Immigration is a big priority area for the current Conservative government, almost as much as it was for Laurier’s government in the heyday of westward expansion. And Harper’s Clifford Sifton might just be Jason Kenney.

Sifton was Laurier’s Interior Minister and he worked hard to populate the West with settlers from Great Britain and the United States, and with stolid and solid peasants from the Ukrainian and Russian steppes.

He was less enthusiastic about “undesirables” such as Jews and blacks. 

Hardly a day goes by without the current immigration minister at least trying to make news, whether it is about removing citizens who never really lived in Canada, taking on fraudulent immigration consultants, encouraging the “Canadian experience” class of immigrants, or — of course — denouncing all of those “bogus refugees” from sweet and mild democracies such as Hungary.

More than any government in recent memory, the current Conservative government has made immigration a central part of economic policy. Its overarching goal is the holy grail of neo-conservative economists, “more flexible labour markets.” One way to achieve those is by strategically exploiting temporary migrant worker. 

Guest workforce incompatible with Canadian Charter rights

Yesterday the privately endowed, non-partisan Toronto based Metcalf Foundation released a new study by social researcher Fay Faraday: “Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity.” 

The Report points out that Canada is now taking in more temporary migrant workers (over 190,000 in 2011) — who have very few, if any, basic rights — than economic immigrants (a bit more than 156,000 in 2011). 

The author concludes that this practice is creating a widespread situation of exploitation which, in the report’s words: “…is not isolated and anecdotal. It is endemic. It is systemic. And the depths of the violations are degrading. There is a deepening concern that Canada’s temporary labour migration programs are entrenching and normalizing a low-wage, low-rights ‘guest’ workforce on terms that are incompatible with Canada’s fundamental Charter rights…”

As the settlement of the west was Laurier and Sifton’s legacy, the growth of a new temporary worker class without rights will be part of Harper and Kenney’s legacy. 

Another part of that legacy will be the demonization of the entire Roma people. Last evening, on TV Ontario’s The Agenda, host Steve Paikin expressed appropriate horror at Ezra Levant’s vicious slander on the Roma people that we reported in this space a few days ago. 

But he was taken aback when Roma leader Gina Csanyi-Robah told him that the Conservative government has been, in its own way, denigrating the Roma.  

Again, we have reported on that in this space, at great length. 

Hate speech dovetails with more ‘respectable’ bigotry

 The fact that the Hungarian, anti-Roma, extreme right is also viciously anti-Semitic and pro-Ahmadinejad has not moved this government to soften its hard line on Roma asylum seekers. Nor has the intervention on behalf of the Roma and other refugees of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, and spokespeople for Jewish Holocaust survivors in Canada.

None of that matters to the Canadian Friends of Haifa University, who plan to pay tribute to Jason Kenney on November 4th.  And who is on the Canadian Friends’ tribute Committee? Well, right in there, on a roster of eminent and accomplished Canadians of all political stripes, there is SUN TV’s emperor of venom and hate: Ezra Levant himself.

The over-the-top rantings of the likes of Levant might not merit more than passing attention were they not dovetailed with more nuanced and reasonable resort to ethnic stereotyping of “enlightened” folk (such as Jason Kenney).  


In that light, here is Part II of the exchange of e-mails on the subject of the Roma, between this writer, and California immigration lawyer Marias Janossy.

From: “Maria Janossy” to: “Karl Nerenberg”  Re: Never Come Back

Mr. Nerenberg, I’m not a Jew, but my father was. We found this out at his death bed.

The only point I tried to make with my e-mail was that your article was biased. The only point I tried to make by citing Prof. Peschanski was a possible explanation why Gypsies or other non-Jewish groups are often not mentioned in connection with the Holocaust – there are theories they were political prisoners and not Holocaust victims. That’s not my opinion, it’s information that exists out there. 

You conveniently ignore parts of my e-mail to condemn me as a bigot. I’m actually a very open minded person and have helped a number of Eastern European Gypsies with their asylum claims. But I’m also aware of scams, including some non-Gypsy Eastern Europeans claiming to be Gypsies to get asylum. You attack my character, instead of engaging in an open conversation. That’s one way to shut people up. You attack an entire country for the actions of extremists. So do you condemn all Hungarians for the acts of a few? 

I specifically pointed out in my e-mail that racial profiling of the Roma is not acceptable, but at the same time the community should take responsibility to some extent for their advancement. When 10-12 year old girls are giving birth and not going to school, or children are brought to the streets to beg instead of being sent to school, what skills do you think they will possess as adults that would make them employable? The government can do so much for the people’s welfare, but at what point does a person take responsibility for their own life? 

