Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch brings up an ideological purity test for refugees

by | September 4, 2016

With a legacy characterized by Canada’s worst human rights record in the modern era, utter disdain for the environment, the proroguing of Parliament (twice), and the muzzling of scientists, I think all progressive-minded Canadians are quite happy to see the back of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Surely whoever we have to look forward to replacing him won’t be nearly as bad, right? Folks, meet Kellie Leitch.

[Photo of Kellie Leitch.]

MP Kellie Leitch.

Leitch is a bit of a newcomer to the public political scene. She’s apparently been actively involved with the Conservative Party since the mid-1980s, but her real job is as an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at SickKids in Toronto. In fact, she was the doctor who was trying to save former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s life after his ultimately fatal heart attack by in 2014.

She first ran for office in 2011, winning the Simcoe—Grey seat formerly held by Helena Guergis. (If you don’t recognize that name, Guergis is one of the numerous Conservative MPs unceremoniously dumped during the Harper years that we have no idea why, because the Harper government covered everything up. There was an RCMP investigation, which eventually cleared her of all charges, but apparently she just… fell out King Harper’s favour. She ended up filing a defamation lawsuit against Harper.) In 2013, Harper appointed Lietch as Minister of Labour – and I think we all know about the Harper government’s track record on labour issues – and Minister of the Status of Women (formerly held by Guergis, natch). Her record on the latter is impressive, but not in a good way: She was the Minister of the Status of Women when the Harper government refused to open the enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and, well, this.

Leitch was the first to throw her hat in the ring to replace Harper as leader of the Conservative Party, way back in April, likely in order to fund-raise for as long as possible to challenge more established names like Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier, and Lisa Raitt (who is still not officially a contender). (Also, at the time there was a possibility that interim leader Rona Ambrose would simply be acclaimed as the permanent leader, but that idea got quashed at their convention in May.) The fund-raising gambit paid off, too. But of course, Harper only officially quit last week. So Leitch decided to mark the occasion by… playing the bigot card again.

Yes, I said “again”.

First, the current scandal. Last week she emailed a survey to people who had signed up for news about her campaign. It was mostly a bunch of questions about which policies you wanted to see Leitch support: including electoral reform, corporate tax cuts and the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use. But buried in the survey was this question:

[Screen capture of a question in Kellie Leitch's survey: Should the Canadian government screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants? (Yes/No/Don't know)]

Yup, that’s right: Leitch wants to know if Canadians would support an ideological purity test before admitting refugees.

Oh, I’m sure some would. Surely we’ve seen plenty enough examples of xenophobic bigotry in the last few years in Canada that it’s no longer easy to believe the myth that Canada is a welcoming and tolerate society. But this idea… screening refugees for ideological purity… gee, doesn’t it sound familiar? Where have we heard that suggested recently?

[A photo of Donald Trump wearing a "Make America great again" hat.]

Oh, right. This guy.

Leitch has since come under fire for her survey question, not just from progressives, but also from her competition for Conservative leadership. Michael Chong called it dog-whistle politics, and said it does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. (Chong seems to be the least horrible of the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates, which of course means he’s got the smallest chance. He does beat the tired old conservative drum that the pocketbook is the only thing that matters (who the hell uses a pocketbook anymore?), but at least he voted for the C-279 “bathroom bill” (which was ultimately defeated by the Senate). On the other hand, he seems to be a pro-lifer.) Rona Ambrose has also weighed in against Leitch’s proposal. Conservative strategist Chad Rogers was even more blunt as he called for Leitch to withdraw from the leadership race:

You don’t get to apologize twice for the same mistake. She’s done something stupid and if she apologizes now and leaves the race, she has a chance to rebuild her reputation within the party.

Wait… apologize twice for the same mistake?

Yup. For some of you, the name Kellie Leitch might have been familiar from the 2015 election. It is now widely agreed that Harper ran a dirty, divisive campaign focusing on identity politics, and stirring up racism and bigotry. And lo, at the centre of all that, in what some people are now calling the one of the lowest point of the Conservative campaign… there was the infamous “barbaric cultural practices hotline”.

Don’t remember that? Well, it was a charming proposal by the Conservatives that, if re-elected, they would implement a hotline for people to report quote-unquote “barbaric cultural practices” to the RCMP. Never mind that we already had a hotline for people to report any actual barbaric acts… more commonly known as “911”. It has been widely derided as a “snitch line” for Canadians to narc to the cops about their Muslim neighbours.

