Immigration minister lashes out at bishops’ criticism of anti-human smuggling bill

  • December 2, 2010
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason KenneyOTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has fired back at Canada’s bishops for a public letter criticizing his anti human-smuggling bill.

The letter reflects a “long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops’ conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy,” Kenney said in an interview.

The bishops’ intervention underscores the reason why “the Church makes the detailed application of moral principles in public policy the prudential responsibility of legislators who have a technical knowledge of how to apply the principles,” he said.

The Nov. 25 public letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' justice and peace commission warned clauses of Bill C-49 now before the House of Commons might contravene international and Canadian law concerning the rights of refugees. In it, the bishops reminded Kenney national interests and security should not trump human dignity.

“We believe that human smuggling undermines human dignity,” Kenney said. “It’s an industry of profiteers who sell people an illegal service to smuggle them to countries in the most dangerous way possible. My single greatest concern about this wave of human smuggling is that people will die seeking to come to Canada in this way,” he said.

Canada has a “real moral obligation to do everything we reasonably can to prevent rusty leaky boats” full of migrants from crossing the Pacific Ocean. The human smuggling issue came to the forefront in August when nearly 500 Tamil refugees arrived aboard the MV Sun Sea on Canada's west coast.

The bishops’ letter does not address the ethical obligation to stop smuggling, Kenney said, noting it also conflates smuggling, which is a black market service illegal migrants pay for, and human trafficking which is involuntary and a form of slavery.

Kenney, a devout Catholic, said the letter “falsely suggests that the bill seeks to ‘punish refugees.’ ”

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We will not deport anyone determined to be a bona fide refugee.”

The bishops said the bill penalized refugees more than it penalized smugglers and noted its authorization of detention for long periods violates a refugee convention signed by Canada.

The bishops said the bill “risks creating serious obstacles to sponsorship and family reunification” but Kenney argued the steps are necessary to deter people from paying smugglers to get into Canada.

“If you help to finance a criminal smuggling syndicate to come to Canada there is a consequence that you won’t enjoy privilege of family sponsorship for a period of five years,” he said. “We don’t think that’s unreasonable.

“What the bill seeks to do is change the business model of the smugglers by reducing the price point.”

Bill C-49 addresses the demand side of smuggling through measures that have been proven successful in Australia, he said. When Australia removed permanent residence status from marine migrants from 2002-2008, the illegal vessels virtually stopped. Since Australia reinstated permanent residency and family sponsorship, about 10,000 migrants have arrived there “under very dangerous conditions,” he said.

Kenney said he has a “profound moral and political responsibility to ensure ongoing public support for immigration and refugee protection.” He described the shiploads of smuggled migrants as a “flagrant violation of the fairness and integrity of our immigration system” and said polls show they have caused “a massive reduction” in broad public support for legal immigration as well as refugee protection.

Kenney said he would prefer that the bureaucrats who write these letters or the bishops themselves would dialogue first about the prudential considerations rather than “cut and paste” arguments circulating in “fake grassroots coalitions” of “special interest groups in the immigration industry.”

Kenney said the bishops’ conference has not said anything to congratulate the government on its 20-per-cent increase in resettlement of refugees, or of its 20-per-cent increase in a fund to help with that resettlement, even though the program is “hugely unpopular politically.” Nor has the conference commended the government for resettling 20,000 mainly Christian refugees from Iraq, though individual bishops like Archbishop Thomas Collins in Toronto have shown “extraordinary leadership” on this issue, Kenney said.

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