Canadians balk at Iraq war
Allan Thompson
PROUD AND SAD: Ryerson student Erica Basnicki, 22, will read out the names of Canadians lost at Ground Zero at Wednesday's memorial ceremony in New York. Her father, Ken Basnicki, is third on the list.
OTTAWA — Support for Canadian participation in George W. Bush's planned war on Iraq is plummeting, a new Toronto Star poll says.

Only 38 per cent of Canadians favour joining a U.S.-led attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the poll conducted by Ekos Research Associates in late August shows. Forty-four per cent oppose participation and another 18 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

In January, 52 per cent of Canadians supported participating in military action against Iraq, 26 per cent were opposed and 22 per cent were either ambivalent or had no opinion.

The poll shows that one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Canadians, who supported the war in Afghanistan, are beginning to move on.

The new poll numbers come as Bush meets Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Detroit today as part of the U.S. president's campaign to drum up support for extending his war on terrorism to Iraq.

The Ekos poll, conducted for The Toronto Star, CBC and Radio Canada on Aug. 26-28, gauged the mood of Canadians in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It included more than 1,200 interviews of Canadians 18 years of age or older and is considered accurate within 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

While 54 per cent of Canadians still regard the attacks on New York and Washington as events that have profoundly changed the world in a permanent fashion, 44 per cent said that despite the terrible tragedy, life goes on and the world will be pretty much the same.

"I think for the most part, you could say Canadians already have moved on," Ekos president Frank Graves said. "The over-all view is this has been a world-altering event, but it is history. The over-all sentiment is one that we're leaning more towards, `We're moving on.'"

That said, there is a "kind of sadder, more sombre view, that really bad things like this can actually happen and not just in other places."

But on the anniversary of the attacks, negative emotions were not prevalent, Graves said.

"I was surprised how low some of the negative emotions figured in this. So the sense of fear, or the sense of hate or retribution, seemed to reckon really quite insignificantly," he said. Instead, positive values of resilience, community, preparedness and confidence have come through, he said.

The poll dealt with a range of questions touching on the impact of Sept. 11 and the government response, perceptions of risk, threat and security and public attitudes toward immigration and Canada-U.S. relations.

"The key thing that we see here is that Sept. 11 and the looming anniversary has had a profound impact on Canadian society," Graves said. "On the other hand, there is also no question that the effects are considerably smaller, less cataclysmic, than people had thought in the immediate aftermath."

With each passing day, fewer Canadians feel as if the events of Sept. 11 have deeply and permanently changed their lives. Levels of economic confidence, support for immigration and the sense of personal risk have all gone back to pre-Sept. 11, 2001 levels. In fact, support for immigration is slightly higher than it was before that date, the poll found.

But one disturbing finding was a significant backlash against Arabs and Muslims, Graves said.

"A new sense of us-versus-them seems to characterize our view of the Islamic or Muslim world," he said. "Although general attitudes to immigration and tolerance have not been affected, specific attitudes to Arabs and Muslims have clearly been affected, in a negative fashion."

Graves said that people don't usually like to admit in a survey that they have negative feelings toward other people, which makes the findings on attitudes to Arabs and Muslims all the more striking. "So I think it is impressive and probably disturbing to note that 37 per cent of Canadians think that they have more negative feelings" toward Muslims and Arabs since Sept. 11, he said.

Attitudes about Canada's complex relationship with the United States have also changed since Sept. 11 and the mood of Canadians toward their neighbours to the south is much less warm and fuzzy than it was in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.

The immediate effect of Sept. 11 was an unprecedented sense of shared interests, values and solidarity, "almost a sense of embarrassment that Canadians felt about any residual American antipathies that had been one of the cornerstones of Canadian national identity," Graves said. But in the year since, "we have seen a gradual erosion of those positive feelings."

Right after Sept. 11, a clear majority of Canadians were in favour of a North American security perimeter and integration of the military.

"All of those things have softened as time goes on. We see a reassertion of Canadian sovereignty and perhaps a little recollection of some of the concerns that Canadians have about Americans and their treatment of Canada," Graves said.

Women are much more likely to feel a sense of sorrow and sadness on the anniversary of the terror attacks, while men are evenly split between sharing those emotions, and feelings of confidence and resolve.

Canadians now want their government to devote more energy and resources to issues that fell off the agenda after Sept. 11, Graves said. "Issues that were inflated — certainly security and defence — they have basically come back to where they were. The focus on health, education, managing the economy, the environment, all of these things are much more important."

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