After the massive smack-down at the polls, Leitch went on CBC and tearfully not-pologized for the idea when she was just starting her leadership run. But now, she’s un-a-not-poligized, and she’s defending her survey question.

Oh, and of course it probably goes without saying that she opposes abortion, legalization of cannabis, and a carbon tax, is keen on “conscience exemptions” for assisted dying, and, well, there’s her record as Minister for the Status of Women. An all-round winner, this one. And she’s not even close to the worst of the bunch – at least she supports LGBT rights.

Well, Canucks, thus far we’ve had our fun snickering at the Yanks and their circus show of an election season. But it seems we may have our own horrifying campaign season to look forward to in March, April, and May next year. I haven’t dug too deeply yet, but it looks like half of the candidates oppose same-sex marriage (wasn’t that issue closed in 2006?), and none of them are pro-choice (the exception would have been Lisa Raitt, but she hasn’t officially declared candidacy (yet)). Granted, it’s just the Conservatives’ leadership race, and, well, we kinda expected this to be a shit-show. But we hoped for better, and now it looks like we’re going to be disappointed.

17 thoughts on “Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch brings up an ideological purity test for refugees

  1. Bruce Van Dietein

    Good summation Indi. With the fall out from the last election still fresh in their battered brains, it seemed like a wholesale race to the exits for the rats repudiating Harper’s policies. Even the repugnant Jason Kenney had decided that his future was better situated in Alberta where he could beat up on an opponent weakened by the vagaries of an oil economy gone bust, (the resource that his own government had supported almost to the exclusion of all other economic activity) and the fires in Fort Mac. It certainly appeared that the Progressive side of the party might be ascendant. But it’s pretty clear now that this nativist party, whose previous and future power depends on a weak turn out by a splintered left and our “first past the post” election process, is content pandering to its base. If neo-con economics wasn’t bad enough, the CPC will fall on its sword for social conservatism as well. What a dried husk of uninspired doggerel this party is. And Leitch, as her colleague points out, is the head whistle blower.

    1. Indi Post author

      Oh, I don’t know if I’d consider her anywhere *near* the head of the pack – or in this case, since it seems to be a race to the bottom, perhaps we should say “ass of the pack”.

      Just of the candidates who’ve declared, we already have Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux – both *FAR* worse that Leitch.

      And if you count those who haven’t formally declared, but have expressed interest, there’s Chris Alexander (the other half of the “barbaric cultural practices” fiasco), Peter MacKay, Pierre Poilievre…

      … and of course, lest we forget…

      … Kevin O’Leary. The Canadian Trump.

      So yeah, Leitch is horrid… but there are far, far, *far* worse in the running.

  2. Gordon McFetridge

    This is Canada. Subhuman right-wingers are guaranteed the freedom of speech and can spew out all the racist garbage they wish. They are also guaranteed the right to be ridiculed for their ignorance. You have the right to your opinion, you also have the right to be a decent human being. Why do these tea-bagger wannabes never choose the latter?

    1. Indi Post author

      Whoa, whoa. Calling your ideological opponents “subhuman” is going a step too far.

      I think many social conservative positions are abhorrent and revolting… but socially conservative *people* are not “subhuman”.

  3. dusttodust

    While it worried, astonished and embarrassed me as a Canadian to see the number of bigots that became emboldened and scurried out of the woodwork over that stupid niqab non-issue…
    I would still maintain that most Canadians are middle of the road decent people. But once those people stumble into that voting semi-enclosure they somehow lose all pretense of that and find a way to astonishingly vote against their own best interests. Instead, voting for parties that have shown time and again how they are really actually owned by the corporations and enrich the people running them. Nothing for the actual voter except scraps and gruel.

    I have never and will about certainly never vote for anything called conservative. Mostly almost entirely because of how the religious wrong have taken over that side of politics. I’ll have nothing to do with it thank you. They also all just seem so…selfish and all about me me me. Not my cup of tea.

    So in a way for me…I don’t care. I don’t care who they put up in front of the lectern. How charming they are, how good looking they are, how well they talk, how much experience they might have…nothing. I won’t vote for them or the party they represent. So I don’t care.

    But that’s just me ranting on a long weekend Sunday evening at the depressing demarcation point of the end of summer here in the northern hemisphere.

    1. Indi Post author

      I think it’s a category error to question whether Canadians are decent people because of the prevalence of the anti-niqab crowd or other horrid ideological positions. Even the most virulent racist can still be a decent person – even to the very people they rail against. (For example, many slaves in the time of slavery spoke glowingly of their masters, and would speak at length about all the kindnesses they should them.)

