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Jason Kenney defends gay refugee email

Jason Kenney defends gay refugee email

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Rainbow Refugee Committee raises further concerns about government refugee policy
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is on the defensive, telling Xtra he is surprised by the angry reaction to the email he sent out Sept 24 touting the government’s plan to protect the rights of gay and lesbian refugees.

The email, sent to thousands of gay and lesbian Canadians, was titled “LGBT Refugees in Iran,” and began with the salutation, “Friend.”

That’s because, he maintains, those who received the email had once signed a petition about gay refugees that generated an automated response to his office. He also suspects some recipients of his email had previously contacted his office.

Kenney rejects comments from some who said his email was “creepy,” because it appeared to target gay and lesbian people.

“Quite honestly, I've been in Parliament for 15 years and I've never seen a more ridiculous reaction to an issue than people objecting to being corresponded with by a parliamentarian's office after having contacted that office on that issue with their email address,” he says.


While she says privacy issues are important, Rainbow Refugee Committee’s Sharalyn Jordan is far more concerned with the content of the email and the changes included in Bill C-31, an omnibus bill on Canada's refugee system.

In the email, Kenney says he is working closely with the Rainbow Refugee Committee to sponsor gay refugees for resettlement to Canada.

But Jordan calls the email “pinkwashing” and a blatant attempt to create a negative shift in public opinion toward Iran by highlighting the homophobia faced by queer people there.

“We were very concerned that the letter singled out Iran,” she says. “There are over 78 countries with criminal sanctions against gay, lesbian, bi and trans people. There’s no need to be singling out Iran. There are five other countries and two states with the death penalty.”

Likewise, Jordan says the federal government has ignored her committee’s advice on refugee protection for queer people.

The Rainbow Refugee Committee has serious concerns regarding the so-called safe country list. She says some countries on it have laws protecting sexual minorities that are rarely enforced and do little to change social discrimination in the culture.

“Having a designated country list profoundly undermines fairness for queer refugees,” she says. “He doesn’t have to look at the human rights record at all to designate it.”

A good example is South Africa, she says, which has constitutional protection around sexual orientation, “yet organizations there report frequent cases of corrective rape that police are unable or unwilling to investigate.”

Russia and the Ukraine, both democratic countries, are implementing laws that ban any pro-gay speech.


Kenney says countries that do not normally produce refugees will get a “safe country” designation. “It is a standard feature of the asylum systems in virtually all liberal democracies.”

Designating some countries as “safe” helps prevent the high number of asylum claims that are determined to be false, he says.

“Look, we have a fair and generous legal system to determine whether asylum claims are founded or not,” he says. “The test is whether or not the claimant has a well-founded fear of persecutions.

“You cannot have an asylum system that simply accepts the veracity of every claim that's filed. That would be just an advertisement to the world to fabricate a false claim.”

But Jordan says there’s “not a shred” of evidence to support saying there are any more false claims for gay and trans refugees than any other group.

“There is a real narrative around the threat of bogus inland claimants,” she says.

Kenney says the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) does not make arbitrary decisions, so refugees must produce some evidentiary basis for a claim of persecution. “You can't just walk in and say, 'Trust me, I'm being persecuted.' People need to be able to demonstrate that persecution.”

That’s part of the problem, Jordan says. Many gay refugees seeking asylum have been forced to stay deeply closeted, hiding their sexuality under the weight of personal shame and stigma.

“Proving that is why LGBT claims are the most challenging,” she says. “No other kind of claim requires people to give out such intimate and often traumatizing details of their lives.”

She says some members of the IRB are not adequately trained to assess sexual minorities and gender-nonconforming people. They often use Western stereotypes of queer people, some are homophobic and most don’t understand the gender spectrum.

Federal judge James Russell recently criticized refugee adjudicators, rebuking them for relying on stereotypes to determine the sexuality of refugee claimants. “Behaviours which establish a claimant’s homosexuality are inherently private,” Russell said.

Under the new system, asylum-seekers will have 15 days, instead of 28 days, to produce their claim before their case moves to a hearing. Hearings, which previously took 19 months, now occur within 30 and 60 days, depending on whether the refugee hails from a “safe” country.

“That’s completely unworkable,” Jordan says. “People will go before their hearings unprepared. In the slower process, we already see refugees not being able to provide adequate evidence.”

In some cases, she says, the refugee board doesn’t see evidence that proves the risk of persecution. “We’ve seen people sent back to real violence. We’re very fearful this will happen far more frequently under the new system.”

