Tory candidate links immigrants with crime, expresses regret

NDP candidate calls for Lee Richardson’s resignation after 'disgraceful' remarks
CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand

The NDP candidate in Calgary Centre is calling for Conservative incumbent Lee Richardson’s resignation after he suggested in an interview with Fast Forward that crimes in Canada aren’t committed by people that “grew up next door,” but newcomers to the country — comments Richardson later said he regretted.

In light of recent shootings in Calgary, Fast Forward contacted Richardson September 18 to ask how the Conservative approach to crime compares to other parties’ approaches. In reply, Richardson said Canada has been too “soft on crime” by showing too much sympathy towards offenders and their civil rights. “Particularly in big cities, we’ve got people that have grown up in a different culture,” said Richardson, 60. “And they don’t have the same background in terms of the stable communities we had 20, 30 years ago in our cities… and don’t have the same respect for authority or people’s person or property.”

Later in the same interview, Richardson brought up the increase of immigrants coming to Canada. “Canada accepts so many refugees, for example,” he said. “These are people that have had a very difficult life from whence they came. If you’ve been in a refugee camp, then you live day-to-day. And those are troubled people. They come here and, well, it’s easy to take advantage of people that are trying to help.”

Richardson added: “Talk to the police. Look at who’s committing these crimes. They’re not the kid that grew up next door.”

He said his comments weren’t meant to be racist. “I’m just being practical,” he said. “And those are the people that are tough to get to, and sometimes the only thing they understand is that we’ve got laws, and they have to be obeyed.”

Tyler Kinch, a freelance graphic designer who’s running against Richardson for the NDP, says Richardson’s comments are “disgraceful.” “Crime comes from everywhere, and there are many immigrants in our country that contribute to our society in great ways,” says Kinch, 21. “...I don’t think those comments are productive, and I don’t think those comments should come out of an MP’s mouth.”

Kinch says Richardson “should resign out of this election for those comments.”

When someone commits a crime, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) doesn’t record whether or not the offender was born in Canada or elsewhere. The CPS often records race or skin colour, but only for identification purposes — the same reason it collects height and weight. “I’m not collecting the information on a person on their height and their weight so that, in the future, we can try to get somebody to sit down and figure out: do short people commit crimes?” says Sgt. Bill Dodd of the CPS diversity resources unit.

“Criminals come from all ethnicities, all social backgrounds, all ethnic groups, all sorts of statuses,” adds Dodd. “To try to pinpoint people into different groups as being disproportionally involved in crime is impossible to do.”

When Fast Forward phoned Richardson the day after the initial interview to ask him to clarify his earlier comments, he expressed regret for what he’d said. “I just don’t want to go there at all,” said Richardson. “That is not my intention. If I misspoke, I apologize to you for that.” Richardson said he was referring to only a “small minority” of people and was reflecting what he’s heard from his constituents. “What their comments are based on is probably anecdotal — what they read in the newspapers,” he said.

“I just don’t want [my comments] to be torqued out of context,” Richardson added. “We see anecdotally — and through our experiences here — the differences from the Alberta that I grew up in. And that’s the same in a lot of big cities across the country. That’s really all I was trying to say…. I regret having said that yesterday.”

Cam Stewart, a former Calgary cop who now runs an intercultural consulting company, says the majority of criminals in Calgary are “mainstream” Caucasian Canadians. He suggests the notion that immigrants are responsible for crime comes from fear, not facts. “That’s why we’re getting that rise of hate groups in our city and in our province,” says Stewart, who used to work in the CPS diversity resources unit. “Because people are hearing this at the dinner table. They’re hearing this in the coffee shops or in the bars, and they’re saying, ‘Well, we’ve got to stand up for our rights’ and all that stuff.”

According to 2006 federal census data, nearly one in every four residents (24 per cent) in Richardson’s riding is an immigrant. Two of the candidates challenging Richardson in Calgary Centre are also immigrants. Liberal candidate Heesung Kim’s family came to Canada from South Korea when she was a young girl. “To say that if you weren’t born and bred in Canada then you’re more likely to be a criminal is completely unbelievable, actually…. I don’t think his comments are fair,” says Kim, 48, who runs two restaurants in Victoria Park.

During this campaign, the Conservatives have labelled themselves the “true voice for new Canadians.” When the party won power in 2006, it halved Canada’s $975 immigration landing fee to $490, following through on a campaign promise. The Conservative government also made it easier for companies to bring temporary foreign workers to Canada to ease the country’s worker shortage.

“You can’t have it all ways,” says Kim. “You can’t be the Conservatives saying, ‘Oh, we have a labour shortage, so we’re going to bring in more immigrants.’ And at the same time, in the next breath, say, ‘Oh yeah, these immigrants are responsible for crimes.’ A, it’s not fair. B, it’s not reasonable, and C, it’s not productive.” Instead, Kim says the government should focus on integrating immigrants into Canadian society and making sure they’re not alienated.

Calgary Centre Green Party candidate Natalie Odd immigrated to Calgary from England when she was six. Odd, who works as the executive director of the Clean Calgary Association, says the government needs to start addressing the root causes of crime. “There definitely are people from other cultures involved in crime in our cities,” says Odd, 37. “However, we cannot ignore that poverty and exposure to domestic violence… are huge determining factors in people becoming involved in crime. That crosses all cultures.”

Richardson, who served as chief of staff for former premier Peter Lougheed and deputy chief of staff for former prime minister Brian Mulroney, was first elected as an MP in 1988 as a Progressive Conservative. He lost the 1993 election to former Reform Party MP Jan Brown, but was re-elected again as a Conservative in 2004. In 2006, Richardson beat Kim by nearly 20,000 votes.

Kim, meanwhile, is using a borrowed laptop computer at her campaign office after someone broke into her campaign headquarters near the Talisman Centre and stole two computers, including her personal laptop.



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