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The Globe and Mail

We're okay with dictators - until they're toppled

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila are seen in Rades, outside Tunis, marking the 20th anniversary of his presidency on Nov. 7, 2007.

Hassene Dridi/AP


I see that Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that the deposed president of Tunisia and his regime are not welcome in Canada. A statement he made in that bastion of democracy, Morocco. Where earlier today he announced that Ottawa and Rabat would negotiate a free trade agreement.

Mr. Harper's statement echoes the tough line taken yesterday by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, according to which Ben Ali's relatives are "not welcome in Canada." Which itself mimicked the tough talk the previous day by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. And is repeated today in editorials across the land.

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The problem with all this muscular rhetoric, however, is that members of the Ben-Ali family are already in Canada. As permanent residents. Which raises the question of how that could be when they are not wanted in Canada. It also fuzzifies the question of how they got here in the first place.

I'll tell you how.

Some members of the Ben-Ali family got here through the immigrant investment program. Which is a cheap price to pay for a family that reportedly had tonnes of gold to take with them as they fled Tunisia. Others got permanent resident status - nay Canadian citizenship - as a result of being born in Canada during a lightning visit to our country.

In light of these circumstances, perhaps it would be more honest for everyone to say that the Ben-Ali family is not wanted in Canada "any longer." At a minimum, this might avoid having to answer embarrassing questions about why our leaders are comfortable about courting other dictators around the world at the same time as they're in a froth about the Ben-Ali family.

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