      My personal position is that even the most disgusting ideologies – and, yes, religions – don’t eliminate human decency. My evidence of that is that people will very frequently shrug off the more rancid parts of their ideologies in actual practice, when dealing with actual other people in front of them and not merely speaking in theory about people they don’t personally know. Even the most outspoken anti-niqab activist *probably* won’t scream at someone in a niqab they meet on the street.

      That’s not to say that horrible people who *will* actually practice the nastiest aspects of their ideology – or scream at innocent people on the street – don’t exist. We know they do. But my position is that *that* nastiness does not *come* from the ideology – or the religion – it comes from the person. The ideology/religion is not innocent of course. It is a rationalization tool, a focusing lens, and catalyst for the person’s assholery. Not being the *source* of the assholery doesn’t mean the ideology/religion is blameless; it’s still one of the causes.

      Generally speaking, assholery comes from the person, but for assholery to manifest it needs a flag to fly under. An asshole without a cause is just a miserable shit; an asshole *with* a cause is a menace. That cause is far too often religion, yes, but in *this* case, it’s simple racism. Regardless, it’s a *cause*, which rationalizes assholery, and mobilizes assholes, and – unfortunately – sweeps up decent people along with them.

      That’s why I care about what’s happening to the Conservative Party, and conservativism in general in Canada. I am not and never have been the least bit conservative; I’m a strident progressive, not only more progressive than the Liberals, far more progressive even than the NDP or Greens. But I acknowledge that conservativism does have some sound points – I think it’s important to have a little bit of conservativism to rein in the optimism and energy of progressivism. I think it’s important to have someone representing the plight of the people who can too easily get ignored in the rush to advance.

      But right now, Canadian conservativism is a fucking mess. It’s not just the latent racism and the religious rot you see in the social conservatives. Even the non-social conservatives, like libertarians, have their heads up their asses. The *only* thing they all seem capable of focusing on (when they’re not infected with social conservativism’s rot) is money. *Everything* that comes out of the mouths of conservatives is money, money, money. It’s always about deficits, taxes, wallets, “pocketbooks”. They’ll even cheerfully trumpet the most ridiculously *non*-conservative ideas if there’s money involved. Hell, I’d bet most people can’t even untangle conservativism from money. Of course keeping tabs on the economy and enriching the population are good goals, but it’s *all* they talk about – and of course, when they focus on money, money, money, all they end up doing is pandering to where the money is; the rich. They’ll even throw *families* under the bus if money is involved – such as when we’re talking about maternity leave – and “family” is supposed to be the bread-and-butter of conservativism.

      I *want* strong, sane conservativism in Canada; without strong conservativism, progressivism will be unchecked, and I *want* progressivism that stands up to challenge. That’s why I want rot like the shit Leitch is peddling to be soundly rejected. If we just ignore it and say “meh, conservatives are a lost cause”, her banner *will* be taken up by assholes, and once the assholes are leading the charge, decent people will be swept up along with them. That’s where Tea Parties and Donald Trumps come from. We have to nip the shitty ideologies in the bud, before they take root and acquire a following, then become a movement that will eventually bite us in the ass.

  4. Pingback: The absurdity of Kellie Leitch’s ideological purity test – Indi in the Wired

  5. Tim Underwood

    “ideological purity test before admitting refugees”

    Example: Do you accept that all enforceable laws are exclusively the purview of the Canadian Law?

    Example: Do you exclusively support Canada’s education curriculums?

    Yes, I do fully agree there is a whole list of essentials potential Canadian citizens should be selected by.

    I realize that quite a few existing citizens would fall short of a proper list. Our democracy relies on an informed, educated and mature citizenry. We are already dumbed down by hilariously stupid imported religious ideas. Even The United States is an unapologetic exporter of money draining and intellectually corrupting bullshit cults.

    Also, the world is overflowing with decent, secular, honest and intelligent young people who would happily live in an extremely cold climate just to escape living within horrid crazy tribes.

