Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have the political power to decide who they want to let into Canada and who they want to keep out.
With the power to make these decisions, a pattern has emerged where the current Conservative government has laid out the red carpet for former U.S. government officials such as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. While other people seeking entry or residency to Canada have encountered nothing but a locked door and an unwelcome mat. Or, if they currently reside in Canada, they are about to be kicked out.
With a strong case being built around charging Bush with war crimes, why was he allowed into Canada without question or scrutiny by the government and Royal Canadian Mounted Police when others have been denied?
Again, it comes down to political choices and political will.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, has made numerous public statements defending the impartiality of Canada’s immigration system but a developing pattern is emerging regarding who is on Canada’s Most Wanted vs. Most Un-wanted list -- so much so that Jason Kenney has been dubbed by Canadian activists as the new “Minister of Censorship and Deportation.”
While Kenney has stated that the Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship is separate from the country’s immigration system (and denies the ability to interfere politically), the operational truth is that these two political entities work in conjunction with one another.
For example, Minister Kenney has the ability to shape the immigration policy, the basis of the immigration system.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Peter Van Loan, who is in charge of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), has control over this enforcement arm of the Canadian immigration system.
This means Kenney has the power to table legislation and set policy to prevent a deportation and Van Loan could grant a waiver to halt a deportation by the CSBA.
If they wanted to.
Here’s an overview of who Canada has let into this country, who it has kept out and who it is currently trying to kick out.
On Friday May 29, 2009, Presidents “W.” Bush and Clinton were invited to come to Toronto to speak about their legacies as U.S. presidents. The event was sponsored by such corporations such as the Globe and Mail, TD Financial Group, Nayarit Gold Mining and the Toronto Board of Trade.
Protesters outside the Convention Centre where the two men spoke were more concerned with the presidents’ legacies regarding war crimes:
-President George W. Bush and his administration for their actions in Iraq, including his declaration of pre-emptive war and his support of CIA-operated rendition sites and torture practices.
-President Bill Clinton and his administration for working through the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Iraq between 1990-2003 and for the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Bush had previously visited Calgary, Alberta for another speaking engagement on March 17, 2009. Protesters in both Calgary and Toronto were infuriated to hear that Canada had allowed suspected war criminals to freely enter the country.
Upon hearing that Bush would be travelling to Canada, Lawyers Against the War (LAW) issued a statement to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) asking that Bush be denied entry into Canada under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act -- Section 35(1)(a), because Bush is a war criminal under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act -- Sections 4 to 7 / subsections 6(3) to (5)
Along with Clinton and Bush, other prominent members of the Bush’s administration, or Bush’s “war allies,” have been allowed to enter Canada. These include: Condeleezza Rice’s (former U.S. Secretary of State) visit to Calgary on May 13, 2009; Michael Chertoff’s (former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security) visit to Ottawa on February 23, 2007; John Howard’s (former Prime Minister of Australia and member of Bush’s Coalition of the Willing) visit Ottawa on May 18, 2006; and Donald Rumsfeld’s (former U.S. Secretary of Defence) visit to Banff, Alberta on September 13, 2006.
Canada’s decision to allow individuals such as Bush to cross the border establishes the trend of an open-door, blood-red carpet policy of inclusion to those who are suspected of committing war crimes
According to writer Joshua Blakeney, “It is clear that Canada is increasingly perceived to be a ‘safe haven’ for self-confessed torturers and war criminals who have committed what at Nuremburg -- reflecting upon the unilateralism and genocidal practices of Nazism -- was defined as the ultimate war crime of aggressive war.”
Juxtaposed against the list above of individuals Canada has allowed to cross its borders are individuals who have been denied entry or repatriation; the list of 'who’s out' reads like a black-list of prominent foreign peace activists and current Canadian citizens.
The most notorious case being that of British MP George Galloway, who was denied entry into Canada by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) on March 20, 2009, right before his Canadian speaking tour, because he was considered a threat to national security.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Kenney could have overturned the decision but chose not to do so. The Federal government cited the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), Section 34(1), which reads among other points of order, that refusal can be based on whether, “e) engaging in acts of violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada; or (f) being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c).”
Along with Galloway, other peace activists and progressives who have been barred entry into Canada include: Reza Alijani (an award winning Iranian journalist with Reporters Without Borders) and; Shadi Sadr (a women’s activist in Iran) were denied entry into Canada in early May, 2009; and Ann Wright (retired U.S. Army colonel and peace activist) and Medea Benjamin (co-founder of Code Pink), who were denied entry into Canada on October 22, 2007.
