For the federal government ‘refugee’ is a slur

By Pat Watson Thursday February 23 2012 in Opinion
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If all that a person ever knew about refugees in Canada came from federal government pronouncements, one would have to wonder why we even have policies and programs in place to allow such ‘characters’ to enter the country in the first place.



The leading voice informing the Canadian public of the ‘scammers’ who try to pass themselves off as refugees is federal immigration minister, Jason Kenney.



With some regularity, Kenney brings us new policy adjustments that continue to narrow the doorway through which people fleeing in desperation from other countries can find a safe haven in Canada.



The main strategy is to keep characterizing refuge claimants as illegitimate. What is the aim in vilifying this particular group? To remind the faithful that this government is not going to allow good Canadian taxpayers to be taken advantage of by unwelcome outsiders.



With more than 13 million refugees worldwide, the Canadian government claims to receive one out of every 10 of about 100,000 who seek refuge each year.



In decades past when refugees were coming from Chile, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Indochina, Lebanon and Uganda, the government’s position was, by some interpretations, permissive. Yet, the generosity shown to refugees by Canada earned the country unique recognition from the United Nations 26 years ago.



But times have changed. The political ideals of this time do not resemble the recent past. With people from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Somalia and other African countries, El Salvador and other Latin American countries now seeking safety within Canada’s borders, we hear more often of the barriers being created to deny refugee status since there are so many ‘illegitimate’ claimants.



Of course, there will always be those who try to fool the authorities and make a mockery of the system, but those are the few, not the many.



However, focusing on the welcoming aspect of Canada’s refugee program is not what retains allegiance to a party that must appease the faithful, especially in an age where cynicism is being confused with prudence.



This kind of refugee-bashing offensive is so crass as to be shameful. But it works. Especially when cases such as Rwandan Leon Mugesera’s are brought to public attention. Mugesera came to Canada as a refugee in 1993 and was ordered deported in July 1996. In his effort to stay here as a refugee, his legal fight went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. He lost all appeals but, until recently, federal officials had held out on deporting him because, as an alleged war criminal, he faced death in Rwanda. In January, there was a final decision to return him to Rwanda as the death penalty for convicted war criminals has now been abolished.



Kenney’s latest announcement on policy changes regarding ‘bogus’ refugee claimants, comes just days after the deportation of Mugesera. Coincidence? Along with the ‘bogus’ description, Kenney tagged on the catchy mantra of saving taxpayers money.



Previous policy updates have included the cutting, by weeks, of the time between arrival in Canada and appeal presentation. This was hailed by some, but criticized by refugee advocates as being insufficient for preparing a proper appeal.



Now Kenney is making much of people from so-called safe countries seeking refugee status and proposes policy changes to deport them rapidly, along with persons deemed to have been brought into the country by smugglers.



Under the proposed changes, refugees from so-called “safe” countries will have to file a claim within 15 days of arriving, and will not have the option of appealing the Immigration and Refugee Board’s decision, nor accessing social services.



Any suspected of being smuggled will go straight to detention. The new changes have been described as an unprecedented dismantling of the Canadian refugee system. Also controversial, Kenney will reserve to himself the prerogative of deciding which countries are designated as safe.



Advocates lament that whatever compromises this bill had in it before the Conservatives won their majority are now gone.

The changes suggest that the immigration minister is on a mission to not only limit, but also cut, immigration.



A note on the TTC shakeup…



If outgoing Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) General Manager, Gary Webster, had been relieved of his position because of an irreparably poisoned atmosphere between TTC management and workers, the move by the TTC board might have been more palatable. But since it was about playing politics after he stood his ground on not supporting Mayor Rob Ford’s subway pipe dream, this action does leave a taint. As ugly as this all appears, there is no precedent here, but it reveals yet again the character of Toronto’s current municipal administration.


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