By Norma Greenaway
June 29, 2009
OTTAWA Jason Kenney's most memorable assault on U.S. war deserters
seeking refuge in Canada occurred soon after he became immigration
minister in October 2008.
Kenney dismissed them as "bogus refugee claimants," a phrase that set
off loud alarm bells among the deserters' supporters because it was
more loaded than anything said before by his Tory predecessors in the job.
The phrase cannot be found in more than 300 pages of department
briefing notes, e-mails and other documents relating to the issue
obtained by Canwest News Service under Access to Information legislation.
Not surprisingly, the language in the documents, including background
briefing notes for the minister and his parliamentary secretary
written by bureaucrats, is decidedly more neutral than the words
chosen by the Calgary firebrand.
Still, the underlying message in the printed material dating back
three years is there is no appetite for intervening politically to do
for Iraqi war deserters what Pierre Trudeau did for Vietnam War draft
dodgers and deserters in 1969, when his government laid out the
welcome mat for both groups. There also is nothing in the documents
that suggests the issue has spurred any debate within government ranks.
In a memorandum to Kenney in February, Richard Fadden, his
then-deputy minister, provided a thorough review of the issue that,
among other things, laid out why all Iraqi war deserters' claims for
refugee status had failed so far with the Immigration and Refugee
Board, the Federal Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal.
Fadden wrote that, whereas the UN High Commission for Refugees
Handbook suggests a relevant factor to consider in a refugee claim is
whether a deserter was drafted or joined the army voluntarily,
deserters now coming to Canada from the U.S. had volunteered for
Fadden recently named the new head of Canadian Security
Intelligence Service also said the deserters have failed to make
the case that the punishment they face back home for desertion could
be regarded as persecution.
Other notes say refugee hearing officers have been advised to be
"particularly vigilant" about refugee claims from such western
democracies as the United States.
Kenney is the third Tory immigration minister to reject calls to
establish a special program to facilitate permanent resident status
to those who deserted the U.S. military to escape a war they say they
cannot support on moral or religious grounds.
Supporters of the deserters admit they are discouraged, but they vow
to keep pressing the government to show some compassion before more
get eviction notices.
Immigration critics for the opposition Liberals, New Democrats and
Bloc Quebecois sent a joint letter to Kenney on Friday asking him to
halt all deportations and to respect the "will" of Parliament, which
has approved two motions calling for permanent resident status for
the "war resisters."
"We urge the government to show compassion for those who have chosen
not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United
Nations," the letter said.
Two deserters have been forced to leave already and are serving jail
sentences on desertion charges.
A handful of others could follow soon as they exhaust their legal
options. Among them are Jeremy Hinzman, the first deserter to file
for refugee status in Canada in 2004; Kimberly Rivera, the mother of
three young children, one of whom was born in Canada; and Phil
McDowell, an Iraqi war veteran who fled to Canada in 2006 rather than
accept a call to report back to base as a reservist for a 15-month
deployment to Iraq.
Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support
Campaign, says about 50 deserters have applied for refugee status and
there are dozens more living below the radar, waiting to see how the
legal and political battles play out.
Robidoux said Kenney's comments have tainted the Immigration Refugee
"How can it possibly be an independent body when a Minister of the
Crown is saying they are bogus refugees?" she said.
Kenney accuses his critics of politicizing the process by asking for
a political solution rather than trusting Canada's "fair,
internationally recognized" system for providing refuge to those
fleeing persecution in their home country.
Patricia Molloy, a university professor and activist with the support
campaign, said she was so frustrated by Kenney's intransigence that
she rejigged a visit to Europe to make a side trip to Oslo, Norway to
organize a "small, peaceful protest" to coincide with Kenney's
attendance last week at an international conference aimed at
enhancing education about the Holocaust.
In an e-mail sent after she talked to Kenney, Molloy said she told
the minister she applauds the government for finally recognizing
Canada's historical failure to protect Jewish refugees from crimes
against humanity but that she can't understand why it is "failing to
protect refugees who refuse to commit crimes against humanity in Iraq."
Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Kenney, objected to linking the Iraqi
deserter issue to the Holocaust.
"There is no similarity between the Mackenzie King government's
refusal to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust with our
unwillingness to create a special program for American war deserters
trying to flee the Obama administration," he said in an e-mail from Oslo.