Canadians reject war if civilians put at risk
By SHAWN MCCARTHY
Saturday, September 22, 2001
Nearly half of Canadians would oppose joining a U.S.-led international war on terrorism if it would expose civilians here to terrorist attacks, a new Globe and Mail-CTV-Ipsos Reid poll reveals.
The survey, done this week, found that 73 per cent of Canadians favour joining the United States in its battle against terrorism. But support plunges with the prospect of civilian casualties here. In that case, 43 per cent of respondents say they would oppose joining a war on terrorism.
Canada's ambivalence contrasts sharply with the war fever in the United States, where polls show 85 per cent support for action on terrorism.
"Canadians support a war on terrorism until they have to fight one," Darrell Bricker, Ipsos-Reid's president of public affairs, said. "When you talk about what it takes to wage a war, the numbers just crash."
U.S. polls show 80 per cent support military action, even if it means increased taxes, oil and gas shortages, less money for education, a prolonged economic recession, more terrorist attacks in the United States and reinstituting mandatory military service.
In Canada, support for a war on terrorism led by the United States is strongest in Ontario and Alberta and weakest in Quebec, where only 31 per cent support a war on terrorism if it would expose Canadians to terrorist attacks.
The poll comes as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien prepares for his meeting on Monday in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush, who is trying to build an international coalition for his all-out struggle against the terrorist networks that attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11.
Mr. Chrétien has been criticized by opposition leaders for his cautious response to the terrorist attacks. The Prime Minister has committed Canada to stand with the United States, but has not committed troops or announced specific actions to tighten internal security or to combat global terrorist networks.
Mr. Bricker said Mr. Chrétien's so-called "balanced approach" reflects the ambivalence among Canadians.
"Mr. Chrétien has read the public mood quite well," he said.
The Ipsos-Reid poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians between Sept. 17 and Sept. 20 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
It found that 74 per cent of Canadians support Mr. Chrétien's handling of the crisis, even though there has been criticism from opposition MPs and pundits for his low-key approach.
Men are far more supportive of the war against terrorism than women, the poll suggests.
Some 79 per cent of men said they support a war on terrorism, with a significant majority, 63 per cent, supportive even if it resulted in terrorist attacks on Canadians.
Only 68 per cent of women support Canada's involvement in a war on terrorism led by the United States.
That drops to just 43 per cent if it would result in terrorist attacks in Canada.
In his meeting with Mr. Bush, Mr. Chrétien is expected to offer limited, and largely symbolic, military assistance.
He will make a commitment to working closely with the United States on intelligence, to cracking down on the funding of terrorist organizations and he will outline what Canada is doing to ensure it is not seen as a gateway for terrorists looking to stage attacks on the United States.
Opposition leaders have slammed Mr. Chrétien for being slow to act.
"The Prime Minister's reaction to the foul and evil acts of terrorism perpetrated against the United States, and Canadian citizens, has been ponderous and ambiguous," Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day said in a release yesterday.
Progressive Conservative House Leader Peter MacKay said the government has cut those security agencies that are crucial to protecting Canadians.
"Canadians demand leadership at this time," Mr. MacKay said. "Are additional resources being allotted to protect our country and meet our obligations so that we can truly stand shoulder to shoulder with our American allies?"
With the images of devastation in Manhattan still fresh in their minds, Canadians feel vulnerable to terrorist attacks and more than half are prepared to give police more power to fight terrorism, even if it means having their own phones tapped and their mail and e-mail monitored.
The majority of respondents, 60 per cent, said they are not confident that the government is capable of preventing terrorist attacks here.
And 55 per cent of respondents believe there are international terrorists now living in Canada who are "just waiting to attack Canadian civilians."
As a result of that unease, a majority of Canadians would be prepared to give police and security services more power to fight terrorism at the expense of civil liberties. Nationally, 53 per cent were prepared to trade privacy for security, ranging from a high of 61 per cent in Ontario to a low of 41 per cent in Quebec.
Canadians lack support for war on terrorism
QUESTION: I'm now going to read you some statements about last week's terrorist attacks and the United States' declaration of war on terrorism. For each one, I'd like you to tell me if you strongly agree, somewhat agree, strongly disagree or somewhat disagree. The first one is: We should join the United States and also declare war on international terrorism.
B.C Alta Sask./Man Ont Que Atlantic Total
somewhat agree 72% 86% 72% 79% 59% 82% 73%
somewhat disagree 28 14 27 20 40 16 26
Don't know - - 1 1 1 2 1
Of the 73 per cent of people who strongly or somewhat agreed, the following question was asked:
QUESTION: Would you still be prepared to join the war if you knew that it could expose civilians in Canada to attack by terrorists?
B.C Alta Sask./Man Ont Que Atlantic Total
Yes 85% 78% 81% 79% 53% 80% 74%
No 14 20 19 20 45 20 24
Don't know 1 3 - 2 2 - 1
QUESTION: Would you say that you approve or disapprove of our Prime Minister Jean Chretien's handling of issues related to the terrorist attacks that took place in the U.S. last week?
Strongly/somewhat agree 74%
Strongly/somewhat disagree 22%
QUESTION: I am confident that the Government of Canada and its security services are capable of preventing terrorist attacks in Canada.
Strongly/somewhat agree 39%
Strongly/somewhat disagree 60%
QUESTION: I believe there are international terrorists within Canada who are just waiting to attack Canadian civilians.
Strongly/somewhat agree 55%
Strongly/somewhat disagree 43%
QUESTION: I would be prepared to see our police and security services get more power to fight terrorism, even if it means that they might tap my phone, open my mail or read my personal e-mail.
Strongly/somewhat agree 53%
Strongly/somewhat disagree 46%