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Most Canadians disapprove of Khadr deal, 44 per cent say it will influence their vote in 2019: poll

By Marco Vigliotti      

'This issue alone will impact how people will vote in 2019,' says pollster Eli Yufest.

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, 31, pictured being interviewed by CBC News' Rosemary Barton on July 7. The federal government apologized to Mr. Khadr for its role in his imprisonment and awarded him $10.5-million as part of the civil suit launched against Ottawa for Mr. Khadr’s wrongful Screenshot from CBC News
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A clear majority of Canadians disapproved of the Liberal government awarding $10.5-million and apologizing to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr earlier this summer in a settlement over his imprisonment at the infamous U.S. military prison, with many saying the decision will affect their vote in the next federal election, a new public opinion poll suggests.

In the Campaign Research online survey of 1,770 Canadian voters, conducted between Sept. 8 and 11, 60 per cent of respondents disapproved of the apology and settlement made with Mr. Khadr, who was detained in 2002 after being accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer during a fight with Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

Only 21 per cent of respondents voiced approval for the settlement, with another 19 per cent offering no opinion. Opposition was the strongest among Canadians 65 years and older (74 per cent), residents of Ontario outside of the Greater Toronto Area (64 per cent), people making between $40,000 and $60,000 (65 per cent), and Conservative voters (83 per cent).

Supporters of all the major federal political parties disapproved of the settlement more than they approved of it. While 31 per cent of Liberal backers said they agreed with the deal, 49 per cent said they didn’t. NDP supporters indicated similar levels of support, with 31 per cent saying they were for the deal and 51 per cent against. Only seven per cent of Conservative supporters backed the settlement, compared to 25 per cent of Green Party backers (48 per cent of Green supporters were against) and 40 per cent of Bloc Québécois supporters, with 54 per cent against.

The settlement, coupled with a formal apology, was granted in response to a $20-million lawsuit Mr. Khadr filed alleging the Canadian government had violated his civil rights during his detainment.

News of the settlement in July drew intense media attention and staunch opposition from certain quarters, with the federal Conservatives, in particular, speaking out against the deal. A handful of caucus members reached out to American news outlets to voice their disapproval to handing millions of dollars to someone they said is a convicted terrorist.

The Trudeau government has argued the settlement was necessary because Mr. Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated and the government would otherwise have had to pay millions of dollars more.

More than 4 in 10 say deal will influence their vote

Looking ahead to 2019, more than four in 10 respondents (44 per cent) said the settlement would affect their vote in the next election. That breaks down to 21 per cent saying it would impact their vote decision “a great deal,” and another 23 per cent saying it would have some impact.

Close to the same percentage of respondents, though, suggested it wouldn’t affect their vote much. Twenty-five per cent said it wouldn’t have very much of an impact, while 20 per cent said it wouldn’t have an impact at all.

Among those backing the Conservatives, 44 per cent said this deal would affect their vote a great deal, while for Liberal supporters that number dwindled to seven per cent.

When it comes to those in support of the deal, 17 per cent said the settlement would have some impact on their vote, with 10 per cent saying their voting decision would be affected a great deal. Of those in opposition, 29 per cent said their vote would be somewhat affected, with 31 per cent saying it would be affected greatly.

“I think that’s what the Conservatives are hoping for. Quite frankly, they are the ones leading the charge, being the most vocal against the deal,” Eli Yufest, CEO of Campaign Research, said in a phone interview of the more than four in 10 of respondents who said the settlement would affect their vote in 2019.

“It seems like if they are able to make enough noise about it, and they continue to make noise about it, they will galvanize certainly a portion of the Canadian electorate, and this issue alone will impact how people will vote in 2019.”

The reaction, however, hasn’t translated into lower support for the federal Liberals, with Campaign Research also finding the governing Liberals leading the second-place Conservatives by 12 points in the same survey, as The Hill Times reported earlier this week.

Another Campaign Research poll done in between July 7 and 10 found that 60 per cent of respondents disapproved of the settlement and apology. An Angus Reid poll over the same July time period found 71 per cent disapproved of the settlement.

The Khadr questions in the most recent Campaign Research poll were part of an online survey that also asked respondents about other issues. Online polls are not considered to be truly random, but a random poll with the same total sample size would have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 per cent, or 19 out of 20 times. Margins of error would be higher for categories measuring support by federal voting intention, or region, for instance, because they have smaller sample sizes.

Online polls randomly pull participants from large groups of people who have signed up to participate in polling research for compensation.

Mr. Khadr, severely injured in the firefight in Afghanistan, was 15 years old at the time of his capture by the Americans, being brought to the war-torn country by his father, who was affiliated with Al-Qaeda. He spent 10 years behind bars at Guantanamo Bay, eventually pleading guilty to murdering Mr. Speer in 2010, in a trial conducted by a U.S. military commission. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, with the possibility of transfer to a Canadian facility after one year.

His conviction was denounced at the time by some civil rights groups, which argued Mr. Khadr should’ve been treated as a child soldier, not a criminal.

The Supreme Court of Canada in 2010 condemned the Canadian government’s treatment of Mr. Khadr, but said it couldn’t force Ottawa to petition for his release.

In its ruling, the Court wrote that the interrogation of a youth held “without access to counsel” and subjected to sleep deprivation to elicit statements about serious criminal charges that would be shared with the prosecutors “offends the most basic Canadian standards.”

Mr. Khadr, who was interrogated by both American and Canadian authorities during his detainment, later appealed his conviction, saying he only pled guilty so he could return to Canada. Mr. Khadr was eventually transferred to a Canadian prison in 2012, and was released on bail in 2015 pending the appeal of his conviction in the U.S.

Besides Mr. Yufest, Toronto’s Campaign Research includes principal Richard Ciano, a former national vice-president of the Conservative Party of Canada, and principal Nick Kouvalis, a former campaign manager for Conservative MP and one-time leadership candidate Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.).

In the Campaign Research poll, support for the settlement was the most pronounced among younger Canadians, with 32 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 approving of the deal, compared to 31 per cent in opposition.

Geographically, 23 per cent of Toronto respondents, 19 per cent in the Greater Toronto Area, and 18 per cent in Ontario approved of the settlement. In Atlantic Canada, the Prairies, Alberta, and British Columbia, the numbers were 29 per cent, 22 per cent, 25 per cent, and 17 per cent. In Quebec, approval stood at 25 per cent.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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