Conservatives shore up populism on Omar Khadr, par Supriya Dwivedi, 20 juillet 2017
Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, 30, is seen in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday, July 6, 2017.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
COMMENTARY: Conservatives shore up populism on Omar Khadr
Polling suggests that a majority of Canadians have some level of discomfort with the settlement between Omar Khadr and the federal government. It is not surprising that Conservatives would try to seize this moment to galvanize their base or try to maintain their edge in fundraising over an unpopular, yet legally sound settlement. Politics can be gross and trying to purposefully obfuscate the details of the Khadr saga and settlement in order to further misinform the Canadian public is perhaps the grossest display of partisan politics.
Conservative MPs have been busy writing scathing opinion pieces for the Wall Street Journal, appearing on Fox News, as well as other American outlets, and filming incredibly bizarre videos decrying “fake news” in Canada. All of this to condemn the Khadr settlement, which as they see it, is both an egregious miscarriage of justice and an affront to victims of terrorism.
The message is clear: Conservatives care very deeply about victims of terrorism, especially if those victims are young children who had their father taken away from them tragically early, as is the case of the Speer family. This is why Tories made such an effort to bring attention to and ultimately contact the families and children of Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, and Azzeddine Soufiane – three of the six men who were gunned down in a Quebec City mosque for being Muslim back in January of this year, each of whom left behind young children.
Oh, wait. You mean Conservatives didn’t publicly show their grief regarding the children of those men? There was no tweeting of crowdfunding links or constant trotting out names of widows and children in statements made about the shooting at the mosque?
I would try to feign surprise at this, but the reality is that the Conservative Party and its operatives are at a very dark junction right now. It may be good red-meat politics to keep the Khadr settlement narrative in the news, but that narrative can only go on for so long, especially when the narrative has slowly devolved from taking issue with the settlement itself to basically defending the practices at Guantanamo.
Remember how the Conservatives hinged much of their election narrative on niqab bans during citizenship ceremonies? Polling consistently demonstrated that it was an incredibly popular idea, and extended beyond the Conservatives’ core base.
But we don’t even need to limit this to Conservatives, as both the NDP and the Parti Québécois have made similar mistakes. The NDP’s position on the controversial overarching security bill, Bill C-51, was popular in the leadup to the last election, and the PQ’s position on banning “ostentatious” religious symbols was well received by the Quebec electorate as well during the 2013 campaign. None of the parties ended up in power by framing much of their campaign on seemingly popular policies.
There are lots of reasons for this, and there is seldom one singular explanation for any one political party losing an election. Further, there are all sorts of reasons to hammer home a message that doesn’t have to do with elections two years down the line. But this also points to something much more troubling with our politics.
By touting polling numbers to justify their opposition to the Khadr settlement, the Conservatives are letting Canadians know that certain minority rights are up for debate, discussion and eventual dismantling should they prove to be politically unpopular. The niqab and barbaric cultural tip line debate resonated so deeply with minority communities for the simple reason that it demonstrated Conservatives were willing to delve into xenophobic rhetoric if its popularity was quantified by polling. What would start with Muslims would not necessarily end there.
We may lull ourselves into a false sense of security by highlighting the fact that Kellie Leitch ran a disastrous leadership campaign wherein she garnered less than 10 per cent of the overall vote. The main front-runners of the Conservative leadership campaign, as well as the eventual winner Andrew Scheer, were not nearly as blatant in their messaging when it came to dog-whistle politicking, but they certainly maintained a base level of open hostility towards certain groups.
For example, Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost the leadership, railed against what he called militant multiculturalism, which I can only assume wasn’t a reference to forthcoming Diwali dreidels. And as I’ve noted before, almost all of the leading candidates for the leadership were staunchly opposed to voting in favour of the motion that would have condemned Islamophobia, which took place mere weeks after six Muslim men were killed for being Muslim men.
It’s true that Canada has been able to stave off a lot of the more overt vitriol we have seen in many other Western democracies, but it’s not as if right-leaning campaign operatives and alt-right media outlets aren’t trying their damnedest. The Conservative narrative regarding the Khadr settlement is just another sad example.
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