Should Canada Gyp the Roma?

Surprisingly for such a boring country, Canada has on occasion been described as “cool”.[1] But if we want to stick with the cool international crowd, we have to keep up with the latest trends. Most Canadians probably think that discrimination against minorities went out of fashion years ago, but lately one old classic has come back in vogue: persecuting the Roma (also known as Romani, or Gypsies).

Many Canadians may find picking on members of a small diaspora community unappealing. But like other trends such as Ugg boots or skinny jeans, just because we find them distasteful doesn’t mean we can ignore them. And there’s no denying that discrimination against the Roma is back in style – just look at Europe.

According to Amnesty International, and despite a 2007 ruling against the practice by the European Court of Human Rights, Roma children in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are still routinely placed outside mainstream schools in “special schools,” ordinarily reserved for children with mental disabilities. In Serbia and Romania, groups of Roma have been evicted from their “unlawful settlements” (which, in Serbia, were then bulldozed), and forced into even more makeshift accommodations. To be fair though, as one Romanian Vice-Mayor noted, this was really positive discrimination since the evicted Roma were provided with free metal barracks to live in – the lucky devils! In Hungary, incidents of violence against the Roma have been on the rise, with 16 recorded by the National Police in 2008, resulting in 4 deaths.

How can Canada keep up with such proactive trendiness? Other countries give a clue as to the best way to proceed. Switzerland, France, Germany, and several Scandinavian countries are reportedly planning to deport large numbers of Roma back to Kosovo, from which they fled due to widespread discrimination and inter-ethnic violence. Italy has gone further, invoking emergency powers created by a 1992 law intended to cope with natural disasters in order to forcibly evict groups of Roma. They’ve made sure that there’s no opportunity for legal redress. Coupled with inflammatory anti-Roma rhetoric from the Italian media and local politicians, this has led to record numbers of attacks on Roma in Italy.

Has Canada missed the opportunity to get in on this blast from the past of a trend? Perhaps not. In July, Canada re-imposed its visa requirement for travellers from the Czech Republic, largely due to surging numbers of refugee claims by Czech Roma. As Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney noted at the time, all those Roma claims were “undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution” – not the sissy faux-persecution outlined above. Today, despite reassuring the Hungarian government to the contrary in October, the Canadian government is considering re-imposing the visa requirement for Hungary because of Roma refugee claims as well.

These moves won’t alone cement Canada’s place among the hip discriminator crowd – particularly since we also reintroduced the visa requirement for Mexico in July due to large numbers of Mexican refugees fleeing rising levels of drug-related violence at home – but it’s a start. They at least demonstrate that we get the central idea of this trendy new wave of discrimination: the application of ostensibly neutral law in a way which disproportionately affects the target group. In each of the European examples mentioned above, the government in question defended its treatment of the Roma by claiming that it was merely applying the law in a rigorous, disinterested manner. In Italy, for example, the government has emphasized that its emergency powers are intended to deal with the “nomad emergency”, and so could apply to any nomad community within Italy – not just the Roma. By the same token, Canada’s refugee crackdown will affect all weak refugee claims, and not just those European Roma whose persecution the government has decided isn’t “real”.

Finally, for those bleeding hearts who don’t think we should discriminate against a historically disadvantaged group just because all the cool countries are doing it, there’s another good reason to pick on the Roma. Immediately prior to and during World War II, when anti-Semitism was still the hottest fashion, Canada consciously and systematically turned away large numbers of Jewish refugees who had managed to escape Nazi-controlled Europe, in some cases sending them back to the Germans. Now if we historically used immigration law to turn away one minority group facing certain death, and then years later didn’t do the same to another group facing sub-genocidal discrimination at home, then not only would we risk being uncool, we’d be inconsistent.

Then imagine how foolish we’d look!

Friends only to the hunchbacked?

Friends only to the hunchbacked?


[1] By no less than that bastion of hipness, The Economist magazine!

Brett Hodgins Brett Hodgins a third-year law-MBA student from a small town in Ontario. The town has both a prison and a mental institution. Brett has three siblings, a niece and nephew, and two turtles who do not have names. Brett is interested in international politics and law.

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One Response to “Should Canada Gyp the Roma?”

  1. Sandrina says:

    Thank you for a valuable overview. Sadly, anti-Roma sentiment in Europe is not a trend, it’s a one-size-fits-all classic. I think that in 16th century Augsburg killing a gypsy was officially not murder. They were traded as slaves until the 19th century, then mass-murdered in the Holocaust. In 2010, the vast majority are poor, illiterate and unable to obtain even entry-level jobs because of pervasive negative stereotyping (as most Romanian children, I was conditioned to stay min. 10 feet away or I would get robbed, kidnapped or killed). The life expectancy of a Roma male in Italy is 60 years old.

    While it’s important to fight legal discrimination, this institutionalized disgust is just the tip of the problem. If proactive social programs are not undertaken more seriously, the negative social perception shall endure and there will be no major outcry in Europe against discriminatory measures. The Canadian popular view is considerably more favourable (if not more accurate), thanks to Disney and probably Johnny Depp in Chocolat. My instinct is that the Roma would fare better here, where poeple are not being expressly taught at an early age the ostrich mode of “tolerance.”

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