Pre-February 28th, 2008 Applicants Have Had Their Day in Court
Earlier this month, the Federal Court heard arguments in a number of joined cases against the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in relation to the government’s plan to terminate almost 98,000 Skilled Worker permanent resident applications. Including dependents, some 280,000 people will be affected by the court’s decision.
The lawyers who appeared before Justice Rennie on behalf of the applicants were my co-counsel Mario Bellissimo as well as Lorne Waldman, Rocco Galati, Matthew Jeffery and Lawrence Wong. I commend all of them for their demeanor and persuasive presentations.
Each lawyer attacked the government’s position on separate grounds but with the common goal of striking down the legislation that permits the Immigration Minister to toss out the applications before assessing them. Bear in mind that some applicants have been waiting in line for more than seven years.
Mr. Bellissimo’s main argument, put forth on behalf of our clients, is that the enabling legislation, subsection 87.4 (I) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) violates subsection 15 (I) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter).
It is submitted that the manner in which Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) processes applications for permanent residence leads to discrimination on the basis of an applicant’s national origin, an enumerated ground under subsection 15 (I) of the Charter. This is so because applicants may only submit their application to specified visa offices for processing, depending upon either their country of legal residence or their country of citizenship.
Processing times at different visa offices vary greatly and as a result an individual’s national origin will determine the rate at which his or her application is processed. CIC prioritizes certain visa offices – and thus certain nationalities – over others and therefore termination of applications at this stage will disproportionately affect those applicants who submitted to visa offices not prioritized by CIC. Consequently, it is argued that subsection 87.4 (I) is contrary to the Charter and should be struck down as having no force or effect.
To support his position, Mr. Bellissimo relied upon statistics which indicate that visa offices in the Americas and Europe managed to process approximately 90% of their backlogged applications while visa offices in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia only processed about 40% of their backlogged inventory.
To be fair, it should be noted that the Immigration Minister, through counsel, has responded to all of the arguments raised by the applicants and has asserted the right of Parliament to pass legislation it deems proper in the circumstances.
Now we await Justice Rennie’s decision. Even that may not bring this saga to an end, as the losing side will have the opportunity to appeal.