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Hill Dispatches

karl nerenberg's picture
Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

Canada is poised to give comfort to 'hateful, xenophobic nutbars'

| December 1, 2012

The Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, had some pretty tough words on Friday for a country he has, in the past, described as a “liberal democracy” that “respects human rights.”

At a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, Kenney said that during a recent visit to that country he noted “a very disturbing rise of xenophobic extremism.”

He told reporters he was very disturbed to hear accounts from members of ethnic and religious minority communities about “expressions of hatred and xenophobia” and was “deeply concerned” about the actions of  neo-Nazi political extremists he referred to as “crazy and hateful xenophobic nutbars.”

The Minister added, pointedly, that he “had very blunt discussions with counterparts” in that country’s government, telling them they “should use every possible measure, not only to protect the minority communities, but also towards the social inclusion” of one particular minority community.

The Minister’s take-away from his visit echoes what human rights organizations, and such bodies as the Council of Europe, have been saying for years.

More recently, those folks have been joined in their cries of alarm by the likes of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress.

Less than two weeks ago, Lauder wrote:

“The return of an ideology that many thought was a thing of the past is spearheaded by [an] extremist . . .movement and its allies. It seems to have shifted the political epicenter, despite the fact that [the extremist movement] is an opposition party. And some of [the extremist] ideology seems to have found fertile ground in mainstream politics.”

The country at issue is Hungary, as you may have guessed.

And despite of all of these expressions of alarm and concern, on December 15 Canada will almost certainly declare that Hungary is a safe “Designated Country of Origin”.

That designation will mean asylum seekers from Hungary will face an extremely foreshortened process and will have almost no chance of being accepted as refugees in Canada.

Removing an irritant in Canada-Europe trade negotiations

Kenney made his surprisingly blunt and candid comments about Hungary at the end of an event staged to announce the government's plans to implement the refugee reform Bill C-31, which Parliament passed last spring.

The reform C-31 ushers in is multi-faceted, and, to give the Government its due, does do some good.

Notably, C-31 takes the salutary step of setting up a professionally-staffed “Refugee Appeal Division”.

That body will give asylum seekers who get turned down by the Immigration and Refugee Board (made up of political appointees) a chance at a fact-based appeal.

But C-31 denies that right of appeal to refugee-claimants from countries designated as “safe.”

The government has already telegraphed that it wants to name all European Union countries as safe. To do otherwise would put a major spanner in the works of the current Canada-Europe Trade Agreement negotiations.

In fact, Kenney said on Friday that when the new measures come into play, Canada will be able to lift the visa requirements on the Czech Republic, a requirement which was imposed to stem the tide of Roma from that country seeking refugee status in Canada.

Lifting that visa will make Europe very happy, and eliminate one serious irritant in the trade agreement talks.

Moving within Europe not really an option

Hungary is, currently, the main source of Roma refugee claimants to Canada, and until not too long  ago the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) tended to view these claims favourably.

However, after the Minister characterized the Roma as “bogus refugees,” a little more than two years ago, the acceptance rate -- surprise, surprise -- went way down, at least for a while. It has picked up somewhat recently, perhaps because of the deteriorating human rights situation Kenney himself has noted in Hungary. 

The government and its supporters claim Hungarian Roma who fear persecution or violence from an ever-growing army of extremists can move to any of 28 countries in Europe.

Sadly, that is not quite true.

The European Union (EU) has created some odd legal fictions about itself, one of which is that being a member of the EU means, a priori, that you respect human rights. The EU, thus, stipulates that citizens from one member country may not seek or be granted refugee status in another members country, with no exceptions.

People can move freely from country to country in the borderless EU, but may not necessarily be able to stay.

Hungarian Roma, for instance, can de-camp and move to another EU country if they wish. But, if they do not find work in that other country, they’ll most likely be kicked out after three months.

Tragically for the Roma -- who, as Kenny acknowledged, have faced persecution for generations -- Canada had seemed to be their best hope for some kind of reasonable and normal life.

For Roma from mostly homogeneous, “white” Hungary, life in multi-coloured, multi-cultural Toronto is almost like a dream come true. They feel they have found a safe place where they don’t stick out and walk around with targets on their backs.

