Thank you to the committee for inviting us to address you today.
I'm Michael Greene. I practise immigration law in Calgary. I teach immigration law at the faculty of law at the University of Calgary. I was the national chair at the time of the introduction of IRPA. I appeared before this committee on very similar provisions, in fact, on the two year bar. That was part of the presentation we made at that time. You might guess we weren't in favour.
In any event, we recognize that in order to maintain public support for a robust immigration program, Canadians must feel confident that we are tough on those who would abuse our immigration system. The minister has been effective in this regard and we applaud his efforts particularly in going after citizenship fraud, permanent residence fraud, marriage fraud, and the activities of crooked consultants.
Unfortunately, we cannot support this legislation. In our opinion, Bill C-43 is an unnecessary exercise and comes at an unacceptable cost to basic Canadian values of justice, fairness, and compassion. While we believe it is a good thing to limit most forms of temporary inadmissibility to just the individual involved rather than their family members, our endorsements or positive comments essentially stop there.
Unlike most other immigration reforms proposed by this government, this bill was not the result of public consultations and was not subject to public consultations. In our opinion, this is a recipe for bad law.
We know that you're under considerable pressure to pass this bill through committee quickly. We urge you to take your time and consider the bill carefully. The problems in this bill, we believe, are substantial enough to warrant careful deliberation and debate.
We already have sufficient and effective tools to keep out foreign nationals with criminal backgrounds and to expeditiously evict those who commit serious crimes after their arrival. Much like the problem with citizenship fraud, the problem lies not with the law or the tools available to the department but rather in the setting of priorities and the allocation of resources to deal with those problems. The extensive delay cited by the minister in certain high profile cases have much more to do with restricted budgets and resources of the CBSA than with deficiencies in the process.
The recent elimination of 1,700 positions at the CBSA is likely to contribute rather than improve those delays. Examples of cases that have been given to show excessive delays in removal of permanent residents who commit offences are not representative of the vast majority of cases. While this legislation may be designed to capture the most egregious cases involving serious and unrepentant offenders, whose continued presence offends many Canadians, they will also capture much less serious offenders.
This legislation would break families apart and negatively affect the best interests of the children involved. Fairness and due process are not loopholes. They are fundamental cornerstones of Canada's system of justice.
The minister in his appearance said that he believes everyone should have their day in court, just not endless years of days in court. However, these are not multiple appeals against removal or denial of admission under the family class. There's only one single appeal. As long as the department and the decision-maker follow due process, their decisions cannot be reviewed. It is very rare for an IAD decision to be successfully challenged in court.
Moreover, once the IAD has rendered its decision, there is no right for the person to stay in Canada. They cease to be a permanent resident. If they challenge in court, they do not get to stay here. If the CBSA let's them stay, that's a different choice, but they do not get to stay while protracted appeals go on. It's only if the court issues their own stay that they would be allowed to stay. That would only be in meritorious cases.
I would like to highlight a few elements of our submission. First, I'll talk about the elimination of appeal rights for permanent residents with six-month sentences for crimes committed in Canada. We do not agree with Mr. Pagtakhan. The immigration appeal division, with respect, is not the problem. The tribunal review takes into account both concern for the safety of Canadians as well as concern for the immigrant and their families, their employers, their co-workers, and their communities.
Offenders who show a risk to reoffend do not succeed at these hearings. Those who are successful are almost always subject to terms and conditions that require good behaviour and rehabilitation. The failure to comply will result in their removal. The IAD's ability to impose terms and conditions on a stay order is an incredibly effective enforcement and rehabilitation tool that we've seen many times. The success of the IAD is often seen in the successful rehabilitation of one-time offenders as a result of this process.
The inclusion of conditional sentences in the calculation will target relatively minor offenders who have never spent a day in prison.
To be clear, the bar that has been set in this bill is not six months of incarceration; it's just a six-month punishment. That catches conditional sentences, which are normally considered by the courts to be very minor sentences; somebody is basically given house arrest. At the very least, we think that an amendment should be introduced to make it clear that it covers incarceration only.
The denial of access to IAD review to permanent residents whose inadmissibility is based solely on foreign convictions or offences would treat foreign convictions much more seriously than Canadian convictions, because there would be no regard for the sentence imposed, or even to whether there was a conviction. Foreign convictions and offences often involve processes that lack the procedural fairness that exists in Canada. In the way this is written, there is no consideration of the sentence received; it's simply how the offence might have been prosecuted in Canada.
For instance, using a false or fraudulent document is an offence under section 368 of the Criminal Code of Canada; it carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years.
A 20-year-old permanent resident residing, let's say, in Windsor, borrows somebody else's birth certificate and goes across to Detroit and sneaks into a bar. That is presenting a false document, and that person has committed an offence. They could be caught, convicted, and given a minor fine and thereby become inadmissible without any right of appeal.
That's the way this section is drafted. We don't see any justification for including this here, for denying admission in this case.
It gets worse. The bill would deny a right to appeal when a person is merely believed to have committed an offence, even without the person's having gone through a judicial process and been convicted. They might never have been charged; it's purely the conclusion of an officer.
Neither of those powers was in the legislation before, just to be clear; they have been added. Foreign convictions and offences were not in the previous legislation, that is, as being automatic grounds.
I want to comment on the proposed ministerial power to exclude foreign nationals on public policy grounds. On this one I would agree with Mr. Pagtakhan. We believe this power is unlimited, unaccountable, un-Canadian, and unnecessary. It doesn't have a place in a free and democratic society that cherishes civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
It's wrong to say that the minister is currently powerless. We have nine different inadmissibilities to Canada. We also have hate crime laws and anti-terrorism laws that specifically target people who promote violence against vulnerable groups in society. People with track records or an intention to engage in hateful rhetoric in Canada are inadmissible under existing immigration laws.
I also want to comment on increasing the inadmissibility from two years to five years. As Mr. Pagtakhan pointed out, one of the problems is unintentional misrepresentations, which the courts, up to the Federal Court of Appeal, have clarified. You can make a misrepresentation, let's say, about a child you didn't know existed. If you fill out your application and don't include a child, and you find out after the fact that you did have an illegitimate child, that can cause you to be inadmissible. This shouldn't be punished by five years' inadmissibility.
There are many other examples that are minor, somebody who embellishes a relationship history, for instance, but who is in a legitimate relationship.
Lastly, there are the restrictions on humanitarian and compassionate relief for certain inadmissibilities, including organized criminality. Again they're facially appealing but may work injustice in many cases.
Much of the problem with many of these laws is that they are designed for the really egregious cases that we can all agree are really offensive and in which people want those people out fast or want to keep them out. The problem is that they catch so many others.
People can commit organized crime just by acting in concert with somebody else in something such as a property offence like shoplifting. That can be considered, and the CBSA has gone after those people for, organized crime. It's not often that they do it, but I've seen it happen in property offences. These are not members of the Hells Angels. Just acting in concert with somebody else can be called organized criminality.