The bulk email sent from Kenney’s MP’s office to thousands was titled “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Refugees in Iran” and began with the salutation, “Friend.”
It proceeded to trumpet steps taken by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the Conservative government to protect the rights of gay and lesbian refugees, especially those coming from Iran.
Among the recipients was Meredith Richmond of Peterborough, Ontario, who, to her knowledge, had never had any contact with Kenney’s office before. She had no idea how Kenney got her personal Gmail address and seemed to know about her sexual orientation.
“It felt really targeted at me,” she said. “I’m not a supporter of the Conservatives.”
In fact, Richmond and several of her friends who received the same email had become data points in the Conservative party’s ongoing drive to identify and reach out to minority and special-interest groups, an effort pioneered by Kenney to great success in the last election.
While Richmond had never directly emailed Kenney’s office, she was one of nearly 10,000 people who electronically signed a 2011 online petition supporting a gay artist from Nicaragua, who was then facing deportation.
Alvaro Orozco had been turned down for refugee status because he couldn’t prove he was gay but was eventually given permanent resident status in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Toronto community organizer and former NDP candidate Michael Erickson posted the petition on the website change.org.
Whenever someone “signed” the petition, the site automatically sent a form letter by email to Kenney’s office with the signatory’s reply email address.
It appears those thousands of messages were harvested by the email program in Kenney’s office and saved for later use.
Kenney’s press secretary, Alexis Pavlich, says only people who contacted the office received the email on refugees.
“This email was sent in response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues,” She said.