Bisexual claimants face a systemic discrimination, she says. “That’s because IRB members have a hard time understanding the validity of identity. Some of the stereotypes of bisexuals feed into the idea that they could go back home and discreetly be safe. That’s not a valid decision. We need a better understanding of the range of queer sexuality, and that people don’t fall into neat little categories.”

Kenney is skeptical. He says that if cases are denied, the IRB probably had a good reason. “Very often we see media coverage of the uncorroborated story of the claimant, without looking at what the federal judges have seen."

Still, Kenney says one of his first meetings when he became minister four years ago was to meet with Helen Kennedy of Egale, who raised concerns surrounding the evidentiary standard the IRB uses for gay refugees.

Following that meeting, he says, he arranged to get IRB decision-makers better training on assessing the veracity of gay claims. “When the gay community has raised these concerns with me, I've responded the only way I can, which is to encourage the IRB to make sure they are being especially sensitive to the nature of gay claims.”

Kennedy was not available for comment.

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Comments

The Harper Government
friends and allies to Women and Gays....War Is Peace....
Gay Friendly yeah right....
The Harper Government supports the ever so Gay Friendly Afghan Islamic Regime, to the point of recently letting 800 supposedly Gay Friendly Afghans and a few translators waltz into the country to continue their Gay Friendly activities.
Gay friendly Conservatives?
Interesting that the Conservatives are now telling us they are so gay friendly, at least towards Iranian gay people. Yet, other than Iranian gay people, where is the proof? Have they reversed their decision to stop helping gay pride parades and re-instituted the funding? No. Have they passed or enacted a single gay rights increasing bill since being in power? No.

No, they have done nothing friendly for the gay community other than say they want to help Iranian gay people and allow John Baird to echo some of what Hillary Clinton said she would do to help gay people worldwide.

I think this gay Iranians thing is more likely to demonize Iran and a case of Islamophobia wherein the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For other examples of this look to Geert Wilders and friends.
RRC supports trans people
In response to Jessica’s remarks that RRC is not caring enough about trans people even to mention our existence, Sharalyn’s comments are inclusive of trans people. She states “there’s “not a shred” of evidence to support saying there are any more false claims for gay and trans refugees than any other group” as well as stating that “some members of the IRB are not adequately trained to assess sexual minorities and gender-nonconforming people”. For the record, RRC does support and advocacy for LGBT persons on refugee claims based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status and has trans people serving as volunteers and on our Board of Directors.
Life-long bachelors in Canadian politics
Jason Kenney and John Baird are both considered to be gay men and are both considered to be potential successors to Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of Canada. This would be in keeping with previous life-long bachelors who became Prime Minister of Canada, namely Conservative R.B. Bennett and Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King. It would be neat if the CBC - Canada's Biggest Closet - did a docudrama/miniseries on all the life-long bachelors in Canadian politics. Richard Hatfield, the Premier of New Brunswick in the 1970s and 1980s, could alone fill a full episode.
Good for the Tories!
I think the Tories are going a great job. Who cares if Iran is being highlighted? They are anti-gay. Bravo for Kenney. I hope the Tories do more to reach out to gay/lesbian Canadians.
Kenney Gay?
Liberal punter Warren Kinsella blog/ forum seems to indicate Jason Kenney is gay http://warrenkinsella.com/2011/03/and-what-was-jason-kenneys-wifes-name-again/

When ask by reporter (AH) are you gay or straight? Kenney replies, I’m sorry I learned a long time ago, I don’t answer personal questions from journalists. Wouldn't it have been simpler to say, I am not Gay and end the controversy? What's he afraid of...?
Gosh, a bigot huh?
Who knew?
Tory Trans Support?
With this newfound support of LGBT, as espoused by the usually bigoted Jason Kenney, can we now expect a vote from him in favour of the trans equality bill, C-279, when it arrives back in the House for third reading? I bet he doesn't, and I know many of us will be watching.
I guess those who are trans can just die
Not that I expect much from Harper Conservatives, nor from Xtra or this writer, its just that, somewhere, deep inside, I'd thought a concern for human rights, and basic decency, wouldn't be limited to those who are gay. It must have been a gargantuan effort for an organization that doesn't even include bisexual people in its mandate just to mention bisexual people in this piece. While neither Egale Canada, nor Xtra, nor, as far as this report indicates, even the Rainbow Refugee Committee caring enough about trans people even to mention our existence, we should probably just go away. I guess, as far as the parties to this article are concerned, trans people can just go away and die--while remaining conveniently invisible, of course.
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