BlogCanadian Immigration ProgramsTraveling to CanadaScreening for Anti-Canadian values – Unworkable or Unpopular?

19 September 2016

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Immigration has been a popular subject in the news in the past several weeks since Conservative leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch, suggested that potential immigrants should be screened for “anti-Canadian values”. This suggestion has been heavily criticized and dissected in the media. Some have dismissed the idea as being anti-Canadian in itself, while others have criticized the idea as simply “unworkable”. We can likely all agree that there is such a thing as “Canadian values”, but is the idea of screening for them really unworkable or just unpopular, or both? Here are some considerations from an immigration processing standpoint.

Every immigration application involves one or more visa applicants and an immigration officer that makes the decision. From a processing standpoint, applicants are expected to provide all of the necessary information to an immigration officer to make the decision. This usually includes the submission of application forms and supporting documents such as employment letters.

In addition to what is submitted to them, immigration officers will often need more information or documents from the applicant and will give him or her an opportunity to provide it before making a final decision. Sometimes immigration officers will even conduct interviews with the applicant to gather the information they need. All of this takes time and adds costs to the decision-making process.

What some people may not know about the lifecycle of an immigration application is that immigration officers are required to record, in detail, the reasons that led them to make their decision. What is required, at a minimum, is that immigration officers show transparency and justification in the decision-making process. They achieve this by setting out and explaining how they considered and weighed the evidence against the requirements for visa approval. This is an important step in the lifecycle because visa refusals are often successfully overturned in court based on what was said or not said in the reasons for decision.

When defending her position, Kellie Leitch said in an interview with the CBC that immigration officers already screen immigrants for other requirements, inferring that it would not be unworkable to also screen for anti-Canadian values. She gave two specific examples of immigration officers screening for security purposes and for income requirements, but are these really appropriate comparisons?

When immigration officers screen for security purposes, applicants are required to produce police reports issued by official government agencies about their criminal history. Likewise, when immigration officers screen for income requirements such as to determine whether a person is eligible to sponsor family members to come to Canada, applicants are required to produce official tax documents issued by the Canada Revenue Agency. Neither of these scenarios can be directly compared to screening for anti-Canadian values.

Firstly, applicants are able to provide objective, government-issued reports to demonstrate that they pass Canadian security and income requirements. Obvious conclusions can be drawn from these reports since an applicant either has or does not have a criminal record and they either meet or do not meet income thresholds based on the documents. There is no comparably objective document that will conclusively demonstrate whether a person holds anti-Canadian values. Without objective documentation, immigration officers may rely on conducting in-person interviews more frequently if they were required to screen for anti-Canadian values. This leaves the immigration decision-making process in a very subjective place where immigration officers have to make important and hard decisions based on imperfect evidence.

The related issue is that immigration officers are expected to record their reasons for decisions. What would that look like? What kind of factors or evidence should be taken into account and on what standard of proof should they be considered? These are issues that the courts have wrestled with in the past for other immigration requirements.

Ultimately, even if we could agree on a set of “Canadian values”, Canadians should care about screening for anti-Canadian values because it would likely be time consuming and expensive. On the flip side, immigrants should be aware that they have the right to challenge visa refusals and other immigration decisions and that immigration officers are required to record the reasons for their decision, even though the full reasons are rarely disclosed to the applicant. If you do not agree with a decision that has been made in your case, you should consider contacting an immigration lawyer to obtain the full reasons for decision and to speak about the legal methods to challenge the decision.

Is Kellie’s Leitch’s screening proposal unworkable? This article outlines some of the many logistical, legal and financial challenges to make it work. If when the dust settles there is enough demand for screening, Canadians will have to decide whether it is important enough to justify the effort.

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