What will immigrant values screening protect us from? 'Virtually nothing,' Reis Pagtakhan writes
Canada's laws designed to keep people who threaten our country from entry, immigration lawyer says
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.
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.