Canadian Arab Federation’s (CAF) settlement programmes (that is Language Instruction to Newcomers (LINC) and settlement services to newcomers) are at risk because the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, has decided that CAF is not a suitable organization to receive government funding.

It is instructive to note that this suitability or lack thereof is not being decided on the basis of CAF’s service evaluation but rather the Minister’s belief that CAF holds political opinions contrary to those held by him and endorsed by his government at the Federal level. The actual accusation that is being launched against CAF is that it is a supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas (organizations in the Middle East deemed to be terrorist by the Canadian government), that it is anti-Semitic because it supports those organizations which in turn allegedly question Israel’s right to statehood which in turn is deemed anti-Semitic by the Minister and his government. Hence, CAF’s settlement programmes that are being offered to newcomer immigrants in Canada not Middle East are being jeopardized. Of course, all of this is being done in the spirit of liberal democracy and our cherished freedoms guaranteed to us all (including presumably CAF staff, members and service users).

I have had the honour and pleasure of working with CAF board members, Executive Director, staff members for many years in a variety of campaigns, advocacy initiatives, anti-racism coalitions and have never seen or heard the organization to support anti-Semitic sentiments or actions. I have definitely never participated with CAF in any initiative that seeks to punish the Jewish community or organizations on any public policy issue that limits their access to rights and services in Canada. I have also worked closely with Jewish organizations like B’nai B’rith and Canadian Jewish Congress and have never known them to be Islamophobic either. Yes as individuals we have disagreed on our ideas about what may be a just solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict but as partners in social justice in Canada we have not disagreed on anti-racism initiatives in Canada or the nature of settlement or other services being provided to immigrants and refugees in Canada. In fact, for over a year I sat on the same working group with CAF and CJC developing a joint comprehensive strategy to combat hate crime for the office of the Attorney General of Ontario.

Thus, Minister Kenney’s decision to pull funding for CAF’s settlement services is at best surprising and at worst draconian. If this is how dissent and difference of opinion on our foreign policy is to be addressed by our government — by suspending civil liberties and services of some of us here in Canada — than what hope do we have to talk of civil rights in Canada?

Furthermore, to hold settlement services hostage, services that are 100 per cent geared towards newcomer immigrant and refugee needs, is to reduce them to discretionary services subject to the vagaries of political agendas as opposed to services that ought to be integral to our society. Canada is a nation built on immigration, multiculturalism and notions of justice. To use defunding of settlement services to disenfranchise some immigrants and refugees strikes at the heart of what is (and ought to be) our core values — namely, the charter of rights and freedoms.

I think it is time for all anti-racist and social justice organizations and advocates to raise their voices to defend our civil liberties and our social services and ask the Prime Minister to rescind Mr. Kenney’s decision.