September 1, 2010

Kenney spars with protesters, thanks communists

September 01, 2010
Reprinted from the Guelph Mercury

Jason Kenney gave as good as he got Tuesday during a visit to Guelph.

The federal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism got a glimpse of Guelph political activism as he attended the Guelph Conservative Party’s annual summer barbecue in Riverside Park.

About 100 turned out to meet and hear Kenney, whose recent changes to rules governing foreign workers and funding for immigration services have sparked much discussion in the media.

A coalition of about 30 protesters occupied a picnic area about the length of a soccer pitch away from the Conservative event, but the pitch of their voices over a megaphone was shrill and loud enough to clash with Kenney and Guelph Conservative Party federal candidate Marty Burke during their remarks.

Keeney was feisty and playfully combative with a small group of protesters who crashed the Conservative picnic and occasionally tried to shout down the minister. About half a dozen Guelph Police officers patrolled the perimeter of the event.

Kenney thanked a number of people for arranging the event and then turned to the group of protesters that stood nearby taunting.

“And I’d like to thank my friends over here from the Communist party,” he said, remarks that earned him laughs and applause from supporters.

Meanwhile, protesters hung a piƱata with Kenney’s face affixed to it from a tree at the neighbouring picnic area and swung at it with a broom handle, all the while chanting and decrying what they see as increased levels of deportation and a trend to allow more temporary migrant workers into the country and fewer immigrants with full rights.

On these issues, Kenney said in an interview, the protesters were “on the extreme edge of the left and not in touch with reality.”

Protesters like Eduardo Huesca and Kira Burger, who work to improve conditions for migrant workers, said while federal rules related to those workers have changed, their living conditions, health and security is being overlooked by the government. Workers toil under dangerous and exploitative conditions, they said.

“We wanted to take up a space, kind of counter the space that he is taking up, to show that there’s a part of the community here that is not supportive of his politics or his presence,” said Huesca.

“Under his watch, we are seeing more violent raids and deportations of individuals who haven’t committed any crimes,” he added. “And under his watch, refugees are being called terrorists.”

But in an interview before the Riverside Park event, Kenney said the government has done much to improve the conditions of migrant workers, refugee claimants and immigrants. It has cut the right-of-landing fee for newcomers, increased settlement funding, brought in new regulations to protect temporary foreign workers and nannies, and reformed the asylum system to make it fairer and more efficient, he said.

Kenney defended Conservative immigration policies, and the process currently underway to manage the arrival earlier this month of 490 Tamil refugees on the west coast.

Canada can be proud that it has one of the most generous and open approaches to immigration and refugee protection in the world, he asserted. He reiterated the government position that if the Tamil immigrants are eligible for asylum claims, they will be able to go through the process in a fair manner.

“The government has been saying we are very concerned about human trafficking,” Kenney said. “It’s a dangerous, huge, profit-making industry that exploits people and puts them at extreme danger.”

The government has a clear responsibly to strongly discourage human trafficking, and it is well known that the Tamil Tigers, deemed an illegal terrorist organization by Ottawa, is tied to such trade, he said.

“To ship 500 people across the Pacific Ocean in a rickety boat that should be decommissioned, with inadequate supplies and for tens of thousands of dollars, is something we absolutely must discourage,” he continued. “And we make no bones about it.”

Kenney said he started his day in Guelph with a round table discussion related to his plans to increase the number of refugees who are selected from abroad for resettlement in Canada.

Accompanied by Burke, Kenney said he met with church and community groups who help “people who are victims of really terrible persecution” settle in this country. He also met with members of the Hindu, Sikh and Chinese communities in the city.

Canada should not become a country that is characterized by “ethnic enclaves or parallel communities,” he said.

“We want unity in our diversity, and that is the focus of our new multiculturalism program that we’ve revised,” he continued. “It is encouraging intercultural understanding, which is jargon for building bridges between communities.”

Age-old enmities in countries of origin should not be allowed to foment in this country, Kenney said, and to that end he is trying to encourage dialogue among diverse groups in order to dispel negative prejudices or stereotypes.

“The real flashpoints, the real challenges in the future of this diverse country is amongst people who come from the same country or region of origin,” he said. “That’s where we tend to see the biggest tensions.”

Kenney said Canada can’t take its model of diversity for granted. “We’ve got to be very deliberate about integration, and that’s what we’re trying to do through our immigration programs.”

Burke, a 23-year veteran of the Canadian military, defended the free speech rights of the protesters.

“Just because you don’t necessarily agree with someone’s opinion, doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to express it. So we respect their views and we trust they will respect ours.”

A new political candidate, Burke said he has spent much time behind the scenes in Conservative politics.

“I think it’s good to learn the lessons behind the scenes — how politics work, what effort is required, who does what, before you become a candidate,” he said, adding that his team has already begun a door-to-door effort to increase the recognition for his name.

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