Outrageous Claims

In my previous article, I noted that the Harper government:

“… want[s] to work more closely with foreign governments to stop [refugee vessels] at the source. But since we’re talking about refugees who, by definition, are fleeing persecution, such sources are arguably the very governments they’re fleeing. This brave new policy is sordidly familiar, akin to collaborating with the Nazis to stop the flight of Jews.”

This has raised a storm of controversy (CBC & CTV websites et al) – not because of any outrage at the prospect of us becoming complicit in persecution, but because, it is alleged, I compared the Harper government with Nazis. This is clearly incorrect. I made no such comparison.

But, if we are planning to go back to “the source” and find people trying to escape persecution, and deliberately interfere with them doing that, how are we not then complicit in their persecution?

If, further, we work with their governments to find and stop such people from escaping, arguably the selfsame governments that they claim are persecuting them, how is this then not collaborating with their oppressors? How is this not exactly like “…collaborating with the Nazis to stop the flight of the Jews?”

Please note that that’s not a comparison of the Conservatives with the Nazis, nor even a comparison of their policies with Nazi policies. It is, however, a comparison of the nature of their proposed collaboration with foreign governments.

The prospect of such a collaboration is disturbing and at the outset might well not have been fully understood in that context. But once the point is clear, I believe that our Conservative compatriots will be equally loathe to proceed in this manner, exercising greater care in the nature of collaborations they might envision.

Ocean Liner St. Louis, 1939

It has also been suggested that a historical case in point, the ocean liner St. Louis, was turned back in 1939 by a Liberal government and thus, me being a Liberal, this works against my argument. Not so. It makes my argument all the more important. Whatever the government of the day, a wrongful policy is a wrongful policy. It was wrong to fail to give refuge to the St. Louis then, just as the proposed new policies are wrong today. We must learn from past mistakes, especially our own, not use them as an excuse to do nothing.

MV Sun Sea, 2010

Some have also expressed astonishment about my comment that in the case of the Tamil refugee ship, MV Sun Sea:

“… we have no credible argument of illegal entry, illegal migration, trafficking, or smuggling…”

How can that be? – it’s been all over the news! Yes. It has indeed been all over the news even before they arrived that this was a boatload of illegal immigrants. But, let me quote an earlier post:

“… while their departure was clandestine, as you might expect when escaping persecution, their arrival was not, and they most certainly were not even attempted to be “smuggled” into Canada. They sailed directly to a legal port of entry in broad daylight and the full spotlight of the public press, and were compliantly escorted to a berth. We even knew for weeks they were coming. Not much of a smuggling operation.”

And as for illegal entry, I further maintain that their arrival:

“… was consistent with correct protocol for entering Canada… The usual practice is to berth while her master reports the arrival to the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), all others remaining on board until receiving authorization from CBSA to disembark, which they did.”

Tell me how that analysis is incorrect. Where is the illegal entry? (And of course, with no illegal entry, there’s even less excuse to characterize this as a smuggling operation – at least as regards the laws of Canada.)

The people from the MV Sun Sea are also widely spoken of as “illegal immigrants.” But as already argued there’s nothing illegal about them in the first place, and in the second place, they’re refugees – Refugees are in a whole different category. (And they’re not “jumping the queue” – there is no queue for refugee claimants.)

As refugees, once they enter our territory and ask for asylum, according to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol on refugees – to which we are signatories, and according to the Supreme Court of Canada, they have a right to do this, and to have their case heard. And in consequence of this right there is no visa requirement for refugees. If, through a fair and reasonable process their case is heard and is judged to not hold up, they can be sent back. But they nevertheless have the right to make the case.

So, apart from inflammatory government rhetoric, and vague, non-specific mutterings in the press, where, exactly, is the illegality here?

Sovereignty

The idea that just anybody can come here and ask for asylum seems to some to be an infringement of our sovereignty, demonstrating a need to “control” our borders better. Again, not so.

We have chosen to exercise our sovereignty in this way. We have chosen to exercise our sovereignty by giving expression to our Canadian values of compassion, and respect for human rights and human dignity, by our commitment to the right of people to seek asylum from persecution.

If we want to stop refugee boats, if we want people to stop fleeing here from persecution, if we want to work with foreign governments to do so, we need to do so by eliminating the persecution from which they flee.

Illegal Immigration and Human Trafficking

But what about illegal immigration? What about human trafficking? Shouldn’t we fight those? Absolutely. But those are different questions not impinged upon by the MV Sun Sea, and not addressed by my comments. My comments are specifically addressed against proposals that wrongly target refugees.

Let us definitely address illegal immigration and the horrors of human trafficking. But in our zeal to do this, let’s be sure we fully honour our duty of care to the many persecuted people in this world who stand to get caught up in such efforts.

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