Either Immigration Minister Jason Kenney misled the public two years ago or he’s misleading us now.
Whichever it is, he has a credibility problem and we have a trust problem.
In 2010, he introduced the Balanced Refugee Reform Act after extensive consultations with refugee groups, human rights activists and immigration lawyers, and fruitful negotiations with the opposition parties. The legislation streamlined the refugee system without sacrificing Canada’s tradition of fairness. It was widely praised by his colleagues and critics.
Kenney hailed the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois for proposing affordable safeguards for rejected refugee claimants. “We found very reasonable compromises,” he said, calling it a “win-win” example of parliamentary collaboration.
Last week, he tabled a new version of the bill, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act. The safeguards were gone. The balance had disappeared.
“Canada’s asylum system is broken” he said, defending his new bill. “Too many tax dollars are spent on people who do not need our protection.”
Under his latest plan, Kenney told Parliament, refugee claimants from countries he considered safe would be fast-tracked. They’d get a decision within 45 days. If it was negative, they’d be removed from the country immediately, even if they sought a judicial review by the Federal Court. (Under the current process, with its multiple court appeals, it takes 1,038 days. Under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, slated to take effect in June, it would have included one appeal and taken 171 days.)
“We need to send a message to those who would abuse Canada’s generous asylum that if you are not in need of protection, you will be sent home,” he explained.
It is as if his previous attempt to fix the problem had never happened.
How can the minister responsible for the fate of 12,500 refugees discard a piece of legislation he extolled 20 months ago? How can he dump a solution the government never tested?
The practical answer is easy: Kenney belongs to a majority government now. He does not have to accommodate the views of the opposition parties or anyone else.
But his behaviour raises bigger questions:
• How much confidence can Canadians have in a minister who changes his position with the political winds?
• How willing are we to see Canada’s immigration system used to crack down on unwanted foreigners? It’s not just refugee claimants. Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews are conducting a manhunt for foreign war criminals living in Canada. Kenney is revoking the citizenship of new Canadians accused of making false statements to immigration officials. And Canada now detains all refugee claimants suspected of links to human smugglers. These measures are expensive. They divert resources from the department’s primary job: dealing with people who have applied to live in Canada.
• How do we feel about compelling Muslim women to lift their niqabs as a condition of Canadian citizenship?
• How comfortable are we with the wider changes Kenney is making to Canada’s immigration system? So far, the minister has increased the intake of foreign temporary workers. He has reduced the number of spots allotted to parents and grandparents of new Canadians. And he has set a cap on the number of economic immigrants admitted each year, barring those without either a job offer or skills Canada needs.
Through both words and actions, Kenney is transforming the face Canada presents to the world.
The sad thing is that he is the most competent immigration minister the country has had in 20 years. The 43-year old Calgarian is knowledgeable, hard-working and he actually wants the job, unlike most politicians. He has implemented some long overdue reforms. And he has made an extraordinary effort to reach out to a number of ethnic communities.
But skill and dedication can be used to build or tear down. Kenney’s recent actions have divided the nation and diminished Canada’s reputation for tolerance and compassion.
Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.