Canadian Immigration, Conservative Xenophobia

In the United States, debate surrounding Arizona’s new harsh immigration policy – the ‘papers please‘ law – moved from arguing the merits, necessity and constitutionality of SB1070, to a nonsensical discussion about the 14th amendment; the part of the constitution which guarantees American citizenship to all persons born in the United States. Republican lawmakers, seemingly unsatisfied with even the most draconian elements of the ‘papers please’ law, felt it necessary to take immigration reform to the extreme, calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment.

Explanations given to justify the radical proposal have ranged from the farcical (‘anchor babies‘), to the downright hysterical (‘terror babies‘). Less conspiratorial, but equally inaccurate, is the mysterious ‘crime wave‘ Republicans argue demonstrates the need for immigration policy overkill. This argument was recently discussed, and debunked, on the Rachel Maddow Show:

MADDOW: You might have also heard the one about Phoenix, Arizona, now being the number two kidnapping capital of the world.That‘s become a mainstream conservative talking point trotted out over and over again by Republicans. But when PolitiFact, Texas checked out that claimed when it was made by the lieutenant governor of Texas in June, they found it to be, and I quote, ‘false.’ Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain repeated it a few weeks later on Meet the Press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Why is it that Phoenix, Arizona, is the number two kidnapping capital of the world? Does that mean our border is safe? Of course not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Same claim, same results-and I quote, ‘false,’ according to PolitiFact. Despite that, Republican Senator Jon Kyl, undaunted, is still going for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Phoenix is a very large source of kidnapping. It‘s called the kidnapping capital of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It‘s like it‘s too good of a talking point to stop using it even though it‘s not true. Jon Kyl also distinguished himself by going to great detail about how awful illegal immigration has made crime in his home state of Arizona-a state you would think he would take care to know some factual things about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: In some of these border towns that were thought to be susceptible to lawbreaking of illegal immigrants, the crime is actually down. Crime in Phoenix, for instance, is down significantly over the last couple of years.

KYL: Well, that‘s a-that‘s a gross generalization. Property crimes are up. Certain property crimes on certain parts of the citizenry are up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Property crimes are up, violent crimes are up-define up, Senator Kyl. Let‘s take property crimes first. There were about 231,000 property crimes in the state of Arizona last year, in 2009. That was down from the year before, which had about 262,000 property crimes-a number that was down from the year before that, which was down from the year before that. Property crimes there, down in Arizona right now.
Senator Kyl also mentioned violent crimes being up. Let‘s have a look at what he thinks about up in this context. In 2009, there were 26,000 violent crime offenses in Arizona, a number down from the year before, which was also down from the year before that, which happened to be down from the year before that.
So, down, down, down, down, down-also known in anti-immigrant white people politics as up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The United States of America has an unsecured border between Arizona and Mexico which has led to violence, the worst I have ever seen, and numbers that stagger those who are unfamiliar with the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, they are staggering numbers-for the exact opposite reason of what you mean.Whether or not you want to run on an anti-immigrant platform is up to you. It‘s a political decision. Everyone gets to choose their own political strategy. But as they say, you do not get to choose your own facts.

The common thread linking the various Republican arguments for repealing the 14th amendment is fear – fear of non-white citizens; fear of men, women, and even children, who ‘don’t look like you.‘ To justify their deeply held anti-immigration ideology, Republicans are presenting misinformation as fact, disseminating fear as a means to a legislative end.

Canada, for the most part, has been immune to such radical immigration demagoguery, as we are a nation built on immigration; from the Europeans who first explored in the 15th century, to the estimated 1.5 million displaced persons, war brides, evacuated children, and refugees who passed through Pier 21 – the gateway to Canada – between the years of 1928 and 1971.

Canada’s history of immigration is so cherished, the stories of migrants so important, that on June 25, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper designated Pier 21 as a National Museum of Immigration.

“No country in the world has benefited more than Canada from free and open immigration,” Harper declared. “In every region and across all professions, new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life. It takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family. Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

What a difference a year makes.

The harrowing voyage of the MV Sun Sea, in which 492 Tamil refugees endured months of squalor in dangerous waters to escape “mass murders, disappearances and extortion” following 25 years of brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, mirrors the experience of so many migrants who passed through Pier 21.

