Liberal Bill Will Open Door Too Wide

Liberal bill will open door too wide
Move to help U.S. war 'resisters' deeply flawed

John Ivison
National Post
Published: Friday, October 02, 2009

Gerard Kennedy is a man of good intentions but a new law he has proposed should be judged on its potential for unintended consequences, rather than its intent.

The former Liberal leadership candidate has introduced a private member's bill that seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Act so that people who want to avoid compulsory military service can stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Kennedy argues he is standing up for “people of conscience,” such as former U.S. servicemen and women Jeremy Hinzman and Kimberley Rivera, who sought refuge in Canada after deserting from the U.S. forces in protest against the war in Iraq. He is particularly irked the Conservatives have ignored two votes in the House of Commons, where the opposition parties combined to call on the government to stop the removal or deportation of war “resisters.”

A well-orchestrated campaign, with public backing from such left-wing peaceniks as Maude Barlow and Naomi Klein, has now built up around the issue. The War Resisters Support effort highlights the plight of U.S. veterans such as Rodney Watson, who served in Iraq for a year but refused a second deployment and now lives in Vancouver.

“I realized the war had nothing to do with 9/11 or helping Iraqis or stopping terrorism. It's about guarding oil for the U.S.,” he said.

Small wonder that two-thirds of Canadians in an Angus Reid opinion poll agreed that people like Mr. Watson should be allowed to stay in Canada. Mr. Kennedy's bill differs from the previous attempts to change government policy in that they were non-binding motions, while his initiative is legislation that would amend an existing law and be binding on the government.

Private member's bills rarely pass — in fact just seven have been given royal assent since the Conservatives came to power in 2006. But Mr. Kennedy's proposed legislation has a better chance than most. It will be debated before Christmas and, if it makes it to a vote, is likely to receive the backing of all the opposition parties.

The Conservatives are steadfast in their opposition to Mr. Kennedy's bill, mainly, one suspects, because they don't want to add insult to the considerable injury many Americans felt when Canada refused to take part in the war in Iraq.

However, there are some sound practical reasons why the bill should not pass in its current form.

As it is worded now, the bill says foreign nationals already in Canada should be given permanent resident status if they left the armed service of their own country because of “moral, political or religious objections,” in order to avoid participating in a conflict not sanctioned by the United Nations.

The bill adds that the individual “shall be exempted by the Minister from any legal obligation… that would prevent them from being allowed to remain in Canada.”

This is where the law of unintended consequences kicks in. Government lawyers are said to be having conniptions at the prospect of visitors and students from around the globe making it to Canada and claiming refuge if Mr. Kennedy's bill passes into law. They point out that the list of countries that have mandatory military service includes Albania, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Taiwan and Turkey.

The second objection is over wording. Granting potential refugees an exemption from “any legal obligations” would force the Minister of Immigration to admit to Canada people who would otherwise be deemed inadmissible because of serious criminality, ranging from spying to terrorism, from rape to murder.

As Alykhan Velshi, director of communications to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, put it: “Rapists and murderers would still, thankfully, be inadmissible to Canada under our immigration laws. However if this Liberal bill passes, our fear is that we won't be able to stop rapists, murderers and other violent foreign criminals from immigrating to Canada if they happen to be military deserters. This Liberal bill may in fact require us to let dangerous foreign criminals who are military deserters immigrate here. Worse still, it may prevent us from deporting those already here who may in the future be conscripted into their country's armed forces.”

Mr. Kennedy takes exception to this characterization and said the legislative counsel he has received suggests that all existing protections on admissibility would still apply. “This is a red herring of the first order. I would not support a bill that creates privileged access [for criminals],” he said in an interview yesterday.

However, he admitted that the wording of the bill may be too broad and that it may yet be amended to make it specific to the war in Iraq. “I'm in active discussions on the wording,” he said. “The concern is to not be overtly anti-American [nor] to open the door too widely. No one is saying the U.S. persecutes people or that we are superior but we just have a different sensibility.”

You don't have to agree with the Immigration Minister's harsh assessment that those seeking asylum from the Iraq war are “bogus refugee claimants” to have reservations about a bill whose sponsor is still wavering about its wording.

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