POSC 3350 Public Opinion Omar Khadr: How has Public Opinion influenced Public Policy? Choose an issue- for example: gay rights, abortion, foreign policy , the death, penalty, taxes, and so on- and write a paper discussing the nature of the public opinion about this issue, and how/ why it may have changed over time. Alyson Kwan 200627230 Dr. Amanda Bittner November 18th 2010 The case of Omar Khadr has been a political hot potato since 2002. When captured by US forces in Afghanistan in July 2002 he was 15 years old.
The last 8 years for Omar Khadr have been spent in captivity at the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, where he has endured interrogation, segregation and what many also believe to be torture. Today he is the only remaining western citizen or NATO ally still incarcerated. All others have returned to their countries of origin.
While his story might be commonplace in some third world countries, it is one that has received much attention in Canada, for Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen. His imprisonment has garnered worldwide criticism from human and legal rights groups.Although there has been much printed in the daily press, discussed in the media and in Parliament, the majority of Canadians have shown little passion for his plight or the potential ramifications on Canadian democracy. Angus Reid Public Opinion has done at least a dozen surveys over the past 4 years. All support the stance that Canadians have been consistently divided on the fate of Omar Khadr. Canadians have remained in one of two camps, right wing Conservatives versus left wing liberals : those who see Omar Khadr as a murdering jihadist and those who see him as a victim of the Afghanistan war.The results of the surveys reflect public opinion and thus should be a significant independent influence over public policy. The reality in this case is that the divided polls have not provided solid direction to the government.
Thus public policy has been stifled. This demonstrates that public opinion does have an effect on public policy. This paper will follow Angus Reid poll results from 2007 to present, highlighting the many opportunities Canadians have had to alter their opinions. Despite all, Canadians have chosen to remain true to their original convictions and the Canadian government remained unchanged.Russell Renka, in his paper “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Public Opinion Polls” reminds readers that public opinion polls are everywhere today and cover a wide topic area from consumer acceptance to political popularity. They have become indispensable in deciding what toaster to purchase or in judging the success rate of each political party platform. They are constantly in the public’s view and most adults have been contacted by a pollster seeking an opinion. The trick is to be able to discern which polls supply credible information.
Renka writes that a good poll must have three characteristics; one it must be worded clearly and without bias, second the sample subjects must be randomly selected and thirdly that the sampling error is ‘reasonably’ small. Along with these three golden rules, the details must be available for scrutiny. Renka also cautions that the primary polling source be reviewed rather that a reliance on media interpretation. (2010: 1-15) Angus Reid Public Opinion is a large Canadian company, well respected in its field. Its surveys incorporate Renka’s three characteristics of a good poll.The primary source surveys are readily available on their website.
The results are often brought forward by the media for critique and follow up. Angus Reid has completed a dozen or more public opinion polls covering the past four years the Omar Khadr has been in the public light. They have followed the progression of public opinion on Omar Khadr’s incarceration and trial.
All were conducted using online interviews with Canadian adults with the results statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the ntire adult population of Canada with margins of error of 3. 0 to 3. 1 percent. Which is a respectable margin of error, considering a reliable margin would be anything under 5 percent (2010:1-15). Angus Reid Strategies conducted a poll June 6 and 7, 2007. This was days after the charges of murder and terrorism against Khadr were dropped. At that time Khadr had been in Guantanamo for five years. The poll of 1,081 adults reported “41 per cent of respondents think the Canadian government should actively intervene to secure his release from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, while 40 per cent disagree.
1 per cent of respondents think Omar Khadr should face justice in Afghanistan, where the alleged incident took place. Forty-seven per cent of respondents think he should be considered as a child soldier, and not as a war criminal. ” (Angus Reid 2006). The position of the Liberal government was that as a Canadian citizen Khadr’s case should be actively pursued with the US government. The next poll was done February 27 and 28, 2008 with 1,047 respondents.
The stance at the time of the three opposition parties was to push the Conservatives to protect Khadr’s rights, admitting that up until this time this had not been done. The results were very similar to those of June 2007 with 41 percent in agreement that the government pursue Khadr’s release and 41 percent against, with 18 percent unsure. (Angus Reid 2007 ) Shortly following was a poll of 1,015 Canadian adults, conducted on Apr. 16 and Apr.
17. The survey questions were on a different topic but what was of note was that there was no significant majority seen on these issues either.The results showed “ 43 per cent of respondents demand Khadr’s repatriation to face due process under Canadian Law, while 38 per cent would leave Khadr to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay” (Angus Reid 2008 ) Then came the famous video of July 2008. A change in opinion was expected and even hoped for as this would provide some direction to government and in particular support of those Canadians who saw Omar Khadr as a child soldier who would benefit from a return to Canada for rehabilitation. There were two surveys completed – one before the video release on July 3, and the second fter the release on July 19.
