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Canada’s immigration minister calls out Conservatives for “spreading lies” about UN migration agreement

Sunday December 16, 2018

 Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen spent Friday night at Ryerson University addressing what he says are a number of myths surrounding Canada’s recent signing of the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration.

Hussen had just returned from Marrakech, Morocco where 164 countries signed onto the symbolic agreement — the first of its kind to address all aspects of international migration in 23 listed objectives, from mitigating workers exploitation to stopping human trafficking.

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Chief among the countries that didn’t sign on is the United States, along with Australia and a number of other states that cited fears of giving up their national sovereignty. This same argument was expressed last week by Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who held a press conference on Parliament Hill to warn against “foreign entities” influencing Canadian border policies.

Hussen unequivocally attacked this position Friday night in front of a standing room only crowd at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, in Toronto.

“The federal Conservatives are spreading lies and myths about a non-binding document,” Hussen said. “The compact creates a framework for international cooperation on the challenge of migration, which is about respecting the rights of migrants as well as national sovereignty.”

 That the agreement is legally non-binding is something that the Liberals, and Hussen in particularly, has had to repeat again and again in the current debate around the document. The agreement does explicitly say that, though it’s grounded in values all nations should take seriously, it’s "non-legally binding."

Arguments stating the contrary, including how the agreement will give ammunition for progressives to lobby for weaker border control, have been pushed by multiple right-wing organizations and outlets.

“No I don’t think everybody who’s concerned about immigration issues are racists or xenophobic,” Hussen says, “but it can’t be denied that there are those out there who are spreading lies and using these immigration-related issues to spread fear.”

Scheer’s press conference came about a month after Maxine Bernier, leader of the hard-right People’s Party of Canada, sponsored a petition late October urging the Liberals not to accept the agreement. It cites how nations might sacrifice “sovereignty, peace, order and good governance” if they sign on.
The petition was also a driving force behind nationwide protests against the Compact last Saturday, including on Parliament Hill, where several far-right groups like La Meute and ACT! Canada converged. Also in attendance was coordinators from the anti-Islam group Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms (C3RF), which sent a mass email on Friday lauding the protests and organizing as “patriots” protecting “Canadian sovereignty and individual rights” against the UN’s “globalist objectives.”

“Canadians have finally been alerted to the dangers associated with the Compact and are now in the mood for a national debate,” writes Russ Cooper, a C3RF organizer. “The Government of Canada was unsuccessful in hiding the Global Compact on Migration from the good citizens of Canada.”

To Hussen, this kind of messaging amounts to deliberate misinformation meant to damage not only the Liberal Party, but overall goodwill toward newcomers.

"Shame on those people or anyone spreading rumours about migrants, who’re among the most vulnerable people in our society," Hussen said to a crowd of applause. "The same nonsense and garbage being spread about migrants today were the same ones aimed at the Irish decades ago when they were coming to Toronto."

He pointed out one particular article written by the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy that popularized a rumour she saw on Trip Advisor about how refugees housed in a Toronto hotel were slaughtering goats in the bathrooms as part of an Islamic ritual. The Sun received a strong denunciation from the National NewsMedia Council earlier this week for publishing Levy’s column.
 Another aspect of the polarizing debate regarding the Compact emerged earlier this month when Andrew Scheer said that the agreement “attempts to influence how our free and independent media report on immigration issues.” His statement refers to a provision in the Compact that calls for nations to mitigate “all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration.”

“It’s a complete red-herring,” Hussen said to VICE News. “We have a free and professional media in Canada and we have freedom of expression in this country. Again, this Compact doesn’t threaten any of that at all.”

“Canada’s not immune to global migration patterns and more people are on the move now than ever before,” he said “Our job is to make sure that Canada’s laws are respected, so everyone who comes to our borders goes through security screening and background checks. If anyone is found to present a threat to Canadian society, they’re detained on the spot.”

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