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Tabatha Southey

Look out, Unicef. Next Jason Kenney might be gunning for you Add to ...

“I must confess that my first reaction upon reading your open letter to Minister Toews and myself was one of surprise and joy. For your organization to muster its formidable powers of suasion against the orderly and innoxious proceedings of the Canadian immigration system must mean that the world's most truculent regimes have discharged their last political prisoners and advocates of democracy are free to march in the streets of Tehran and Pyongyang.”

That's the beginning of an open letter written by Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, in response to an open letter from Alex Neve and Béatrice Vaugrante, the anglophone and francophone Secretarys-General of Amnesty International Canada, expressing the organization's concerns about the recent arrests of five illegal immigrants who are also deemed to be war criminals.

You're excused if your first reaction on reading of the minister's “joy” is, “Who died and made you the Minister of Sarcasm?”

The concerns cited by Amnesty International are that by using the immigration system to deal with suspected war criminals – deporting them instead of charging them – Canada may allow them to escape prosecution.

In addition, “Canada's international human rights obligations are clear,” Amnesty's letter said – “no person should be deported if he or she faces a serious risk of such grave human rights violations as torture, extrajudicial execution or enforced disappearance.”

In the mildest terms, it urged the minister to “reassess” the government's approach.

That's part of Amnesty's mandate. And far from “squandering the moral authority accrued” in campaigns that Mr. Kenney sees as legitimate, the group would more likely lose some credibility if it failed to raise this issue.

All 30 of the people recently publicly named as war criminals can be deported for being in Canada illegally, without labelling them war criminals.

There might have been less tough-on-crime capital for the government in doing this, but the trade-off appears to be drawing the attention of an organization concerned about prosecuting war crimes and protecting people from being tortured – even if those people have tortured others.

All torture is bad, Amnesty International believes. Much the same way that it's bad to announce that people are war criminals when they haven't had a proper, public trial (no matter how just the other, non-court proceedings are), in Amnesty International's book. Which is a pretty respected book. They're not an organization most governments would pick a fight with.

Yet only weeks ago, Mr. Kenney was up late at night twittering about his government's triumph over “war criminals” and making disparaging remarks about Amnesty International – arguably engaged in the “self-congratulatory moral preening” he so undiplomatically accuses Amnesty of enjoying.

Mr. Kenney is widely acknowledged to be one of the hardest-working ministers in Ottawa, but these tweets seemed odd coming from a minister of the Crown, especially arriving as they did amid the gentler, pet/music/weather tweets that often occupy Twitter's late-evening hours. He was up baiting Amnesty International long after ministers in North Korea and Zimbabwe would've packed it in, or perhaps posted a LOLcat.

The tone of Mr. Kenney's letter to Amnesty, which was posted prominently on his ministerial website (yet is oddly signed only in his capacity as an MP, not as a minister), never gets less sarcastic. It feels personal. It reads like the kind of letter we sometimes write when we feel wronged, but then delete before sending. The tone makes sense only if Mr. Kenney recently broke up with Amnesty International. Prior drafts may well have contained the line, “And Violet Hill was never ‘our song' – it's my song.”

In fairness to Mr. Kenney, he has, in a sense, broken up with Amnesty International. He was a long-time supporter of the organization who appeared to be well-informed and passionate about its goals. Logically, this would have equipped him to address their concerns sensibly.

He could simply have said, as he sort of did – although not simply, never simply – that prosecuting these accused criminals in Canada would be too costly, complicated and likely ineffective (this may well be the case).

Instead, he called Amnesty's position “poppycock” and claimed that their professional, innocuous letter contained allegations that are “sloppy and irresponsible” and “precisely the slander you wrongly accuse the government of directing at the deportees.”

It doesn't. But what the letter does contain is a request that the government be tougher on war criminals. It's strange that this suggestion, made to a tough-on-crime minister, didn't merit a restrained, less caustic answer.

And so I'm ending this column right now, and ceding all further sarcasm to our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey



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