In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. military, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr (L), is pictured.
Credits: REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool
An Abacus Data/Sun News Network poll showing Canadians overwhelmingly oppose repatriating Omar Khadr from the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba raises an obvious question.
What happened to U.S. President Barack Obama’s election promise of four years ago to close Guantanamo?
Despite that pledge, Guantanamo is still open, still home to 169 prisoners, including Khadr, despite the fact about half have been cleared for release.
The reason Obama’s broken promise hasn’t become a major issue in this U.S. presidential race is that most Republicans favour keeping Guantanamo open and the U.S. Congress has fought efforts to shut it down.
That has upset civil libertarians, who argue Obama could be doing far more than he is to close the prison.
American reluctance to close Guantanamo reflects the same concern that prompts Canadians to reject Omar Khadr’s repatriation.
That is, the widespread belief in both countries that those imprisoned at Guantanamo are not traditional criminals with any hope, however remote, of being rehabilitated, but enemy combatants who will become a clear and present danger to the U.S., Canada and the West the moment they are released.
The Abacus poll suggests most Canadians don’t believe the assurances of Khadr’s lawyers that he has changed and deserves a second chance.
Nor are they impressed by the fact the federal opposition parties, Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, the United Nations and even the U.S. government, which views Khadr as a headache it doesn’t need, all want Canada to repatriate Khadr.
Abacus found 60% of Canadians surveyed oppose Khadr’s transfer to Canada before he completes his eight-year sentence for the murder of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer and on two terrorism-related charges.
Only 24% favour immediate repatriation.
(Khadr began serving his sentence in 2010, after confessing to these crimes.)
Canadians are even more opposed to granting Khadr parole upon his return to Canada, considering he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002.
On that issue, 71% oppose parole with only 15% in favour.
This reluctance to repatriate Khadr or grant him parole cuts across party lines.
As reported by Sun Media’s David Akin, while Conservative supporters are most opposed to repatriating Khadr (79%) or granting him parole (88%), a majority of NDPers (52% and 63%) share the same views.
A plurality of Liberal supporters oppose Khadr’s repatriation (42% against, 39% in favour) while a majority, 61%, oppose parole.
All this despite the fact Khadr was only 15 when he became an enemy combatant in Afghanistan, that his father was an ardent supporter of terrorism with the rest of his family not far behind, and that if Khadr had been convicted of murder in a Canadian civilian court instead of a U.S. military one, he would have been out of prison years ago under our juvenile justice system.
These numbers also suggest why Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are taking their sweet time in repatriating Khadr, with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews saying he won’t be returned at least until the government views his interrogation tapes.
Indeed, if the NDP and Liberals are to be consistent with their past positions on Khadr, they’ll have to demand his early release when he is finally returned to Canada, knowing even their own voters overwhelmingly oppose that position.
Which is why Harper isn’t sweating the Khadr file.