By Bruce Campion-Smith
The Toronto Star
OTTAWA–A proposal to give Canada’s immigration minister sweeping new powers to pick and choose new immigrants is “dangerous” and could open the door to racial profiling, the Canadian Arab Federation warns.
The federation is urging the federal Liberals to oppose the proposed changes, even if it means defeating the minority Conservative government and an election Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion doesn’t want.
“This is clearly a very, very dangerous piece of legislation,” said Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the federation, an umbrella group representing 44 groups across the country. “Tomorrow, the minister might decide: ‘We don’t like Arabs and Muslims here.We think they are terrorists. We think their culture and religion don’t fit with Canada,’ ” he said in an interview. “Maybe I’m pushing it a little bit, but you never know.” The proposed changes would allow Immigration Minister Diane Finley to reject applicants already approved by immigration officials and allow the minister to set limits on which types of immigrants can have applications processed.
Finley says the changes are needed to tackle a backlog of would-be immigrants that has swelled to more than 925,000. Immigration department officials say the changes would enable the government to be more flexible in meeting changing labour demands in Canada.
“This allows us to better manage to respond to immediate labour market needs,” Les Linklater, director general of Citizen and Immigration Canada’s immigration branch, said in an interview yesterday. The legislative changes would enable the minister to issue instructions to immigration officers in Canada and around the world telling them which applications should be processed, he said. “They will be broad-based instructions that will say, for example, `Canada needs skilled trades.'”
Priority will be given to people whose skills are in demand, an improvement over the first-come, first-served system now used, Linklater said. “What we’re finding is that the skilled tradespeople who are applying tend to find themselves buried in the inventory. . . .We’d like to be able to expedite them to be more responsive to current labour market needs.”
Those who don’t have the skills deemed necessary could be out of luck, and their applications rejected, although Linklater said the upside is that they won’t be left in limbo for years, as happens now. “It’s going to be a fairer system because people are going to be getting their decisions within six to 12 months once we get up and running, as opposed to four or five years as it is now,” he said.
He denied the changes would result in political interference, saying instructions from the minister will be widely publicized. “There is accountability and transparency around these measures,” he said. Finley has been meeting privately with community groups to assuage concerns. During a meeting in Toronto last Tuesday, she gave a “persuasive” argument for the changes, said a person who was there.
Still, some groups that assist immigrants fear the changes could be used to politicize the immigration selection process. The changes are contained in the Conservatives’ budget implementation act, so defeating them would mean the fall of the minority government and the launching of an election campaign many observers say Liberals aren’t ready to fight.
Dion said this week his party won’t topple the Tories over the immigration proposals. Boudjenane said the decision could affect the Liberals’ traditional support among newcomers. “How can this party portray itself as the party of immigration, the Trudeau era of multiculturalism, and here you have this dangerous piece of legislation and you might let it pass because you’re not organized enough or your leader isn’t charismatic enough to go in an election?” he said. “People would be more supportive of a gutsy party who will go . . . on a principled position than a party that will stay there until they’re in better shape.”