Canadian Jews form group to protest immigration policy

(JTA) — A group of prominent Canadian Jews has launched an organization to protest changes to Canada’s immigration policy.

Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, is an honorary co-chair of the Jewish Refugee Action Network, or J-RAN. The organization’s board also includes Bernie Farber, former leader of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and other noted Canadian activists, lawyers and medical doctors, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The group opposes changes to the way Canada processes asylum claims. In changes rolled out over the past year, Canada created a list of “Designated Countries of Origin.” Applications from asylum claimants coming from these designated countries are fast-tracked and their ability to appeal negative decisions and to access healthcare while in the country are limited.

Designated Countries of Origin are intended to be “safe” and democratic countries unlikely to produce credible cases of refugees. Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has described the measure as necessary to keep costs down and discourage non-refugees from attempting to immigrate to Canada by seeking asylum status.

J-RAN is especially concerned about the inclusion of Hungary on the list of designated countries, claiming it restricts the ability of the sometimes-persecuted Roma minority in that country to be granted refugee status in Canada.

“This legislation has the effect of a dramatic drop in refugees coming to Canada, unfairly targets whole groups of refugees, and has a harsh impact on the health and well-being of those in need,” Toronto Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld said in a statement announcing the formation of the group last month.

Farber cited rising anti-Semitism in Hungary as another reason Canadian Jews should be alarmed by their government’s policies.

“Hungarian Jews, who may want to come to Canada as refugees as a result of rampant anti-Semitism in Hungary, will be caught in the same net as the Roma and more than likely denied status. It should concern our community greatly,” he told the Canadian Jewish News.