"bogus" refugees and queue-jumping: stephen harper's campaign against a compassionate canada

Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946
Unpacking how this happens, and in how many ways, is our life's work. It's a topic that must be repeatedly trotted out against as a bulwark against the powerful forces that shape our world.

Right now the War Resisters Support Campaign is facing a huge crisis. A spate of war resisters have received notices that decisions are imminent in their cases. At least one person has received a date for removal. In most cases, these people have heard nothing in their cases for years. Then suddenly, everyone gets notices at the same time. Remember, refugee claims are supposed to be examined individually by an independent, non-partisan body.

Could it be that, as Harper prepares to lead Canada down the slippery slope into the newest war in Iraq, the truths told by these war resisters are just a bit too inconvenient? Does Harper need to squelch the voices that can warn the country back to its senses?

As I think about my war resister friends - people of conscience who refused complicity in destruction, torture, and murder - I think about the many ways the Harper Government, often in the person of Jason Kenney, twisted the truth about them into lies, using language as their weapon.

These linguistic sleights of hand apply not only to the US Iraq War resisters, but to all refugee claimants. Most Canadians want to believe their country is compassionate and fair. If the government flatly said, "We don't want refugees here, go back where you came from," it wouldn't play too well. Instead, the road to creating a less compassionate country is paved with lies that discredit the people who need to stay.

Three phrases spring to mind.

"Bogus refugees". Time and again, Jason Kenney characterized US war resisters as "bogus refugees". He used this terminology to sell huge changes to the Canada's refugee policies: among other things, the fast-track system that automatically rejects claimaints from certain countries that the government deems safe. In addition to US war resisters, Roma people and people from Mexico have repeatedly been characterized as "bogus" refugee claimants.

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, bogus means "counterfeit, sham, fake".

In other words, according to Jason Kenney, refugee claimants whose claims are rejected are liars. They are fabricating and exaggerating in order to claim refugee status.

The Immigration and Refugee Board can reject refugee claims for a wide variety of reasons, but a rejected claim does not imply untruths or exaggerations. I have read and transcribed several war resister refugee cases. The refugee board and the courts have upheld every one of them as credible witnesses. Not one of them was ever challenged on the basis of fact. Many of their cases document high praise from the Court or IRB Member for the honesty and integrity of their testimony.

"Clogging up the courts," and "the courts are indulging claimants in reviews and hearings."

In a democracy, this is called due process. We want to live in a country where people cannot be turfed from their homes, lose their health care, sent to prison, or sent to persecution without due process. Due process means having the facts of your case, from your point of view, heard by a court or tribunal with the power to mitigate the outcome.

We know that due process, in reality, often depends on how much money or political connections one has. We know that due process is not equal for all people. But we don't want to live in a country without due process. And we don't want due process to be characterized as an indulgence or a drain on the system. Due process is why the system exists!

"Jumping the queue." There is no queue for refugees. Refugees, by definition, flee their countries of origin under difficult, often life-threatening circumstances. For a while we were told there was a huge backlog of refugee cases awaiting review. This was a direct result of an IRB starved for resources and appointments. In other words, Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney created the backlog, then used the backlog as an excuse to turf refugees.

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Canadians seldom hear about it, but thousands of refugee claimants have been deported, often without due process. They simply disappear. Sometimes we hear that they have been killed. Sometimes we hear they have been unjustly imprisoned. But mostly we never heard about them in the first place.

In fact, the compassionate Canada that most Canadians dream of, "has been a pioneer in repelling refugee claimants from its shores".
The xenophobic rhetoric of Europe’s far-right parties seems to have seeped into refugee policies worldwide as countries struggle with the uncertainties of a growing international refugee crisis.

“The introduction of harsh anti-asylum measures frequently triggers similar actions in other states and ‘a race to the bottom’ that threatens to strip all refugees of their hope for safety,” says Peter Showler, a former chairman of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.

“Asylum policies seem to migrate across borders with notably greater ease than asylum seekers themselves,” quips Audrey Macklin, a human rights and refugee law expert at the University of Toronto.

Canada has been a pioneer in repelling refugee claimants from its shores. Since 1989, the immigration ministry has had a special “liaison officer program” that now deploys 63 officials in 49 locations worldwide to intercept suspicious travellers, monitor human smuggling rings and train foreign airlines and shipping companies to look for improperly documented passengers.

Like many other countries, Canada restricts access to its borders by imposing visa restrictions on “refugee-producing countries,” intercepting boats on the high seas such as the Ocean Lady and imposing stiff penalties on marine and air carriers that transport improperly documented migrants.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Canada has also moved to integrate its security institutions with those of the United States, conducting joint threat assessments, pooling immigration intelligence, improving and expanding joint border patrols and developing a joint entry and exit verification system to track foreign travellers throughout North America.

The overall impact has been to make it harder for refugees and asylum seekers to come to Canada. That, in turn, may actually encourage human smuggling by raising the demand for and profits of smugglers.
For more on how the Harper Government has dismantled Canada's refugee system, may I recommend re-reading a post of mine from 2011: stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy. I was going to quote from it, but I'd end up quoting almost the whole thing. Instead, please go and read it.

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I will post this link again, but if you want to help keep US war resisters in Canada, you can donate here. All amounts, no matter how modest, are very welcome.

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