The Annual Canadian Bar Association National Immigration Law Conference took place in the beautiful city of Montreal over the past weekend. Immigration lawyers and consultants from all over Canada came together to exchange ideas, share knowledge and insight, and reflect upon the past 30 years of the Charter and its impact on immigrants and immigration law.
Ms. Arghavan Gerami and Nicolas Ranger from Gerami Law PC attended the conference and would like to thank the Organizing Committee Members for their exceptional work. This year’s workshop and conferences were filled with strong panellists and covered a wide range of topics. They also made it possible for lawyers with different background and expertise to network and share their experiences.
Mr. Lorne Waldman and Ms. Barbara Jackman are two immigration lawyers who really inspired and provoked thought from the audience at the 30th Annual National Immigration Law Conference.
Mr. Waldman spoke honestly and sympathetically during the Opening Plenary. He weighted how the government’s commitment to efficiency and practicability in immigration related matters was coming at the cost of fairness and compassion.
Specifically, Mr. Waldman expressed his disapproval of the Conservative government’s controversial decision to press the delete button on a backlog of 280,000 immigration applications. He called it immoral to dismiss the applications of all these individuals who put their lives on hold waiting to get a decision on their immigration application made in accordance with the Canadian law.[i]
It’s difficult to argue with Mr. Waldman on this point. The current government is now taking aim at prospective immigrations that have done exactly what was expected of them but are now being turned away after years of waiting, with a simple refund for their application and an invitation to re-apply.[ii]
Mr. Waldman also condemned the government’s immigration reforms designed to discourage refugees to seek asylum in Canada. These reforms include excessively short timelines to make an application for a refugee status in Canada or to prepare for a crucial refugee hearing, and the initiative to prevent refugee claimants to access health care in Canada.
Mr. Waldman followed up on May 14, 2013, with his piece in the Globe and Mail which focuses on the deportation of Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammed but also summarize the message he proclaimed at the Conference: What happened to the compassion?[iii]
During the Closing Plenary, Ms. Jackman reflected upon the 30 years of immigration law under the Charter and looked at the challenges facing immigration lawyers.
Ms. Jackman recognized the importance of the Charter and the attention it brought to human rights issues. However she expressed a certain feeling of disappointment with the true contribution of the Charter in the sphere of immigration law. Ms. Jackman felt that recent important administrative law decisions such as Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration),[iv] or Suresh v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration),[v] are a testament to the relevance of theCharter. However the essence of these decisions is grounded in the common law. Decisions emanating from common law principles (i.e. Nicholson v. Haldimand-Norfolk Reg. Police Commrs.,[vi] or Canada (Attorney General) v. Inuit Tapirisat of Canada[vii]) have been more influential than the Charter in respect to immigration law.
Ms. Jackman remains confident that the Charter has more to offer. She specifically hoped that the Canada immigration law would develop to the extent that section 7 violations could apply abroad in matters that do not involve torture or persecution. Ms. Jackman also expressed confidence that the standard of review will be of correctness in matters relating to torture to cruel or unusual punishment.
Lastly, Ms. Jackman manifested her desire to see the notion of family interest take on greater importance in immigration law. While the Baker decision accomplished a lot for family interest, the decision was only a building block, which is now over 10 years old.
The Conference also highlighted other major reforms that are likely to become law in the near future. The Immigration Division opposes Bill C-43, which will take away the right to appeal a removal from Canada for permanent residents’ sentence to six months of incarceration (the current threshold is two years) regardless of their length of stay in Canada.
The Minister’s announcement to lower the maximum age of dependent children to 18 (from 22), to raise the minimum income requirement for parent/grandparent sponsorship by 30% for 3 consecutive years before sponsorship application, and to increase the sponsorship duration from 10 to 20 years for parents/grandparents also made a lot of noise at the Conference. This announcement surprisingly came under the headline “Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification on Track to Cut Backlog in Half.”[viii]
While the current government’s immigration plan is giving rise to a number of challenges for immigrants, the Conference was the perfect forum for the CBA Immigration Law Section to emphatically voice its intention to fight for immigrant and refugee rights. The feeling of unity among immigration lawyers was palpable. Canadian citizens, residents, prospective immigrants and asylum seekers can rest assure that the CBA Immigration Law Section will represent their interests and fight for justice.