Pier 21 a playground for Kenney’s racist hypocrisy
Jane Kirby, Opinions Contributor
On January 20, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney unveiled The Wheel of Conscience monument at Pier 21. The monument commemorates the Canadian government’s refusal to allow over 900 Jewish refugees on board the M.S. St. Louis to enter the country in 1939 under the government of the time’s “none is too many” anti-Jewish immigration policy.
This event is an abomination in Canadian history, and should be remembered as a horrifying example of the human consequences of closed borders and racist and exclusionary immigration policy. About one third of those who were on the ship eventually perished in the Holocaust after being pre-emptively deported to Europe.
That’s why it’s so curious that Jason Kenney, who has been nicknamed the “Minister of Censorship and Deportation” because of his record as one of the most repressive immigration ministers’ in Canadian history, decided to come mark this event.
Under Kenney’s regime, deportations have increased, while the numbers of people accepted as refugees have drastically dropped. Many of these people feared for their lives in their home countries, where they have faced persecution, poverty and death. Kenney, however, has responded by declaring that war resisters seeking refugee status in Canada are “bogus,” and has tightened Canada’s borders with a number of discriminatory and exclusionary policies.
After the number of refugees coming from Mexico tripled from 2005 to 2009, Kenney imposed a visa requirement on Mexicans coming to Canada in a move that clearly discriminated on the basis of ethnicity. Rather than seeing the increase in migrants as indicative of worsening conditions in Mexico, Kenney declared these Mexican migrants did not face danger and were exploiting the refugee system. Shortly thereafter, a woman who had been denied refugee status in Canada and deported to Mexico was found murdered.
We don’t need to look far to see examples of the human costs of Kenney’s immigration policy. In Halifax last winter, an Eritrean refugee in Halifax committed suicide after learning that his refugee claim had been denied. Clearly his fear of returning to Eritrea was very real—no “bogus” refugee claimants here.
Kenney’s hypocrisy is most stark, however, when we consider his response to the Tamil refugees who arrived in BC aboard the MV Sun Sea last August. Rather than being treated in the way in which refugee claimants are usually entitled, the boatload was immediately incarcerated.
Kenney then used their arrival as an excuse to introduce Bill C-49, a bill which criminalizes any refugee, including children, who are suspected of using “human smuggling” to arrive in Canada. Under these policies, these refugee claimants will be detained for at least one year after arrival, will have no right to appeal a negative refugee claim decision, and will be denied health coverage.
The policies outlined in Bill C-49, as well as in Kenney’s other policy decisions, are not much of an improvement over the racist immigration policy that was used as an excuse to turn back the M.S. St. Louis back in 1939. To “remember” this tragedy while continuing down a road of exclusionary anti-migrant policy is a sickening abuse of history. Kenney is attempting to distract from the present-day tragedies he inflicts on our immigrants and community members every day.
We must remember the turning back of 900 Jewish refugees, many of whom were returned to their death, as a tragic example of what happens when we erect borders to prevent the free movement of people, and when racism and discrimination rather than compassion and justice guide immigration decisions.