    1. Indi Post author

      Neither of those examples are representative of what Leitch is proposing. In the first case, we *already* screen to ensure that immigrants and refugees will recognize, acknowledge, and follow Canadian law. I mean, duh, right? It would be ridiculous if we didn’t. (As for all laws being “exclusively” in the purview of Canadian law… that’s just bullshit. I suspect you’re trying to target extrajudicial actions like honour killings, but you’re not really thinking the implications through. First, taking extrajudicial action that actually *harms* anyone is already covered by law. But more importantly, if you say “only what’s in the law is valid”, you’re saying that no organization or group can make its own by-laws, or that no Canadian should respect them. “What’s that? You say I can’t pee in the pool? Fuck that, it’s not in Canadian law!” Finally, even Canadian law is not in the exclusive purview of Canadian law! Shockingly, we do live in a democratic society where we have control over the laws we live under.) In the second… education curricula? What does that have to do with anything? *No* Canadian has to send their kid to *any* Canadian school, so what relevance do Canadian curricula have? *I* didn’t go to any Canadian schools for eleven years. And I *don’t* support most Canadian curricula. Many scientifically minded Canadians don’t. (In fact, I *just* read an article criticizing what the Liberals and PQ did to Québec’s curriculum. Would you label *that* “anti-Canadian”?)

      This is what Leitch herself says she wants to screen for: “anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms”. (Note: nothing in there about education.) I didn’t use the phrase “ideological purity test” lightly, or just as a rhetorical flourish. If you set aside the things that are already covered by law (violent behaviour), what you’re left with is *literally* a test of ideology… *not* a test of whether people will acknowledge Canadian law, as you seem to think. All told, most *Canadians* would fail her test. Hell, as I noted in an article I wrote elsewhere, *Leitch* would fail her own test.

  6. Randy

    If you’re unwilling to stand up for liberal, progressive values, then you are not a liberal or progressive. It’s that simple.

    It is utter absurdity to invite people to this country, only to have THEM tell US how to behave. No. When you come to Canada, you do it our way.

    People who are unlikely to assimilate should not be considered.

    This country (despite the lie that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”) is already divided into several “nations”. We don’t need more division. We need less. That kind of healing and unity can only happen when we aren’t actively making new problems for ourselves.

    Canada, if it chooses to be merely a hotel, will not last long.

    1. Bruce Van Dietein

      Couldn’t disagree more. Your claim that “They” tell us how to behave is nonsense, have you changed your behaviour?

      Over 50% of the people living in TO (for example) are immigrants. We are not Paris, or Stockholm or Washington, we have a chance to create a new society. Canada is a grand experiment, we are not Europe and we have rejected (and should) the US melting pot idea. We are still creating ourselves and our identity. My son goes to school in Parkdale with Tibetans, Syrians, Chinese, Europeans; first generation Canadians, newly gentrifying “old stock” Canadians, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, etc. etc. Canadians all.

      Canada is about “normalizing”, it is not a “totalizing” society. I highly recommend reading Doug Saunder’s “The Myth of the Muslim Tide”,or John Ralston Saul’s “The Comeback” or “A Fair Country”.

      As far as your dismissal of “nations”, we would do well to recognize our First Nations brother and sisters as a national entity with whom we need to negotiate a legitimate relationship. That relationship might not prove to be pragmatic, but is consistent with MY Canadian values of respect, autonomy, self-direction and dignity. We don’t need division, we need to recognize the dignity of difference and reject the totalitarianism of the majoritarian urge.

    2. Indi Post author

      > When you come to Canada, you do it our way.

      You mean murdering the indigenous population, seizing their lands and possessions, shuffling them into shitty reserves, labelling them ignorant savages whose culture needs to be wiped out and replaced with their ideas of civilization, treating them like garbage, then ignoring them for decades except to further seize what little they have left whenever its economically worthwhile?

      Because I assume you’re actually a native-born Canadian, I *really* don’t think you’d like it if newcomers to Canada actually did things the traditional Canadian way.

      1. Dror

        Your comment is the best argument in favor of pre-screening immigrants for values. Collapse and distraction of indigenes people’s civilization evidently happened because new arrived settlers did not share same values with the local tribes. Indeed, new European immigrants did not do local people’s way. Instead, they were acting according to their values at that time. Nobody should expect from someone to change their values but must be very aware of what these values are so that the history does not repeat itself in a tragic way.

        1. Indi Post author

          Nice try, but we already screen potential immigrants to see if they want to murder the locals and take their land, thank you very much.

          Of course we screen for *violent* intentions. I mean, duh. But that’s not the same thing as screening for ignorance or backward opinions. Once someone has agreed to recognize and abide by our laws, there is no need to verify that they have the “correct” ideological opinions… such as the set of ideological opinions that the Conservative Party of Canada acknowledges.

