Bill C-31: Auschwitz Survivor Elie Wiesel Confronts Stephen Harper

Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel responds to Stephen Harper's anti-immigrant Bill C-31, reminds him that "a nation is judged by its attitude towards refugees."

by: Obert Madondo | Published July 9, 2012, by The Canadian Progressive

Elie Wiesel at the 2012 TIME 100 gala. (Photo. David Shankbone)
Elie Wiesel at the 2012 TIME 100 gala. (Photo. David Shankbone)

“I feel morally compelled to remain on the side of other uprooted men and women everywhere. Today, as yesterday, a nation is judged by its attitude towards refugees.”

The sobering words of Jewish-American political activist, Nobel laureate, writer, professor, Elie Wiesel. The Holocaust survivor’s response to the Harper Conservative governments’ draconian changes to Canada’s refugee system, to be implemented through Bill C-31, “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.”

The Romania-born Wiesel has joined with the Toronto Board of Rabbis to express concern about the bill, which amends Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The changes empower Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the brains behind the reforms, to designate certain refugees as “irregular arrivals”. And detain those among them who are 16 years old and older. The bill also introduces drastic cuts to refugee health care funding.
The inhumane and un-Canadian changes are now enforceable. The bill received royal assent at the end of June after it passed in both the House of Commons and Senate without any meaningful debate.

Wiesel is speaking and acting from experience here. He’s a former refugee. And even more. He survived the Auschwitz death camp.

According to The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity: “Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, which is now part of Romania. He was fifteen years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister perished, his two older sisters survived. Wiesel and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945.”

The irony is this: two year ago, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner was a keynote speaker at an Ottawa conference on anti-Semitism. Kenney reportedly helped to organized that conference.

Mental health risks for refugees

Wiesel’s voice joins the struggle just as Canadian doctors and other health professionals are solidifying their assault on Bill C-31 with learned evidence. According to the CBC News, an opinion piece published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal warns that the changes pose serious mental health risks for refugees.

“Numerous studies have shown high levels of psychiatric symptoms among detained refugee claimants, even after short period,” authors Dr. Janet Cleveland and Dr. Cécile Rousseau argue. “As health professionals, it is our responsibility to urge the government to minimize harm to children, pregnant women, trauma survivors and other vulnerable people. Children should not be incarcerated or separated from their parents.”

The Canadian Psychiatrists Association has already warned us about the Harper Conservatives’ inflamatory and divisive lunguage on the Bill C-31 conversation. Too, of the impact of the changes on the mental health of those we’re supposed to be protecting.

RELATED: Immigration and Refugee Board Adjucator David McBean Must Go

In a letter to Kenney in June, they wrote: “This language, which deems patients worthy of care only if they are a potential harm to others, serves to further stigmatize our already stigmatized population, and does not address the dire need for medication and treatment for all patients who need them, whether or not they pose a risk to others.”

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. Obert is the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive and The Zimbabwean Progressive, both of which are independent political blogs dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented journalism situated right at the intersection of politics, technology and human rights. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad
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  1. This Harper government has no care for children whatsoever. "The inhumane and un-Canadian changes are now enforceable. The bill received royal assent at the end of June:

  2. Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not definitively understood, though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophical and religious interest, throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology.

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