Tag Archives: Jason Kenney

International students and the Canadian state

12 Aug

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 12.08.12 PMWhen I was first involved in the student movement, one of the great victories that we had won was the right for international students to work off campus.

Prior to June 2005, international students were limited to only being allowed to work on campus.

On campus jobs are highly competitive. Most will work around academic schedules, they’re usually better paid jobs than off campus and they also tend to be more interesting. Domestic students would apply for these jobs too, making it possible that international students would find themselves out of luck for work, just because the demand on these jobs was so high.

The federal government created a task force to examine the possibility of allowing international students to work off campus and started by piloting a project in several major cities across Canada. It wasn’t long before a new off campus work permit was created and international students could seek work off campus.

The entire question of “being allowed to” work is absurd. International students come to Canada to study and are treated like oases of money: in the desert of Canadian students scraping by and funding their futures on debt, international students arrive on campus, keen and ready to learn. Sure, the great lengths they take to get there tend to be invisible to Canadians, but it doesn’t matter. They’re willing to pay three to four times the amount of money that a Canadian student wants to pay. And, without citizenship, they’ll behave. No one wants to be deported for protesting high tuition fees.

Let’s ignore the human side of this (you know, the side of where they’re far from home, many are away from spouses and kids, how none of this is just etc.). Speaking purely about money, international students have to contend not just with outrageously high tuition fees, but they also have two other threats: the fact that, at most schools, tuition fees are deregulated and that they can increase from year to year at any amount, making multi-year budgeting impossible. And two: with currency fluctuations, the worth of a foreign currency against the Canadian dollar can change from year to year. Oh, your home currency’s worth plummeted this past year? Factor that into your tuition fee costs and it becomes even more expensive.

Considering these pressures, there is no question of being “allowed” to work. International students are forced to work. The vast majority depend on their Canadian jobs to find the money to, you know, eat and pay rent.

This reality is what makes the plight of two University of Regina students so sick.

Despite promises to harmonize the system in the next year, the federal government has not yet merged the on-campus visa with the off-campus visa. Students holding one must find work where their visa allows them to work. So, if you find a shit job at Wal-Mart, for example, but the government says that your job must be on campus (and there aren’t any Wal-Marts on campus, yet!), you could get in trouble. Your employer would likely fire you, if they read the visa and realized that it applied only to on campus jobs. You might be fined.

Or, for Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi, you face deportation.

For working a few weeks at Wal-Mart, before quitting once they realized their mistake, they risk losing three years of their university education, three years of international tuition fees, three years of being away from home. And the federal government thinks that they deserve such a harsh punishment.

In an era where Canada relies on non-Canadian workers to drive its economy through the temporary foreign worker program, and where that program has been widely abused by huge corporations, Victoria and Favour’s deportation order is clearly an attack on two women who simply don’t have access to power. Ignore Wal-Mart’s responsibility too; they clearly didn’t bother to check their visas, which they’re required to do. It’s the women’s faults.

The University of Regina has opposed the deportation order. So have the provincial SaskParty and the NDP. The support for deportation comes from the hypocritical, draconian and punitive federal government. Ministers have refused to intervene, which they have the right to, and Victoria and Favour have been living in sanctuary for more than a year.

The federal government has created an impossible position for these students: entice them to Canada to study, allow for universities to exploit them through their excess fees and restrict where and for how long they can work (work permits prohibit students from working more than 10 hours a week). After stealing so much from them, they’re then told to get out.

And all the two students want is a degree that says “University of Regina” before they return to Nigeria.

Up until recently, Jason Kenney was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Despite the cabinet shuffle, it was under his watch that Victoria and Favour have endured the majority of their ordeal. Despite being generally vile, Jason Kenney’s refusal to step in on this case is particularly nauseating.

Kenney was himself an international student, at San Francisco’s Catholic University. After abortion rights activists fought and won the right to freely express themselves on campus, Kenney helped to lead a petition drive demanding that the word “Catholic” be dropped from the institution’s name. If the petition failed to convince the archbishop, Kenney and his band of zealots had planned to go directly to the Vatican because, why not? While a student there, he likened allowing pro-choice activists to allowing the KKK to operate on campus.

I suspect that Kenney wasn’t deported for his views. While probably despised by a sizable chunk of his classmates, he was likely allowed to continue with his activism and finish his studies, all while being in that precarious world of being an international student. And then, as Minister and despite having been given the freedom to carry out his anti-woman campaign while he was a student, he showed no sympathy for Victoria and Favour’s ordeal, instead condemning them to deportation and a multi-year jail term in various church basements.

