“This month, we introduced the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act (Bill C-43). Convicted foreign criminals and fraudsters should not be able to rely on endless appeals as a loophole in order to delay their deportation from Canada. That only endangers ordinary Canadian families.”
Jason Kenney, MP
29 June, 2012
That was the second time in three days Immigration Minister Jason Kenney urged me to sign his petition in support of Bill C-43.
When the first email arrived, I wondered how I had become one of Kenney’s groupies. Then, because the minister had not attached the draft legislation for review, I decided anyone who signs a political petition without fully understanding the issue is asking for trouble and ignored his request.
Three days later, he tried again, explaining that my signature was required a second time “due to technical difficulties.” The skeptic in me made me decline once more. Technical difficulties my eye.
As spurious as the minister’s correspondence may be, and though I remain unconvinced that C-43 is a wise plan, he does have one thing right: Our immigration system is overdue for substantive change.
As with other incendiary social topics — abortion rights and assisted suicide being two — any mention of curtailing the right to land and remain on Canadian soil is guaranteed to raise strident voices on all sides of the discussion. And rightly so: The problem is a complex one with no easy answers.
Ever since Canada introduced the first Immigration Act in 1869 — to deal “primarily with preventing diseases from entering Canada and ensuring the safety of passengers on board immigrant ships” — our country has struggled to find the right balance between humanitarian concerns and its national interests.
When I crossed the Atlantic in 1956, the system was a different animal from what we have today. My first step toward becoming a Canadian — after flooring my parents with the lunchtime announcement, “I’m going to Canada” — was to visit Canada House in London. Completion of many forms, interviews and medical examinations followed until, after paying a week’s salary for the process, my application was approved. I was cleared to sail — aboard the Empress of Britain — and to work my five-year probation toward earning the privilege of citizenship.
That system changed in 1978, however, when the legislation was amended. The alteration left it open to abuse.
I became convinced of this in 1986, when I met West Vancouver resident and federal Liberal Charles Campbell, a seasoned and reasonable chairman of the former Immigration and Refugee Appeal Board.
When he agreed to join a small group of North Shore residents to help draft a policy for consideration by Preston Manning, leader of the fledgling Reform Party, I began to understand Campbell’s 10-year efforts to persuade Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney that Canada’s generosity was being abused and had been ever since the amended legislation was enacted.
Unfortunately, with too many immigrant votes at stake, Manning was no more inclined to grasp the nettle than were his predecessors.
In 2012, and with a majority under his belt, Manning’s successor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, realizes that most decent Canadians want “criminals and fraudsters” deported — now, not later.
But the problem of such immigrants and of bogus refugees is tough to solve, so better still would be a system that doesn’t allow them into Canada in the first place.
On the surface, it would appear that a change suggested by the Campbell committee in 1986 — a simple requirement that applications, including criminal background checks, be completed in the country of origin as they were when I made the journey — could put a stop to most of the problems on the immigration side of the issue.
Furthermore, if Kenney plans to require refugees who arrive here from a safe third country to file their applications through regular immigration channels that, too, would seem likely to help.
But then, as I said above, immigration is not a simple issue.
If these reforms were enacted, how would Canada treat people like the 37,000-plus well-educated refugees who fled Hungary when it was invaded by the Russians in 1956? Would a Bill C-43 have caused the seizure and deportation of Mikhail Lennikov — an applicant for landed-immigrant status against whom no charges of wrongdoing have ever been laid but who continues to languish in the gentle prison of a Vancouver church?
How does a compassionate society refuse asylum to innocent, albeit financially abused refugees who put their toes onto Canadian soil after a traumatic voyage on a rusty freighter?
Is it too simplistic to suggest that someone who can pay as much as $40,000 to illegal smugglers cannot claim to be a refugee? Or to suggest that if Canada forced just one such freighter to turn around that would put paid to the smugglers’ schemes?
If nothing else, Bill C-43 has opened up a serious topic for nation-wide discussion.
It is our responsibility to seize the opportunity to get it right.
Specious emails from Minister Kenney do nothing to help the cause.