Majority of Canadians oppose Omar Khadr settlement, poll suggests

A new poll suggests 71 per cent of Canadians think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did the wrong thing in awarding Omar Khadr a $10.5 million settlement.

Most Liberals, New Democrats and 91% of Conservatives feel $10.5 million settlement was wrong

Most Canadians oppose the Liberal government's $10.5 million settlement with Omar Khadr, according to a new poll. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

More than two-thirds of Canadians feel Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the wrong choice in awarding a $10.5 million settlement to Omar Khadr, according to a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute.

And while the survey shows that a majority of Liberals and New Democrats are opposed to the government's decision, how the numbers compare to previous polling suggests that views on Khadr have hardened over the last decade — and that he remains a divisive figure.

The poll was conducted by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) between July 7 and 10, in the wake of news that the government had reached a financial settlement with Khadr and had apologized for the Canadian government's role in his incarceration and torture at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison.

Fully 71 per cent of respondents agreed the government had "done the wrong thing" and should have fought Khadr in court, where he was suing the government for $20 million for breaching his civil rights. 

Only 29 per cent believed the government did the right thing, and just 35 per cent believed Trudeau had no choice but to offer the apology and financial compensation.

This disapproval with the government's decision extended to Trudeau's own supporters: 61 per cent of Canadians who said they voted Liberal in 2015 felt that the wrong decision had been made. That increased to 64 per cent among NDP voters.

Conservatives are most opposed

But opposition was greatest among Conservatives, with just 9 per cent thinking the right decision had been made. The poll also found 69 per cent of Conservative voters would have offered nothing to Khadr — compared to less than a third of Liberals and New Democrats.

Just under 40 per cent of supporters of those two parties would have offered Khadr an apology and financial compensation were they in the government's shoes, while another 27 to 30 per cent would have offered an apology.

Nationwide, 29 per cent of Canadians would have offered Khadr an apology and compensation while 25 per cent would have only apologized. Forty-three per cent of respondents would have offered him nothing.

Views long-standing, hardening

That a significant segment of Canadians have little sympathy for Khadr is not new. In July 2008, a poll by Ipsos-Reid found that 60 per cent of Canadians believed Khadr should remain in U.S. custody and be tried there, with the remaining 40 per cent believing he should be brought back to Canada.

In January 2009, Nanos Research found that 45 per cent of Canadians had "no sympathy" for Khadr — a similar number to the share of Canadians in the ARI poll who would give Khadr neither compensation nor an apology.

In a poll conducted by Forum Research in May 2015, shortly after he had been released on bail from an Alberta prison, 34 per cent of Canadians said they had an unfavourable view of Khadr, compared to 20 per cent who had a favourable view of him. Here again, the partisan split was significant: 61 per cent of Conservatives had an unfavourable view of Khadr, while Liberals were split.

More see a potential threat

But ARI has found those who believe Khadr "remains a potential radicalized threat" has grown since his release. That number was 55 per cent two years ago, but has now grown to 64 per cent — including a slim majority of Liberals and New Democrats, and 83 per cent of Conservatives.

The poll suggests Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, in his fierce criticism of Trudeau's decision to settle with Khadr, is on the right side of public opinion — both among his base and in the broader population.

But while Canadians do not agree with the government's move, they widely believe the affair should have been avoided. According to the ARI poll, 74 per cent of Canadians agree that when Khadr was captured by U.S. forces as a 15-year-old, he was a child soldier and should have been handled like one in the first place.

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between July 7 and 10, 2017, interviewing 1,512 adult Canadians who were a member of an online panel. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.