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This might be why there’s no election over Afghan detainee documents

.. because if this poll is correct, the electorate is overwhelmingly for human rights and for following international law:

A solid majority of Canadians believe prisoners detained by Canadian soldiers have been tortured after being transferred to Afghan authorities, a new Ipsos Reid poll suggests. Pollster John Wright said Canadians are saying they “care deeply” about the possibility of detainees being tortured after Canadian soldiers have transferred them to Afghan custody. “They’re saying it’s not proper, it should have stopped and, if it didn’t, somebody should have done something about it,” he said.

Almost eight in 10 surveyed said that, assuming transferred detainees were tortured by the Afghan authorities, the actions are “wrong, and once known should have stopped.” (Only) One in five, or 19%, agreed with the statement that torture was “just fine because this is war and this sort of thing happens”.

A couple of bloggers at the National Post will be dismayed to see those polling numbers, I suspect, but I’m very heartened if this is the case that Canadians do care whether we follow international law, and they think turning people over to be tortured (innocent or guilty) is morally unacceptable.

Most folks surveyed in this poll also believe that the Canadian government was aware that detainees were being turned over and tortured by the Afghan authorities:

In the poll, most of those surveyed said that if torture was happening, they believe government officials, politicians and Canadian Forces personnel knew about it. More than half — 52% — said they believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew what was going on, and the same percentage said they believe individual soldiers knew it was happening, according to the poll. However, a much larger majority — 75% — said they believe senior Canadian military officials would have known that transferred prisoners were being tortured. Sixty-five per cent said they believe the minister of defence had to have known, and 66% said they believe the Defence or Foreign Affairs Department were in the know.

A hat-tip to HarperBizarro for the poll, though I’m not so sure of his conclusions that Harper will soon be going to an election with these numbers in mind. It would be my opinion that Harper should hesitate mightily before going to an election over this issue if the public feels the way it does. The only reason he’d go to an election over this (and obviously after refusing to obey the Speaker’s order and being found in contempt of Parliament) is as Andrew Coyne has stated that there is something so monstrous in these documents that they will do anything in their power to avoid being compelled to release them. In that case, they’d try to run a fear monger/smear campaign against the opposition parties about “not supporting the troops/trying to compromise national security”, but that approach doesn’t seem to have worked so far with public opinion, and I have my doubts it would in an election campaign.


17 comments to This might be why there’s no election over Afghan detainee documents

  • Josh Easton

    In the logic that Harper will use that the opposition are endangering or not supporting the Canadian troops I’d like to bring up this point.

    In a world where it is public knowledge that Canada sends their prisoners of war off to get tortured and even killed, how will this bode for any of our troops unlucky enough to be captured by our enemies?

  • ck

    Something to be noted: Steve and the Harpercons do have a lead over the Liberals, and that is pretty much unanymous in all polling firms.

    I’m sorry, but if you asked your neighbour what they thought of this… as I’ve asked my co-workers: Taliban prisoners don’t score high points.

    It’s time for the Liberals to concentrate more on that red book. Nik Nanos mentioned something interesting on Question Period yesterday: the party with the clear direction will win the majority. I fear that he probably also means, even if the party has the evangelical far right Christian policies in their blue book. They would vote for thayt blue book because there is no red one or yellow one or any other party with concrete policies and ideas.

    If Nanos and other pundits were wrong, the anybody but Harper campaign would be wildly successful.

    Pundits in both Canada and the U.S. say this as well.

    The latest poll numbers would certainly reflect this.

    If you want to fight Harper, we can’t turn this into a contest of which kool-aid can we ram down those majority Centrist Tim Horton’s crowd first?

    The Taliban are not a sympathetic bunch to the Timmy’s crowd. I didn’t invent this; this is fact.

    I, for one, am terrified of a McVety/Harper kingdom, aren’t you?

    • @ck, I’m not terrified enough to advocate the opposition parties go completely spineless on the Speaker’s ruling and capitulate to Harper, as you seem to be advocating. We need to find out what happened over there, and if Harper wants to threaten an election and decides to go to one rather then show them, I say so be it.

  • No way I buy these results. There’s a massive response bias to the question, only people with the reddest of necks would admit to liking torture. If this was an issue the political polling numbers would reflect it, they don’t. Always trust derived over stated importance.

    • @Shiner, It would have been nice to have seen a followup poll question asking if they supported the Speaker’s ruling or not.

      • ck


        A problem with many of these polling firms is the wording of their questions; how do they phrase them? Only die-hard shock jock bloggers like Girl on the right would say torture is just fine; actually, in her old podcast, she gave a more enthusiastic and colourful ‘analysis’ ‘it’s fun to torture…’ . Christie Blathering Blatchford told the driveguy on CJAD awhile back that it was impossible to have a proper war without some torture happening.

        Time for me to play Devil’s advocate again.

        Shiner is right: most rednecks with some impulse control are not going to admit outright that torture is a good thing. However, ask them if they cared about the treatment of Afghan detainees? Or Should Canada be held responsible for turning them over, knowing they could be tortured? Hell, the most entertaining answers to a question I onced asked, is if they realized that either torturing the detainees or turning them over knowing what would happen goes against the Geneva Conventions? Well, I dare you to ask those questions, phrased in exactly the ways I suggested above, everyone you know and so on…I guarantee, the anwers you get may shock you.

        Polling firm should have asked if the troops were to be worshipped and protected at all costs, because they risk their lives for us. Maybe we don’t necessarily believe in that hero worship for the troops, but ask a lot of ordinary folks at random and they will tell you they do.

        Fact is since 9/11, racism, particularly against those from the middle-east is on the rise. (And no, in my case, it wasn’t even French separatists; it was the Anglophones from the west end of Montreal for the most part).

