Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney appeared before the Commons immigration committee for the first time since the issue of the documents showing that it was Kenney who asked for mentions of queer rights or same-sex marriage nixed from the citizenship guide. Kenney’s appearance was related to the issue of the Supplementary Estimates – the committee’s ability to scrutinise the department’s spending.
Because it was a short hearing – only an hour instead of the usual two – each caucus was granted a ten-minute period to question the Minister. First up was the Liberal critic for the file, Maurizio Bevilacqua, who asked after the funding for COIA (the Canada-Ontario Immigration Accord), as well as about the citizenship guide – specifically, did Kenney or someone in his ministerial office order the sections on queer rights or same-sex marriage removed? And did department officials request those sections be reinstated, and if so, why not? In other words, are those documents obtained by The Canadian Press true?
Kenney chose to spend his time going over the COIA answer, talking about how he wanted to see a focus on best practices rather than just more funding. He ran down the clock until Denis Coderre had a mere minute left to ask about Haitian refugees – an important issue for his riding. Kenney said he’d provide a written answer to Bevilacqua’s question, but wasn’t clear as to whether that would be on the COIA issue, or the citizens’ guide.
The Bloc asked only after the use of French at the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the NDP’s Olivia Chow did ask about the guide in her second question, but couched in a question as to the funding of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, and if it was they who recommended the guide include mention of collecting hockey cards rather than gay rights or gay history, or same-sex marriage.
Kenney replied that the Institute was the departing project of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, and they were part of the blue-ribbon panel that made recommendations for the guide – but he couldn’t tell who gave what advice, as they received hundreds of submissions.
Chow then asked that since Egale Canada has asked that those sections be reinstated in the next printing, would they be? Kenney returned to his old talking point – that there was “zero content” in the previous guide, written in 1995, on gay rights or same-sex marriage, but look at them – they put forward a role model in Mark Tewksbury, and there was no section on marriage one way or the other in the guide, and hey, the guide can’t be “a thousand pages.”
But in 1995, queer rights weren’t fully enshrined. We’d barely had a judgement on M vs. H, let alone even contemplating the questions of marriage and full equality. It’s a false argument. And while there could be far worse “role models” than Tewksbury, he wasn’t really an activist, by his own admission. It’s novel for Kenney to trot out this new “role model” talking point, but it doesn’t address the issue of effacement on a major human rights issue that sets Canada apart from the rest of the world.
The rest of the committee hearing didn’t see too much new – the Conservative members set the minister up to make a new announcement, but the issue didn’t come up again.
Olivia Chow walked over to the media table and mused that if you have an opinion, one should write the Minister. But Kenney ducked the question of accountability on the issue once again.
The CBC’s Kady O’Malley liveblogged the committee hearing here.