POLITICS

Conrad Black's Visa Wasn't Handled Specially, Files Show

06/13/2012 06:23 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT
CP

Conrad Black's application for a temporary resident permit was approved in just weeks, but government documents suggest there was no political interference to expedite or influence the outcome of the file.

According to records from Citizenship and Immigration Canada on the former media baron's controversial return to Canada, Black's lawyer first contacted the department's case management branch in mid-February to advise that his client intended to submit an application for a temporary resident permit.

The same solicitor informed a government official by email on March 1 that the application was submitted. It was approved three weeks later, on March 22.

Citizen and Immigration confirmed to CBC News that the average time to process an application is one to three years, but can be faster if an applicant has previously received a temporary resident permit, as Black had done.

But the records, obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics under the federal Access to Information Act, suggest that there was no political interference to fast-track or approve Black's application.

"The file was handled by the visa office in Buffalo by an experienced immigration officer, and no direction was given as to the processing of the application or the result of the application," one CIC document on the case reads. "Decisions by immigration officers cannot be fettered."

The reviewing officer determined that a one-year, multiple-entry temporary resident permit, or TRP, was appropriate because Black's family home is in Toronto and his wife and children are Canadian citizens who reside in Canada. Black, convicted in the United States of one count of fraud and one of obstructing justice following his 2007 trial and years of appeals, was also deemed a low risk to the public.

"It was also determined that he was unlikely to reoffend, that the risk of him engaging in any questionable activities would be slight and that he would not constitute a danger to the health or safety of Canadians if allowed entry into Canada," the documents read.

Records on the decision also note that "it is common practice to issue a subsequent TRP to clients not yet eligible for rehabilitation who have compelling reasons for entry to Canada if there have been no additional convictions or other issues that would raise concern in the interim, which is the case with Mr. Black."

U.S. authorities were only allowing him to seek entry to Canada upon his release from a Florida prison if they were satisfied he had a temporary resident permit at least three weeks prior to being liberated, according to the documents.

Black received two earlier TRPs, in 2005 and 2006, after he was indicted in the U.S. but before his conviction. Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it grants more than 6,000 permits to people with criminal backgrounds each year.

'Exceptional circumstances'

Briefing notes prepared for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on April 27, before an appearance at a parliamentary committee, outline the government's "key messages": that the minister can not provide details on individual cases due to privacy laws; that someone who is not a citizen and has been convicted of a crime in another country is normally inadmissible to Canada; but that individuals who are normally inadmissible may apply for TRPs and, if granted, be permitted to come to Canada.

TRPs give Citizenship and Immigration Canada the flexibility to address "exceptional circumstances" to allow a person to enter Canada when there are compelling humanitarian and compassionate reasons to do so, the briefing note reads.

Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in June 2001 to get a seat in Britain's House of Lords.

During an interview with CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge after his post-incarceration return to Canada, Black denied requesting special treatment from the Conservatives, and insisted he made "absolutely no contact, direct or indirect" with any government officials. He was responding to suggestions from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair that the government of had given "special treatment" to the prime minister's "insider friends."

Black also said he was not pleased with Mulcair's characterization of him as a "British criminal" in the House of Commons. "If he wants to divest himself of his parliamentary immunity, it would certainly be my pleasure to sue him for defamation," Black told Mansbridge.

Black was released on May 4 after serving 42 months in a Florida prison on his fraud and obstruction of justice convictions, and returned to Canada by private jet, according to the documents.