Of course, some of the entrenched European bigotry toward “Gypsies” has crossed the Atlantic -- see under “Levant, Ezra: hatemonger extraordinaire”. 

It was refreshing, on Friday, to hear the Minister, for once, acknowledging how awful life is for so many Roma in Eastern and Central Europe.

Major concern among Jews these days, as well as Roma

It seems that his trip to Hungary had an impact on Kenney.

In part, this may be so because, of late, race hatred in Hungary has been aimed not only at the 800,000 Roma but at that country’s more than 100,000 Jews.

If the Roma don’t count politically to this Conservative government, the Jews definitely do.

This Conservative government’s efforts to curry favour with Canada’s Jewish community, strategically concentrated in a number of key urban federal ridings, are well known. 

Canada’s no vote on the Palestinian membership question in the U. N., earlier this week, is only the latest example of that. 

Given that political contingency, Kenney might want to pay careful heed to what the President of the World Jewish Congress had to say about Hungary, very recently.

“Some of the news that has come out of Hungary in recent months and years is alarming,” Ronald Lauder wrote, “The situation of Jews in a country can be seen as a bellwether. We are particularly sensitive to nationalistic and chauvinistic tendencies.”

Lauder went on to describe some specific disturbing incidents:

“Earlier this year, the 89-year-old former Chief Rabbi József Schweitzer was accosted near his home in downtown Budapest by a man who swore at him and shouted ‘I hate all Jews.’” 

“Last year, the mayor of Budapest -- a member of the prime minister’s party -- appointed a radical nationalist as director and a well-known anti-Semite as intendant of the Új Színház theater. The prime minister refused to intervene.”

“Meanwhile, uniformed groups are parading through the streets of towns across Hungary, with torches in their hands. It is no coincidence that the symbols they wear on their uniforms remind many of that of Ferenc Szálasi’s fascist Arrow Cross Party. The return of an ideology that many thought was a thing of the past is spearheaded by the extremist Jobbik movement [which garnered 17% of the vote in the last Hungarian national election] and its allies."

The World Jewish Congress leader then expressed solidarity with Hungary's Roma people: 

“Whereas Jews seem to be always a ‘natural’ target for such hateful ideology, the situation in Hungary today is even worse for the Roma. They not only face similar resentment and are collectively defamed as a group of ‘criminals’. They are also almost constantly harassed, with violent thugs attacking innocent people.”

Finally -- Kenney’s view that the Hungarian government is doing what it can about the situation notwithstanding -- Lauder concluded by telling the Hungarian conservative-nationalist Prime Minister, Victor Orban, he is failing to do what he must:

“The time has come for the Prime Minister to clearly position himself against nationalists and extremists who want to do away with liberal democracy. Mr. Orbán must not only speak out loud and clear against those who agitate against Roma and Jews and other minorities. He must also take effective measures to rein them in.”

Granting  a country the ‘safe’ designation can have significant, if unintended, consequences

If the World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder’s words were not sufficient to give the Canadian Immigration Minister pause, he might want to consult recent news reports on a Hungarian Member of Parliament’s proposal that Hungary’s Jews should be registered on lists as “threats to national security.”

Or, Kenney could consult the respected German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, which just days ago, explained how Hungary’s extreme right Jobbik Party – the party, to use Kenney’s words, of “nutbars” – has successfully pulled Orban’s respectable, governing Fidesz Party into race-hate territory.

 “In reality,” Der Spiegel reports, “Fidesz has moved ever closer to the positions of the right-wing extremist Jobbik party, partly to lure voters from the right and partly out of conviction. In September, Prime Minister Victor Orbán held a blood-and-soil speech on Hungarian values that bordered on right-wing extremism in the southern Hungarian village of Ópusztaszer on the occasion of a memorial dedication. In May, Hungarian Parliamentary President László Kövér took part in a memorial for the writer József Nyírö, who was a leading cultural ideologist for the Arrow Cross. In Hungary's current national curriculum for its schools, the works of several anti-Semitic authors are listed as recommended reading.”

