Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

Kenney's critics defend refugee rights

by Hilary Beaumont

Members of No One Is Illegal defend refugee rights with a banner hung from an overpass. Photo by Hilary Beaumont
Members of No One Is Illegal defend refugee rights with a banner hung from an overpass. Photo by Hilary Beaumont
Jason Kenney speaks at the National Citizenship and Immigration Law Conference. Photo by Hilary Beaumont
Jason Kenney speaks at the National Citizenship and Immigration Law Conference. Photo by Hilary Beaumont

On Friday Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, spoke at Halifax’s Marriot Hotel as part of a national conference on citizenship and immigration law. In his speech, “Balanced Refugee Reform”, he argued for a streamlined immigration system to fast track a 60,000-claim backlog of refugee applications. His proposed process would establish a list of “safe countries”, mimicking systems found in the United Kingdom, France and Greece.

He said a panel of public servants would choose “safe countries” based on “objective criteria” such as the number of claims from each country; if a country had a large number of claims and the majority of those claims were found to be untrue, the panel would look at the country’s human rights record before declaring the country “safe”.

“Sometimes every now and then we have a large number of refugee claims from democratic countries that protect human rights, almost all of which are rejected from our system, and we need to be able to send a message to the people who organize those waves of false asylum claims that they’re not going to be able to stay in Canada for a long period of time,” Kenney said.

At 7:30 on Friday morning, demonstrators from the Halifax arm of No One Is Illegal dropped a banner off the side of an overpass near the hotel that read: “Status for refugees! Stop Bill-C11”.

The Canadian group’s criticisms of Kenney’s proposed reforms are many -- mainly focusing on the “unfair” two-tier system that would deny some applicants access to an appeal based on nationality. They are not alone; the Canadian Council for Refugees and other human rights organizations have raised similar concerns.

“Any country could be deemed safe and claimants from those countries would be treated differently,” No One Is Illegal said in a release. “Poor women, queer and trans survivors of violence have little means of entering Canada outside the refugee system.”

“It's the people who face real risks who will suffer most from these 'fast track' reforms. It makes it harder to be accepted as a refugee in Canada, which is already difficult”, No One Is Illegal member David Parker said in a release. “This erodes the whole concept of justice by allowing non-judges to determine a refugee's risk not based on the individual, but based on origin. This is discrimination, and is unacceptable for a country that claims to uphold human rights”.

Under Kenney’s proposed system, civil servants rather than independent judges would interview refugees and have the power to deny them access. The Canadian Council for Refugees has pointed out that countries currently using civil servants frequently deny refugee claims that are later overturned on appeal. But that appeal process would not be accessible for people from “safe countries”.

The minister said his system would solve the refugee claim backlog, but No One Is Illegal said the Conservatives created the backlog, which was non-existent in 2005 when the party took power. During his speech, Kenney said the number of claims fluctuates over time and has increased considerably over the last three years.

Though Kenney recently promised to expand quotas under the Government-Assisted Refugee Program and Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program by a total of 2,500 places, No One Is Illegal said he is lying, pointing to spin surrounding refugee quotas: “In December 2009, Kenney cut refugee quotas from 29,000 to 12,000,” their release reads. “That’s a cut of 17,000. Even with a 2,500 person increase, that still means a 14,500 person cut.”

A brief scrum followed Kenney’s speech with only three reporters in attendance. When asked if putting a quota on asylum approvals means inevitably denying applicants who are “bona fide”, Kenney said, “Any system you construct is gonna have to make decisions, like the legal system. Is it possible that sometimes the courts let a guilty criminal go innocent or convict an innocent person, even in the fairest judicial system in the world? Yes it’s possible, but the objective is to reduce that possibility as much as possible, to reduce human error, to have a very fair system – a system that complies with the charter of rights, a system that complies with the UN conventions on torture and refugees, and we’re absolutely certain the reforms we’re proposing do just that.”

The Geneva Convention on Refugees states that a refugee should not be deported to his or her country of origin if there is a well-founded fear of persecution, torture or death upon return.

In February, Eritrean refugee Habtom Kibraeb hung himself from a tree in Clayton Park. The former captain of his country’s military sought asylum in Canada, but his claim was denied because our country considers the Eritrean military to be a violator of human rights. Kibraeb left the military and spoke against its ideology. He said he feared torture and death upon return to his country – a fear confirmed by his suicide, not by Canada.

“We have a very fair legal system to address claims, and every single claimant says they will face perhaps torture on return to their country of origin and the system looks at the facts, they look at the credibility of the claimant, and in some cases the system says that’s not true,” Kenney said Friday when asked how his proposed reforms would decrease suicide rates among asylum applicants. “What we offer people in Canada is a fair legal system, we don’t offer them guaranteed protection because we have to make an assessment on each claim on an individual basis.”

