Jason Kenney's most memorable assault on U.S. war deserters seeking refuge in Canada occurred soon after he became immigration minister in October 2008.
Kenney dismissed them as "bogus refugee claimants," a phrase that set off loud alarm bells among the deserters’ supporters because it was more loaded than anything said before by his Tory predecessors in the job.
The phrase cannot be found in more than 300 pages of department briefing notes, e-mails and other documents relating to the issue obtained by Canwest News Service under Access to Information legislation.
Not surprisingly, the language in the documents, including background briefing notes for the minister and his parliamentary secretary written by bureaucrats, is decidedly more neutral than the words chosen by the Calgary firebrand.
Still, the underlying message in the printed material dating back three years is there is no appetite for intervening politically to do for Iraqi war deserters what Pierre Trudeau did for Vietnam War draft dodgers and deserters in 1969, when his government laid out the welcome mat for both groups. There also is nothing in the documents that suggests the issue has spurred any debate within government ranks.
In a memorandum to Kenney in February, Richard Fadden, his then-deputy minister, provided a thorough review of the issue that, among other things, laid out why all Iraqi war deserters’ claims for refugee status had failed so far with the Immigration and Refugee Board, the Federal Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal.
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Supporters of the deserters admit they are discouraged, but they vow to keep pressing the government to show some compassion before more get eviction notices.
Immigration critics for the opposition Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois sent a joint letter to Kenney on Friday asking him to halt all deportations and to respect the "will" of Parliament, which has approved two motions calling for permanent resident status for the "war resisters."
"We urge the government to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations," the letter said.
Two deserters have been forced to leave already and are serving jail sentences on desertion charges.
A handful of others could follow soon as they exhaust their legal options. Among them are Jeremy Hinzman, the first deserter to file for refugee status in Canada in 2004; Kimberly Rivera, the mother of three young children, one of whom was born in Canada; and Phil McDowell, an Iraqi war veteran who fled to Canada in 2006 rather than accept a call to report back to base as a reservist for a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, says about 50 deserters have applied for refugee status and there are dozens more living below the radar, waiting to see how the legal and political battles play out.
Robidoux said Kenney's comments have tainted the Immigration Refugee Board process.
"How can it possibly be an independent body when a Minister of the Crown is saying they are bogus refugees?" she said.
If you live in striking distance of the Calgary Herald's base, will you take a few minutes and write a letter to the editor? Call on the Government to respect the will of Parliament and Let Them Stay. Tell them it's the Canadian thing to do.
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