The online survey allowed respondents to watch excerpts of the video released by Khadr’s lawyers on July 15. The video featured Omar Khadr being interrogated by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agents at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in February 2003. Surprising to some, the release of the video did not have any impact on the opinions of Canadians. “38 per cent of respondents want to leave Khadr to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay, while 38 per cent would repatriate him to face due process under Canadian Law” (Angus Reid 2008).Another potentially damning situation had brought forward earlier that month advising the public that Canadian government officials were aware of the ‘harsh treatment’ within the Detention Camp. Even with this information there was no added pressure for government action to interfere in the military commission. The polls supported Prime Minister Harper’s response that there would not be a policy change. Mike Canseco, director of Global Studies at Angus Reid Strategies suggested that respondents had already made up their mind prior to the viewing.
“Harper’s support of the trials appears to have the backing of his party’s voters.Assessed by political allegiance, the poll indicates that Canadians who said they would vote Conservative in the next election want Khadr to stay in Guantanamo (62 per cent) and feel no sympathy for him (63 per cent). ” The right- wing conservatives remain committed to their opinions .
(Shephard, 2008) Later in November 2008, a survey with 1,002 Canadian adults, conducted on November 14 to November 15, 2008. The results were “42 per cent of respondents would demand Khadr’s repatriation to face due process under Canadian Law, while 37 per cent would leave Khadr to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay. (Angus Reid 2008) The data was slightly different than that reported in July of 2008 and April 2008 but overall a similar trend. The response of the Canadian government was on November 20, when Canadian foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon appeared to rule out any change in policy, saying, “He is being held and it’s our government’s intention to follow and respect the process that’s in place and, of course, to respect American sovereignty on this issue. ” (Angus Reid , 2008) January 6 and January 7, 2009, 1,003 Canadian adults, were surveyed.The data continued to be very similar to past responses with “40 per cent of respondents would demand Omar Khadr’s repatriation to face due process under Canadian Law, while 38 per cent would leave Khadr to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay. In the event U.
S. president-elect Barack Obama decides to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, 47 per cent of respondents voice support for repatriating Khadr, while 38 per cent would transfer him to the United States to face federal prosecution there. ” (Angus Reid, Jan. 009) Citizen’s opinions are also heard outside of surveys. On January 11, 2009 Canadian senator and former United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) commander Romeo Dallaire called on the incoming American president to “offer up Khadr to the Canadian government,” adding, “We’re actually going to give credence to those who want to continue to use child soldiers if we leave Omar Khadr in that inappropriate process at Guantanamo Bay. ” (Angus Reid, 2009) Romeo Dallaire has for some time been a champion of the child soldier.In his new book, They fight like soldiers, they die like children, Dallaire comments about the Canadian government inaction with reference to the fact that as one of the drafters and first signatories of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of a Child, Canada has chosen not to follow up on this commitment, stating that while the convention has been ratified it is not yet legislation.
Dallaire suggests this lack of commitment to the convention has “kept Omar Khadr in the illegal jail at Guantanamo for more than seven years without lifting a finger to repatriate him. (2010:181) Dallaire’s comment is more in line with a left-wing liberal perspective. The child soldier scenario has had little impact on the public opinion. It appears asthough the public has chosen to remember the horror of young Omars bracelet of hands rather than the interrogation video.
From August 27 to August 28, 2009, Angus Reid Strategies conducted an online survey among 1,006 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. 2% would repatriate Khadr to face due process in Canada; 40% would leave him in Guantanamo; 41% agree with the federal government’s decision to challenge lower court rulings on Khadr case; 40% disagree, 40% think Khadr would get a fair trial in Guantanamo; 45% disagree, 38% feel sympathy for Khadr’s plight; 52% do not. Since November 2008, Canadians have been almost evenly split when assessing these two policy options. Earlier this year, two courts called for Khadr’s repatriation.
Buoyed by the split polls the federal government indicated it would challenge their decision before the Supreme Court of Canada. Angus Reid 2009) The opinions of Canadians did not change in the next poll, February 1 and February 2, 2010 with data from 1,001 Canadian adults. With very similar data to the January and August polls of 2009 with the February 2010 poll reported “40 per cent of respondents would leave Khadr to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay, while 40 per cent would demand his repatriation to face due process under Canadian law”(Angus Reid, 2010). There was no change despite the development of January 29, 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot be required to send home Khadr.However the Court found that Canada and the U.
S. have violated Khadr’s right to life, liberty and security under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Angus Reid 2010) A change in opinion was finally noted in the May 7 to May 8, 2010 survey of 1,005 Canadian adults.