Under the proposed system, a refugee would be assessed based on nationality first and individual asylum claim second.

When he initially proposed changes to the immigration system, the minister cited an investigative report by the Toronto Star that found corrupt consultants outside of regulatory boards were abusing the system. When asked what he would do to increase pressure on those consultants, Kenney said, “In a couple of weeks I will be coming to parliament with a bill that will broaden the regulation of immigration consultants. … We do intend to crack down on unscrupulous consultants and those who would exploit would-be immigrants to Canada and provide people with bad advice, advice to commit fraud in our system.” 

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
1025 words


This article is unfortunately really shitty

Hi there;

Just a little dismayed about this article. Umm, why is Kenney quoted so much at length? Kenney's comments are deliberately misleading. Words like 'objective criteria', 'false asylum claims': come on. Quoting him doesn't inform readers, it misinforms them.

-why does the author say the two-tier system is "unfair", she should be saying it's inherently racist.

Here's the real story. I wish you would run a story that sounded a little more like this.

* Minister of Censorship and Deportation Jason Kenney’s Record

Migrants and asylum seekers are facing greater difficulties than before
with fundamental shifts in immigration and refugee policy under Kenney.
Deportations from Canada have skyrocketed 50% over the last decade, with
13,000 deportations in the past year.  Since the Conservatives came into
in power, the number of approved asylum claims has dropped by 56%.
Kenney’s 2009 report reveals a decreasing “target” of 11,000 people to be
accepted refugees and sponsored family members. In March 2010, Habtom
Kibraeb, an Eritrean refugee, committed suicide in Halifax from fear of a
pending deportation.

Kenney’s recent refugee reforms create two tiers of refugees, establishing
a racist hierarchy based on nationality. These changes also download
financial and social support of 2,000 refugees to private organizations
and drastically limit legal avenues such as the Pre-Removal Risk
Assessment and Humanitarian & Compassionate claims available to refugee
claimants. What Kenney misleadingly declares a “much-needed overhaul” is
actually a dismantling of an already minimalist refugee protection system.
The ‘refugee case backlog’ that Kenney refers to is one that was created
by the Tories themselves through their understaffing of the Immigration
and Refugee Board. In fact, one of the few appointments that Kenney did
make to the Board is an infamous anti-gay activist, Doug Cryer.

In 2009 Kenney imposed visa requirements on Mexico and the Czech Republic,
claiming that refugees from those countries were “system-abusers”. In
December 2008, a 24-year-old woman was deported to Mexico, where she was
murdered. She had applied for asylum in Canada twice. This tragedy
occurred while Kenney was imposing visa requirements on Mexicans. In early
2010, Kenney justified the two-month long detention of 76 Tamil asylum
seekers in B.C. by falsely suggesting they were “security threats,” even
though they were all subsequently released.

As avenues for refugees and permanent residency are being slashed,
temporary worker programs have proliferated under Kenney. Since migrant
workers are always under the threat of deportation, exploitative work
conditions are endemic to such programs. Workers endure long hours, low
pay, the denial of basic entitlements, and lack of labour protections.
Permanently Temporary: this is the immigration model that corporations
dream of. More people are now admitted to Canada under Temporary
Employment Authorizations than as permanent residents, further eroding the
myth of a benevolent Canadian immigration policy. In October 2009, the
federal government proposed major changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign
Worker Program. One regulation limits most workers to a term of four
years, after which a six-year ban will be imposed before these workers can
return to Canada.

To ensure a constant state of fear and vulnerability within non-status and
migrant workers, Kenney has also overseen at least 8 work-place raids in
Ontario, where Canadian Border Service Agency officers have stormed farms,
factories, and homes. The largest immigration raid took place in April
2009 when over 100 non-status and migrant workers were arrested, detained,
and almost half were deported within 48 hours without even basic access to
legal counsel.

In addition to significant policy changes, Kenney has defended a series of
oppressive comments that have deeply influenced public discourse:
• Based on his roots in the conservative Canadian Tax Payers Federation,
Kenney declared that he wanted provincial governments to curb social
assistance – already grossly inadequate – to refugee claimants.
• He wants to get tough on immigrants who do integrate or speak the
colonial languages of English and French.
• He has said that he will not tolerate refugee claimants who are “bogus”.
He is currently the subject of a Federal Court inquiry on whether such
statements have interfered with the independence of the Immigration and
Refugee Board.
• He supports Quebec’s Bill C-94 that discriminates against women who wear
the niqab (face veil) by denying them essential public services including
health and education, thus perpetuating gender inequality by forcing
Muslim women not to wear certain clothes.
• He spoke against a UN report documenting poverty, discrimination, and
racial profiling in Canada.