Along with these peace activists, Canada has so far refused to repatriate Canadian citizens held in a hellish legal and diplomatic limbo, thus denying them re-entry into the country.
One such case is that of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen held captive in Guantanamo Bay for the past six years who seeks repatriation.
Khadr was captured by American forces at the age of 15 following a four-hour firefight with militants in the village of Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan. He has spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay detention camps charged with war crimes and providing support to terrorism after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, but has yet to face a U.S. military tribunal.
The youngest person held in Guantanamo bay and the only Western citizen left, the Canadian government has so far refused to demand his repatriation to Canada. On June 12, Prime Minister Harper told Fox News that “that Canada is not willing to take in Guantanamo Bay detainees.” This despite an April 23, 2009 Federal Court ruling ordering the government of Canada to seek Omar Khadr's repatriation from the United States.
Another Canadian citizen suspended in diplomatic limbo is Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen from Montreal who is currently stranded in Sudan, literally living inside the Canadian embassy for more than a year.
Abdelrazik was arrested on potential terrorism charges back in 2003 but the Sudanese government had released him without charges. Both the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligent Service (CSIS) have similarly stated they both have no evidence against him.
Regardless of his innocence, the Canadian government has refused to allow Abdelrazik back into Canada despite a June 4 Federal Court ruling which orders the Federal government to repatriate him.
Who’s being kicked out
Included in the list of Canada’s most un-wanted are also those foreign nationals or refugee status applicants who face the threat of deportation from Canada because of the politics these individuals embody.
These include foreign nationals currently being held on Canadian Security Certificates. According to writer Justin Podur, “The entire security certificate process is based on urgency in placing someone in detention and ignoring due process, followed by a long, dragged out detention.”
Although major changes were made, including a February 2007 Federal Court ruling that struck down the security certificate system as violating the Canadian Charter, a re-vamped security certificate system still remains in place in Canada.
Podur writes, “In response to legal challenges to these secret deportation trials and opposition to draconian long-term detentions of people without trial, the government has released many of its detainees on house arrest. These include Mohamed Harkat, Mohammad Majoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Adil Charkaoui, and most recently Hassan Almrei. Despite the pressures to ignore the lack of evidence, the courts have slowed down the government's rush to persecute these men.”
If the government’s security certificates withstand further court challenges, deportations of these men will begin.
Iraq war resisters seeking permanent residence status in Canada are another group of individuals and families facing impending deportation back to the United States in the coming months, where they face military court marshals and less-than honourable discharges from the U.S. military for their conscientious objections to being deployed to Iraq.
Canadian Parliament passed two majority motions in support of resisters, but Kenney has spoken out against them as a group from his position as minister in charge of immigration, referring to them as “bogus refugee claimants.”
Kenney was rebuked by writer John Hogan in a Toronto Sun article, where Hogan claimed the Minister was interfering politically in the cases of war resisters by speaking publically, exposing his government’s bias. While a spokesperson from Kenney’s office later stated that resister claims are being handled through what the government has called “independent tribunals,” Hogan countered, “The immigration officers who are deciding the war resisters' applications do not constitute ‘independent tribunals.’ They exercise decision-making authority delegated to them by the minister of citizenship and immigration."
Lee Zaslofsky, an organizer with the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRCS), called Minister Kenney's comments political interference on the supposedly independent Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) tribunal, which passes judgment on resisters' immigration claims. He said, "Minister Kenney's comments show the Harper government has a blanket policy of opposition against 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."
Criticism of Minister Kenney's remarks was also expressed through an open letter by Elizabeth McWeeney, President of the Canadian Council of Refugees. In the letter, written on January 8, 2009, she stated her concern surrounding Kenney's comments which she called, "highly inappropriate," since they "give the strong appearance of political interference."
Fear and exclusion
Take all the separate elements of exclusion from Canadian society through the Canadian immigration system and put them together and the common factor between all the different groups of the un-wanted revolve around our perception of ‘national security’; as if the current government is using fear to force to public into a false decision between people’s security or a person’s right to not be discriminated against based on someone else’s politics.
Again, it all comes down to political decisions. Ask yourself: would you rather our government allow a suspected war criminal into this country, or someone who promotes peace or simply wants to live here in peace?
krystalline kraus is a Toronto-based writer.
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