The data reported “46 per cent of respondents say Khadr should be left to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay. Just over a third of Canadians (36%) think that the government should demand Khadr’s repatriation and allow him to be tried in Canada.Since February, the proportion of respondents who believed Khadr should be left to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay had increased by six points. Though many respondents did not have difficulty with having Khadr face justice in the form of a military commission at Guantanamo, a large proportion of Canadians (42%) thought he would not get a fair trial there. Over a third of Canadians (37%) expressed sympathy for Khadr, but half did not. In the February poll, 33 per cent of Canadians had said they sympathized with Khadr’s situation, another shift in opinion.
Almost half of Canadians (49%) agreed with the Supreme Court ruling, while 26 per cent disagreed. These results were similar to February 2010 data. ” (Angus Reid 2010) The July 12 and 13, 2010 poll of 1,003 Canadian adults detailed that Canadians continued to remain divided on how to manage Omar Khadr’s case. “43 per cent of respondents said Omar Khadr should be left to face trial by military commission in Guantanamo, down three points since May. Conversely, 36 per cent of respondents thought Canada should demand Khadr’s repatriation to face due process under Canadian law. http://www. angus-reid.
com/polls/39282/canadians_remain_split_on_guantanamo_inmate/ The pressure on Harper’s government was increasing with the mandate from the Federal Court of Canada giving the government one week to ensure that Khadr’s constitutional rights to a fair trial were defended. In reply, the government reported that it would appeal the Federal Court’s ruling citing a conflict with the Crown right to influence foreign affairs. (Angus Reid 2010) The government has maintained its direction while Canadians have maintained their opinions.But in the last poll of October 25 and 26, 2010 1,016 Canadians reported their unhappiness with the government’s management of Omar Khadr’s case.
While Omar Khadr pled guilty, 48 per cent think that Khadr did so because it is in his best interests. Only 27 per cent of Canadians thought Khadr entered a guilty plea because he in fact committed the acts that he was accused of. Overall, Canadians continue their even divide, with 30 per cent reporting the process was fair, and 26 per cent unfair. A large proportion of respondents (44%) were undecided in this poll.Canadians were in agreement however with 38 per cent reporting their dissatisfaction with the way the Canadian federal government, and 39 percent U. S. government managed the case and close to 36 percent also found fault with the Department of Foreign Affairs and 33 percent faulted the opposition parties in the House of Commons.
(Angus Reid 2010) Canadians, as demonstrated in the Angus Reid polls, have remained consistently divided on the Omar Khadr case despite the unending media reports, blog conversations, legal representations and protestations.The question arises as to why in this case have the opinions not changed as new information has been presented. A quick review of the political blogs following the Omar Khadr case reveals some very passionate responses to the changing scenarios faced by Mr. Khadr and the government. While these blogs cannot be considered as academic sources they do provide a window to view public opinion.
There appears to be two common perspectives on the issues brought forward in response to the poll questions, those of right-wing conservatives and those of left-wing liberals.Steven Taylor, a political commentator and policy analyst describes his view as a cold, logical conservative, “I have always believed that right-wingers act on what they know to be true, whereas left-wingers act on what they feel to be true. ” (Taylor 2008) Taylor suggests that a conservative review of the case using a ‘logical lens’ would include three facts: Omar Khadr is alleged to have thrown the grenade.
He is a Canadian citizen. All persons in custody have a right to the due process of law. His solution would be that Khadr face American justice in an American court, not a court in Guantanamo Bay.This would support our basic presumptions of innocence until proven otherwise, due process and the rule of law.
Taylor compares this position to the liberal view, which supports civil and political freedoms pointing out that it was during the liberal reign that Khadr was captured, interrogated and held. Given this fact there is an inconsistency with their current demand for Khadr’s return to Canada. Canada’s current policy concludes that any Canadian citizen found breaking US law, are tried for their crime on US soil, then a transfer to Canada is negotiated.
Taylor 2008) Angus Reid Public Opinion has provided much recent information on the public opinion on the Omar Khadr case. A review of the polls completed over the past four years has clearly shown Canadians are evenly split in their beliefs regardless of the survey questions asked. The data suggests that there are two distinct schools of thought, those who are aligned with right wing Conservative principles as opposed to those with left wing Liberal values. Despite media coverage, that on occasion has contained graphic detail, the public’s opinion has not changed.Public opinion and public policy are connected when the public’s preferences are incorporated into policy. However the public must be clear in it’s response in order to affect change in policy. In the Omar Khdar case the public reply has been divided, and a status quo policy has prevailed with the ruling Conservatives continuing according to their party ideals.
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