06/15/2012 03:49 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Critics take immigration minister to task for application backlog

OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney got a rough ride from his political rivals Friday following a Federal Court ruling that appears to undermine a key element of the government's so-called omnibus budget bill.

One of the components of the legislation, known as Bill C-38, would eliminate a growing backlog of applications from 280,000 would-be immigrants seeking entry to Canada under the government's skilled workers' program.

A Federal Court justice hearing a lawsuit against Kenney brought by more than 900 of those applicants has ruled that the Conservative government is obliged to process those applications in a timely way, and has failed to follow through on that pledge.

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims took Kenney to task during question period in the House of Commons, accusing him of trying to "hit the delete button" on the backlog and eliminate applications from people who are following the rules.

"The minister of immigration has no plan," Sims said. "He is making it up as he goes, and it is Canadians who will pay the price."

Starting over is the only way to ensure Canada's immigration system works to the benefit of both applicants and Canadians, Kenney countered.

Opposition members "do not even want us to control the number of incoming applications, so they want endless growth in the backlogs," he said.

"They were not satisfied with eight-year wait times — they want 10, 12, 15-year wait times to get into Canada. We know that is not working for newcomers. It is not working for our economy."

Thursday's decision by Federal Court Justice Donald Rennie said that while the minister has the power to determine which applications are ineligible, he has a responsibility to ensure those that are eligible are indeed properly handled.

Though the court ruling doesn't deal specifically with Bill C-38, Sims said she's convinced the decision requires the government to properly process and assess the applications that are currently in the system.

"This court decision sends the government a message — a very, very strong message that they've got to stop acting recklessly," Sims said outside the House.

Family members of would-be Canadian immigrants have been complaining to Sims and others about the backlog, saying they don't associate the treatment they're getting with traditional Canadian values, she added.

"Let's treat people fairly," Sims said. "We as Canadians understand the term 'fairness.' That's what we're known for worldwide."

During question period, Kenney said the government is reviewing the court decision, but added it would be impossible to process the applications without allowing the backlog to grow.

The NDP would support a dramatic spike in immigration levels when a majority of Canadians have made it clear those levels are already high enough, he added.

"Our focus is on ensuring the success of newcomers, ensuring their employment and that they realize their potential."