The unavoidable truth is that granting safe Designated Country of Origin status to any country will not be a mere technical administrative matter.

It will inevitably have far-reaching political consequences.

There can be almost no doubt that the minute Canada bestows the honour of “safe” country on present-day Hungary there will be defiant cries of victory from that country’s violent militias and legions of admirers of 1930s and 1940s style Fascism.

It might be an unintended consequence; but it should not come a surprise to Jason Kenney and this government. 






"Talkback is now apparently changing his tack. Trade sanctions? On what? Tokai wine? Come on."

The EU is a major exporter to Canada, of everything from foodstuffs to industrial machinery. Tarrifs on EU imports would hurt, and force EU leaders to rectify the situation with Hungary.

"Discrimination against Roma people is a human problem, not merely a "European" one. Shouldn't we be proud to welcome these persecuted people?"

We do not have unlimited resources to deal with every refugee crisis on the planet. And Canadian taxpayers are not in a generous mood, when there are so many Canadians without timely access to insured medical services. Subsidized housing and other services for refugees is costing taxpayers at all three levels of government dearly, and has resulted in some serious public safety issues:



Other countries (India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, China) need to step up to the plate: drop their xenophobia, reduce their arms budgets, and look after problems in their back yards. And the EU needs to crack down on member states that violate its human rights legislation.

"And how could you countenance sending Sri Lankan Tamils back to a very hazardous situation, because India failed to welcome these refugees?"

These boats of Tamil migrants, many of which were piloted by LTTE-connected gangs, didn't come to Canada because India refused their admission. Rather, they made the long treck to our country because of the generous social programs and far higher standard of living here. And as many as 70% of these people, escaping a supposedly hazardous situation, returned to Sri Lanka to visit, within a year of settling here. And a large number of Sri Lankan Tamils set up LTTE cells in Canada, actively raised funds for the LTTE, and extorted fellow Tamils into doing the same. Similar things happened with Sikh 'refugees' in the aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assasination, with support for Babbar Khalsa culminating in the Air India bombing.

Canada's public safety and the solvency of our social programs need to take priority over refugee concerns. And the Roma issue is an EU--not Canadian--problem, plain and simple.

Talkback, have you ever read the  book "None is too Many", about Canadian non-assistance to Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany on the SS St Louis? 

Discrimination against Roma people is a human problem, not merely a "European" one. Shouldn't we be proud to welcome these persecuted people? 

And how could you countenance sending Sri Lankan Tamils back to a very hazardous situation, because India failed to welcome these refugees?

These are human beings, eh? 

Talkback is now apparently changing his tack. Trade sanctions? On what? Tokai wine? Come on.

Didn't Harper's minions just precisely sought to eliminate from the ongoing trade negociations with Europe any notion of conditionality to the respect of human rights?

The notion of "safe designated Country of Origin" or "safe third country" (a status conferred by PM Chrétien to the US!) is in itself pretty dubious and disgusting.

After the last war to end all wars (that was many many wars ago), diplomats met and solemnly pledged "never again", and created the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Article 3

The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.

Article 24

1. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in respect of the following matters:

(b) Social security (legal provisions in respect of employment injury, occupational diseases, maternity, sickness, disability, old age, death, unemployment, family responsibilities and any other contingency which, according to national laws or regulations, is covered by a social security scheme), subject to the following limitations:

(i) There may be appropriate arrangements for the maintenance of acquired rights and rights in course of acquisition;


Article 31

1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Article 32

1. The Contracting States shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order.

2. The expulsion of such a refugee shall be only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with due process of law. Except where compelling reasons of national security otherwise require, the refugee shall be allowed to submit evidence to clear himself, and to appeal to and be represented for the purpose before competent authority or a person or persons specially designated by the competent authority.

3. The Contracting States shall allow such a refugee a reasonable period within which to seek legal admission into another country. The Contracting States reserve the right to apply during that period such internal measures as they may deem necessary.

The formulation of these articles was heavily influenced by Canadian diplomacy, as one can see from the travaux préparatoires. There is no way out. You can't tell a prospective refugee: "I have no interest in the merits of your case. Shut up, get out at once, and return whence you came."

