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Margaret Wente

Amnesty’s misplaced hand-wringing Add to ...

Cristobal Gonzalez-Ramirez is not exactly what you’d call a stand-up guy. He arrived in Canada from Honduras in 2006 and promptly filed an application for refugee status. In January – more than four years after he got here – his refugee claim was rejected. The Immigration and Refugee Board determined he was a war criminal, responsible for creating an army battalion that executed more than 100 Hondurans in the early 1980s. After being scheduled for deportation, he disappeared.

Then there’s Manuel De La Torre Herrera, who claimed refugee status after he arrived from Peru in 2000 to perform in a music festival. The refugee board determined he had once been active in a state-backed death squad. He went underground when his claim was denied. And how about Abraham Bahaty Bayavuge, who was turned down for refugee status in 2004 after the board found he had served murderous regimes in Congo? He disappeared, too.

All three characters figured on a most-wanted list of fugitives released by the government last month, complete with mug shots. All three were rounded up, and two of them have been deported. The third one, Mr. Bayavuge, is set to be deported, but not before a further round of due process that includes a detention review and a preremoval risk assessment to determine whether he’ll be endangered if he’s sent back.

Canada has become notorious as a haven for war criminals and phony refugees. Some have lived here for years, even decades, with impunity. So this belated government crackdown should come as welcome news. But not everyone thinks so. In fact, many people suspect that the government’s decision to publish the identities of these sketchy characters is a stunt meant to pander to the baser elements of the electorate.

On top of that, they insist, the government is violating their human rights. After all, how do we really, really know they’re all that bad? And even if they are, deporting them is wrong. Instead, these critics say, it’s our duty to put them on trial, at a cost of millions, so justice will be done.

Leading this crusade is Amnesty International, a prominent human-rights group that’s gained a reputation as the scourge of dictators and tyrants. Today, it gets more mileage out of scolding Canada. In an open letter this month, it rebuked the government for violating the human rights of the human-rights violators by trying to enforce the Immigration Act. In effect, it wants these people treated as if they were citizens, instead of illegal residents who lied their way into Canada, flunked their refugee-board hearings, and went on the lam.

In response to Amnesty’s scolding, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney popped his cork. He posted an open letter of his own on his constituency website. In it, he accused Amnesty of “self-congratulatory moral preening” and said the group had lost its way. “As a former AI member, may I suggest that ostentatious hand-wringing over the good name of war criminals and human rights violators may sit uneasily with those AI members who, perhaps naively, believe your compassion should be reserved for their victims.”

Not surprisingly, Amnesty (cheered on by the noisy immigration-lawyer lobby) has now issued an indignant response. Also not surprisingly, various members of the liberal punditocracy have denounced Mr. Kenney for his bizarre and irresponsible tirade. Cabinet ministers, after all, should not descend to low partisan attacks.

Maybe not. But the minister is right. Amnesty should find some real victims to defend.

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