By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday March 27, 1999
Weeding out foreign thugs
No country wants to be known as a place of refuge for suspected war criminals, least of all a liberal democracy like Canada. But with its immense, open border and its generous acceptance of the world’s refugees, Canada has been in danger of becoming known as such a haven.
A list of people the federal Citizenship and Immigration Department has deported in the past eight months illustrates how real the danger has been. For instance:
– Fausto Reyes-Caballero, a chief of police in Honduras in the 1980s. He was part of a death squad.
– José Annibal Cortez Cordon, a member of Guatemala’s police force. He persecuted guerrillas and participated in the destruction of villages.
– Doru Popescu and Lionel Micu, who were with Romania’s Securitate and accomplices to atrocities.
The presence of suspected war criminals in Canada is like a virus, sapping the good will of many Canadians and eroding Canada’s reputation abroad. What more justifiable target for anti-immigrant sentiment than war criminals? To have them living for years in ordinary Canadian neighbour- hoods fosters the repugnant idea that behind every refugee claimant lurks a criminal.
Canada is right to get rid of them as quickly as possible. If anything, it should invest more money and personnel into the effort to head them off before they arrive or to deport them if they succeed in getting in.
Many of the recently deported thugs came to Canada in the 1980s at a time when thousands of desperate people were fleeing wars and civil unrest from Guatemala to Sri Lanka. Canadian immigration policy was not wrong when it decided that it is best to save the lives of refugee claimants and decide later who is genuinely fleeing persecution. But the government failed to allocate adequate funds to the determination of who should not be granted refugee status.
Between 1989 and 1996, just 300 refugee claimants were deported from Canada for making false claims. That number shot up after April 1996, when the federal government set up a special section of the immigration department to concentrate on those suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
August 19, 1999
In 1997 alone, Canada deported 8,012 people, of whom 5,019 were failed refugee claimants. An unknown number of other claimants are believed to have left without being formally deported.
Left behind in Canada, however, were more than 300 suspected war criminals. According to a government report, the immigration department could not deport these people because it did not know where they were. Embarrassed, the government gave the department $33 million in funding in July 1998, the majority of which went to the department’s war-crimes unit. This will be money well spent if it helps rid the country of people who participated in war crimes.
Canada, with its low birth rate of 1.7 children per family, needs immigrants. The government’s failure to act vigorously against war criminals cannot be allowed to undermine the entire immigration and refugee program and Canada’s very future as a country. (Editorial – The Montreal Gazette, March 16, 1999)
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Navigating Nativism Over 25 Years
January 19, 2024
Looking back on my cartoon drawn 25 years ago, titled “Bring us your tired, your poor, your stone-throwing masses,” reveals unease. Crafted in the pre-9/11 era, it depicted immigrants laden with baggage labeled “grudges” and “hatred.” The accompanying editorial, “Weeding out foreign thugs,” addressed concerns about war criminals finding refuge in Canada.
In 1999, the editorial emphasized protecting Canada’s reputation while balancing compassion for refugees and national security. Fast forward to 2024, the focus has shifted to the northern border, with Republicans amplifying immigration concerns. This renewed attention mirrors a broader GOP trend, advocating for increased border security.
News: Republicans zero in on a new border — the one with Canada
Reflecting on my 1999 cartoon reveals persistent nativism, echoed today, especially among conservatives. Despite Canada welcoming millions since the late ’90s, fears of criminal exploitation persist. The irony is stark as a diverse society emerges.
Canada grapples with nativist attitudes, collaborating with the U.S. for border protection. In acknowledging the persisting nativism, the call is for a compassionate approach to immigration amidst ongoing challenges. (Graeme MacKay, January 28, 2024)