        The other thing to remember: GW Bush won his second term in office by keeping America scared of Muslim boogie men under the bed and that only he can keep America safe.

        Since Steve takes all of his plays from GW Bush’s playbook, including having Ari Fleischer on his payroll, I can see Steve framing an election campaign based on Afghan detainee documents and how only he and his god fearing MPs and friends can keep Canada safe from the `brown hethens’

        I still maintain that Steve can get his majority over this. Iggy knows this. I wonder if the NDP knows this as well, as they’re not exactly pushing for the enforcement of Milliken’s ruling neither. Come to think of it, more and more, I do wonder about the NDP and what they’re up to.

        • @ck, Sorry ck, I know you’re pushing the “let’s capitulate on this so thatHarper doesn’t get his majority” but I reject that entirely. I think the public would reject it too,and this poll supports that.

  • I’m not sure I follow the logic, Scott. The opposition can bring down the government and force an election. So far, they’ve backed down every time and allowed Harper to continue ruling as if he had a majority. Rather than a reason why there’s no election, this poll should serve as a reason why we will have an election… unless the opposition knuckles under to Harper once again. All the talk of an extension to the documents deadline seems to indicate that the opposition is allowing Harper to continue to stall like he’s been doing all along. Harper’s been the one threatening an election to keep the opposition at bay and his threats have worked every time.

    Harper simply doesn’t care what a majority of Canadians think. He needs only about 35% to form a minority and recent experience shows that minority status doesn’t impede the CPC from advancing its agenda. A majority of MPs voted to comply with Kyoto. Harper ignored the vote. A majority of MPs voted to implement the Kelowna Accords. Harper ignored the vote. A majority of MPs voted to allow US war resisters to stay in Canada. Harper ignored the vote. A majority of MPs voted to have unrestricted access to detainee documents. Harper ignored the vote.

    Harper’s shown time and again that he’s a bully who doesn’t respect the will of the majority of Canadians but our weak-kneed opposition has let him do exactly what he wants. He may be bluffing but nobody seems to have the guts to call his bluff.

    • @JimBobby, You can’t follow my logic? Harper has been making noises, or his party has – that he would rather force an election then turn over documents.. and he thinks he can runas “Captain Canada” and smear the other parties as threatening national security and not supporting the troops. This poll massively rejects that strategy as working… so THEORETICALLY, he should look at those #’s and decide maybe it’s better to turn the docs over.

      As I said, if there is something so terrible in those docs that it would destroy the government, then he may follow through anyhow.. but I think the strategy by the opposition not to threaten election over this has been the right one. Let the battle be between Harper and the Speaker/Parliament, not the other opposition parties.

      • Ottlib

        “Let the battle be between Harper and the Speaker/Parliament, not the other opposition parties.”


        If the Opposition makes too big of a deal about this they just reduce it to a partisan issue which will be largely ignored by the greater electorate.

        The Opposition needs to strike a balance in order to make this issue meaningful.

        As well, if the Opposition pushes too hard they will be open to accusations that they really do not care about the documents at all but just using them as a political football. I am assuming that this is not the case and that they are genuine in their desire to see the documents. If that is the case they have to negotiate in good faith even if their negotiating partner may not be so inclined. They can do that because they still have the Speaker’s order in their pockets to use if they finally grow impatient with Conservative stonewalling.

        Again, balance is needed.

    • ck

      Well, no, not quite: if not for an opposition and a minority situation; our financial sectors would have been deregulated like in the U.S., abortion and I also, believe birth control would be illegal, we would still continue the war indefinitely, way past 2011, what’s left of our universal health care system would have been long decimated and the American health care system would be in full swing here.

      Do you really want to entertain a Harpercon majority, even now since the Nancy Ruth incident and the previews of Marci McDonald’s new book coming out?

      Perhaps we should be showing more support and being more interactive with our opposition, try writing opposistion MPs, anything, but sitting back and whining that they’re not strong enough and when they do, we lambaste them for it.

      My even bigger question as of late is where is the NDP in all this? In any issue really, they too are not only caving into Harper, but I get the feeling they embrace him more than Iggy even could. NDP has a lot less to lose, because they will never ever govern. Logic would dictate that they try something.

      After listening to Megan Leslie on Question Period yesterday, after the gun control commercial, I got the idea that she blamed Kirsty Duncan more than she blamed Mullet-head Hoeppner for the divisions in Canada over gun control.

      I have been saying, if it were not for Steve holding fast to a Harpercon kingdom, that the NDP would go to bed faster with Steve than with Iggy. Call it a strange vibe, but…

  • And you can be almost 100% sure that 19% are die-hard Conservative supporters/apologists…

    • TofKW

      @WesternGrit, Oh I have no doubt who that 19% is. They would support Harper all the way to The Hague if it would come to that. I just wished we were better than this. Canada is nowhere near the country we thought it was.

      • @TofKW, Still, that’s slightly less than 1 in 5 who hold those reprehensible views. I agree that it would be nice if 100% of Canadians rejected torture. It’d be nice if 100% of politicians told the truth and were accountable for their actions. It would be especially nice if a party that got 37% of the vote wasn’t allowed to operate as if it got 100%.

        • ck

          It would be especially nice if a party that got 37% of the vote wasn’t allowed to operate as if it got 100%.

          Good, then the only way to achieve that is to lobby for manditory voting on election day. I too, would be very interested in the results. It would answer a question I try to guess everyday; have most Canadians embraced the Evangelical Right?

  • TofKW

    Actually, I’m rather concerned with that 19% that think torture is “just fine because this is war and this sort of thing happens”.

    Ya I suppose this sort of thing does happen with regards to the Nazis, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Red army back in WW2. I just thought Canada was a step above these types?

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