By: Dana Wagner on
Jason Kenney, Minister of National Defence and Multiculturalism and Conservative candidate for Calgary Southeast, in an interview on September 12, 2015
Kenney was not the only minister to visit Syria in the last 40 years. Several others did too. Kenney’s office later modified the statement to “the only immigration minister,” which appears to be true.FactsCan Score: False
Asked about the options to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, Jason Kenney, the defense minister, spoke to CBC about the complexity of the ground environment in the region and the nuanced understanding he gained from visiting it. He then claimed, “I’m the only Canadian minister who’s been in Syria in four decades.”
Canada opened an embassy in Damascus in 1985. That was exactly 30 years ago. Is it true that no Canadian minister visited the country until Kenney did in 2009, even after establishing formal diplomatic ties?
It takes just one other Canadian government (federal) minister to disprove the claim. There are more, but we’ll look at one in detail.
In 2005, the Liberals sent their foreign affairs minister, Pierre Pettigrew, to the Middle East. Syria was on the itinerary, detailed in an archived media advisory. There are photos of Pettigrew in Damascus. There is also an expense report for his Middle East tour which includes Syria.
Prior to Pettigrew’s visit, John Manley, the Liberal foreign affairs minister, visited Syria in 2001 as part of a five-day tour of the region.
Before Manley, another Liberal, Lloyd Axworthy, visited Syria twice as foreign affairs minister. Once in 1997 and again in 2000.
Art Eggleton, Liberal defence minister at the time, visited Syria in 1999.
At least one prime minister visited Syria too: Jean Chrétien in 2000.
Kenney’s claim is false. He missed not one, but several Canadian ministerial visits to Syria in the last four decades.
Kenney’s office modified the statement when asked about the other visits. In an email, Daniel Proussalidis, Kenney’s communications director, said he meant “immigration minister.”
Proussalidis wrote, “Mr. Kenney meant to say that he was the only federal immigration minister to visit Syria in four decades. He has been the only federal minister of any portfolio to visit Syria since 2001, i.e. in the last 14 years. He was also the first Canadian minister of any portfolio to visit Iraq since 1976.”
Only immigration minister? That appears to be true. We could not find a minister of citizenship and immigration or minister of employment and immigration, as it used to be named, who visited Syria in the last four decades. Janice Stein, former director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, and Fen Hampson, professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, could not name one either.
Only minister since 2001? Not true. Pettigrew was there in 2005.
The modified “immigration minister” claim appears to be true, but the original claim, as worded, is false.