Tories pointing the country down a dark path on refugees

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The Conservatives in both Ottawa and Toronto have at last done us the favour of revealing their true selves.  At the provincial and at the federal level, the Tories have now made clear they are against refugees.  Day after day, they move to an increasingly anti-migrant position.

This week, the federal Conservatives posted a ghastly image to twitter, showing someone — a black man — crossing a moat at the border on a bridge made of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tweet welcoming refugees.  It is by turns racist, inflammatory, and dishonest.  There is, for example, no border moat where refugee claimants are crossing, it’s just a ditch a few feet wide.

Unsurprisingly, the party deleted the ghoulish tweet soon after.

The week before, the provincial Tories were tearing up an agreement with the feds aimed at helping with the resettlement of refugees.  This earned several stern rebukes from the Liberals in Ottawa, including an in-person scolding from Trudeau, and culminated in the federal immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, calling the PC government’s rhetoric and actions “not Canadian.”

“They’ve chosen to use false language with respect to so-called queue-jumping, when we have told them over and over again there is no such thing,” Hussen said, according to a CBC report.  “Asylum seekers are processed in a separate queue at the IRB and all the other regular immigration programs are processed by IRCC, and conflating the two knowingly is irresponsible, it’s divisive, it’s fear-mongering and it’s not Canadian, and it’s very dangerous.”

These are without a doubt strong words.  But there are occasions that call for strong words, and I think this qualifies.  The Tories are deliberately rising the level of panic of irregular crossings by labeling things that are manifestly not a crisis, a crisis.

Anyway, is provincial counterpart, Lisa MacLeod, did not take too kindly to this and did something that, even now, astonishes me.

“Ahmed Hussen called me unCanadian today,” she tweeted.  This twists his words, taking what he said about her government’s policies and turned it into a criticism of who she was to garner sympathy.  That level of dishonesty is bad enough.  But underneath this tweet was attached another, with a photo of her and her family, and the text: “Walking with our daughter whose GG Grandfather served at Vimy & G Grandfather served WW2.  Her Dad & Grand Dad in CF.”

The not-so-subtle message here is that the service of her family gives her absolution of criticism —undoubtedly, very strong criticism — and insulates her motives.  The message here is her family’s history makes her more Canadian.  The message is that military service puts one at a higher level of worth.  It is perhaps of note that Hussen was not born in this country.

What these episodes illustrate is the steady creep of immigration rhetoric on the right from something welcoming, to something outright hostile.  The federal Tories have been banging the drum for months now, building up to the current crescendo of panic.  With reinforcements in Ontario, they’re upping the game.  The real crisis is turning out to be the backlash to refugees.

The Liberals, from their bastion in the centre, have decided to blunt some of this criticism by creating a new minister in charge of border security.  Bill Blair, the former chief of Toronto’s police force, was unveiled as the new minister of border security and organized crime reduction.  It’s an interesting, maybe troubling, amalgam of responsibilities.  (What does organized crime have to do with refugee claimants crossing the border, and what even is irregular migration?)

It’s less than ideal that Blair is the man they’ve chosen for this position.  His record as a police chief is, shall we say mixed.  He was the public face of the response to G20 protests in Toronto, which involved the rounding up of protestors for hours by surrounding them with riot cops.  Numerous charges laid that day were subsequently thrown out, and has left a stain on Blair’s reputaion that calls into question his commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On the other hand, Doug Ford loathes him.  And this could be a signal the Liberals aren’t about to back down against a newly hostile provincial government.

If we’re lucky, this is a sign the federal government takes the threat their Conservative opponents pose to the country’s acceptance of refugee claimants.  I’d prefer not to think too hard what will happen if we’re unlucky.  A country moving towards the policies put forward and hinted at by the Conservatives is a mean, dark place.

It would be, in a word, un-Canadian.

More from Robert Hiltz     @robert_hiltz

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