          1. Dror

            I am certain that France is screening potential immigrants to see if they want to murder the locals and take their land, and yet it has been on the state of emergency since November 13, 2015 due to some ideology rooted in certain “opinions”, “ignorance”, and “backward thinking” infiltrated or imported into the French society. I do not imply that these “ideological opinions”, “ignorance”, and “backward thinking” brought by immigrants are wrong and must be corrected, or French values are better and should be forcibly imposed. However, it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that there will be no “war of values” leading to a prolonged state of emergency.

          2. Indi Post author

            > … yet it has been on the state of emergency since November 13, 2015…

            So the fuck what? ^_^; The “state of emergency” means nothing except that politicians are exploiting panic to gain more power. Hell, the US has been in a state of emergency since 9/11. (Yes, it’s true. The state of emergency declared due to 9/11 is still in effect. Obama just recently renewed it. In fact, the US has been in perpetual “state of emergency” since 1979.)

            > … due to some ideology rooted in certain “opinions”, “ignorance”, and “backward thinking” infiltrated or imported into the French society.

            Ah, no. What has France in a panic is not “opinions”, “ignorance”, or “backward thinking”. It’s *VIOLENCE*. And violence is hardly the exclusive domain of any one particular ideology.

            > However, it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that there will be no “war of values” leading to a prolonged state of emergency.

            Whoa, what the fuck? No, no, *NO*, it is *absolutely* not the responsibility of the government to do *any* policing of values. The problem France is facing is not a “war of values”. It is a small group of violent extremists attacking society where it is vulnerable in order to provoke *exactly* the kind of response you’re calling for: a clampdown on values considered “other” by the mainstream.

            The Muslim-bashers *love* to use this expression “war of values” to justify their harassment of Muslims, but it’s completely nonsensical. What values are actually being threatened by terrorism? Seriously, think about it. When a terrorist commits an atrocity, does that actually endanger secularism? Does it endanger democracy? What values *exactly* are threatened by terrorism? Now, consider this: what values are threatened by the *response* to terrorism – especially when the response is things like cracking down on what people can wear, or what people are allowed to believe? You see? The *real* threat to society and progressive values isn’t the terrorists or their beliefs… it’s the idiotic knee-jerk responses of people who think building walls between them and ideologies they don’t like somehow makes them more enlightened or safer.

            An ideological purity test will *not* make us safer. Seriously, what kind of a dumbass could actually believe that? (Well, Leitch, obvs.) If someone actually intends to cause harm to a society, wouldn’t they just fake progressive values to get in? This may fucking blow your mind, but people intending violence *always* lie about stuff in order to successfully carry out that violence. Meanwhile, an *honest* person who just happens to hold the ideologies you have distaste for, but who has no intentions of violence, will be denied. You see what you’ve accomplished? You’ve *increased* the proportion of dangerous immigrants, while also making it harder to identify them! What a brilliant strategy [/sarcasm].

            As an aside, you know what really blows my mind about the whole idea that screening the ideology of immigrants and refugees would have somehow spared France its multiple terrorist attacks? It’s that all four perpetrators of the 2016 attacks at least (that I can think of) were radicalized *in France*. In fact, going back further, *both* shooters in the Charlie Hebdo murders were French-born, as was the third person who held hostages a few days later. Five out of the nine involved in the November attacks were French-born (two more were from Belgium). In fact, most of the terrorists I’ve mentioned were actually arrested multiple times… FOR TRYING TO GET *OUT* OF FRANCE TO JOIN THE FIGHTING IN SYRIA (and Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and so on)!

            So it seems if you want to prevent terrorist attacks, harassing people trying to get *in* to France with ideological tests is not the answer. It’s the people already there trying to leave who are the problem!

  7. Tim Underwood

    Canadian ideology is what we are creating now. The dual nationals, with both Canadian and First Nation ancestry, are the result of the treaties between the First Nations and Imperial coloniser. These treaties have historically benefitted only a minority of these dual citizens.

    The biggest cultural difference between myself and most First Nations people, that I know, is that they tend to be un-skeptically religious and I am very skeptically not religious.

    My point is just this: they have become, religiously, 18th century European like. This was our nation’s primary intention and it has worked. We just don’t like the sociological affect this Christianizing and segregating has produced. Of course we could look into conditions in 18th century Europe to gain some perspective.

    Humanists probably don’t see very much of lasting value in anything that Canada has accomplished between itself and the First Nations. Our government will undoubtedly blunder on with their renewed good intensions for a while.

    What the First Nations need, obviously, are progressive intellectual leaders from within their own communities. They are in the same pickle as us. As Buffy St. Mari has said, “and you are the problem”. ‘Universal Soldier’


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