Immigration Minister Jason Kenney puts uppity refugees in their place, sets up petition thanking himself

Federal immigration minister Jason Kenney knows you like him and appreciate all his hard work. No need to write him a letter, though, since the kind minister has set up a petition right on his own website where you can thank him.

And why shouldn’t he take a victory lap? He just managed to pass changes to Canada’s refugee system that will save $20 million each year by denying thousands of refugees medical care.

Of course, Kenney claims the previous system under which the Interim Federal Health Program paid for refugees’ health care and benefits was giving those blasted newcomers better care than full citizens. The solution, evidently, is to make sure they get worse health care than full citizens, and preferably no health care at all.

The new regime will essentially set up two different classes of refugees: your generic fleeing-a-wartorn-country types and those from “safe” countries.

If you’re from, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will receive care if your condition is urgent or essential. And even then, the doctors will shoot you dirty looks and spit in your hospital jello. (Don’t even ask about medication, pal! That’s a thing of the past. Welcome to Canada.)

If you are from a “safe” country, however, you don’t get any care at all unless your illness poses a threat to public health and safety. Apparently this does not include malaria.

Leave aside the fact that your country of origin is completely meaningless as to whether or not you need to see a doctor. The bigger problem is that these changes seem to be based on the belief that people are not fleeing persecution and violence but rather coming to Canada for the sake of free health care. Because that’s reasonable.

“I’ve never met a single refugee who comes here to take advantage of Canada’s health-care system,” said Dr. Philip Berger of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, in an interview with the Toronto Star. “They come because they’re fleeing torture, rape and violence.”

Numerous people have spoken out about the new law, with some even characterizing it as “racist.” Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel joined the Toronto Board of Rabbis in denouncing the changes.

“As a former refugee, together with the Toronto Board of Rabbis, I feel morally compelled to remain on the side of other uprooted men and women everywhere. Today, as yesterday, a nation is judged by its attitude towards refugees,” Wiesel said.

The Toronto Board of Rabbis, in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wrote:

“Surely, it is not the government’s intention to deliberately, and with certainty, cause harm to human lives. But that is exactly what we fear will happen if these changes are made to health care coverage for people who are refugees.

As Jewish Canadians, many of us have suffered, or watched our loved ones suffer, at the hands of cruel and discriminatory rules for refugees. We cannot stand silent as people’s health is put indanger, and their right to Canadian citizenship cast into question due to their country of origin.”

Still, the most alarming part of this overhaul of the refugee system is the new power given to the immigration minister to deem someone an “irregular arrival.” Basically, if Jason Kenney doesn’t believe someone’s story, he can have that person detained for the duration of their claims process, which takes about a year. In case you missed that: he can put people in jail for having the temerity to want to come to Canada for a better life. Anyone over the age of 16 can be detained, and children younger than that are either put in foster care or separated from their fathers and held with their mothers during the process. Such separation and detention has serious consequences for the children, leading otherwise normal kids to develop conditions like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Here’s a piece in the Journal of the Canadian Pediatric Society making the case against detention for children, because apparently we actually need people to make the case against detention for children.)

Minister Kenney says all these changes are to deter “bogus refugees” from coming to Canada and drinking our milkshakes, but it causes undue suffering for legitimate asylum seekers and punishes people who have already had pretty shitty lives. Designating some countries as “safe” and therefore making it less likely for refugees from those places to settle in Canada also goes against basic logic. The fact is that in each country there are some people who are safe and some people who face persecution. Sure, Hungary might be a safe country for most, but what if you’re Roma?

Or what if you’re a homosexual from Nigeria, where it is illegal to be gay? Francis Ojo Ogunrinde had his refugee claim rejected in 2010 because the immigration officer didn’t believe he was gay. No amount of evidence, not even a letter from Ogunrinde’s boyfriend, satisfied the officer, who was later reprimanded by a judge for relying on “stereotypes when evaluating whether or not a person has established any ground of risk.”

And that screw-up was under the old system, which allowed for appeals and oversight. Kenney’s revamped system is going to make things even worse. And for all his hard work, Kenney really would like a bit of recognition. So if you want to thank the minister for making the lives of the world’s poor and downtrodden just a little bit worse, head over to his website and lend your support by signing his shamelessly self-promotional petition.

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