Speer, the U.S. soldier Khadr is accused of killing in Afghanistan 15 years ago.
Khadr had filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government for violating his Charter rights, and has received an out-of-court settlement reportedly worth $10.5 million.
Daxton Yont decided to put up the sign because he and others in the community feel the payout was out of line and unjustified.
“We just thought we’d put it up to get a light message across. We didn’t want to be rude about it, didn’t want to do something extreme, but just a nice gentle message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” said Yont.
Khadr was sent to the notorious U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after being captured during a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old when he was wounded in a battle in which Speer was killed and fellow Delta Force soldier Layne Morris was blinded in one eye.
Khadr, now 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a widely condemned military commission at Guantanamo Bay in 2010. He said he agreed to the plea so he could get out of the American prison and return to Canada.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian officials violated Khadr’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms during their interrogations.
“It’s easy to understand why people are frustrated about this. I’m concerned about the money as well, which is, as I said, why we settled,” Trudeau told reporters Saturday.
He reiterated that fighting Khadr’s lawsuit in court and losing could have cost $30 million to $40 million.
“So we decided that it was the right thing to do, to settle, both because it was the fiscally responsible thing to do, but also because we recognize that when governments violate Canadians’ fundamental rights, there have to be consequences.”