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Jason Kenney sails close to the wind on Anti-Terrorism Act at picnic visit

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Jason Kenney

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Jason Kenney, who notwithstanding the dissolution of the House of Commons continues to hold the defence portfolio in the Harper Ministry, was this week courting votes at a picnic organized by a Toronto Kurdish group.

"Spoke to thousands from Canada's #Kurdish community, who thanked us for Canada's military operation against ISIL," Kenney boasted in a Tweet Saturday evening.

So far so good, it is election season, after all, and Kenney is Prime Minister Stephen Harper's point man on ethnic politics.

But this is where things begin to get a little murky.

The group that organized the "13th annual Kurdish Peace and Cultural Festival," it turns out, appears to support the Kurdistan Workers Party, an organization founded by Kurds who live in Turkey that is commonly known by the initials PKK.

The connection works like this, according to a blog called "some random political blog," which makes the connections quite persuasively: The Peace and Cultural Festival, which took place at the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre, appears to have been put on by a group called the Democratic Kurdish Youth Commission, which on its Facebook page identifies itself as the Toronto Kurdistan Youth Assembly. TKYA materials demonstrate the group's support for the PKK -- indeed, on Twitter the group uses a hashtag, #WeAreAllPKK.

In addition, visible in the background of a photo taken at the event and Tweeted by another campaigning politician -- Spadina-Fort York Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan -- was an illustration of one of the PKK's founders, Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan, 68, is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison for treason.

Why does this matter? Well, as this is written, PKK military units are under heavy attack by the military forces of Canada’s NATO ally Turkey -- which claims that the PKK is a terrorist organization.

As has been written here before, life in that troubled region is not as simple as a Turkish Armed Forces press release, and as the largest ethnic group on earth without a homeland, a good case can be made for the Kurds in at least some of their territorial disputes with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. We would all agree, at the very least, that these are not necessarily the neighbours you'd want if you happened to be homeless.

Nevertheless, however unjustly, the PKK has been declared a terrorist organization, not just by the Turks, but by North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Canada is a proud member, and also by the governments of, among many others, Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, the United States and… Canada.

So here we have the Canadian minister of defence, one of the main cheerleaders for the Harper Government's so-called Anti-Terrorism Act, probably unconstitutional legislation that among many other things makes it a criminal offence to advocate or promote the commission of terrorism offences in general, at an event put on by a group that publicly supports an organization identified as a sponsor of terrorism by Canada and its allies!

Having written in the past about The Harper Government's apparently strategy-free military activities in the Middle East, I came across this situation when I noticed another Tweet by Kenney, expressing "solidarity w/ Kurds fighting ISIL. No one from NDP or LPC came to explain why they went [sic] to abandon the Kurds."

As noted, there was in fact someone there from the Liberals. But the C-51 connection may have explained the lack of a New Democrat.

Regardless, I Tweeted back, "Do you propose to do anything about our NATO allies, the Turks, attacking Kurds with jet bombers?"

Kenney responded later, saying, "Spoke to that last night. We call for an end to violence and a return to peace negotiations."

This led to me poking around online, which turned up to the informative "random blog."

So what's wrong with this picture? I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me there's a case that Kenney may have been acting in violation of his government's own anti-terror legislation, still known to most of us as Bill C-51.

Certainly he was sailing close to the wind by attending this event, whether he did so out of ignorance and lack of preparation, or the belief not uncommon among the Conservative Party's insiders that the rules are for everyone else. Indeed, a separate illustration of this phenomenon is unfolding this week in an Ottawa courtroom.

If Kenney was in violation of the act, even unintentionally, shouldn't he resign as defence minister, although he would be entirely within the scope of Parliamentary convention for him to continue to be a Conservative candidate?

There's not much hope of that happening, of course. These Conservatives don't really hold with parliamentary conventions -- indeed, they hold the institution in contempt.

Regardless, if Kenney indeed proposes to do something to help the Kurds -- including the PKK by the sound of his Tweet -- he's going to have to do better than issue "calls" to our NATO allies, the Turks. They don't seem to listen to calls.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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