Such comments and beliefs are not simply harmless free speech. In 2009,
Kenney introduced a new citizenship guide which listed the obligations of
citizenship as including getting a job. Notably omitted is mention of the
rights of lesbian, gay, and trans people. It was later revealed that
Kenney had deliberately removed LGBT references from the guide. The guide
does, however, make ample room for Canada’s military history and a
recruitment advertisement.

Kenney has also played a key role in influencing foreign policy by:
• Labelling Iraq war resisters as bogus refugee claimants.
• Barring British MP George Galloway, because of his opposition to the
military occupation of Afghanistan.
• Pulling Canada out of the Durban World Conference Against Racism even
before the apartheid state of Israel did.
• Cutting ESL funding to the Canadian Arab Federation due to their
involvement in pro-Palestinian efforts.

It’s time to give Kenney the boot – Fire Kenney!

Upset to see this kind of biased article on the media coop

I am really disappointed to see an article on this issue that would be practically indistinguishable from an article in the corporate press--in fact, I think I have seen much more grassroots and fair coverage of this issue in the mainstream news. I'm actually really surprised, and upset, that this was considered to have met the media coop's editorial policy: 

'"Grassroots" means that for each topic we cover, we talk to the people directly affected by policies or activities first. Once a journalist thoroughly understands the story of those directly affected and has time and resources left over, she brings their questions to those making the decisions: politicians, corporate executives, and so on'.

It appears that this journalist did exactly the opposite--and to make matters worse, did so by relying almost exclusively on one of Canada's most hated politicians.

Quoting Jason Kenney--someone who has consistently made anti-immigrant, racist comments, and whom grassroots groups consider the worst immigration minister in recent history--at such length without any kind of thorough consideration of the arguments against him (or, from the sounds of it, even interviewing a critic) is not only bad journalism, but is also extremely detrimental to the struggles of refugees and migrants who are denied any kind of justice in the country.

At any rate, I just wanted to say that I was considering becoming a member of the Coop, but I found this article disgusting and will have to reconsider.



Why I wrote the article this way

(This comment is from the author.)

I have a strong bias against Jason Kenney. I'm currently researching and writing a story about how his immigration policy affects refugees and asylum seekers with mental illness. I'm not impressed by his policies. My attempt to balance the article may therefore have been overshot because I was worried about showing my bias. I will certainly try to do better next time.

However, quoting him directly means he is accountable to what he has said. I was there to cover his speech. I'm writing a larger story about the issue that will use his quotes in context. I did not have time that day to find an asylum applicant to tell her or his story.

I posted this story after reading a press release from No One Is Illegal that was published as an article on the Halifax Media Co-op. I thought the two articles would run side by side, thus balancing the issue for readers.

I would also point out that I was not paid for this article. This was voluntary, as are all but two of my Media Co-op stories. For a reader to say they reconsidered membership because of an article that was not financially solicited is ludicrous. Volunteer writers are hard to come by, and under-appreciated. When I read comments that criticize unpaid work in a way that is not constructive, it makes me reconsider writing for the Media Co-op. Please research the model you were considering funding before attacking volunteer authors.

A note from a member of the HMC editorial committee

 Thanks to all for your comments. Although no article is perfect, the HMC strives to be a relevant source of grassroots and underreported news for the Halifax region. In this case the author reported on a speech and action that were not at all mentioned in the mainstream media, and brought attention to local angles on the national issue of 'refugee reform'. 

The HMC prioritizes in-depth examinations of grassroots issues, such as the ones seen here and here by the same author, for example. At present we have the budget to pay for one such article per month; the rest of the content is produced by volunteers. As our sustainer base grows we hope to finance more investigative content.

The commenters above - especially the first, who presents what appears to be well-researched criticism of Kenney's record - are encouraged to submit their own content to the HMC website. (That's a serious invitation, not a sarcastic one!) Check out the contributor guidelines section and/or e-mail hillary@mediacoop.ca or ben@mediacoop.ca for more information.

Ben Sichel


I read Hilary's article. It's

I read Hilary's article. It's fine for a news article. She obviously put a decent chunk of work into it, and I know she didn't intend in any way to prop up Canada's fucked and racist immigration system, and I don't see how she did that. I would have gone about it differently, but if I actually was trying to write a news article, I wouldn't be able to veer too far from the model -- I've tried in the past, but with frustration . As soon as you make an argument or take an obvious political position, it's not considered a news article anymore, but "opinion" whether or not it's full of facts. 

I think the crux of the issue here are the limits of a "news" article. I've brought up the point before in different words. I personally don't do "news" articles because I do not see the value in placing limitations on the content I'm trying to put forward. I operate in the same manner with my radio show. That's how I roll. However, there has been a certain amount of societal conditioning that has validated the model of modern journalism, which I think has amounted to a problematic rejection of "emotional sounding" content. So, unfortunately, there is a place for "news"  (groan)  because that's what a lot of people are looking for.   

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.