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.
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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?
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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.
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Update. See additional, important information in comments.
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