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Disputed immigration provision requires link to national security, Supreme Court says

A man walks past the Supreme Court of Canada, Friday, June 16, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — A provision of federal immigration law can be used to bar people on security grounds for engaging in violence only when there is a clear connection to national security, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

The decision came Wednesday in a judgment on two cases that began with administrative rulings under a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. 

The section of the law says permanent residents or foreign nationals are inadmissible on security grounds for engaging in acts of violence that could endanger the lives or safety of people in Canada.

The first case involved Earl Mason, a citizen of Saint Lucia, who came to Canada in 2010 and later applied for permanent residence with his wife's sponsorship. In May 2014, Mason was charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of discharging a firearm after an argument at a bar in Surrey, B.C. The charges were stayed due to delay.

In the second case, Libyan citizen Seifeslam Dleiow arrived in Canada in 2012 on a study permit and later unsuccessfully applied for refugee status. A Canada Border Services Agency report alleged he had engaged in acts of violence against intimate partners and others. 

Some charges were stayed, and he received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to being unlawfully in a dwelling house with intent to commit an indictable offence, mischief under $5,000 and uttering threats. 

In Mason's case, the Immigration Appeal Division agreed with the immigration minister that the section of the immigration law in question applies even when there is no nexus with national security. In Dleiow's case, the Immigration Division followed the appeal division's interpretation.

As a result of these administrative rulings, both men were deemed inadmissible to Canada.

The Federal Court quashed the rulings, but the Federal Court of Appeal concluded the administrative interpretation of the immigration provision was reasonable. The men then took their cases to the Supreme Court.

In its decision, the top court rejected the Immigration Appeal Division's reading of the provision and overturned the administrative rulings.

In writing for the majority, Justice Mahmud Jamal said the relevant legal constraints "point overwhelmingly to a single reasonable interpretation" of the immigration provision — a person can be found inadmissible to Canada only if they engage in acts of violence with a nexus to national security.

Jamal said the Immigration Appeal Division failed to address critical points of statutory context that Mason had raised as well as "the potentially broad consequences of its interpretation," namely deportation from Canada.

In addition, he wrote, the appeal division failed to apply the section in keeping with international human rights obligations concerning refugees to which Canada is a signatory.

Justice Suzanne Côté would have applied a different legal standard of review to the case, but agreed that there must be a link between the relevant act of violence and national security.

She found the Immigration Appeal Division's interpretation would have significantly expanded the grounds for deportation of foreign nationals or permanent residents.

"It would allow foreign nationals to be returned to countries where they may face persecution, in a manner contrary to Canada's obligations under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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