Contrary to other countries were treaties can be directly invoked before tribunals, international law enjoys here a very weak recognition in the legal system, as discussed in this study. However I can't see how Canada with any amount of juridic casuistry could weasel its way out of its treaty obligations, even if it has already done so for years.

@karl nerenberg,

Hungary has indeed taken a very alarming turn to the hard right:


Canada should be leaning on the EU to address these issues--with the threat of trade action, if need be. Alternately, Canada COULD resettle Roma refugees (with proper security checks, of course) as Canadian citizens, and 'bill' the EU for the costs, by slapping tarrifs on EU goods. The EU needs to grow a pair, and crack down on racism and defacto ethnic cleansing in Hungary. They can do this. The threat of expulsion from the EU would be sufficient, as this would devastate Hungary's economy. Of course, Canada could also suspend diplomatic ties with Hungary (and travel visas), until this situation is resolved.

TALKBACK makes a plausible and articulate case for the current Government's policy.

It would take too much time to analyze all the points he/she makes in detail here.

It is worth noting, though, that this government is seeking to increase the number of temporary foreign workers (not immigrants) because we have actual labour shortages, it seems. The Government wants to make it cheaper and easier for businesses to use temporary foreign workers who have no stake in Canada and no status here, with  little regard to human rights and security issues entailed in that policy.

As for Hungary -- there is another contingency there quite separate from immigration and refugee policy. There is a strong case to be made that, at this point in time, bestowing the staus of "safe country" on Hungary would, in effect if not intention, send a message of (at least tacit) approval to the growing and increasingly aggressive extremist and racist element in that society, an element with which the Hungarian government, in effect, "plays (political) footsie". On that point, please read the piece by World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder and the article from Der Spiegel I quote in my article.

A government must be aware of all the consequences and implications of a policy -- this is not merely a question of pushing a "problem"  onto the backs of Europeans. The new provisions of C-31, together with the cancellation of health benefits (however unfortunate that is), would be sufficient to dissuade many potential refugees from Europe to Canada. (The Minister says that "dissuasion" is already happening and the numbers of European asylum claimants have recently dropped significantly).

Bestowing safe country status on Hungary, now, however, would be a major additional step too far. It would have dangerous consequences that ought to scare, at the very least, Jews in Canada and elsewhere. Ronald Lauder (no "progressive" he) certainly seems to think so, as does Elie Wiesel.

It is not clear on what basis TALKBACK can claim to know what the attitudes of the majority of Canadians on this issue are. In any case, one's most important duty in a public policy debate is to state the facts and provide the context as accurately as possible without trying to prejudge public opinion and then pander to it.

Again, this is NOT our problem. Notwithstanding Mr Nerenberg's spin on the issue, Hungarian citizens (i.e., Roma) have the right of free travel and residency in the EU. The European Union has robust human rights legislation. And the EU has a number of tools to use against the Hungarian government, including the nuclear option of expulsion from the union. This is a EUROPEAN, and not Canadian problem, period.

A similar situation existed with the Sri Lankan Tamils, who were somehow unable to make the short trip to Tamil Nadu, but sailed an ocean away to Canada. India is the world's largest arms importer, has the third largest air force on the planet, and just spent God knows how many billions of Rupees upgrading its nuclear arsenal. Yet the country claims it is too 'poor' to absorb a refugee exodus in its own backyard. Nor do Japan, South Korea, or other wealthy, non-Western countries chose to honour their obligations, and accept South Asian, African, or other refugees.

Canada has done more than its share, and it's time for a pause. We can't continue to afford to be the world's hostel and walk-in clinic. There have been serious abuses of our generosity. And there are legitimate public safety concerns with the Roma community, including such issues as organized crime and human trafficking. With an annual intake of over HALF A MILLION people (250,000+ permanent immigrants, plus over 300,000 'temporary' migrants), immigration authorities are already doing a very poor job of screening migrants who are not refugees. And progressives don't seem to realize the liberal asylum policies they advocate are 180 degrees out of sync with the majority of Canadians attitudes on the issue.

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