Kenney’s office plucked emails from petition to target gays

Posted by admin on Sep 25th, 2012

By Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — For many who received an email from Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney about gay refugees on Friday, the message raised one important question: How did he know I’m gay?

The bulk email sent from Kenney’s MP’s office to thousands was titled “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Refugees in Iran” and began with the salutation, “Friend.”

It proceeded to trumpet steps taken by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the Conservative government to protect the rights of gay and lesbian refugees, especially those coming from Iran.

Among the recipients was Meredith Richmond of Peterborough, Ont., who, to her knowledge, had never had any contact with Kenney’s office before. She had no idea how Kenney got her personal Gmail address and seemed to know about her sexual orientation.

“It felt really targeted at me,” she said. “I’m not a supporter of the Conservatives.”

In fact, Richmond and several of her friends who received the same email had become data points in the Conservative party’s ongoing drive to identify and reach out to minority and special-interest groups, an effort pioneered by Kenney to great success in the last election.

While Richmond had never directly emailed Kenney’s office, she was one of nearly 10,000 people who electronically signed a 2011 online petition supporting a gay artist from Nicaragua, who was then facing deportation.

Alvaro Orozco had been turned down for refugee status because he couldn’t prove he was gay but was eventually given permanent resident status in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Toronto community organizer and former NDP candidate Michael Erickson posted the petition on the website

Whenever someone “signed” the petition, the site automatically sent a form letter by email to Kenney’s office with the signatory’s reply email address.

It appears those thousands of messages were harvested by the email program in Kenney’s office and saved for later use.

Kenney’s press secretary says only people who contacted the office received the email on refugees.

“This email was sent in response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues,” said Alexis Pavlich in an email.

Erickson says he has mixed feelings about Kenney’s use of the petition he created to build an emailing database of people interested in gay immigration issues.

He says he never had any response from Kenney’s office last year, when Alvaro faced deportation.

“To be ignored for the year, then to get a piece of propaganda, is disrespectful,” he said.

But Erickson said that people who received the email had clearly consented to a reply and obviously had an interest in issues surrounding the protection of LGBT people who come to Canada from other countries.

He says Kenney’s office should have explained to people why they were getting the note.

“As a government that has not been very friendly to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights, they could have saved themselves from causing some concern.”

The message of Kenney’s email was not welcomed by all recipients.

Ariel Troster of Ottawa said she had written to Kenney’s office about gay immigration issues several times so was not alarmed to get his email. But she called the message an example of “homonationalism” — the belief gay people are politically united by their sexual orientation.

“It was a pretty desperate attempt,” said Troster, who is on maternity leave from a communications job with a labour union.

“I think he had a lot of gall. People from our community are not voting Conservative.”

On Facebook on Monday, some reacted angrily to the email.

“None of us have ever signed up to receive emails from your office and we wonder how our names ended up on your propaganda spam list,” wrote Johannah May Black of Toronto in an open letter to Kenney.

“Your most recent campaign is a poor attempt at ‘pinkwashing’ the Conservative government’s obvious desire to encourage war with Iran,” she wrote.

The Conservatives have targeted written messages at minority communities in the past, most notably using direct mail lists to send out greetings to Jewish voters on religious holidays.

Some Jews were perplexed to receive Rosh Hashanah greeting cards from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007. They were not Conservative voters or donors and, like the gay and lesbian recipients of Kenney’s email, wondered how the party got their addresses.

The Tories said the mailing lists of Jews were assembled from community directories, free publications available to the general public, or word of mouth from friends and relatives.

But some recipients were alarmed by the prospect of the government assembling lists based on ethnicity or religious beliefs.

“I didn’t live through the Second World War, but I’ve read enough and heard enough to know that the thought of a list of Jewish people makes people cringe,” said one recipient at the time.

But while some may have been disconcerted, the Tories last year won many of the ridings they had famously targeted as “very ethnic” and ripe to be poached after years of Liberal hegemony over ethnic voters.


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