However, unlike Pier 21, there were no counsellors waiting to hear the Sri Lankan’s stories; no team of volunteers eager to swiftly process and fairly evaluate the prospective new residents. Instead, the men, women and children aboard the MV Sun Sea arrived to allegations, leveled by the Harper government, of ties to terrorism and human trafficking; accused by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews of being a “test boat” for an apparent mass immigration conspiracy.

As for the Prime Minister, compare the above remarks made at Pier 21 just fourteen months ago, to this statement he gave following the arrival of the MV Sun Sea:

“Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes – not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel – and just simply lands.

We are responsible for the security of our borders, and the ability to welcome people, or not welcome people, when they come. This trend gives us some significant concern, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary going forward … We will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to.”

So Harper, who one year ago asserted “it takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family,” no longer feels those “who make the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

Instead, he seems to have adopted the Republican ‘immigrants are scary’ mantra; using the MV Sun Sea as a political prop in an effort to appear ‘tough on immigration.’ Furthermore, like his ideological equals to the South, Harper has proposed changing existing legislation to suit his ideology; specifically the 1985 Supreme Court Ruling which guarantees constitutional charter rights to refugee claimants in Canada.

The Conservatives’ anti-immigration demagoguery has been amplified by Sun Media (QMI), the organization known as Fox News North, now headed by Harper’s former director of communications Kory Teneycke. Sun Media (QMI) has fervently tried to vilify, discredit, and slander the Sri Lankan migrants, even going so far as to incite violence against future refugees.

The xenophobia propagated by both the Harper government and their colleagues in the press is disgraceful to who we are as a nation. It is an insult to our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who went to great lengths to journey here; who are among the proudest residents to call Canada home.

To discredit those who seek refuge within Canadian borders, fleeing circumstances such as war, poverty, oppression, and corruption, before they have a chance to present their case, does a great disservice to the generations of migrant Canadians on which the Country was built.

Those who’ve attacked the migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea would be wise to listen to the stories of past immigrants, for “too many people in Canada forget that people crawl across minefields to get here.” ~ Ignat Kaneff, Bulgarian born Great Canadian.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

This is the ‘General cc Ballou’, the ship that carried my Polish grandparents to Pier 21 from a camp in Germany following the Second World War.

 

 

I encourage you to read the personal accounts of those who came to Canada through Pier 21 HERE. It’s a proud part of our history.

Playing With Guns

“An Albatross and an embarrassment.”

On Saturday, that’s how Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner labelled the gun registry during her address at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Annual General Meeting.

Bill C-391, Hoeppners private member’s bill to abolish the long gun registry, was spared the axe of prorogation and is currently sitting in committee. However, just as debate is set to resume, front line law enforcement professionals are coming forward and voicing unwavering support for the program.
The positive reviews put forward echo those contained in the RCMP’s 2008 Firearms Commissioner’s Report; The very report which then-public safety minister Peter Van Loan purposely suppressed for seven weeks last fall, releasing it only after the initial vote on Bill C-391 had allowed it to pass to second reading.

The actions of the Conservative government in their effort to kill the long gun registry, reveal an unsettling pattern; The belief, by the Conservatives, that their ideology is superior to the knowledge from front line officers who’s lives are dedicated to protecting the safety and well being of the public.

This ‘holier than thou’ scenario played out on CTV’s Power Play Friday March 19, when Tom Clark interviewed Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Toews began with the requisite PMO talking point, that “the RCMP and other police forces have better things to do than to harass hunters and trappers and farmers for not registering their long guns.” For good measure, he added that it’s a “waste of taxpayers money.”

Minister Toews was informed by Clark of the increasing number of law enforcement members supporting the registry, “most recently the second in command of the RCMP this week said that he thought that the regestry should stay, and its a very good idea, and it’s a very useful tool for front line police officers.”
Toews brushed aside that notion, stating that the RCMP’s second in command was “expressing a personal opinion, a personal opinion that’s not shared by front line police officers. The actual police officers that I meet who go into the doors of houses where suspected criminals are don’t rely on the gun registry to determine whether or not a criminal has a fire arm, in fact that would be foolish on their part.”

Toews was then shown data regarding the long gun registry, which Clark received from ‘senior government officials’:

From 1998 – 2008, 14 of the 16 police shootings were committed with long guns;
In 2008 alone, 1 in 5 gun homicides was committed with long guns, half of all gun homicides in rural areas were committed with long guns, and
of the 23,000 firearms seized by police, more than 18,000 were long gun seizures.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information was that police said they used the registry 10,000 times every day.

