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Rights + Justice

Refugees Get More than Seniors? Not True!

A viral email says refugees in Canada get 'more money than seniors.' I checked it out, and guess what?

Bill Tieleman 31 Aug 2010TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

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Bogus email claims whip up fears.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." -- Winston Churchill

Did you know that refugees coming to Canada get more money from the federal government than our seniors do?

Isn't that outrageous? I read it in an email.

There's only one problem -- it is an absolute lie, an urban myth, a complete hoax.

But the email is persistent. It's been circulating in cyberspace since one error in the Toronto Star newspaper in 2004.

And it says a lot about how easily manipulated Canadians are about refugees, how needlessly afraid many people are of foreigners and likely how some are simply racially prejudiced about non-Caucasians.

'Scapegoating foreigners'

Sadly, the recent arrival in Victoria of a boatload of Tamil men, women and children from Sri Lanka seeking refugee status in Canada seems to have provoked another round of mythmaking and inflammatory comments.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, is extremely frustrated with the false email.

"It's in a broader context where there is an underlying level of xenophobia and speaks to people's insecurities," Dench said from the charity's Montreal office. "Scapegoating foreigners is an easy solution."

And that's what the email does: targets seniors by saying they get less financial support than new refugee claimants.

The false email reads:

"Only in Canada. Do not apply for your old age pension. Apply to be a refugee. It is interesting that the federal government provides a single refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can get an additional $580.00 in social assistance for a total of $2,470.00.

"This compares very well to a single pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Canada for 40 or 50 years, can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

"Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees!" the email concludes.

Reality checked

Or maybe not, since all the information in the email is bogus.

Refugees do not get $2,470 a month -- not even one-quarter of that amount.

A single employable refugee claimant in B.C. would actually get a maximum of just $610 on social assistance -- $235 for expenses and up to $375 for shelter.

That's a long way from the almost $30,000 a year the email wrongly claims and significantly less than any Canadian pensioner receives.

Some refugees are eligible for a one-time only setup allowance of $905 for basic household items, but that's it.

Toews needs fact checking, too

Perhaps federal Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is one of those duped by the email. That might explain why he is encouraging anti-refugee sentiments by saying the Tamils on the MV Sun Sea included "suspected human smugglers and terrorists" without offering any proof.

Dench strongly disagrees with Toews' comments.

"These sort of negative associations tend to stick," Dench said. "All these kinds of labels dehumanize people."

In fact more than 90 per cent of Tamils arriving previously in Canada have been granted refugee status -- which shows there is a real need to protect them.

Amnesty International knows why refugees have been fleeing Sri Lanka following the end of a bitter civil war.

"The government failed to address impunity for past human rights violations, and continued to carry out enforced disappearances and torture," the A.I. 2010 report states, while noting that both the government and Tamil Tiger guerrillas are responsible for abuses.

And simply writing about human rights abuses in that country has proven deadly.

A May Amnesty report states: "In Sri Lanka, reporting the truth can be fatal. Journalists have been killed, physically assaulted, abducted and harassed by both government personnel and members of armed groups."

Refugees usually Canada's gain

But back to the bogus email. The Canadian Council for Refugees' Dench points out that in fact, most refugees help their new country, not hurt it.

"Refugees contribute to the Canadian economy in many ways -- most work and pay taxes. Some start businesses and employ Canadians," she said. "Anyone who knows refugees in Canada knows this email is far from reality."

But the email hoaxers don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. This one has actually gone beyond our borders and gained new life in both the United States and Australia, even with the wrong information from a different country used, with only the names of the nations being changed.

Dench believes the hoax's international travel and longevity are no accident.

"Obviously there are concerted efforts to circulate this email," she says.

The hoax email denouncing refugees asks that we: "forward this to every Canadian you know."

Here's a better idea -- one that many Sri Lankan journalists have paid for with their lives, but won't cost you anything -- forward the truth.  [Tyee]

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