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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.

Jason Kenney stages a little theatre just days before announcing 'safe countries'

| December 5, 2012
Jason Kenney stages a little theatre just days before announcing 'safe countries'

Just as things were getting a little uncomfortable for Jason Kenney on the refugee file -- because of his own statements that a country he plans to designate "safe" is hardly, in fact, safe for Jews and Roma -- the Minister of Immigration (with an assist from the Minister of Public Safety) pulls a rabbit out of a hat.

This morning, with scant advance notice, reporters received a news release from the Immigration Department saying Kenney would be holding a news conference at the border crossing at Stanstead, Quebec. There were no other details.

It turns out the purpose of this bit of showmanship was to announce that the Government had bagged its first batch of detainees covered by the new provisions of Bill C-31 that govern so-called "irregular arrivals."

The story is that a Romanian ring of "people smugglers" had been slipping people into Canada, via first Mexico then the United States.

The smugglers' victims are, Government sources have told journalists, heavily indebted to the "criminals" who brought them to Canada. As a result, the "smugglers" can coerce the victims into criminal activities in order to pay their debts.

Kenney doesn't say so, but unnamed officials happily tell reporters the "victims" (and the smugglers? not sure, yet) are Roma.

There is no reason on earth for doing the announcement at the Quebec border crossing. Most of these irregular arrivals, Government sources say, are now in the Greater Toronto Area.

But this is not about policy; it is about politics and politics is, to some people, theatre.

No connection to Roma fleeing 'hateful nutbars' in Hungary

Whatever the actual facts of the case -- and verified facts are very hard to come by here -- this case has nothing whatsoever to do with the Roma who have been buying tickets on regular flights from Budapest and Prague and arriving, openly, at Canadian airports, where they ask for refugee status.

If human smuggling is involved in any of those cases -- and Kenney has occasionally whispered about that -- that has never been proven, or even plausibly demonstrated in any way.

There are thousands of Roma settled in Canada now, living normal, peaceful, law-abiding lives. However, their story gets too rarely told, and is drowned out by lurid stories of criminality, such as this most recent one on the Romanian smuggling ring.

What is especially insidious about this "smuggling" story is the near total lack of publicly accessible details.

While the Department of Public Safety posts only the most banal and general type of boiler plate on the new C-31 rules on its website, Government officials gleefully give unattributed snippets of information to some journalists, who, in turn, happily report it all as fact.

CBC journalists are in that group.

The Minister keeps his hands clean and refuses to utter the word Roma.

But given the intense level of negative stereotyping against Roma, it does not take much to denigrate the whole community.

Conveniently dovetails with widely believed stereotype about Roma

If this were a story about white Anglo-Saxon criminals, one would not worry that the general public might tend to believe that the criminal taint on some applies to all WASPs.

But this is a story about a people who are among history's most slandered and reviled scapegoats.

One incident, however ephemeral and vague, is, sadly, enough to blacken the public image of the entire Roma people -- a people who have been victims of unceasing bigotry for many centuries.

Canada will name safe "Designated Countries of Origin" on December 15. All of the European Union countries will almost certainly be on that list, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria - countries with large Roma minorities.

It is no coincidence that the government chose to highlight today's smuggling story just days before that "safe country" announcement. 

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