Thursday, July 28, 2011

Conservative “war criminal” round-up a made for TV spectacle

Some groups are only comfortable if they have enemies to fight, real or imagined. If you were wondering how the Conservative government would adjust to having a majority government and a rookie opposition, don’t worry: where they can’t find enemies, they’ll just make them up.

It’s been interesting to follow this drama around the government’s recent “war criminal” round-up, where they flashed names and photos (but scant details) of a so-called “gang of 30” immigrants deemed inadmissible for immigration to Canada for alleged conflict-related activities in their home countries. These people are here but need to be sent home, and the government wants the help of the public tracking down these “most-wanted” persons.

Actually, what has been more interesting is how the Conservatives have tried to pick fights over this program where fights don’t necessarily exist. For example, I think most Canadians agree people deemed ineligible for admission to Canada, particularly if there are questions over their activities in an overseas conflict, should be sent home. I think most of us are in agreement on that central point.

Where there is disagreement though, a point that the government and the haphazard editorial writers at the Globe choose to ignore, is how the government is going about this. It seems abundantly clear this program is less about identifying and deporting alleged war criminals, and more about politics. Creating a media spectacle, appearing “tough on crime” and trying to pick a fight, real or imagined.

For example, there are reports that provincial and local police didn’t learn about this “wanted list” until the government held the press conference, and that there were even known addresses for some of these people. It raises the question, just how hard were immigration authorities really looking for these people?

The government has also taken pains to try to play-up the history and danger these people post to inflame public opinion. If they’re inadmissible they’re inadmissible and they should go, but let’s remember these people haven’t been charged with a crime here or at home. They’re not being extradited. Branding them war criminals approaches hyperbole. Particularly when you’re tarring them with that brush but refuse to provide details, citing privacy reasons.

That this is a public relations exercise is underlined by the near daily press conferences with Harper cabinet ministers trumpeting yet another capture of one of these dangerous fugitives.

It’s become reality television meets the immigration and justice systems. If this pilot episode is a ratings success, expect a four-season renewal to follow. It may be compelling television, but it’s no way to run an immigration system. Particularly when this is a time we should be having an open and frank debate about reforming our immigration system.

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Unknown said...

I think it is important that the Canadian people do not fall into the trap of painting all immigrants with the same brush, myself included, in the wake of the recent publishing of the names and faces of 30 suspected international rights abusers, by the Conservative government. Of course we need to deal with those individuals in question, those that may tarnish our functioning immigration system. But we must not let the Conservatives galvanize, through public opinion, the politics of radically altering our immigration system, e.g. allowing significantly fewer immigrants into Canada and mainly implementing the suggested changes in a recent Fraser Institute research paper on immigration, found here:, and my summary of the study on my blog here:

ktwisdom said...

I don't see this so much as immigration policy but a call to arms. Go back to what Paul Wells was saying here.

The plain meaning of Stephen Harper’s chosen and repeated language is that Canada’s survival over the medium term is not guaranteed, and that the threat comes from outside, not from within. ... the question he himself has now raised repeatedly — is: what is the external threat to Canada over 50 years that makes the country’s very survival, in his eyes, uncertain?

This list of "war criminals" is one step in establishing "the fact" Canadians and the Canadian way of life are under attack, we must be protected, and the CPC is on the job.

Perhaps a shift in messaging to turn the focus away from the economy and what they see lays ahead? Or to have a tough on crime agenda you have to have criminals which isn't supported by the recent reports on falling crime rates in Canada.