Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of national defence and minister for multiculturalism. (photo from forces.gc.ca)
Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of national defence and minister for multiculturalism, says this country should prioritize Christian refugees and other minorities who constitute the most imperiled of the millions fleeing Syria and Iraq.
“Some people are in an understandable wave of emotion … telling me that we should just send C-17 aircraft over there to refugee camps and load them up and bring them to Canada,” Kenney told the Independent. But the refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) that Kenney sees as most vulnerable are not even in the United Nations refugee camps, he said.
“I know these issues extremely well and I can tell you that there are certain vulnerable Syrian and Iraqi minorities who cannot and do not even go to the UN camps,” said Kenney. “Why? Because they are the persecuted minorities. Ismaili Muslims, Druze, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians – e.g. the Christians – do not go to the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey because they’re afraid of their minority [status], the implications of that. These are the people who are living in urban slums in Amman, Jordan, in Beirut, Lebanon, and some in Ankara, Turkey, who we have said we will focus our refugee resettlement programs on.”
These minorities are less likely, Kenney said, to harbor individuals who could pose a threat to Canada.
“These are the victims of the doctrine of armed jihad,” he said. “I can tell you that these people, when they come to Canada, they want to keep us safe from what drove them out of their homes. This is why I think we need to be intelligent about refugee resettlement.”
Kenney emphasized that he wishes peace and protection to all of the refugees and IDPs regardless of their faith or political views. But, he added, “I’ve been to the camps, alright? When I go into people’s tents and I see there’s very few young men, I’ve asked in Turkey and Lebanon and in Jordan: where is your father, where is your husband, where’s your son? I see the pictures in the tents.”
The response he has received often, he said, is that the men are off fighting with the al-Nusra Front or other Islamist militias.
“This is a vicious stew of violence and we must ensure that that cult of violence doesn’t inadvertently come to Canada,” said the minister, who is running for reelection in Calgary. “So that’s why we need to be careful and prudent about security screening and, I think, ensure that to the greatest extent possible the refugees who we welcome to Canada are those who are amongst the most vulnerable.… I don’t apologize for saying we should focus on the most vulnerable and on Canada’s security at the same time.”
Kenney, who has been the Conservative government’s point person for ethnic communities, spoke with the paper as the image of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian-Kurdish refugee child whose body washed ashore on the Turkish coast, was animating the world to act on the refugee crisis.
“The image of that boy represents thousands of others who die in human smuggling operations and the tens of thousands who have – excuse me, the hundreds of thousands – who have died in the Syrian civil war and as victims of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” said Kenney. “It galvanizes collective attention on the total humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq and Syria.”
Canada is the largest per capita resettler of refugees worldwide, Kenney said, welcoming one in every 10 resettled refugees in the world. (CBC and Global News have both analyzed this claim and note that it refers to refugees resettled from an asylum country like Lebanon or Jordan to a country that has agreed to take them as refugees. Because most refugees flee to an adjacent country – or, as seen in recent months, trek to European countries – the news outlets assert that Canada is not first, but 41st, in the world. Canada accepts one in 10 resettled refugees, but most refugees remain unsettled, they claim, making Canada’s acceptance rate of total refugees about one percent, not 10%, of the world’s refugees.)
In any event, the enormity of the problem, Kenney said, means “resettlement is not a solution.”
This is where Kenney differentiates the Conservative government’s position from those of the opposition parties. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cites 15 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees and IDPs, he said.
“It’s a cruel myth if we think we can solve a humanitarian crisis with 15 million IDPs and refugees and here’s the key thing – new refugees are being created every single day,” he said. The world needs to address the root cause of the massive refugee problem, he said, which is the genocidal terror of ISIS (also called ISIL or the Islamic State).
“We have a moral obligation to play a role in degrading and ultimately defeating ISIL in its campaign of terror,” he said. “And, we also need to provide humanitarian support to the IDPs and refugees, which we are doing…. We’ve contributed between the two countries over $810 million in emergency humanitarian assistance. We will do more.”
The defence minister took a shot at New Democratic party leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, both of whom oppose Canadian ground troops in the fight against ISIS.
“What we’re doing is important,” Kenney said. “The military contributions that we are making through our airstrikes and the training of the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq are making a meaningful difference but, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively modest contributions. So, for the Liberals and NDP to suggest that we should completely withdraw even from the air campaign or, in the case of the NDP, from training, is, I think, morally irresponsible and reprehensible. If the world is moved by the images of the Kurdi family on the Turkish beach, we must recall that these were people who fled the violence of ISIL and there will be more Kurdi families unless and until the world stops this genocidal terrorist organization. That’s why we believe there is a moral obligation and a security imperative for us to participate in the international coalition degrading and, hopefully, ultimately defeating ISIL.”
On the issue of domestic security, Kenney also lashed back at critics of Bill C-51.