Pretty Catholic of the guy.

Borders that have been put up in Canada and around the world are senseless, meant only to control people so that power remains in tact. International students should have all the rights and freedoms afforded to them that the Charter gives to all Canadians. While you’re living here, you should not be subject to the unjust oppression of the Canadian state.

Victoria and Favour have done no wrong. For an infraction not even as dangerous than speeding, they’re facing the ultimate punishment and there’s no, rational way to justify it.

For more information about the campaign to stop Favour and Victoria’s deportations, visit http://stopurdeportations.com/

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Jason Kenney’s censorship problem

5 Mar

Screen shot 2013-03-05 at 10.57.42 AMThere’s something about the free speech debate that makes everyone act as if they have one of those long white body worms in their brains, writhing to get out through the thinnest pore possible.

It makes people state things as fact that would normally only be appropriate in a George Orwell novel.

Take, for example, the statement made by Jason Kenney on Israeli Apartheid Week.

Kenney, a member of cabinet and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, issued a statement warning the public about university activists who were trying to censor supporters of Israel on campus during IAW events.

Did you catch the supreme, face-melting irony there?

Jason Kenney; nearly as high-ranking as the Prime Minister himself, the posterboy for playing nice with “ethnic groups” while imposing racist policies on Canada’s immigration and refugee systems; claims that a bunch of undergrads at a bunch of Canadian campuses are engaging in censorship.

Jason Kenney, the man who has been able to rip apart families, detain men and women in jails who are simply seeking to immigrate to Canada (or seek refugee status) is claiming that IAW somehow is the censoring agent.

Jason Kenney, the man who has dreamed up a situation where you can force kids into jail as if jail is an appropriate place for them to wait out their parents’ deportation order, is claiming that critics of Israel for their racist and apartheid policies against Palestinians are censoring people.

Kenney isn’t an idiot. He knows what he’s doing.

Kenney is using claims of anti-Semitism laced with freedom of speech drivel to dole out a double dose of right-wing-loving-double speak. He’s doing this to turn the lens on student activists who are rightfully condemning Israel’s actions toward Palestinians. This dribble is the same kind that Ezra Levant purchases from his conservative overlords and spews out on Sun TV.

And it’s the same brand of Freedom of Speech that the (very) few friends of Tom Flanagan are relying upon to protect his bizarre and perverted defense of people who like to look at child porn.

Tom Flanagan and Jason Kenney, as part of Canada’s elite, cannot have their freedom of speech censored by nearly anyone. None of us plebes have the money, resources, power, access to mainstream press, access to the courts or control of the police required to censor them.

Me calling them idiots, me calling Kenney’s attempt to interfere into campus politics absurd, me calling Tom Flanagan a pathetic old coot: none of this is censorship. None of this inhibits their freedom of speech. I just simply don’t have the power that they have.

So I find it rich (to use a euphemism for what I would rather use: a thousand swear words in a hundred languages) that Jason Kenney issues a communiqué from his official Citizenship and Immigration website (paid for by my taxes and yours) to announce to the world that he supports freedom of speech and, in a single sentence, immediately qualifies it: except when people criticize Israel. In that case, he condemns freedom of speech.

But he has the power to do more than condemn it, and this is where the question of power becomes pretty muddy. What does it mean for a federal minister to “condemn” the totally legitimate political activity of students? What does it mean when a federal minister paints an entire campaign as being anti-Semitic, despite his racist ad-campaign that has placed billboards across the Czech Republic telling persecuted Roma to not bother applying for refugee status in Canada because he’ll make sure its denied?

What does it mean when a zealous Catholic announces that the activities undertaken by thousands of activists, including many who are Jewish, are anti-Semitic?

Those of us who aren’t members of cabinet can’t censor anyone. Those of us who don’t have platforms on national news stations can’t censor anyone. Those of us who gather to talk about how fucked up it is that Israel is introducing a segregated bus system, to ensure that Israelis don’t have to take public transportation with Palestinians, can’t censor anyone.

We can’t censor anyone because it is only the powerful who can. And in a boxing match between me and Jason Kenney, where our strength is measured by our power, he’d come to my house to kick my ass before I even got dressed for the fight, we’re so unbalanced.

Kenney’s decree is an attempt at censorship regardless of what some of the words say on the page and luckily, IAW events will happen regardless of what that man decrees from his office in Ottawa.

