J ason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, visited the student group Conservative McGill on Friday. The event was held in Room 160 of the Arts Building.
As Kenney approached the room, he was stopped by a loud group of protesters from No One is Illegal Montreal. Kenney and his coterie were prevented from moving toward the doors. One of the protesters, Jaggi Singh, asked Kenney about a recent report in the Toronto Star that tells of a 24-year-old Mexican woman named Grise who is believed to have been murdered in June by the same group of drug traffickers she sought refuge from in Canada in 2004 and 2008. Grise was denied refugee status twice, and following her return to Mexico in 2008, she was raped and impregnated. After having a caesarian-section to deliver her child, she was kidnapped and shot through the head.
The minister did not respond.
When the protesters accused Kenney of pandering to racial biases against Mexicans in his policies, he shot back, sarcastically saying, “I plead guilty: I’m a racist,” and pushed toward the door. The protesters began chanting, “Immigrants in, racists out” and tried to prevent Kenney from entering the room, while being pushed back by a number of Conservative McGill members and McGill Security agents. When Kenney and his aides finally entered, the doors were closed, but protesters continued yelling, “No borders, no nations, stop the deportations,” and “Immigrants in, Kenney out”.
Inside, Kenney referred to the activists as “some of Canada’s leading anarchists”, and later as “thugs.” The sounds of protests continued to resonate through the room during most of Kenney’s appearance. When the doors were occasionally opened to let someone out, Kenney was completely drowned out as the pitch of the protest shot up.
The protest dissipated after 15 or 20 Montreal police officers were called in. No arrests were made, and Robyn Maynard of No One is Illegal said, “We left on our own free will.” After Kenney’s presentation, the officers could be seen walking in double file out the back doors of the Arts Building.
In a speech describing his approach to immigration, Kenney lamented the challenge of finding appropriate jobs for well-qualified immigrants, saying, “Canada has the best qualified taxi drivers in the world.” To combat the endemic underemployment of immigrants, Kenney said the Conservatives have tripled federal funding for vital integration programs.
Addressing a question about his refugee policy, Kenney cited the 5,000 Nepalese Hindus claiming refugee status recently admitted to Canada from India, and the 12,000 Iraqi asylum-seekers the Conservatives expect to admit over the next three years.
Kenney has expressed concern in the past over Canada’s acceptance rate of refugee claimants, which, at 40 per cent, is twice the rate of any other industrialized country, according to the minister. When asked specifically about his concerns, Kenney attributed the high rate, in part, to “massive flows of false refugee claims,” and “people using the asylum system as a back door to get in [to Canada], to avoid the immigration system.” He mentioned Mexican immigrants as being particularly culpable.
Kenney’s ministry imposed visa requirements on migrants from the Czech Republic and Mexico this July. The minister told The Daily it was in an effort to curb what he termed as “bogus” refugee claims.
Robyn Maynard saw another motive. “He’s using borderline racial stereotypes to make it difficult to apply for refugee status,” she said, referring specifically to Roma and Mexican migrants.
Kenney stressed that the Conservatives have played a constructive role, historically and recently, in immigration policy. He referred to John Diefenbaker, Conservative prime minister from 1957 to 1963, who eliminated racial considerations in immigration decisions. Of his own time in office, Kenney said of the refugee claims process that, “any changes I make will likely add procedural fairness to the asylum system…including a system with a lot of appeals.”
Last Tuesday, according to the Toronto Star, the Parliamentary citizenship and immigration committee voted to establish an appeal division to hear the cases of rejected refugee claimants, though the five Conservative representatives on the committee voted against the motion.