Manitoba·Opinion

What will immigrant values screening protect us from? 'Virtually nothing,' ​Reis Pagtakhan writes

Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch recently sent out a survey asking whether the federal government should screen potential immigrants and refugees for anti-Canadian values. Will screening newcomers for anti-Canadian values make the country safer?

Canada's laws designed to keep people who threaten our country from entry, immigration lawyer says

Canadian values include protecting people's right to practice their religion and oppose government policies, immigration lawyer Reis Pagtakhan points out. (Kim Fry/Facebook)

Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch recently sent out a survey asking whether the federal government should screen potential immigrants and refugees for anti-Canadian values.

Regardless of her motivations, the practical question is whether screening newcomers for anti-Canadian values will actually make the country safer. If not, what would be the purpose?

For decades, Canada's immigration laws have contained provisions designed to prevent people who could threaten our society from entering the country. Under these rules, immigration officers can refuse entry to individuals convicted of crimes outside of Canada. While there are also rules that allow convicted criminals to immigrate if they can prove they have been rehabilitated or no longer are a threat to society, the basic principle is that convicted criminals are inadmissible. Screening for anti-Canadian values is not necessary to keep these people out.

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch wants to screen immigrants for 'anti-Canadian values.' (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
But what about people who have only been charged with crimes? Canadian immigration law also allows the refusal of individuals without convictions if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they have done something that would be considered a crime in Canada. These and other rules have been used to keep out individuals charged with crimes, individuals who have received certain foreign pardons and those who may have gotten off on a technicality. Weeding out these people has nothing to do with whether their values are pro-Canadian or anti-Canadian. Refusal of entry is based on their past actions and the assessment, by our professionally trained immigration officers, of the threat they might pose to Canadians.

Canadian immigration law also allows the government to refuse entry to individuals who do not have criminal records if there are reasonable grounds to believe they have been a member of a terrorist organization that has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism.

The important thing to note here is that a suspected terrorist can be barred from Canada without the government having to prove he or she has committed an act of terrorism. All that needs to be done is establish reasonable grounds for the belief there is a threat.

In explaining why it would be necessary to screen newcomers for anti-Canadian values, Leitch cited the need to bar individuals who have promoted hatred or violence against women. The problem with arguing that a values test is needed to bar these people from Canada is that the government already has the power to do so under laws that have existed since the 20th century.

Such screening may be anti-Canadian

So, if Canada already has laws to keep alleged criminals, convicted criminals, suspected terrorists, war criminals and others from entering the country, what exactly would screening newcomers for anti-Canadian values protect us from.

The answer is: virtually nothing.

In fact, screening for anti-Canadian values may actually be anti-Canadian in itself. Is it anti-Canadian to believe in a different religion? Is it anti-Canadian to oppose government policies? Is it anti-Canadian to associate with individuals who oppose certain laws? Is it anti-Canadian to believe something others do not believe? Under our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the answer to these questions is "no."

The charter guarantees everyone a number of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. These freedoms allow everyone to believe in their own God or no God at all, associate with individuals who oppose government policy and think that Canadian foreign policy is wrong. Screening potential newcomers for "anti-Canadian values" would violate these charter rights without providing any additional protection for Canadians.


​Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.

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