And as to your last comment about me learning to see the world, and all of its diverse peoples, in a more balanced, fair, reasonable, humane and less hateful way – as an immigration lawyer, I have helped hundreds of people relocate to the U.S. from practically every country in the world. But at the same time over the years I have seen how so many people abuse the system. I don’t have the answers, I don’t have the solutions, all I was trying to say is that if you simplify complex issues, that does not necessarily advance the conversation. 

And one last comment – I grew up in Transylvania, Romania, as a Hungarian minority. I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, surely not to the extent that the Roma are discriminated against. We came to the U.S. as political refugees – ultimately I became an immigration lawyer to help people. I think of myself as a fair person. I wrote to you because I felt your article was unfairly biased, and wanted to point out information that you may have not been aware of. 

Maria Janossy

From KarL Nerenberg to Maria Janossy,

 First, the neo-Nazi Party Jobbik and its allies do not constitute a tiny minority in Hungary. The party received 17% if the vote in the 2010 election and many members of the ruling, authoritarian-conservative Fidesz Party actually side with the Jobbik view on many matters…

As for your comment that I am “biased” because I do not recognize what you take to be a defining element of depravity, sloth and criminality in the Roma community, I have heard that before– even from close friends. I do not buy that view, and continue to argue that we would not apply that so-called “unbiased” standard to reportage about members of any other ethno-cultural group. The traditional, and traditionally hated, “Gypsies” seem to merit special, and especially negative, treatment, if one is to avoid the accusation of favourable bias.

If I did a film on some aspect of life in the Italian community and did not show the Mafia; or a film on some aspect of life in the white Anglo-Saxon community and did not portray criminal biker gangs; or a film on life among the Park Avenue elite and did not show the abuse by some its leading lights of the world’s banking system, abuse that cost U.S taxpayers trillions of dollars and drove the world into a catastrophic recession — would that demonstrate “bias” on my part?

Only when it comes to the Roma can one be accused of bias for portraying these people — as the vast majority are — as “normal,” striving human beings, who love their children, revere their own culture and traditions and would like to participate in society and “the economy” to the extent possible (a very limited extent in the Czech Republic, Hungary or other countries of Central Europe)…

While doing the film we spent some time examining life in the Roma communities in Ostrava in Czech Silesia, with the aid of the NGO “Life Together.” We visited many Roma neighbourhoods and spent time in many Roma households — in Ostrava and elsewhere in Hungary and the Czech Republic. We never witnessed the horrible depravity, criminality and child abuse you describe. We pointed our cameras at what we saw, and wandered about freely. Many Roma we visited — in almost all cases unannounced — asked us to take our shoes off before entering their humble homes so as not to soil the floors they try to keep clean as best they can…

You say you recognize that the Roma are subject to discrimination — but then add that, somehow, it is, at least partly, their own fault, something to do with their “culture.” That view is, I am sad to report, almost, word-for-word, the argument that anti-Semitism’s “fellow travelers” used in an age when active and virulent anti-Semitism was common. The nice, “respectable,” “tolerant” folks used to say things like: “some of the Jews are okay, of course, but, overall, they have a culture of exclusiveness, will never work with their hands, recite prayers in a strange, incomprehensible language, eat funny food and make vile cooking smells, have many children [as Jews once did], will de-fraud and cheat you if they get a chance, are in love with money. . .” and on and on. . .even Even in the 1950s I had teachers in public schools in Montreal who would lecture classes full of Jews (many the offspring of Holocaust survivors) about how we had to make sure not to behave in a way that aroused the anti-Semitism of the majority…

The woman who acted as our interpreter/researcher in Hungary, a Hungarian-Canadian who divides her time between Hungary and Canada, said that she was quite distraught at the attitude toward their Roma fellow citizens of almost all of her Hungarian friends and family. None, our interpreter reported, have any use for extremists such as Jobbik — but all have considerable animus toward the Roma. They do not know the Roma (those former Communist, Central European societies, today, are almost as segregated as Alabama in 1950); do not trust the Roma; fear them; dislike them; and would be unlikely to lift a finger in defence of Roma who are openly threatened by that vicious thug, Jobbik’s Gabor Vona, and his nasty and motley crew of neo-Nazis. 

A friend of ours here in Ottawa who, like you, is culturally Hungarian, but from Transylvania (also Jewish) and is politically on the right (as you seem to be – I am unabashedly on the mushy, centre-left) said, after seeing the film, that we did not, in truth, show how truly awful it is for the Roma in her part of Europe. It is actually, she said, quite a bit worse that our portrayal! 

So much for being biased and non-balanced.

Best regards, Karl Nerenberg


Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...