Kenney bullies KAIROS, Harper bullies Colvin

By Dennis Gruending

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Jason KenneyI reported earlier in December that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) had cut off all funding to the ecumenical justice group KAIROS. I speculated that likely it happened because KAIROS was challenging the government’s support for rapid development in the heavily polluting oil sands in Western Canada. But alert readers raised another possibility for the government’s action. Emily Dee wrote to the Comments section of Pulpit and Politics on December 12: “I agree that the criticism of the tar sands was no doubt a factor, but I think there was another reason — both Jason Kenney and Stockwell Day claim that KAIROS was anti-Semitic because they criticized Israel.” In fact, on December 16, Kenney, the Immigration Minister, was to level just such charges against KAIROS in a speech that he made in Jerusalem at a global forum for combating anti-Semitism.

Kenney is now denying that he said KAIROS was anti-Semitic, but says he made the more limited accusation that KAIROS was supporting efforts to apply economic sanctions against Israel. But for the record, here is what  the Conservative-friendly National Post quotes Kenney as saying in Jerusalem: “We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism. We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott.” A videotaped version of Kenney’s remarks is also available. Obviously, one must assume that Kenney meant what he said and knew that it would be reported, even though he is now backpedalling.

Bullying KAIROS

KAIROS was surprised when its funding for international projects was cut off but now the organization and its church sponsors are outraged at having Kenney accuse them of being anti-Semitic, a heavily-loaded phrase that carries with it the dark resonance of the holocaust. “Minister Kenney’s charge against KAIROS is false,” KAIROS said in a statement released on December 18. “Two points need to be made: Criticism of Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism; and CIDA was developed to fund international aid and not to serve political agendas”.

Many organizations and governments have criticized the state of Israel for its long-standing and illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its continued harsh treatment of Palestinians. However, for Kenney and others any criticism of Israeli government policies is quickly branded as anti-Semitism. Ironically, there is a freer and much more robust debate within Israel’s own media and among its citizens than is possible in North America with its active pro-Israel lobby.

Church leaders speaking on behalf of faith groups that belong to KAIROS have denounced the government cuts of $7 million. Writing in The Globe and Mail, Michael Valpy reports that, in protest, members of congregations in 250 church groups across Canada “banged bells and pots and pans at their gathering for worship [on December 13].” Valpy also reports church leaders are telling him off the record that they are worried that the controversy will endanger harmony between Christians and Jewish groups.

KAIROS acts on behalf of 13 of Canada’s major churches or church-based organizations, and it includes under its umbrella the Anglican, Catholic, Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Churches, as well as the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers and others. KAIROS, or its predecessor groups, have received money from CIDA for 35 years to support partners working in some of the world’s difficult trouble spots, including the Middle East. When KAIROS was told on November 30 that it had been cut off, no detailed explanation was given. CIDA’s minister Bev Oda, when questioned in the House of Commons, said KAIROS lost its funding because of shifting priorities at CIDA. She said nothing then, or later, that would indicate that she believes KAIROS is anti-Semitic.

Kenney, however, is a more powerful and rigidly ideological minister. He worked in 2000 to organize the religious right on behalf of Stockwell Day in his campaign against Preston Manning for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party.  Day won but when his leadership imploded and Stephen Harper succeeded him in 2002, Kenney became a trusted operative. When the Harper-led Conservatives became the government, Kenney was given a key responsibility in winning over new Canadians and certain religiously identified groups to support the Conservatives. One imperative has been to woo Jewish voters and their financial support. Kenney and the Conservatives have clearly chosen sides – supporting Israeli no matter what actions it undertakes. This unflinching support also plays to the fringe elements of the Christian right – who believe that Armageddon in the Middle East would fulfill what they believe is a biblical prophecy that End Times and the rapture are drawing near. Arab and Muslim Canadians have not been amused by the Conservatives’ unwavering support for Israel, but Kenney and Harper have chosen their ground deliberately.

