Immigration minister exchanges volleys with the Canadian Arab Federation
By Juliet O'Neil
Canwest News Service
March 13, 2009
OTTAWA Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says the Canadian Arab Federation will have to change its leadership and adopt a more moderate stance or risk losing federal funding.
The federation reacted Friday by saying it is undemocratic and dangerous for a cabinet minister to “bully” an elected president and board of directors, and the minister's comments should concern all immigrant-settlement agencies in Canada.
The federation is a “service delivery partner” for the government, delivering settlement assistance to immigrants. But Kenney says taxpayers should not be footing the bill for an organization whose leader “promotes hateful and extremist views,” and there are lots of moderate organizations that could do the job.
In an interview with Canwest News Service and Global National for the weekly feature, In Person, Kenney said a decision will be made soon on the funding threat he made after federation president Khaled Mouammar described the minister as a “professional whore who supports war” during the Israeli bombing of Gaza last month.
At stake is a two-year federal contract of more than $500,000 for language and job-search training for immigrants in Toronto. The contract expires March 10, 2010. The services have been provided by the federation on behalf of the government for 11 years.
“I can tell you, at my ministry, I have no intention of funding that organization as long as it has the current leadership that apologizes for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, says they should be able to operate legally, that promotes hateful and extreme views, particularly the most pernicious and durable form of hatred, which is anti-Semitism,” Kenney said.
He suggested the decision could be reversed if more moderate leaders were in place.
“I think if the character of the organization were to change and there were to be a leadership of that group that was much more in keeping with our Canadian values, broadly understood, I would be entirely comfortable with them being a service delivery partner of our ministry.”
Federation executive director Mohamed Boudjenane said he was amazed by Kenney's statements. The federations' members had issued a statement last Sunday supporting the leadership, while referring to Mouammar's comments as “unfortunate.”
He said it was time to move on “and agree to disagree on foreign policy,” but Kenney was “pouring oil on a fire.”
“That means a minister of a crown . . . depending on the people he likes or dislikes, he will grant taxpayer money for services?” Mouammar asked. “I think all settlement agencies should be very concerned with this issue.”
Kenney, who was accompanied to and from the interview by two RCMP bodyguards, said the Mounties had made a “threat assessment” and determined he needs full-time personal security.
Kenney also singled out the Canadian Islamic Congress as part of “an ongoing review” by the government, although congress president Wahida Valiante recently said the congress does not receive any government funds.
In justifying his repeated criticism of the congress, Kenney cites a 2004 incident in which the former president of the congress suggested all Israelis 18 or older were fair targets for suicide bombers. The president publicly apologized for his remark.
“It's my hope that we will emulate the United Kingdom's approach towards community engagement, and not give credibility or access or funding to groups that promote hateful views,” Kenney said.
In a weekly newsletter Friday, Valiante said Kenney should “not use his position to intimidate or pummel his critics and potentially cause enormous collateral damage in the process.”
Asked where he draws the line between legitimate opposition to Israeli policy and hatred, Kenney replied: “You can disagree with the policies of Israel without obviously being anti-Semitic. There's no question about that. But what we have now is a new kind of anti-Semitism which, I believe, is under the cloak of anti-Zionism, the premise of which is that Jewish people alone do not have the right to a homeland.”