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.