Since the negative consequences of Bill C-31 have become apparent over the last month or so--for example, many refugee claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs such as insulin, and to preventive care--several Jewish organizations have expressed concerns with the law. They have been especially troubled by those sections of it relating to the prevention of illegitimate refugee claims. Designating countries like Hungary as "safe" would make it near impossible for claims from Hungarian Roma to succeed, even though the country is far from safe for this particular minority group. And due to their common experiences of persecution during the 2nd World War, the Jewish and Roma communities have often been thought to share an historical bond.
The Toronto Board of Rabbis has spoken out in an open letter to the PM. The Montreal Holocaust Centre has also gone public with its objections. Even noble Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has stepped into the fray. But what of those groups typically seen as speaking for the Canadian Jewish diaspora as a whole?
Well, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has issued a statement that comes across as both minimalist and mush-mouthed. From the Globe article linked above:
Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his organization agrees with many of the changes the Conservative government has made to refugee policy and with the goal of preventing bogus claims. But, with regard to the health benefits, “we have some concerns, and we have registered some of them with the government.”
So, in other words, kiss the Roma good-by. And CIJA's other objections will apparently be whispered to the relevant government minister behind closed doors where they can be noted and then safely ignored.
B'nai Brith's position on the legislation, on the other hand, is a complete mystery. They've said nothing in the newspapers or on their website that I can find, and have not (yet) responded to the email I sent them. Perhaps, however, this story from June 26th offers a clue. In it, a human rights lawyer named David Matas is quoted at length, as he is representing a number of church groups who have challenged C-31 in court. And good on him for that. But not mentioned anywhere in the piece is the fact that Mr. Matas is senior legal counsel to B'nai Brith Canada. Now, Mr. Matas has done considerable good work outside of BB, but it nevertheless seems significant to me that in the case of Bill C-31 he has been forced to act without the imprimatur of the organization he is most closely associated with
So why the silence/near-silence from Canada's two most important Jewish organizations? Well, one can only speculate, and so I would speculate that they have already been courted by the Harper government in the form of its unrelenting support for Israel. Here, as in the case of Bill C-304, the government has asked for their silence as a quid pro quo. To me that sounds like a crummy deal, but it seems one that they have been willing to make.