Getting the facts straight on Kenney’s story

Posted by admin on Feb 16th, 2011

By Jim Creskey, Embassy Magazine, Feb. 16 2011

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney launched a rant against the judiciary last week in which he blamed the country’s judges for delaying the removal of failed asylum seekers. Anyone reading the newspaper articles that were written after the speech would have seen numerous legal and refugee experts criticize the minister’s remarks, particularly his apparent failure to understand how Canada’s legal system works. Well, anyone who didn’t read the edited version of *The Globe and Mail*report that was posted on the minister’s own website. Mr. Kenney’s site “reprinted” the *Globe* story by Joe Friesen with the same headline that appeared on the paper’s site, “Minister scolds judges over delays, inconsistency in refugee cases.” It also displayed all of the minister’s comments. But it left out several paragraphs that quote critics of Mr. Kenney’s speech.

One of those critics was former Progressive Conservative immigration minister Ron Atkey who said the speech Mr. Kenney gave to law students at the University of Western Ontario “was not Jason’s finest hour,” although he did say that apart from the rant, Kenney had done some great things in the past.

Members of the legal community who were quoted in the real version of the * Globe* story were much less diplomatic. Sharryn Aiken, a Queen’s University law professor, called the speech “a lot of hot air,” saying that she didn’t believe judges would be swayed by it. But she did worry that Mr. Kenney was playing up anti-refugee rhetoric.

“More broadly it creates a chill in the political climate vis-a-vis respect for refugee rights,” she told the *Globe*.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman was quoted as saying the speech betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the legal system.

“This is something Canadians should be deeply concerned about because it really suggests that this minister doesn’t fully appreciate the role the courts play in our constitutional process,” he said.

The *Globe *story also offered some perspective on the problem that was missing in Mr. Kenney’s version, namely that of the hundreds of thousands of immigration decisions taken every year in Canada, only a little more than 1,000 received leave to be heard by the Federal Court. No wonder the minister’s website did more cutting of *The Globe and Mail* than it did pasting.

The minister may see the Federal Court as an obstacle to the changes that are being wrought on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and particularly the refugee division. But many Canadians would disagree, recognizing the court as a last resort of decency in a system that has steadily closed in on itself.

Here’s the real picture:

– The number of refugees now admitted to Canada has been slashed over the past year by nearly 10,000 people.

– Refugee boardmembers, whose single-handed judgments are literally life-and death decisions, must count on the minster for their appointments and re-appointments. Are they not well aware that their boss frequently talks about “bogus” refugee claimants being “queue jumpers?”

– A plethora of broken families and hearts are on the way as deep cuts to family reunification visas are expected this year. The cuts were not made public but were discovered in a recent access request by a Vancouver lawyer.

– Millions of dollars of funding to Ontario immigration service organizations that were already stressed has been cut.

– The government’s purported “anti-human smuggling legislation,” Bill C-49, will hurt refugees more than smugglers with its plan for detention centres, and other mean-spirited punishments for smuggled refugees.

The immigration minister is dogged these days by the many Canadians who are alarmed by the things he says and the way his department is being run. Churches, immigration and refugee supports groups and now the legal community are lining up to ask the Harper government to reconsider its refugee policies. So far they are getting the cold shoulder.

Mr. Kenney has called criticism of his policies meaningless because, he says, it comes from left-wing ideologues and immigration lawyers who grow fat on the system.

It’s an unfair statement. Immigration and the fair treatment of refugees is hardly a partisan issue. At least until now, as the Harper government’s refugee and immigration policy try to turn it into a wedge issue.

But what kind of wedge?

The people who have asked the government to rethink its hardened stance are hardly leftists or bleeding hearts. For the most part they are compassionate Canadians dedicated to the idea that if a country doesn’t do its best to care for the most vulnerable, it has little to be proud of.

What government in its right mind would want to create an election wedge issue that would pit compassionate Canadians against, what? Hard-hearted Canadians?

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