Ever since Jason Kenney came to power as Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, he has implemented a series of transformative changes to the Canadian immigration system. His agenda mainly falls into two categories: to attract “the best and the brightest” from abroad in order to build up the Canadian economy, and to target immigration-related crimes. While the effort to sharpen the competitive edge of the Canadian economy is embraced by both Canadians and immigrants in equal measure, some of his policies on criminality have generated much controversy during the past few months.
With the intention of improving the efficiency of the Canadian immigration system, Kenney’s various attempts to increase the stringency of numerous immigration regulations raise a number of questions on both the boundaries of his ministerial powers, and his proposals’ degree of consideration for the immigrants’ rights and status in the country.
Last year, Kenney presented Bill C-43, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, which would grant Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) the authority to deport foreigners or deny their entry into the country in a swifter manner. If put into force, the bill would also enable CIC to deport permanent residents who have been sentenced to imprisonment for more than six months in Canada, or who have committed equally severe crimes abroad. These individuals would not be granted the right to appeal the government’s decision through the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD). More controversially, the bill would also allow CIC to issue removal orders to permanent residents based on an officer’s belief of a crime committed abroad, even in the absence of proof of conviction.
As Bill C-43 moves forward in parliament in February of this year, the tension heightens. The opposition is concerned about the lack of restraints on the Minister’s power, suggesting that it gives him the ability to allow or deny entry to foreigners based on personal political interests without there being an option for appeal. “It’s not against Jason Kenney the individual. No immigration minister should have this much power,” says Jinny Sim, an immigration critic of the NDP.
Kenney justifies his proposal on national security grounds. He also defends his resolution by highlighting the increased efficiency that the bill would allow for; by limiting the number of appeals to the IAD, deportations of permanent residents can be processed faster, and backlogging can be reduced. At present, since non-Canadian citizens with a criminal record and a legitimate status to stay permanently in Canada can make numerous appeals to the IAD, they can remain in the country for many years before a final decision is made.
Nonetheless, this reason is refuted by numerous immigration law experts.In its commentary report, the Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) recommends withdrawal or substantial amendment to the bill. The CBA criticizes the bill for failing to take into consideration personal circumstances, or the nature and seriousness of the crime of the permanent residents facing deportation. “The safety valve of ‘humanitarian and compassionate’ consideration is diminished as a matter of policy by [the] legislated elimination or reduction of access to appeal mechanisms,” reads the report, upholding the right of permanent residents to appeal.
Kenney’s request to have the authority to deport or deny entry to foreigners who would potentially threaten the security of Canadians seems reasonable so long as there are checks and balances to his power. However, treating permanent permanent residents in a seemingly indistinguishable manner from temporary immigrants begs the question of which rights permanent residents deserve in Canada by virtue of their status. Given the fact that the Canadian government has made a commitment of permanent residency to these immigrants, is it right to swiftly dispose of them without taking seriously their right to appeal regardless of the nature and severity of their crimes?
This increasingly unforgiving attitude on criminality perpetrated by immigrants is not limited to permanent residents. It has now also been extended to Canadian dual citizens. Last month, Kenney proposed an amendment to Bill C-425 introduced by Conservative MP Devinder Shory to include the revocation of citizenship of hyphenated citizens who engage in “an act of war against the Canadian Forces.” With this amendment, the bill’s scope would then expand to include acts of terrorism. “Canadian citizenship is predicated on loyalty to this country and I cannot think of a more obvious act of renouncing one’s sense of loyalty than going and committing acts of terror,” says Kenney to defend his view. Similarly, supporters of Kenney’s a harsher stance against immigrant-criminals and terrorists criticize the previous Liberal administration’ leniency on immigration, making Canadian immigration the “soft spot” and “laughing stock” for terrorists and applaud the new proposals.
However, critics of this proposal point that this view of treason and disloyalty seems to breed a new distinction between Canadian born and naturalized citizens. In a recent editorial, the Toronto Star pointed to the fact that Canadian law at present dictates life in prison for any Canadian who wages war on his own country. In the eyes of the law, no distinction is made to whether the offender is a dual or native-born Canadian “Whatever … impulses motivate such people, they are Canadians, period. They have the same civil; rights as any other citizen … trying to redefine them as foreigners … is a bizarre act of willful denial that flies in the face and natural justice,” reads the editorial. Similarly, Bob Rae, the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, criticizes the proposal for being irresponsible. Rae argues that the individuals committing these crimes are first and foremost Canadians, and that the government should not obviate the consequences of revoking their citizenship and take no responsibility for its own citizens’ actions.
As Kenney leads Canadian immigration with the twin goal of attracting “the best and the brightest” from around the world and getting rid of criminals and terrorists, he is engineering the Canadian population to be ultimately safer and more productive in a sense. Although doing so is beneficial to Canada, one may feel the uneasiness that comes along with the fact that the government is able to easily bring in the useful and take out the useless, to keep the loyal and discard the disloyal without much procedural constraint. One ponders on the question on how much weight does a Canadian citizenship or a permanent residence status hold? How much loyalty and utility does the Canadian government ask of its citizens or residents for them to belong to the country? As a responsible government that has a commitment to its people, the current immigration administration should seek to answer those questions justly.