7.17.2009

my canada includes a just and generous refugee system

I've been trying to write about the latest Jason Kenney outrage, but I'm so angry and appalled that it's been difficult to organize my thoughts.

The Harper Government continues to try to remake Canada in the image of the United States, in ways which offend the majority of Canadians. Emboldened by lack of serious dissent from the Official Opposition, they creep ever outward on their social conservative limb, away from core Canadian values.

The latest version of this comes in the form of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney lashing out at refugee claimants and changing the rules of entry for Mexicans and Czechs. Kenney points to a large backlog of refugee claims, and the small percentage of claims accepted from these countries, as proof of the claimants' lack of validity.

But where did the backlog of claims really come from?

The Harper government created a shortage of staff on the Immigration and Refugee Board when it failed to replace retired Board members and to appoint new members. The inevitable backlog was a direct result of the Government's own inaction. Indeed, the backlog was predicted by the chairman of the IRB at the time.

Now, instead of appointing additional IRB staff to process refugee claims in a more efficient and timely manner, Mr Kenney slaps sudden new visa restrictions on the Czech Republic and Mexico. This makes it more difficult for potential refugee claimants - and tourists, family members and other travelers - to enter Canada.

Meanwhile, Roma people who are experiencing horrendous and increasing violence in the Czech Republic, and Mexicans who are targets of gang-related, drug-related, homophobic and sexist violence, have one less potential avenue of escape. One less place to try to live in peace.

Note this from the Globe and Mail's story on Kenney's defense of the new visa rules.
Toronto immigration lawyer Max Berger, who has acted for 400 Roma claimants over the past two years and said he was retained last week by a Roma woman who had two swastikas carved into her back by neo-Nazis, said the minister was taking Canada back to the days when it closed the door to Jewish migrants trying to flee Nazi Europe. He called it shameful.

"The visa requirement will prevent Roma refugees like her [his client] from reaching Canada to seek protection," Mr. Berger said. "It shuts the door on genuine refugees and tarnishes Canada's refugee program and reputation in the eyes of the international community."

When I interviewed refugee lawyer Alyssa Manning for this story, Alyssa spoke of a gap between the information the IRB will have on any given country and the reality of that country on the ground.

The IRB has something called a National Documentation Package on the conditions in each country. The Package includes reports from groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Refugee Board's own research, and other evidence, including whatever the claimant can submit. Frequently, however, there is a gap between the information in that Package and reality.

For example, the IRB now takes the position that Mexico is a safe country. But refugee claimants from Mexico have experienced horrendous state-sponsored violence - kidnapping by police, rape, torture - all kinds of atrocities. There is much evidence that Mexico is sinking into a morass of lawlessness, violence and corruption.

I know one refugee claimant from Mexico. He is gay. For this he has been beaten repeatedly, and his life has been threatened. When he went to the police to report the beatings, the police threatened him at gunpoint. He was told to leave town and never come back. He left his village and tried to live in hiding in another town. Rumours of his homosexuality spread, and his safety was again threatened.

This young man has filed a refugee claim in Canada. Since Kenney's statements prejudicing his claim and the claim of every person from Mexico, he has lost all hope.

I hear from his friends that he is on the brink of suicide.

The refugee claims of US war resisters fall into this gap as well. According to the IRB, the war resisters have all the benefits of due process and a justice system at their disposal. But even if we are to accept that the US is a democratic country governed by the rule of law, the US military is a separate entity. There is a process called a court martial, but there is nothing resembling justice.

* * * *

Of course it's not only Mr Kenney's most recent statements and actions that are fueling my anger. These statements about refugee claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic must be seen in context.

Several months ago, I compiled a list of the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-democratic, racist actions and inactions of the CIC under Minister Jason Kenney. It wasn't an exhaustive list, but here's what I got off the top of my head.
  • Kenney cut government funds to the Canadian Arab Federation, because they express support for Hamas and Hezbollah, which Canada classifies as terrorist organizations. Nowhere have I seen the government accuse the CAF of being a terrorist organization, only that they express support for the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people. That is censorship. That is bigotry.

