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Right-wing hate, the Roma people and Jason Kenney's trip to Hungary

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a tweet can be worth at least a 100 carefully crafted news releases. 

Take the following tweet, for example: "...now get them the f -- outta here cuz most are false asylum seekers. They had their free vacay, now it's time to go!"

That came from someone who styles herself as "Future Chaos @MissManiac88". It was in response to a series of tweets from Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney

Kenney has been busy tweeting about his current visit to Europe, in particular to Hungary.

The Minister's purpose in travelling to Hungary seems to be to burnish his image as a concerned and compassionate politician. 

On November 4 Kenney will receive an honourary degree from Haifa University for "his steadfast position against antisemitism, racism and intolerance..."

That honour has attracted a fair bit of negative attention from the Canadian Roma community, from elements of the Jewish community and from groups involved with refugees, especial doctors who believe Kenney's arbitrary decision to cut health benefits to refugees is having a devastating human impact.

What did the Minister learn at the Holocaust Memorial?

An Immigration Canada news release tells us that earlier this week Kenney travelled to the Hungarian Roma village of Alsózsolcam, met with Roma leaders and Hungarian government officials, visited a school in the Roma community, and engaged with the Hungarian Jewish community in various ways.

The Minister tweeted prolifically about all this. 

His tweets tell us that he thinks the students at the school are "very bright kids," that he attended Simchat Torah services at a Budapest synagogue and paid a "moving" visit to Hungary's Holocaust memorial.

Kenney didn't mention whether or not he learned about the many thousands of Hungarian Roma who perished in the Holocaust, though he does say that he had "2/ discussions about extremist forces targeting minority communities in Hungary; and about irregular migration from Hungary to Canada."

Despite that last swipe, for the most part all this tweeting seems meant to showcase the Minister's kinder and gentler side. It's almost a mini political makeover, in the manner of that newly reinvented moderate Mitt Romney.

Some of the criticism Kenney has received because of his tough stand on refugees and the Roma in particular must sting at least a little.  

And that is not to mention the outrage aroused by Kenney's fierce admirer, the out-and-out hatemonger Ezra Levant of Sun TV.  

Levant's openly hateful, borderline neo-Nazi on-air rant against the Roma is now notorious, and Sun TV has apologized for it. There is even a chance Levant may face criminal charges under Canada's hate speech laws. 

Prominent among Levant's public critics were Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger and Avrum Rosensweig president of the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee. 

The three signed a piece in the National Post calling out Levant in blunt language. They invited readers to substitute "Jew" for "Gypsy" in Levant's screed. 

The effect is chilling:

"The phrase 'Jew' and 'cheater' have been so interchangeable historically that they have entered the English language as a verb. 'He jewed me!' Well the Jews have jewed us too."

That is a direct quote from Levant with "Jew" replacing "Gypsy". It is hard to find daylight between that sort of hateful extremism and actual Nazi-era propaganda. 

Today's program is about tolerance; 'dog whistles' to bigotry come later

Although no member of the federal government has commented on the Levant controversy, it is impossible for the rebuke from three prominent Jewish community voices not to hurt. 

It is all especially awkward for Kenney given that Levant is on the committee that decided to award him the Haifa University honourary degree. 

And so, when Kenney's tweets from Hungary attracted supporters such as Ms Future Chaos, whose recommendation about the Roma is to "get them the f -- outta here" that had to be embarrassing. 

Future Chaos evidently did not receive the memo: The program for today is all about tolerance and respect and condemning bigotry. We'll be 'dog whistling' the coded, harsher messages at another more opportune moment.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Of course, Kenney is still playing both offense and defence. 

One of his tweets cites his favourite statistics, namely that 63 per cent of Roma refugee claims were abandoned and 32 per cent rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). 

Those statistics are actually two years old. 

In 2011 the acceptance rate was higher, and the total number of accepted Roma claims, 165, equaled those from North Korea. 

Today, the Executive Director of the Toronto Roma Community Centre, Gina Csanyi-Robah, reports that, for the first six months of 2012, 130 Roma claims were successful and the withdrawal rate has declined to 35 per cent.

Csanyi-Robah gives credit for the increased success of Roma refugee claimants to the hard work of agencies engaged in providing support to newcomers, such as Culturelink, St. Christopher House, Parkdale Intercultural Association, and the Catholic Cross Cultural Services.

When the new tougher refugee rules come into force later this year or early next year, things will be a lot harder for Roma seeking refuge in Canada. 

But the fact that a significant number of Roma continue to get refugee status, despite the drumbeat of propaganda directed against them as a people, is a tribute to the independence of at least some members of the IRB.

Later this week we will have more on the refugee process and the courts, stereotypes the mainstream Canadian media are perpetuating and facts they are not reporting about Roma, and a phenomenon Kenney would rather not talk about -- rising anti-Semitism in Hungary. 

 

Karl Nerenberg covers news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Donate to support his efforts todayKarl has been a journalist for over 25 years including eight years as the producer of the CBC show The House. 

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