OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has fired back at Canada’s bishops who criticized his anti-human smuggling bill.
The letter reflects a “long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops’ conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy,” Kenney said in an interview.
The Nov. 25 letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace commission warned clauses of Bill C-49 might contravene international and Canadian law concerning the rights of refugees.
The bishops’ letter underscores the reason why “the Church makes the detailed application of moral principles in public policy the prudential responsibility of legislators who have a technical knowledge of how to apply the principles,” Kenney said.
The bishops warned that the Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act might contravene international and Canadian law concerning the rights of refugees.
They reminded Kenney that national interests and security concerns should not trump human dignity.
“We believe that human smuggling undermines human dignity,” Kenney said. “It’s an industry of profiteers who sell people an illegal service to smuggle them to countries in the most dangerous way possible.
Canada has a “real moral obligation to do everything we reasonably can to prevent rusty, leaky boats” full of migrants from crossing the Pacific Ocean, he said.
The bishops failed to address the ethical obligation to stop smuggling, he said.
Kenney, a devout Catholic, said the letter “falsely suggests that the bill seeks to ‘punish refugees.’”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We will not deport anyone determined to be a bona fide refugee.”
The bishops said the bill authorizes the detention of people for long periods, a violation of the international convention governing refugees signed by Canada.
Kenney said the bill’s detention provisions are far more modest “for people who just show up” than those that exist in other liberal democracies.
They are based on “the simple legal principle that states have the right and responsibility to protect the integrity of their borders and to ensure legal migration,” he said.