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Amnesty defends its concern for rights of Canada's 'most wanted'

A man walks past an Amnesty International banner during a human-rights conference in Algeria on Nov. 13, 2008.


First it was Jason Kenney. Now it's Margaret Wente.

Amnesty International's Alex Neve is taking on The Globe and Mail's columnist just as he took on the Immigration Minister. It's all over the Harper government's "most wanted" list, in which it released the names and photographs of 30 men living in Canada accused of war crimes.

So successful was the initial list – six of those men have been apprehended in less than a month – that Conservatives have decided to expand it. On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced the Canadian Border Services Agency is now looking for an additional 32 individuals who are facing deportation for committing serious crimes. They are permanent residents of Canada.

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Although Mr. Neve, secretary-general at Amnesty International Canada, said this is a "very different issue" than the list targeting war criminals, he argued there may be "some individuals who might be facing a serious risk of human-rights violations once deported."

His overarching concern, he says, is to promote universal human-rights protection.

Earlier this month, Mr. Neve penned a letter to both Mr. Toews and Mr. Kenney in response to the release of the first list: "Amnesty International is concerned that the initiative does not conform to Canada's obligations with respect to human rights and international justice," he wrote.

The Immigration Minister replied with a pointed open letter on his website, asking whether it is Amnesty International's "position that the Canadian public does not deserve to know that these men are hiding among us unless or until each of them has signed a privacy waiver allowing details of their complicity in war crimes against humanity to be made public? If so, I respectfully disagree. I believe the Canadian public deserves better."

Enter Ms. Wente. In her column Thursday, she supports the government's actions, arguing "Canada has become a notorious as a haven for war criminals and phony refugees." And she takes Amnesty International to task, calling on it to " find some real victims to defend."

Mr. Neve, who is in Amsterdam for Amnesty International's biennial global assembly, immediately logged on to his Facebook account, calling on his friends to "let the Globe and Mail know that you don't agree with Margaret Wente: concern about human rights is NOT misplaced hand-wringing."

"Obviously, it concerns us," he said about the column. "It's an approach and attitude we don't agree with at all. And I clearly take umbrage with her suggestions that somehow we are only doing this because it's something we can get mileage out of."

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Mr. Neve says Amnesty has had some members of the public writing to them and indicating they support the view of Mr. Kenney and Ms. Wente. But overall, he said the feedback has been supportive of the organization's concern for human rights and position on this issue – though he hasn't tallied all the responses.

As for Ms. Wente, the reaction has been equally divided. "My email is about half and half," she said. "I haven't read the online comments – they're usually really nasty!"

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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