    The CAF itself has an active immigrant settlement program, including an English as a Second Language program...

  • So naturally, Kenney declared that immigrants who don't speak one of Canada's official languages "well enough" should be denied citizenship.

  • Banning British MP and peace activist George Galloway was outrageous...

  • But it was also in keeping with the government barring entry to other peace activists, most notably Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin, which has been going on for two years, and continues to this day. Ann Wright was scheduled to speak at the opening session of a student peace conference at Toronto's Ryerson University, just before George Galloway's scheduled appearance. Wright appeared by video, because she is denied entry into Canada.

  • The government's continuing denials of an emergency passport to Abousfian Abdelrazik (Canadian citizen) is maddening and indefensible...

  • ...but completely in keeping with its refusal to bring home Omar Khadr (Canadian citizen) - while somehow managing to get Brenda Martin (Canadian citizen) back in Canada. Why is that, I wonder?

  • Deporting war resisters, against the will of Parliament and the majority of the Canadian people, also falls under this category. War resisters oppose a racist war of aggression. War resisters represent peace, and the vision of an international world not divided by racism, nationalism and hatred.

    There are many ways to finish the sentence, "Jason Kenney should resign because...". What am I missing?

  • * * * *

    The problem is not refugee claimants from Mexico or the Czech Republic, who seek peace and a good life in Canada, and whose contributions can help Canada be a stronger, more prosperous and more tolerant country. The problem is a Government that doesn't value a tolerant and multicultural Canada.

    Last year on the floor of the House of Commons, we heard French-speaking Canadians scorned as "filthy separatists". Canadians with Arab-sounding names and brown skin who experience trouble abroad cannot look to their home country for help. Canadian citizens who may be executed by foreign governments are similarly out of luck. Refugees are a drain on the system. People who refuse to fight in immoral wars are no longer welcome.

    Theirs is a vision of a white, Anglo, Christian, heterosexual Canada, where women stay home and raise children in traditional families, soldiers die in foreign wars, and where anyone who doesn't fit the mold - immigrants, queers, Muslims, francophones - knows their place. Second class.

    * * * *

    Update. See additional, important information in comments.

    15 comments:

    L-girl said...

    Hi CIC! Miss me?

    redsock said...

    Harper, Kenney, et al. continue to do whatever the fuck they want -- and why not? Why should they give a rat's ass if a majority of Canadians are against what they are doing?

    They know no one will stop them.

    The NDP and the Bloc cannot bring down the government. The Liberals must be willing to do so, too. And as we have seen, the Liberals are not going to do anything to stop Harper. They are enjoying their coalition government with the Conservatives.

    Any tough talk from Ignatieff, when it even exists, is quickly followed up with a wimpering apology for speaking out of turn.

    David Heap said...

    Thanks for this important post L-girl! To say that there is frequently a "gap" between National Documentation Packages and reality is a mild understatement in my experience. Back in the last millennium when I worked as an interpreter at the IRB, these packages were frequently prepared with an explicit eye towards the Foreign Affairs ministers' current view of the country in question and its current relationship to Canada. For example, since Canada was then moving towards free-trade with Mexico, that meant that the Mexico file could not by definition contain anything too damning about the Mexican government's human rights record. If credible documentation from e.g. Amnesty was included showing the ghastly things the Mexican government did and does to some of its citizens, it would "balanced" by some fluffy source (news editorials, or whatever Ministry staff could dig up) creating the appearance of doubt on the real facts about that country. The government lawyers or Case Presenting Officers then only had to argue "Can we really be sure...?" and bingo, the claimant's case was seriously (often fatally) undercut.

    A perfectly circular reasoning ("Canada has or wants to have good relations with your country and we surely don't approve of human rights abusers, so you must not come from a country with real human rights issues"), then as now.

    Good lawyers representing refugee claimants (then as now) had to go to extraordinary lengths to get a sufficient body of credible information on the record to counter the barrage of deliberate obfuscations of reality regularly spewed by the Ministries (both Immigration and Foreign Affairs).

