Federal Liberals could take a political hit over the government's decision to settle a lawsuit with Omar Khadr rather than fight it in court — even if most Canadians believe the former Guantanamo Bay inmate was owed an apology, a pollster says.
"It's not unreasonable to say this maybe has the potential to be one of the lasting or sticky missteps of this government," Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute told HuffPost Canada Tuesday.
"The broken promise on electoral reform, for example, seems to be something that isn't necessarily haunting the Trudeau Liberals in the same way that this might haunt the Trudeau Liberals."
'As much about the money as it is about anything else'
Kurl says a new poll from her firm suggests Canadians are specifically uncomfortable with the compensation Khadr received, even though the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in 2010 that his constitutional rights were violated.
While Liberals aren't revealing details of the deal, citing confidentiality, it was widely reported last week that the settlement was $10.5 million.
"This is as much about the money as it is about anything else," she said.
Seventy-one per cent of respondents think the government made the wrong decision and should have fought the lawsuit in court, according to the Angus Reid Institute poll. Twenty-nine per cent support both the apology to Khadr and reported $10.5-million payout.
The survey questionnaire spelled out that Canada's top court already ruled the "Canadian government of the day acted unconstitutionally after Khadr's arrest" in Afghanistan in 2002 and that it was "partly responsible for his continued imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay."
The court found Canadian intelligence officials obtained information from Khadr in 2003 under "oppressive circumstances," including significant sleep deprivation, and that they illegally shared evidence with the United States.
Fully two-third of respondents also told the firm they reject the notion idea that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government had "no choice" but to settle with Khadr, who had filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government.
Tory Leader Andrew Scheer has said he would have fought the case in court on principle and has blasted the deal as "disgusting."
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said at a press conference in Ottawa last week that a settlement was the only sensible course for a case with "virtually no chance of success."
Goodale was also sharply critical of the previous Tory government of Stephen Harper for not advocating for Khadr's return to Canada when he was detained at Guantanamo Bay. Khadr was repatriated in 2012 while the Tories were in government.
It's perhaps not surprising then that 91 per cent of past Tory voters told the Angus Reid Institute they opposed the settlement.
Yet, 61 per cent of past Liberal voters and 64 per cent of NDP supporters also share Scheer's perspective, raising the spectre that some Liberals could pay a political price for the decision.
"It's quite telling to me that it's not just majorities of past Conservative voters who are expressing a level of discomfort with this deal but also really significant numbers of past Liberals and NDPers," Kurl said.
The poll also suggests Canadians have conflicting views of the Toronto-born Khadr, now 30, who was captured after a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound. He pleaded guilty before a discredited military commission to throwing a grenade that killed U.S. special forces soldier Chris Speer. He has since recanted and has long said he was tortured during his years in Guantanamo Bay.
Seventy-four per cent of respondents say Khadr was a child soldier and should have always been treated as such. Yet, when asked if Khadr has been treated fairly or unfairly during his saga, 42 per cent said they were unsure, while 34 per cent said he was treated fairly.
A majority of respondents also indicated Khadr was at least owed an apology for his treatment.
Asked to imagine themselves on the government's negotiating committee, 29 per cent of respondents said they would offer both an apology and compensation, while another 25 per cent would offer an apology but no money. Forty-three per cent said they would offer neither.
Kurl also believes outrage over the settlement may be affecting the way Canadians see Khadr, who has publicly renounced violent extremism. He has long said he was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who was killed in 2003 as he stayed with al-Qaida operatives.
Shortly after Khadr was granted bail by an Alberta court in May 2015, 55 per cent of respondents told the Angus Reid Institute they thought he remained a potential "radicalized threat now living in Canada." The latest poll suggests 64 per cent of Canadians now feel that way.
"It's not as though Omar Khadr has been doing seen doing anything that would indicate he remains a radicalized threat. If anything, he's kept a very low profile," Kurl said.
"Whatever statements he's made have continued to reflect that he continues to renounce that world view."
The Angus Reid Institute's survey was conducted online between July 7-10 among a representative randomized sample of 1,521 Canadian adults. For comparison purposes, the firm notes a similar poll would carry a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Khadr: I'm not a 'hardened terrorist'
Scheer and other Tories repeatedly refer to Khadr as a self-confessed or "admitted terrorist."
As Prime Minister, I would have fought against this payout in court and made clear: taxpayers won't be rewarding an admitted terrorist. pic.twitter.com/V276DqayM8— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) July 7, 2017
Khadr told The Canadian Press last week he is not a "hardened terrorist" and asked for Canadians to judge him on his actions.
Even though the deal is done, Scheer has pledged that Tories will force debate on the issue once the House of Commons resumes sitting in September, the Calgary Herald reports.
At the G20 summit in Germany over the weekend, Trudeau said the settlement reflected that the Charter of Rights protects all Canadians, "even when it is uncomfortable."
"When the government violates any Canadian's Charter rights, we all end up paying for it," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press, previous files
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