Immigration minister’s comments on war resisters draw fire

In a Global TV news story aired on January 7, Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney referred to Iraq war resisters seeking refugee status in Canada as “bogus refugee claimants”.

The minister expressed frustration with the former U.S. soldiers, stating that they were “adding to the backlog and clogging up the system” with refugee claims that are “rejected consistently 100 percent of the time”.

Kenney’s comments fired up Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Council for Refugees, which both wrote open letters to the minister about his statements.

In a press release today (January 9), Lee Zaslofsky, coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, said: “Everyone, including war resisters, has a right to expect their applications will be dealt with in a fair and impartial matter. Minister Kenney’s comments show the Harper government has a blanket policy of opposition to all war resisters which makes it nearly impossible for them to be treated on a ”˜case-by-case basis’ as our government has been leading Canadians to believe they would.”

Amnesty International explained its concerns about the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s ability to make unbiased decisions about refugee claims. The group stated: “In order for the IRB to maintain its reputation for impartiality and fairness it is vital that it be free of any appearance of political interference.”

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies was equally disturbed by Kenney’s comments. In a phone interview with the Straight, Davies called the minister’s remarks “disastrous” and accused the Conservatives of ignoring a NDP motion that was passed 137-110 last June in the House of Commons with the help of the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois.

The nonbinding motion read: “The committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.”

In an e-mail to the Straight, Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s spokesperson said: “It’s our position as a government that, generally speaking, military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally-accepted meaning of the term.”

When asked to clarify the term refugee, he responded: “In determining whether refugee status can be awarded, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Handbook calls for consideration of whether a resister was drafted or joined the army voluntarily.”

However, UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77 states that “persons performing military service may develop conscientious objections” and thus have the right to object to military service, whether or not they initially volunteered for it.

Earlier this week, Kimberly Rivera, a female soldier who refused to be redeployed to Iraq and fled to Canada in 2007, was ordered to return to the U.S. after her request to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected.




Jan 9, 2009 at 11:24pm

It is unfortunate for war resistors to have their claim denied. It is even more unfortunate for the Canadian people, when the minister responsible for war resistors cannot see the forest for the trees. It is obvious that Jason Kenney has little, or no knowledge regarding the history of US war resistors. The US government is always at war with someone, right or wrong. That is their choice. By the same token, it is the choice of any citizen, of any country, to decide that they do not want to fight their countries wars. They should be entitled to go somewhere where they are entitled to live their life. I always hope that we have evolved to the point where we can solve our differences by meaningful discussion. It is sad to see that this is not so. We are burdened by our past. If people cannot learn to live life, for life, we are doomed. The mindset of the people that have control of our current situation is inadequate in regards to solving the problems of today. We are stuck with the present government, and it is scary.

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Jan 10, 2009 at 9:31am

As the writer below noted, the US is always at war with someone. But what if we let all disgruntled soldiers from all wars to come to Canada? We would be overrun by thousands of individuals from everywhere who have age-old and recent unresolved conflicts. At the end of the day, these individuals joined the US military, and are subject to its laws. If they now regret or have a problem with this decision or entity, they should fight it in the US. They should challenge the system, not seek to thwart it or circumvent it. Then, pending an outcome, they should be allowed to emmigrate to other countries. The Canadian government can, and perhaps should, grant an exemption to permit these people to emmigrate to Canada, but this should be AFTER they've resolved their conflicts / issues through the appropriate courts. Frustrated and disgrunted warriors are not typical refugees and granting them amnesty / automatic admission demeans other more deserving or legitimate ones. I wish the claimants well in their battle with the military courts, but this is a US military issue and should be resolved in the US and through their military courts. There are enough supporters south of the border to monitor this process, which is after all, a process that these individuals agreed to respect when they joined the US military in the first place. As for Canadian politicians, there are certainly some other and bigger issues to focus on here and closer to home. Yes, the Conservatives are a bunch of louts and tools, but in this instance, their message is correct, even if their messenger is a righteous dufus.

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Jan 13, 2009 at 8:32am

Bravo Minister Kenney! Sending these so called refugees back home will allow Canada to accept more Bonafide refugees from other countries, who face real persecution at home.

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