OTTAWA Canadians' tepid support for the combat mission in Afghanistan would turn icy should the Afghan government proceed with a law allowing marital rape, a new poll suggests.
A proposed family law code for Afghanistan's Shia minority would make it illegal for women to refuse to have sex with their husbands, and would require that they get approval from a male relative to leave the house.
A survey by The Canadian Press/Harris-Decima suggests 40 per cent of Canadians support the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. But should the family law code be enacted, the poll suggests opposition to the mission would rise to roughly 75 per cent.
Jeff Walker, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima, said that at that level of opposition, it would be difficult for the Harper government to maintain its commitment to keep combat troops in Afghanistan until 2011.
“This brings into very clear light exactly how tenuous the support is for this effort in Afghanistan,” he said.
The controversial code has been passed by Afghanistan's national assembly but has not yet been enacted. International outrage has forced the government of President Hamid Karzai to promise a review of the proposed law.
The review is expected to take two to three months and the Canadian government, among others, is demanding that the contentious clauses be removed. However, critics fear Mr. Karzai is simply postponing enactment until after his country's presidential election in August.
Even without the code controversy, Canadian support for the Afghan mission appears weak. The poll suggests 55 per cent nationwide oppose it.
Respondents were three times more likely to strongly oppose the mission (27 per cent) than strongly support it (nine per cent).
Opposition to the mission was highest in Quebec (71 per cent) while support was strongest in Alberta (55 per cent).
Mr. Walker said support for the mission is based — at least in part — on a belief that Canada is helping to improve the lot of women, whose rights had been severely restricted under the oppressive Taliban regime.
“If that's now off the table, I think it fundamentally changes the way many Canadians look at the rationale for being in Afghanistan altogether and these numbers just prove that,” he said.
Mr. Walker added that it may not even matter if the code is never enacted. The damage may have been done by the fact that Mr. Karzai, a supposed western-backed moderate, thought it was acceptable until an international outcry forced him to make a strategic retreat.
“I'm not even sure that backing off helps,” Mr. Walker said. “If it was politically expedient, [Mr. Karzai] seems like he would go there. That's not good for public support in Canada.”
The telephone survey of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted April 2-5 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.