03/03/2014 12:58 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Canada Fails the Test of a Good Society

In a recent press release, Citizenship and Immigration Canada made several troubling assertions about federal policies towards refugees.

First, the government claims "In 2011, there were approximately 6,300 asylum claims from EU countries -- more than from Africa or Asia."

So what? Human rights reports document human rights abuses in the European Union. There is no inherent evil in the regimes in Africa or Asia, nor is there a pass for governments in Europe. Human rights abuses are not tied to any particular continent. In fact, the origin of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the Second World War.

Second, the release indicates "Under the new rules, annual asylum claims from Hungary -- an EU country and the top source country for asylum claims in Canada over the past three years with already high withdrawal and abandonment rates -- have declined by an overwhelming 97 per cent."

That's nothing to be proud of. It simply means that people who face persecution could be deterred from coming to Canada because of the negative campaign against refugees. The fact that fewer refugees are arriving could easily mean that the campaign has worked, instead of being proof of a lack of persecution. Recall that Canadian government put up a billboard in Hungary discouraging people from coming.

Third, the statement notes "Asylum claims from the United States have also dropped significantly -- down by roughly 80 per cent from the year before."

The refugees from the USA are overwhelmingly children of Latin Americans who were born during their parents' sojourn in the USA. These refugees have also been deterred from coming to Canada. Why? Because they tend to not have status in the USA and given our harsh determination system, prefer to remain there undocumented, work and send their children to school, instead of being subjected to an unfair system in Canada and be deported home.

Aside from these inaccurate statements, the government repeatedly indicts refugee claimants from EU countries for coming to Canada to "abuse our health care." However, most EU countries offer health care comparable to that in Canada. How can it be that these people are coming to take advantage of the Canadian health care system? Moreover, reducing or eliminating health care for refugee claimants before their claims have been heard and determined by the government's own tribunal is surely inhumane.

Each individual person, as a human being, deserves the right to access a fair refugee system, free from government rhetoric.

Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is attempting to justify the recent changes to the refugee determination system and refugee health care with divisive language and misrepresentation of the facts. As a former diplomat who worked in third-world countries he should know better.

Consider, that when the medical community recently challenged the Minister to a debate on the refugee health care issues, he chose not to respond. Instead, his Chief of Staff, Chris Day, in a McCarthyesque move, attacked individual doctors on social media. Neither Day nor Minister Alexander has responded to concerns about their inaccurate statements.

This is not a reasonable way to develop public policy that affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Our sages tell us that in order for a society to be judged as good and decent we must treat the stranger amongst us with kindness and respect. Sadly it seems, Canada can fails the test as a good society.

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