Of course, Kenney’s communiqué is particularly ironic considering the legacy that his own party has in doing exactly what Israel is criticized for doing, though over a longer period of time: Residential Schools, forced sterilization, race-based legislation, reserves, government-defined status, murdered and missing Indigenous women, the Sixties Scoop, Child and Family Services and, today, Idle No More. Our own story is one of genocide, apartheid and resistance.

And Kenney is on the wrong side.

So too is Tom Flanagan, who was masterfully taken down by a young Indigenous activist this past week.

Both men are implicated in the continued internal colonization and apartheid of Canada. Maybe this creates a weird anxiety that forces them both to act out in ways that the average person can’t explain.

Idle No More: Resisting divide and conquer tactics

3 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 12.09.36 PMNearly a month has passed since several Chiefs were physically denied access to the House of Commons to voice their concerns about changes that were about to be forced upon First Nations communities in the federal budget bill.

This, combined with the work done through teach-ins in cities in Saskatchewan throughout the Fall culminated in the first day of action called for Dec. 10 in the name of Idle No More.

With journalists slow on covering the Idle No More movement, the privacy offered by this group (sometimes mistaken for vultures) helped ensure that the grassroots could quietly develop the confidence needed to organize creative actions. No questions about leaders. No divisions magnified. No media tricks.

Amid stories about shopping and Christmas, the mainstream press awoke to find a groundswell of support and action in communities across Canada. It was national. It was leaderless. It was grassroots. It was everything that the mainstream media is not equipped to write about.

Then it started: The errors. The questions about leaders, chiefs and the cracks in the movement. The racist comments.

The current state of shorthand journalism dictates that every story should have two sides: one side is the little guy and the other is the powerful guy, as if the biblical tale of David and Goliath is an allegory for every single political conflict that may arise.

While there are parallels between this narrative and Indigenous struggle against colonialism, it isn’t the story of two people. It’s the story of hundreds of nations, millions of people dead, millions of survivors, hundreds of languages, one Crown with hundreds of agents, thirteen provinces and infinite excuses. This is too complex for a soundbite. This is too complex for a 30-second TV spot.

It is under these conditions that divisions start to surface, exploited both by accident by these constraints and on purpose by columnists who intend to dismiss or dehumanize Indigenous people and their movements.

On one hand, this story of genocide, colonization and neo-colonization is simple: settlers were brought by colonizing empires to settle “Canada” and push away the Indigenous populations. The result was centuries of government-sponsored murder or forced assimilation. As communities evolved to better resist this legacy, the Federal government looked at ways to take even more of their lands because of the mining, oil, gas or forestry opportunities that exist above or below. The result is a lopsided arrangement where few benefit and many suffer.

But this story is laden with complexities: complex identities and players, roles, legal statuses, histories, denial, exploitation, exploited divisions, bribery, theft, bureaucracy, legislated identities, apartheid.

Idle No More is compelling partly because it is so complex. It implicates everyone living in Canada. If we have ancestors who lived here, it implicates them too.

Idle No More risks being written off by the mainstream press much in the way that Occupy Wall Street was; sure, the campaign has noble goals but its leaderless, multi-issue approach will ensure that it fizzles out.

Activists need to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other social movements and already, its clear that mistakes made by Occupy are not being reproduced. Spokespeople have emerged who are talented speakers and who are generous enough with their time to do the all-consuming TV circuit. Like during the Québec student strike, events are springing up across Canada daily, keeping the momentum of the movement alive.

Idle No More is strong because it is a grassroots movement. As long as people continue to demonstrate it will remain a grassroots movement. And, the longer these events go on, the more vicious the attacks against Indigenous people and the movement will become.

Unfortunately, federal politicians know this terrain; they have had centuries of learning how to most effectively divide Indigenous communities and people and foster in-fighting. Just look at Jason Kenney’s Twitter feed to see how this plays out. And when the mainstream press views the roles of chiefs as being to control their people, as stated in a Globe and Mail headline, the analysis of the complex issues is nearly always to be just as offensive and fall just as flat. Both forces will be working in different ways to ensure Idle No More goes away.

The resilience of the movement will lie in the resilience of people to continue to rally, to flashmob, to write letters, to interrupt economic activity and to ensure that “life as usual” ceases to exist for the folks in Ottawa. We need to expose attempts to divide or co-opt the movement in a way that is accessible and easy for people to understand.

Through our collective creativity, our thirst for justice and our desire to fight the powers who are imposing their agendas on us all, the attempts to break Idle No More that will inevitably come cannot be successful.