The Commons: Give us your tired, your poor, your convicted

Thomas Mulcair had news. Or, rather, he’d read the news.
Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Scene. Thomas Mulcair had news. Or, rather, he’d read the news. And so he had a question.

“Mr. Speaker, the member for Trinity-Spadina and I last year asked why Gary Freeman, who lived in this country peaceably for 40 years and had several children, was not being allowed back in the country. The answer was an event that happened in Chicago in the sixties and he had served a short jail time. They said that because he was not a Canadian he was not allowed back in,” the leader of the opposition recounted.

“We just learned that the British criminal Conrad Black will be allowed in despite serving a second term in a federal American penitentiary,” he reported. “Why the double standard?”

The New Democrats seated around him stood to applaud.

“What about the French citizen who leads the NDP?” chirped Conservative backbencher Jeff Watson.

One should have known then that this would not end well.

“Mr. Speaker, matters such as this are a matter of personal privacy. I cannot comment on specific cases without a privacy waiver,” Mr. Kenney demurred at first. “Having said that, I can advise in respect to this individual that I indicated to my department that I would not have any involvement in an application from that individual, and that his application would be treated by highly trained independent members of our public service.”

That was apparently enough of the niceties.

“In terms of the individual that he raises, I understand that member has made interventions on behalf of a convicted police murderer in the United States seeking his entry into Canada,” the Immigration Minister declared. “We believe decisions on admissibility should be made by public servants, not by politicians.”

Mr. Freeman’s situation is apparently a complicated one. But whatever he may or may not be, he would not seem to be a “convicted police murderer.” In March of 1969, Mr. Freeman was involved in a confrontation with a police officer in Chicago. Shots were fired. Mr. Freeman claimed self defence. He skipped bail, allegedly after being threatened, and fled to Canada, where he lived and worked for 34 years and started a family. In 2004, he was apprehended and returned to the United States. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to a charge of aggravated battery and was ordered to serve 30 days in prison and donate $250,000 to charity.

He would now like to return to Canada and it has reportedly been determined that he does not constitute a threat, but a separately disputed allegation, that he once belonged to the Black Panthers, is apparently keeping him from crossing the border.

Mr. Mulcair was displeased with Mr. Kenney’s explanation.

“Mr. Speaker, the facts are simply wrong. Gary Freeman lived in Canada for 40 years, has several children here. We met the press with Natercia Coelho, his wife,” he explained.

At this point, Mr. Mulcair ventured a rather serious insinuation.

“It is a clear case of a double standard, one for an American black man from Chicago,” Mr. Mulcair charged, “another for a British white man coming out of federal penitentiary in Chicago.”

The government side howled. There were cries of “Shame!”

“Having two weights and two measures,” Mr. Mulcair continued, en francais, “that’s the shame of the Conservatives.”

The New Democrats stood to applaud.

Mr. Kenney attempted to turn this around. “Mr. Speaker, that statement says a lot more about the leader of the opposition than it does about Canada’s fair—” he shot back. The Conservatives stood to applaud their minister, drowning him out in the process. Someone made use of Mr. Kenney’s open microphone to pronounce shame on the NDP leader.

It was at this point, for whatever reason, that Mr. Kenney chose to up the ante even further, simultaneously repeating his erroneous charge against Mr. Freeman and invoking a foreign leader who has acknowledged authorizing torture.

“I know that member and his party like to politicize these matters,” Mr. Kenney lamented. “They want to make a former vice-president of the United States inadmissible to Canada, but they want us to welcome convicted cop killers.” The minister concluded with a flourish. “We think the law should be consistently applied by independent highly-trained public servants,” he proclaimed, “not by political demagogues.”(Mr. Mulcair would later invoke the case of George Galloway to dispute this argument.)

The House moved to other matters, but one Conservative backbencher, Larry Miller, was moved to beg for reason from Mr. Mulcair. “Where’s your standards?” he wondered aloud.

The Stats. The F-35, seven questions. Statistics Canada and employment, three questions each. The budget, Parks Canada, fisheries, Old Age Security, bilingualism, Canada Revenue Agency, ethics, Conrad Black and crime, two questions each. Senate reform, aboriginal affairs, the economy and economic development, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six responses. Diane Finley, four responses. Peter MacKay, Tony Clement, Christian Paradis and Jason Kenney, three responses each. Peter Kent, Keith Ashfield, Gail Shea, Peter Van Loan, Steven Blaney and James Moore, two responses each. Vic Toews, Pierre Poilievre, Leona Aglukkaq and Ted Menzies, one response each.