Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tried to convince a parliamentary committee Wednesday of the need for a new ministerial power that would allow him to bar certain people from coming to Canada for "public policy" reasons.
The power is contained in the contentious new Bill C-43, dubbed the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, which would also create stiffer terms for the deportation of non-citizens who commit crimes in Canada.
The bill passed second reading and is now under study by the Commons immigration committee.
Kenney tabled new guidelines that he says would guide himself and any future immigration minister in barring people from Canada. He added he would use the new power sparingly in the national interest, not to further his political agenda.
"We've actually drafted some criteria that are very narrow, much more narrow that similar powers in other democracies," he said. He argued that the U.K., the U.S., Australia and New Zealand already grant similar powers.
The guidelines stipulate the immigration minister could bar:
- People who promote terrorism, violence or criminal activity.
- Corrupt foreign officials.
- Foreign nationals from countries against which Canada has imposed sanctions.
Opposition MPs said the problem is those guidelines aren't binding and are therefore open to abuse by Kenney or any future minister.
"The last thing your immigration system needs is to be even more politicized," said NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims. "The reality is we have a good, independent system for determining admissibility and we don't need it to be replaced at the whim of any minister."
Cites concern over promotion of hatred
But Kenney warned there have been recent cases where people travelled to Canada to promote hatred against minority groups.
He said the government was powerless to stop them because they didn't pose a threat to national security nor did they have a criminal record.
"This should be based on very narrow criteria, that's what I've proposed in the language," he said.
"And really, my challenge is to my friends in all parties: think hard about this. Let's have some very limited power to deal with some extreme cases. But let's make sure this doesn't get abused by this or any future government."
He added the CBSA was recently able to bar U.S. preacher Terry Jones from travelling to Canada, because Jones had a criminal record. But not all those who seek to promote hatred are convicted criminals. Jones has promoted the burning the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran.
Kenney says the new provisions would give the government much needed flexibility and would only be used a "handful" of times each year, if that.
He has already sought and obtained ministerial power in other areas, including the ability to designate certain countries as "safe" for the purposes of handling refugee claimants. His refugee system changes are expected to come into effect later this year.