OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is being blasted for stigmatizing Caribbean Canadians after he linked recent gun violence in Toronto with "foreign gangsters."
Kenney took to Twitter to say he agrees with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who wants anyone convicted of gun crimes to be expelled from the city permanently.
"I agree w/ Mayor Ford: foreign gangsters should be deported w/out delay," Kenney tweeted late Thursday. "That's why we've introduced Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act."
A spokeswoman for Kenney said the minister was not suggesting foreigners were responsible for Monday night's worst mass shooting spree in Toronto's history, in which two young people were killed and 23 wounded at a community barbeque.
"Rather, he was agreeing with the principle that foreign criminals generally should be removed from Canada more quickly," Ana Curic said in an email Friday.
Curic did not say why Kenney thought it relevant to raise the issue of foreign criminals in the context of the Danzig Avenue shooting.
In an interview Friday evening with CBC's Power and Politics, Kenney acknowledged he has no information that foreigners were involved in Monday's shooting.
"But clearly, the recent rash of gun crime in Toronto is connected to criminal gang activity and we are aware that there have been foreign members, sometimes leading members of criminal gangs in Canada, able to recommit offences while delaying their deportation," he said.
"So, my comment was not in relation to any particular alleged criminal, it was in relation to the broader problem of gang crime which sometimes does involve foreign citizens who are delaying deportation from Canada and we shouldn't be squeamish about this."
Kenney's recently introduced bill would remove the right of foreigners convicted of serious crimes to appeal deportation orders.
His tweet touting the bill was in response to Ford saying he wants to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss tougher gun and immigration laws in a bid to keep those convicted of gun crimes out of his city.
Ford did not specifically blame the incident on foreigners and in a subsequent radio interview clarified: "I don't care what country you're from, I don't care if you're a Canadian citizen or not; all I'm saying is if you're caught with a gun and convicted of a gun crime, I want you out of this city."
Kenny noted that Canadian citizens, once released from prison, are entitled to live wherever they want under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Liberal MP John McKay, whose Scarborough riding was rocked by the shooting, said Kenney should have known better than to echo anything said by Ford, whom he accused of fanning "the flames of ignorance and prejudice."
"It's classic dopey on dopey," McKay said in an interview.
McKay, who has spent considerable time since the shooting meeting with residents in the affected community, said they're "upset that their community is going to be stigmatized." He said Kenney's talk of foreigners is only going to make that worse.
"If being born here of Jamaican or Caribbean parentage makes you a foreigner, I guess they're foreigners," McKay said, adding that he saw the residents "more as Canadians."
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said both Ford and Kenney are "guilty of feeding the beast."
"No one should be leaping to conclusions about 'foreigners' being responsible for any particular set of criminal acts," Rae said in an email.
"This kind of cheap demagogy is unworthy of politicians at any level. Rob Ford and Jason Kenney should know better."
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims noted that Kenney is also responsible for multiculturalism and has been the primary organizer for the Conservative party in ethnic communities. She said his tweet is already causing concern among new Canadians who are concerned that it's at odds with the fine words from Kenney when he's trolling for their votes.
"It will make people raise their eyebrows and think, 'Is this the same man who comes and sits in our houses and tells us what great Canadians we are?'" she said.
"Last evening I talked to at least two people who had reaction to the tweet and said to me .. 'It's really very worrying that this is being said by a Canadian minister.'"
Sims called Kenney's tweet "deeply disturbing."
"It makes the jump that anybody who does crime must be a foreigner and must belong to foreign gangs. It's hard for me to fathom. This is a time for everybody to put their politics aside, take a look at what's happening and look at the root causes."
Toronto city councillor Mike Layton, son of former federal NDP leader Jack Layton, said Ford and Kenney are "walking down a very, very dangerous road."
"Blaming it on new Canadians and immigrants is just uncalled for, when I don't believe we know anything about the background of the (perpetrators)," Layton said.
He wouldn't go so far as to call it racist but said: "I definitely think it's getting close to it."