Still, Toews refused to budge. “That’s not what I hear from police officers. In fact the automatic use of the registry, isn’t something the police are going out, doing deliberately, checking the registry. It’s something that pops up automatically on their screen. But the point is that police officers don’t rely on the registry when they’re walking up to a car to see whether or not a person possibly has a firearm, that would be negligent on their part.”

Clark, somewhat taken aback at Toews insistence, reminded him that it’s the “law and order crowd (who) are saying pretty clearly that they want this registry to remain.”

Toews responded by paraphrasing his earlier talking points, which prompted the following awkward exchange:

Clark: “Well it’s an interesting struggle isn’t it? For who speaks more for the law and order community? Whether it’s you, or whether it’s a lot of the police officers. The Canadian chiefs of police are in support of it.”
Toews: “They’re not the ones going into the doors of houses.”
Clark: “Wow. Ok, well they ARE the chiefs of police in this country.”

Immediately following the interview, Clark spoke with Greg Getty, superintendent of the Toronto police guns and gangs task force.

When asked if he was in support of the long gun registry, Getty was unequivocal in his answer. “I personally support it without question, as does the Toronto police service, as do all of the canadian chiefs through the CACP, as well as the Canadian police association, and Toronto police association, who DO represent the officers who DO go through those doors the minister (Toews) is speaking of.”

Getty continued to counter the claims Toews had made earlier, telling Clark that “in circumstances where were attending address where there’s domestic conflicts, persons inside that residence that we may be going to, it’s not only a matter of the officers’ safety to have that information prior to attending, but also a matter of community safety…for not only the other residents within that dwelling, but within that immediate area as well.”

Getty also noted that 23% of all domestic homicides in Canada committed with long guns, and a majority of police killed in Canada are killed at the hands of a long gun.

Clark then addressed assertions made by Toews regarding front line officers’ desire to abolish the registry, asking Getty if “from a front line police perspective, can you understand why some police officers would be in favour of getting rid of it?”

“None whatsoever,” stated Getty. “A lot of the rhetoric around the abolition of the long gun registry is the cost, that ‘law enforcement has better things to do than make criminals out of farmers and legal gun owners’. I believe in responsible and legal gun ownership. In fact, in Toronto we’ve just recovered, with Project Safe City in regards to improperly registered, improperly licensed firearms, we’ve recovered 1600 firearms since March of last year, and we’ve laid no criminal charges in regards to those. We have not made criminals out of any of those people.” Getty added that “there’s much confusion in regards to the long gun registry because of the amnesty that keeps getting cycled through government.”

Fast forward to Sunday, when Toews returned to CTV to answer further questions regarding the registry. On Question Period, Craig Oliver began by reiterating how senior law enforcement were coming forward in support of the registry as “an important tool in the interests of law enforcement and the safety of policemen.” Oliver went on to say that the “Police Chiefs of Canada want this registry and their officers are telling us they are using it hundreds of times a day especially before they go into any domestic situation, and it only takes a few seconds to know whether there might be a firearm in that home.”

Toews disagreed, arguing he’d “never heard a police officer say they rely on the long gun firearms registry or any registry before they go into a house to determine…and are assured that there is not firearm in the house that would be careless of a police officer, I’ve never heard a police officer say that they would check the registry, if there’s no gun on the registry, they approach the house as if there was no firearm there. That would be careless. You approach every house as if there were a firearm. The registry does nothing to add to that.”

The issue of the long gun registry, and the opposing view of the Conservative government versus the leading members of law enforcement, is more than a difference of opinion; It’s about the safety of those who put their lives on the line, and security of the general public.

Police officers, the RCMP, EMS, firefighters, and other front line workers aren’t interested in the politics of the issue; they’re concerned about the possibility of losing a key resource which they rely on to effectively do their job. The Conservatives may claim to be the party of ‘law and order’, but the authority on the matter clearly lies with the actual law and order professionals.

It’s obvious the Tories have no interest in what front line officers have to say; that they are intent on killing the long gun registry at all costs. So it’s now up to the members of the opposition to pay attention to the RCMP and the Chiefs of Police, listen to their views on the effectiveness of the long gun registry, and pay them the respect they have earned.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca