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Khadr deal not yet hurting Trudeau’s popularity, according to new poll, but Conservatives vow to hammer away at divisive issue

By Derek Abma      

Most disapprove of the settlement, but the Liberals still garner 40 per cent support. However, if the Conservatives continue pressing the issue it could also galvanize the Conservative base. But they also have to be careful not to overreach.

Omar Khadr, pictured interviewed by CBC News' Rosemary Barton on July 7, 2017. A recent survey shows Canadians disapprove of the $10.5-million the federal government gave Mr. Khadr, but this issue has not hurt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's popularity. Screenshot CBC News
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Canadians are not happy about paying Omar Khadr $10.5-million, but they’re not yet ready toss the Justin Trudeau government out over this issue, according to newly released polling data from Campaign Research.

Online polling done between July 7 and 10 found that 60 per cent of respondents disapproved of the $10.5-million settlement and public apology the government gave Mr. Khadr earlier this month.

Mr. Khadr is a Canadian who was 15-years-old when involved in battle in Afghanistan, taking the side of al-Qaida against U.S. forces, in which one American was killed and another severely injured. He was accused of throwing the grenade that killed U.S. soldier Christopher Speer, while being shot himself in the ordeal. He was held in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for 10 years where he was allegedly tortured, while the Canadian government declined to take action to have him transferred to Canada.

An Angus Reid survey conducted over the same time frame as the Campaign Research one found 71 per cent disapproved of the government’s settlement with Mr. Khadr.

However, the same Campaign Research survey found the popularity of the Liberal government and other parties mostly unchanged from a month earlier. The Liberals were favoured by 40 per cent of respondents, up one point from a similar survey done in June. The Conservatives were at 31 per cent, compared to 30 per cent a month before. The New Democrats were at 19 per cent, where Campaign Research polling has had them for the last several months.

“It appears that the Khadr controversy failed to galvanize public opinion of the prime minister and the government as some thought it might,” Campaign Research CEO Eli Yufest said in a release. “No doubt, Canadians do not approve of the settlement he received, but their anger is not yet projected towards the prime minister. As news of the Khadr settlement percolates among the electorate, it will be interesting to see if public opinion moves against the Liberals and Prime Minister Trudeau.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) has vowed to continue hammering away on this controversial issue when the House of Commons returns in September.

Mr. Yufest said in a followup email to The Hill Times that the issue could start to cut into Liberal support “if the Conservatives and Scheer continue pressing the issue through the summer and into the fall. At the very least, it will galvanize the Conservative base.”

Last week, Summa Strategies vice-president Tim Powers, a past strategist for the Conservatives, told The Hill Times that the Conservatives should be “very careful not to overreach. … There is the possibility that they fall back into the pattern of having too negative and too hostile of a tone.”

Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) had a net approval rating of plus-11 per cent, according to the Campaign Research survey, derived by subtracting the 38 per cent who disapprove of him from the 49 per cent who approve. Mr. Scheer had net approval rating of plus-three per cent, while NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) was at plus-two per cent.

Mr. Trudeau was also the top pick as best prime minister, with 38 per cent of survey respondents saying so. Mr. Scheer had the support of 17 per cent on this question, while Mr. Mulcair—who will be replaced as NDP leader this fall—had eight per cent.

As for how Canadians view Mr. Khadr, more seen him as a child soldier than a terrorist, according to this survey. When given four choices of terms that would best describe Mr. Khadr, 30 per cent picked “child solider,” 23 per cent picked “terrorist,” 12 per cent picked “war criminal,” six per cent chose “innocent,” while 24 per cent refrained from answering because they didn’t know enough about the case.

Also, 29 per cent of respondents said they were more likely to believe the U.S. government’s account of Mr. Khadr, that he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. solider, compared to 15 per cent who were more likely to believe Mr. Khadr’s claims that he was tortured by the Americans. There were 21 per cent who answered “neither” to this question, and 18 per cent who said “both.”

These results were based on an online survey of a panel of 1,540 Canadian voters 18 or older. While a margin of error isn’t applicable to such surveys, it said a random sample of this size would have a margin of error of two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

On Monday, Sen. Kim Pate (Ontario) and Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard (East Preston, N.S.), both Independents appointed last year, issued a joint open letter to Mr. Trudeau “to express our strong support for the Government of Canada’s settlement with Mr. Khadr.”

The letter said to the prime minister: “We commend you for challenging the use of the label ‘terrorist’ to excuse the inexcusable: the unlawful detention and torture of a Canadian teen, as well as the complicity and the condonation of the torture and imprisonment. After far too many years, we are pleased to see our Government finally acknowledge what the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in 2010, when it found Canada complicit in the unconstitutional violations of Mr. Khadr’s rights in Guantanamo Bay.”

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