Wedge and conquer

One would expect a national government to promote unity rather than discord, but that faint hope does not account for how the Conservatives do politics. No party in Canada is likely to receive support from a majority of voters in a country beset by regionalism and fractured parliaments. In this context, it is seen as important to mobilize and maintain your core support. One way to do it is to use wedge issues to create division and provoke  anger.  The Conservatives have used a wedge and conquer strategy in their campaigns against same sex marriage and the gun registry to name just two issues. They are using the same tactics against KAIROS and in the way they treat any criticism of the war in Afghanistan. Personal attacks are a staple against any person or group that disagrees with the government lines on anything.

Bullying Richard Colvin

I reported on November 30 about Richard Colvin, a Canadian diplomat who served in Afghanistan, and who has blown the whistle on the government’s complicity in the torture of Afghans taken prisoner by Canadian soldiers and turned over to Afghan prison authorities. The Conservative government responded by denying Colvin’s allegations and attacking his integrity. The Prime Minister and Defence Minister Peter McKay both described Colvin as essentially a dupe of the Taliban. Those ministers and Transport Minister John Baird meet most questions from the opposition parties by accusing them of sullying the integrity and efforts of Canadian soldiers. The strategy is to attack anyone who questions the actions of the military high command or the government’s behaviour as being disloyal and unpatriotic.

Colvin was a trusted civil servant and following his tour in Afghanistan he was assigned as an intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington. He made his comments when summoned to testify before a Parliamentary committee. He is being punished by the Conservatives for his diligence and honesty and his career may well be in jeopardy as a result. A group of 133 retired Canadian ambassadors has taken the unprecedented step of circulating a petition defending Colvin from his attackers. The former ambassadors say that the Conservative government is politicizing the civil service and that Colvin’s treatment will intimidate all public servants whose job has been traditionally to provide honest advice to the government and its ministers.

Haroon Siddiqui, a Toronto Star columnist, describes the government’s action in the following way: “The extent of Harper’s misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney: Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.”

KAIROS and its supporters in numerous Canadian churches have chosen not to fall in line. KAIROS is continuing with its campaign to have the CIDA funding cuts restored. See their petition here. Please consider signing it.

And Merry Christmas, happy holidays – really!

3 thoughts on “Kenney bullies KAIROS, Harper bullies Colvin

  1. Why is “money” always mixed up in commentary about the Jewish vote? I’ve never seen commentary on all the money from the Chinese and Indian communities that the Conservatives want. What about all the protestant money in Toronto, for that matter? This sort of garbage is why people like me are still concerned about Antisemitism.

    Dennis replies: Jason is overreacting when he describes as “garbage” my measured comments in the blog post. The discussion of political support and the financial support that accompany it are not uncommon in public commentary and analysis. For example, when Windsor-area MP Joe Comartin ran for the leadership of the NDP in 2002-2003, he received support from some groups representing Arab Canadians and at least some of the analysis discussed the financial component of that support. To take an earlier example, when Liberal MP John Munroe ran for the Liberal leadership in 1984, he received support from various First Nations, and again the financial dimension of that support became part of  news stories and the public debate. Nothing new here Jason.


  2. Many thanks for this fine piece of analysis, Dennis, and for your attention to the KAIROS file. This whole incident is very disturbing indeed. Inter alia, it raises profound questions about the state of democracy and the practice of wedge-craft, perfected by this Government with very unhappy results.



  3. I am deeply disturbed that the Harper government defends Israel without question. And I am even more disturbed by their kind of attacks on those who question Israeli actions against neighbouring peoples. Kenney talks about the increase in mindless attacks on Jewish people in Canada and around the world. Surely he realizes that the violent Israeli reprisals against the Gaza strip (for example the use of phosphorus on civilians) can only lead to more violence in return. I really fear a greatly increased hatred against our innocent Jewish friends and neighbours here and around the world unless there is a change in Israeli tactics.


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