8 January 2009
The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1
I am writing to convey to you the concerns of the Canadian Council for Refugees at some of your recent public remarks about US war resisters who have sought Canada’s protection.
Firstly, we welcome the fact that you underlined, in your letter to the Toronto Sun, published 2 January 2009, that the Immigration and Refugee Board is an independent tribunal.
Given that the IRB is independent, it is highly inappropriate for you to express your opinions on how you believe IRB members should make refugee determinations. To do so gives the strong appearance of political interference. This is especially so given that reappointments are made by Cabinet: Board members might fear that if they do not follow your interpretation their chances of reappointment will be reduced. Highly publicized cases such as the war resisters are always challenging for the IRB which must live up to its obligation to make fair, impartial and politically unmotivated determinations, based on the jurisprudence and the evidence before it. Public comments such as yours only make IRB members’ job more difficult and threaten claimants’ right to an unbiased decision.
Whether or not the war resisters are found to meet the Convention refugee definition, the war in Iraq is contrary to international law and has been conducted in a manner that has involved extensive documented human rights abuses. Given these facts, we are surprised and dismayed to find you making disparaging remarks about these individuals and even finding fault with them simply for making a refugee claim. These are individuals who deserve our admiration for following their consciences and refusing to participate in wrongdoing, at significant cost to themselves.
We are also shocked to see you arguing that the claims made by US war resisters are leading to delays for others in the refugee claim process. This is not a credible argument given that the number of US war resisters making claims in Canada is miniscule and can have no appreciable impact on the delays faced by refugees. On the other hand, as you are aware, the failure of your government to appoint sufficient Board members has led to the creation of a huge backlog and extremely lengthy delays for refugees. Resolving the need for sufficient appointments to the IRB by Cabinet will go a very long way to shortening delays in justice for refugees; negative comments about war resisters will not.
The Canadian Council for Refugees supports all war resisters from any country who refuse to engage in armed conflict that is contrary to international humanitarian law.
We urge you to allow such war resisters to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, if they are facing removal to a country where they would face punishment for their refusal to participate in such an armed conflict. As you know, finding a resolution in this way for the war resisters would win wide support among Canadians and would be in line with the motion adopted by Parliament in June 2008 calling for a program allowing war resisters to apply for permanent residence.