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Critics rally against Jason Kenney appearance

Thursday, September 2, 2010

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  • A protester strikes a pinata featuring a picture of Immigration minister Jason Kenney at a rally at Riverside Park on Tuesday. (

    A protester strikes a pinata featuring a picture of Immigration minister Jason Kenney at a rally at Riverside Park on Tuesday. (

  • A pinata is hung at a protest against a visit by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

    A pinata is hung at a protest against a visit by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

  • Kenney poses with federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke at a Conservative rally BBQ.

    Kenney poses with federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke at a Conservative rally BBQ.

  • Signs were posted by immigration activists at Riverside Park to protest Kenney's appearance.

    Signs were posted by immigration activists at Riverside Park to protest Kenney's appearance.

Written by Greg Beneteau

On the one side, barbecued hamburgers, cops and bunches of blue balloons. On the other, vegan samosas, protesters and a piñata.

A Conservative fundraiser and campaign-style rally featuring local federal candidate Marty Burke and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney also brought out opponents of the government’s record on immigration.

About 20 protesters, including members of the migrant rights group Fuerza/Puwersa and the Young Communist League set up a food table and rally on Tuesday at a Riverside Park picnic area, opposite where the Guelph Conservatives hosted a meet-and-greet barbecue.

Armed with placards and a pair of speakerphones, the group denounced Kenney for everything from the detention of Tamil migrants who arrived by boat of British Columbia last month, to immigration raids and a lack of protections for migrant farmhands.

They even brought out a piñata, complete with a picture of Jason Kenney sporting red eyes and a beard, to whack around.

But the chants of “Jason Kenney go away, Tamil Migrants here to stay” and “No one is illegal, stop deporting people” seemed to play into the hands of Kenney, who at times had to speak over the shouting.

“These people think that no one should be deported, even dangerous criminals,” Kenney told the crowd of roughly 75 people who were in attendance for the barbecue.

He added that the opposition of groups like the Young Communists only confirmed “the rightness of what we’re doing.”

“I always appreciate the encouragement,” he said, prompting laughter.

Kenney also touted the presence of the government’s Economic Action Plan in Guelph as an example what the Conservatives could do if elected

The Conservatives would need to win ridings like Guelph in order to form a majority government, he added.

Eduardo Huesca, a member of Fuerza/Puerza, said Kenney’s response to their protests was typical.

“[Kenney] is quick to paint the criminal face on these racialized migrant communities in order to justify the policies of the Harper government,” he said.

Huesca was fiercely critical of recent reforms to Canada’s migrant worker program, which he said failed to protect the rights of migrant labourers and caused hardship by limiting the length of their contracts in Canada.

Employers can too easily terminate the contracts of migrant workers who demand better working conditions or who try to unionize, Huesca said. Some migrant workers come to Canada to find the jobs they had applied for no longer exist.

Without legal working status, many have recourse but to go underground in order to pay off the debts they accumulated in order to come to Canada.

“These aren’t criminals. These are hard-working people supporting their families back home,” Huesca.

Burke, a veteran of the army and air force, said he respected the protesters’ right to voice their opinions, even though he disagreed with them.

“I spent 23 years defending people’s right to free speech,” Burke said. “How can I say that they don’t have the right to use it?

He noted that the Conservatives had introduced reforms intended to streamline the refugee process.

As for the Tamil migrants, he said they were being taken care of while the Immigration and Refugee Board processed their applications.

“We did the humane thing. We clothed them. We gave them food... they’re going to have their day in court,” Burke said.

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