10/16/2012 01:16 EDT | Updated 12/16/2012 05:12 EST

Jason Kenney, Immigration Minister, Seeks Limits On Ministerial Powers


OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he'll seek limits on new powers that will allow him to prevent certain people from entering Canada.

Kenney included the new ministerial authority — called "negative discretion" — in a piece of legislation expected to be studied by the Commons immigration committee this fall.

The legislation, Bill C-43, would give the minister the power to bar people for what are described as "public policy considerations," but that term isn't defined in the bill.

Kenney said he intends to put a set of criteria before the committee and ask MPs how best to apply the new power.

It would only be used "in very exceptional cases ... when we believe a foreign national may come to Canada (and) promote hatred which could lead to violence," Kenney said from London, where he was attending a border security conference.

"We're not looking at some broad generalized power to prevent the admission of people to Canada whose political opinions we disagree with."

Kenney said Canada is among the only countries in the world that doesn't give the minister such powers, and it has led to frustration in the past. He cited a case last year when he was powerless to block two Islamic speakers known for homophobic and sexist remarks.

But such powers can be taken too far, Kenney acknowledged, which is why he wants to discuss it with his own party and the opposition.

"I don't want — anymore than they do — the current or future government abusing this kind of power to exclude from Canada those whose views may be contentious or politically incorrect," he said.

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said she looks forward to seeing the criteria, but pointed out that a broader issue remains.

"This minister, over and over again, introduces legislation in which he vests more and more power in himself and then he throws in these little amendments, changes he’s going to make," Sims said.

"For any minister to say that 'I'm going to have the power to keep people out for public policy reasons,' it's just too much power in the hands of any government and it opens up the system for political abuse."

Since 2008, Kenney has been increasing the amount of discretion available to the immigration minister to make changes to policy.

A policy-making tool known as ministerial instructions has seen major changes made to the immigration system, including the revamping of the skilled worker program to eliminate a backlog of applications.

In the recent refugee system reform bill, the immigration minister was also given the power to determine a list of countries from which refugee claims are given extra scrutiny.

That list is expected to be released later this fall.

The new authority of negative discretion is included in a sweeping piece of legislation introduced by the Conservatives just before the summer recess.

It seeks to make it easier to both eject foreign nationals convicted of crimes in Canada and bar those convicted of crimes abroad from coming in.

Kenney said ensuring the security of Canada's immigration system was part of his discussions in London this week.

But he also talked politics with Britain's current Conservative government.

He said they asked to meet him to discuss the Canadian Conservative party's success in reaching ethnic voters.

"I was happy to share our experiences and our ideas," Kenney said.

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