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Jason Kenney: Canada’s next prime minister?

Evan Johnston

December 2, 2012

Jason Kenney’s tenure as the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has been characterized by a relentless attack on civil liberties in Canada, with targets ranging from immigrants and refugees, freedom of speech, and the reproductive rights of women.

As immigration minister since October 2008, Kenney has been dubbed by his critics the Minister for Censorship and Deportation, and there is no shortage of reasons why. One only needs to take a quick glance at his legacy so far to understand why we need to challenge Kenney’s agenda.

Attacking immigrants

Feminist scholar Sunera Thobani argues in her book Exalted Subjects that “the central contradiction of Canadian citizenship, deeply rooted in its earliest stages of development, is that the citizenship rights of settlers, nationals, and immigrants remain based in the institution of white supremacy.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Bill C-31, introduced in Parliament by Kenney last February.

Ironically named Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,the “reforms” introduced under this bill have had the effect of further entrenching a two-tiered refugee system, imposing unrealistically shorter timelines for refugee claimants, and denying refugees basic medical treatment, all the while scapegoating them for their ongoing cuts to Medicare.

More broadly, Kenney’s agenda has been to expand temporary work programs while turning a blind eye to the unsafe conditions many are forced to work under, restricting and obstructing family unification, and increasing the number of deportations, including those of US Iraq War resisters.

Perhaps what best sums up Kenney’s and the Harper regime’s inhumane approach to immigration “reform” is the revelation in recent weeks that the federal Conservatives have denied chemotherapy treatment to a refugee in Saskatoon who has stomach cancer. Under Kenney’s watch, immigrants and refugees have become increasingly criminalized and depicted as exploiters of “Canadian generosity,” resulting in an immigration system that shows callous disregard for human life.

Targeting Palestine

Notoriously pro-Israel, Kenney has also used his position to silence critics of Israel’s apartheid state. In March 2009, Kenney attempted to ban British MP George Galloway on “security grounds” because of his outspoken criticism of Israel and his support for Viva Palestina, an aid caravan that attempted to break the blockade of Gaza. According to Kenney, to provide aid to the people of Gaza—mediated through the democratically elected Hamas government—constituted an explicit endorsement of terrorism, thereby rendering Galloway a threat to Canada’s national security.

In a Federal Court ruling, Judge Richard Mosley dismissed Kenney’s rhetoric, stating: “the main reason why the respondents (the Federal government) sought to prevent Mr. Galloway from entering Canada was that they disagreed with his political views.”

Another clear example of censoring critics of Israel occurred in February 2012, when the government cut $1 million in funding to Palestine House, an educational community centre based in Mississauga, Ontario. Kenney, in his letter to the centre, justified the cut by referring to three instances “that could arguably be seen as extreme”. In reality, as the Defend Free Speech Campaign pointed out at the time, Kenney’s decision was “entirely political, and part of a broader pattern of government-led censorship and intimidation of anyone who is critical of Canada’s foreign policy, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine.”

War on women

Kenney has also emerged as a leading anti-choice figure within the Conservative ranks, with respect to both his attacks on a Muslim woman’s right to choose what to wear, and on the right of all women to control their own bodies.

On the advice of Mississauga Tory MP, Wladyslaw Lizon, Kenney introduced a ban on the right of Muslim women to choose what they wear during citizenship ceremonies. In a potent mix of racism and a disingenuous concern for women, Kenney described the practice of wearing a niqab “frankly bizarre” and claimed “we want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society.”

But if that is what he truly believed, he wouldn’t be leading the Tory attacks against the reproductive rights of women. As a member of cabinet, he has backed a number of private members bills that have been aimed at recriminalizing abortion, though his stance on abortion stretches back to his university days where he was known as a staunch anti-choice activist on campus.

In 2008, Kenney supported Bill C-484 (“Unborn Victims of Crime Act”), and in 2010, he supported Bill C-510, which claimed to be about preventing “coerced abortion.” Most recently, Kenney supported Conservative backbencher Stephen Woodworth’s private member’s Motion 312 that called for a committee to “study” the point at which a fetus becomes a person. The motion failed, but Kenney led 87 Conservative MPs to support it, including Minister of Status of Women Rona Ambrose who used it to launch anti-choice Motion 408.

Kenney is clearly courting the Conservative Party’s social conservative base, and has emerged as the leading successor to Harper. It’s all the more reason why we need to have a clear assessment of Kenney’s agenda of attacks on civil liberties, and build movements to resist them.

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