Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's comments that U.S. military deserters living in Canada are "bogus refugee claimants" reveal the government has a prejudiced outlook on their cases, advocacy groups say.
"Everyone, including war resisters, has a right to expect their applications will be dealt with in a fair and impartial manner," Lee Zaslofsky, co-ordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, said in a release.
"Minister Kenney's comments show the Harper government has a blanket policy of opposition to all war resisters, which makes it nearly impossible for them to be treated on a 'case-by-case basis' as our government has been leading Canadians to believe they would."
Earlier this week, Kenney responded to a ruling by the Immigration and Refugee Board that Kimberly Rivera, reported to be the first U.S. female deserter seeking asylum in Canada, had to leave the country.
The mother of three's request to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected at a hearing in Mississauga, Ont. Her family has been told to leave Canada by Jan. 27.
"We're not talking about draft dodgers, we're not talking about resisters," Kenney told Canwest News earlier this week.
"We're talking about people who volunteer to serve in the armed forces of a democratic country and simply change their mind to desert. And that's fine, that's the decision they have made, but they are not refugees.
"I don't appreciate people adding to the backlog and clogging up the system whose claims are being rejected consistently 100 per cent of the time," Kenney said later on Parliament Hill, adding that they are "bogus refugee claimants."
Comments seen as interference
In an open letter to Kenney, Elizabeth McWeeny, president of the Canadians Council for Refugees, wrote that it was "highly inappropriate" for Kenney to express his opinions on how he believes board members should make refugee determinations.
"To do so gives the strong appearance of political interference," she wrote. "Public comments such as yours only make IRB members’ job more difficult and threaten claimants’ right to an unbiased decision."
She also dismissed Kenney's claim that refugee claims by U.S. war resisters are leading to delays for others, saying the number is "minuscule" and will have "no appreciable impact" on delays.
In an email to CBCNews.ca on Friday, Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Kenney, repeated that the government doesn't believe these refugee claims are legitimate.
"Although the Immigration and Refugee Board is an independent agency that will consider each asylum claim on a case-by-case basis, it's our position as a government that, as a general rule, military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term," Velshi said.