Rabbis target Kenney bill
July 3, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO – Jason Kenney’s immigration reform was the target of a last-minute counter-punch by the usually non-confrontational Toronto Board of Rabbis.
The organization, which consists primarily of Reform and Conservative rabbis, sent a letter of complaint on June 18 to the minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism concerning Bill C-31: Protecting Canada’s Immigration Act, which had been widely covered by Canadian media, had passed a second reading in the Senate and was days away from receiving royal assent. The letter also addressed changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, which were announced on April 25 and will take effect on June 30.
Rabbi Morrison, now the immediate past president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, said that, although he signed the letter, he did so on a “pro forma” basis because he was “out of the loop” on the issue. He said he wasn’t a part of the “group process” involved in writing the letter and declined to comment on the issue.
The rabbis’ letter came on the heels of a June 15 Globe and Mail opinion piece written by former Liberal candidate Bernie Farber, Dr. Philip Berger and lawyer Clayton Ruby, which urged readers to pressure the government and “ask for changes or amendments to the regulations.”
Rabbi Morrison’s co-signatory, Rabbi Michal Shekel, said that Farber had contacted her directly about this issue before the letter was sent and again on June 28 “thanking us for doing it.”
Farber is allegedly in line for a major political appointment from the McGuinty government as a reward for running for the Liberals in the last provincial election.
Rabbi Shekel said the draft letter was sent out to the 48 rabbis affiliated with the board with the request for a yes or no vote. A “majority” of the rabbis responded and they were in the affirmative, she said. Others abstained from signing.
“Unfortunately, it was rather late in the day, but we’re glad we did it because this is an issue that we feel is very important [due to]the experience that Jews have had as refugees. We just want to be on the record taking this stand.”
She continued, “We hope it’s not the end of it. We raised the issue and we hope that the Jewish community continues to follow this and work for what is right in terms of refugees and bringing them here and getting them fair treatment.”
At the time that the letter was issued, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl was vice-president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis; he is now its president. Rabbi Shekel and Rabbi Frydman-Kohl both stressed that the letter was not an act of political advocacy but rather a call for social justice with a basis in Jewish religious values.
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said the organization was contacted by Farber before they wrote their letter but he didn’t read Farber’s opinion piece until after the letter was written. He said they were alerted about the issues “in a private capacity” by Avrum Rosensweig, president of V'Ahavta. Rosensweig also writes for the Canadian Jewish News, which broke the story last week about the board’s letter to Kenney.
In an unusual move, the Toronto Board of Rabbis, while commenting on a matter of social justice, did not issue a press release; rather, upon the request of an individual whom they did not name, they gave permission for the letter to be shared with the media and someone subsequently released it to the Canadian Jewish News.
According to the Canadian Jewish News, “Reached in Alberta on June 27, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the board’s letter was based on false premises and ‘a great deal of misinformation.’”
Kenney’s press secretary Alexis Pavlich told the Jewish Tribune, “This change is about treating both hard-working Canadian taxpayers and legitimate refugees fairly, while cutting off benefits to those who are abusing our generosity. We will no longer ask hard-working Canadian taxpayers to foot the bill for benefits for protected persons and asylum seekers, including failed asylum seekers that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves.
“We know of cases where failed asylum seekers decided not to leave after their claim was rejected, or went underground because they wanted to continue receiving benefits from the government, including health care. That’s not fair to Canadians and we’re putting a stop to it.
“These are reasonable, measured changes that will stop the abuse of Canada’s overburdened health care system by bogus asylum seekers, especially those that have already been rejected by our fair and independent refugee determination system, while still providing health care to genuine refugees and persons who are most likely to be found to be bona fide refugees.”