Can Democracy save Victoria and Favour?

Today marks the National Day of Action for Victoria Ordu and Ihuoma Amadi, the two University of Regina students that have spent the past 14 months in sanctuary to avoid deportation. Both students made the honest mistake of working at a local Wal-Mart for two weeks, thereby violating the terms of their student visas. As we speak, people from all over Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, are sending heart-felt pleas to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to demonstrate a modicum of compassion and use his power to return these two women to their studies at the University of Regina for September.

While the Minister’s comments on this case in recent days have been less than re-assuring, it is hoped that today’s outpouring of concern for the fate of Victoria and Favour will demonstrate the will of a vast swathe of Canadians to see this case finally resolved. Indeed, the level of unanimity on this issue by Canadians across the political spectrum is impressive. With the Saskatchewan Party government, the provincial NDP, the federal Liberals and the federal NDP all in agreement that the punishment of deportation far outweighs the purported crime, one would need to look long and hard to find another issue that has united such a diverse array of political actors. You would think that this level of consensus alone would convince the Federal government that they are on the wrong side of this issue and should respect what certainly seems to be the will of the majority. But in the interest of ensuring that the federal government remain committed to some semblance of democracy, perhaps we should remind them of some examples when the people’s will was simply so great that they felt compelled to act.

In July of 2010, former Industry Minister Maxime Bernier made the incredible claim that his office received about 1,000 complaints a day regarding the intrusiveness of the mandatory long-form census. Indeed, this supposed outpouring of concern by ordinary Canadians led the Conservative government to completely scrap the long-form census in the interest of privacy. As Industry Minister Tony Clement opined about the decision, “Of course, we always take Canadians’ views and opinions into account when considering public policy issues.”  Speaking to an industry committee about the need to respond to Canadians privacy concerns regarding the mandatory long-form census, Clement told the story of a census-taker who told him about how people “were in tears, absolutely terrified of being deported if they didn’t fill out the long-form census.” Given this outpouring of popular sentiment, the federal government felt compelled to end the long-form census once and for all. Democracy works!

Of course, later it came out that the outpouring of privacy concerns by Canadians was actually less than a trickle, with Statistics Canada identifying less than 100 actual complaints regarding the long-form census. Even once the evidence came to light, Minister Clement still held fast to his democratic convictions, stating “Even if it is only a minority of Canadians, they still have a legitimate ground to have a conversation with the government (that) in the 21st century there may be a better way of doing things.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the government’s insistence that it must respect even the concerns of a minority of its citizens. But I would also hope that when a single issue can demonstrate so much unanimity of opinion and such a genuine outpouring of concern, that the federal government will apply the same standards of democracy to the case of Victoria and Favour that it did to the long-form census.

Simon Enoch

 

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