Monday, November 08, 2010

Support cracks for Conservative human smuggling bill

Update (4:10 p.m.) below.

This report from CP last night on the proposed human smuggling bill is a doozy. Seems that CP has done some digging on the raft of endorsements for Bill C-49 that came from ethnic groups almost simultaneous to the bill's release. Journalists have apparently been bombarded with the endorsements. Further, Conservative MP Devinder Shory listed off a bunch of the groups endorsing C-49 in the House of Commons during first reading. The Conservatives are clearly relying upon that support to give the impression that ethnic communities support their bill. To give the bill an inevitability push at the front end in the face of strong critiques of its substance. Some of the endorsements are in question though.

One group that originally signalled support for the bill, B’nai Brith, is changing its supporting position on the bill, now expressing concern about the bill's impact on "suffering refugees." Maybe that might have to do with efforts like this Jewish Canadian open letter against C-49, for example.

There are at least 2 groups that CP has tracked down that are too small to have offices or websites. One of them, the North American Canada Youth Business Association, didn't provide any information to CP to confirm the legitimacy of the group and its endorsement of the bill. A second, a Peel Tamil Community Centre, is watering down their support too and providing some astounding information:
He’s hoping his support of the human smuggling bill will encourage the federal government to back his group financially. But he also says he has some serious reservations about the bill, despite his press release.

“We don’t support the whole bill,” Mr. Ratnarajah said. Stiffer penalties for human smugglers are fine, he said, but he is concerned about how the bill would have Ottawa treat refugees.

He said he has been assured that the troubling elements on refugees will never see the light of day.

“Eventually I think that’s not going to be there. That’s what we were told,” he said.
"That's what we were told?" Was there a follow-up question, as in, who told you that? It's remarkable if it's true. The upshot would be that the government's tough stance on human smuggling in this bill, replete with a one year detention period, is just that, a stance. That the groups are being enticed into supporting a sham bill. And why is Mr. Ratnarajah holding out hope for financial support for his group, as he states?

What's also remarkable, Jason Kenney's cavalier response when the question of these endorsements, which his government is clearly relying upon, was put to him:
“Can I vouch for everyone who claims to support the bill? No. Do I have a responsibility to? No,” he said in an interview. “We’re actually very pleased with public reaction.”
If you're going to rely upon those endorsements in the House of Commons, as one of your MPs did, then yes, you do have a responsibility to make sure they're legitimate endorsements. Otherwise, the government is misrepresenting support for its bill. (See also: "Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has begun a road show to promote the bill, trumpeting support from some ethnic groups and editorials.")

As a reminder, it was reported at the end of August that the PMO has put communications staff in urban centres across the country to help ease access between the PM and the ministers to ethnic media. It is worth wondering whether these offices have been involved in lining up such support for this human smuggling bill too.

There may be some groups that legitimately support C-49, but it looks like there are some big questions about a bunch of the support that's been enlisted and what the government's role in obtaining that support may have been.

Update (4:10 p.m.): Other bloggers are also writing about the C-49 endorsement brouhaha today. See Big City Lib who did some digging on the Peel Tamil Community Centre guy referenced above and the Jurist who raises a good point about how superficial Tory inroads into ethnic communities might be.