    And my time there was under a previous Conservative government, when the worst of the Board members were Mulroney's patronage appointments -- often incompetent and uncaring, but not necessarily ideologically vicious like some of the recent Harper appointees. And then there were two members sitting to decide each claimant's fate back then, now just one... Things can only have gotten worse now, with a Minister who is so obviously biased that the whole system must surely be poisoned.

    David Heap said...

    And while I of course agree with Redsock's take on the current Liberals under Ignatieff, it should be recognised that under the Chrétien Liberals there were a number of excellent IRB appoints in the 1990s: smart people with both the competence and compassion to get a lot of smart and progressive rulings (including e.g. sexual orientation as a grounds for fear of persecution). These are IRB members (of course) being driven out (or simply not renewed) under Kenney, and replaced with ideologues (including virulent homophobes). Any expectation of a fair hearing at the IRB must be vanishing fast...

    L-girl said...

    David, thank you very much. I updated the post to direct readers to comments.

    I'm aware of the influence of trade and political relationships on refugee cases (obviously that's a big factor in the US war resisters' cases). But I don't have direct knowledge of it - and not enough hard facts to write about it. So I'm very glad to add your experience and perspective to this.

    L-girl said...

    And while I of course agree with Redsock's take on the current Liberals under Ignatieff, it should be recognised that under the Chrétien Liberals there were a number of excellent IRB appoints in the 1990s:

    If the Liberals would harken back to Chretien and the Conservatives would jettison the influence of the Reform Party, we'd be in much better shape. I don't think anyone here is knee-jerk anti-Liberal. If only the Liberals would be liberal!

    David Heap said...

    Note to L-girl's CIC "friend": don't forget to send some e-mails to your counter-part at DFAIT about the country background packages they cook up over there.

    I am alternatively amused and flabbergasted at the resources wasted in various ministries monitoring the public.

    M. Yass said...

    Oh, and let's not forget who's really to blame - Michaelle Jean. I lost all respect for her when she set a horrible precedent by allowing Harper to prorogue Parliament to avoid a confidence vote. Someone should tell her that her job involves more than jeting the world in her designer duds.

    Say what you will about Obama, the Americans were able to get him over Bush. Now it's their turn to laugh at us. After all, even with our vaunted democratic institutions like the confidence vote, we can't get rid of a guy who doesn't have the support of 2/3rds of Canadians.

    L-girl said...

    Oh, and let's not forget who's really to blame - Michaelle Jean. I lost all respect for her when she set a horrible precedent by allowing Harper to prorogue Parliament to avoid a confidence vote.

    She shares some of the blame, but she is not "really to blame". If the Ignatieff Liberals cared about making change, they have had ample opportunities to make it, including continuing to back the coalition govt.

    "Someone should tell her that her job involves more than jeting the world in her designer duds."

    She clearly knows that. She is doing her job. We may not like what she did (I don't either) but she's not misusing her job in any way, and she doesn't jet around the world any more than any other GG.

    "Say what you will about Obama, the Americans were able to get him over Bush."

    No, they did not. They got Obama over McCain/Palin.

    "Now it's their turn to laugh at us."

    When Obama brings in single-payer health care (which he won't), pulls the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan (which he won't), and gives all Americans equal relationship rights (which he won't), USians can laugh at Canada if they must.

    The point is not who gets elected, it's what the elected person does. The fact of Obama's election itself proves very little, and changes even less.

    Cornelia said...

    I can't stand Kenney and his Republicans North!!! And women staying home...hell no!!

    Cornelia said...

    That's cool that you worked as a translator, too, David! Wow, great!

    Cornelia said...

    And thank you for the insider info!

    Cornelia said...

    it should be recognised that under the Chrétien Liberals there were a number of excellent IRB appoints in the 1990s: smart people with both the competence and compassion to get a lot of smart and progressive rulings (including e.g. sexual orientation as a grounds for fear of persecution).

    Yep, that was a vital improvement. Good job indeed on their part. I couldn't agree more.

    Cornelia said...

    The CIC might find all our posts interesting as well as unpleasant, haha!!

    geek guy said...

    the new refugee system" will end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.
    we will have to see how that gos.
    I hope Harper, Kenney, don't win at all!!