“If you look at the additional security powers included in Bill C-51, they are modest compared to most of our liberal democratic peer countries,” he said. “Most of the new powers included in Bill C-51 are actually invested in the courts, the judiciary, not in the police or intelligence agencies and certainly not in the hands of politicians. And many of those additional powers themselves are very modest.”
Kenney said RCMP were keeping an eye on Martin Couture-Rouleau, the “lone wolf” terrorist who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec last year.
“The RCMP went to the prosecutors and said we want to apply for a preventative detention order or peace bond to restrict this guy’s movements because we think he’s going to do something crazy and violent,” said Kenney. “The prosecutor said, sorry, but we just do not have the legislative, the statutory, tools to do this. We would have to prove to a court that he will commit a terrorist offence and there’s no way to do that.”
Under the new law, said Kenney, police can go to the prosecutor, who in turn can go to the court, and the court determines whether an order for preventive detention can be issued.
“And, by the way, the maximum order for that can be seven days,” he said. “In Britain, it’s 28 days. It’s why I say the powers here are relatively modest.”
Another example of what Bill C-51 does, he said, is to allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to interrupt a possible terrorist event.
“What does this mean practically? If CSIS is observing that a 15-year-old kid’s spending hours every day on terrorist websites, instead of just waiting for him to blow up metaphorically, they can go to his parents now and say, ‘Are you aware that your son appears to be in the process of radicalization?’” Kenney said. “Is this a violation of civil liberties? No. As the prime minister says, the most important civil liberty is the right to live safely and securely.”
Kenney described the idea that C-51 could be used to infiltrate or disrupt civil society protests against things such as oil pipelines as “rubbish.”
“I think the criticisms of Bill C-51 have been massively overblown,” he said. “If they advocate going and blowing up pipelines, yes, possibly. But protesting the construction of pipelines? Absolutely rubbish. No police officer would be interested in that, no prosecutor would bring a charge on that, no court would accept it. It is ridiculous.”
The Conservative government has often been alone on the international stage in defending Israel’s right to defend itself, a position that has been criticized on several fronts, including accusations that the Tories have turned Israel into a partisan political issue. The Independent asked if the government’s vocal position is driven by theology, politics or ideology.
“What drives that is principle,” Kenney said. “Israel is not a normal state. Israel is a moral cause. Israel is the refuge of the survivors of the Shoah and, therefore, the world has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of that refuge, that one and only Jewish homeland in the world.”
He dismissed political expediency as a factor, noting that fewer than one percent of Canadians are Jewish – and that not all of them are committed Zionists – and Canada has little of the Christian Zionist movement that exists in the United States.
“So, it’s not political,” he said, adding that it is also not based on “some kooky Christian reconstructionist millennial theology.”
“I have never heard a Conservative political actor in Canada make reference to Christian Zionist theology in articulating our support for Israel,” he said. “That’s a phantom for some paranoid minds on the left. The truth is this … we see Israel as an emblem, a symbol, a surrogate for Western civilization in the Middle East, by which we mean that Israel is predicated on the belief in human dignity, which is manifest in a liberal democratic political system, protection for human rights, religious freedom and pluralism.”
He said Israel’s enemies are motivated by what they view as “an unacceptable presence of those Western civilizational values in the Middle East, but secondly because the enemies of Israel are motivated by a deep and irredeemable antisemitism.”
“Most of Israel’s enemies do not seek a conventional peace – negotiations toward a two-state solution or a conventional political solution to the conflict there. They seek one thing, which is the elimination of the so-called ‘Zionist entity’ and the driving of the Jews into the sea. A second Holocaust.”
In addition to foreign affairs, Kenney said he wanted to remind Jewish Canadians of programs the government has undertaken domestically.
“We’ve taken a zero-tolerance attitude to antisemitism here domestically and that’s not just rhetorical,” he said. “We’ve paid a price for it. I’ve defunded organizations that were receiving grants – perversely – to provide integration services to newcomers, like the Canadian Arab Federation and Palestine House, whose leadership were openly antisemitic. I’ve been sued for it, our government’s been sued for these decisions, but we did the right thing.”
The government, he said, has also funded security infrastructure projects to upgrade security at synagogues, Hebrew schools and Jewish community centres.
On the issue of whether Canada is in a recession, Kenney said there was a sectoral contraction in oil that’s affected Alberta.
“No doubt about it, Alberta is in a recession due to the crash in oil prices,” he said. “But the rest of the country and the other industry sectors are growing. Employment remains strong. This is hardly a recession by any broadly understood definition and, according to the June StatsCan report, we’re back into a growth phase of two percent annualized growth. The dumbest thing we could do would be to act as though there is a serious, deep recession by going out and borrowing tens of billions of dollars as the other parties [would] do, which constitute deferred taxes. We think fiscal discipline, low taxes [and] expanded trade markets continue to be the right recipe for growth.”
The Independent has interviewed Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and has invitations out to NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Green party leader Elizabeth May. The federal election is on Oct. 19.