Coderre ruling stands, Federal Court decides Opens gates for prospective immigrants.

ELIZABETH THOMPSON
The Gazette
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre has lost his bid to reverse a Federal Court ruling that found his department misled Parliament.

In a ruling rendered verbally from the bench Thursday and in writing yesterday, the Federal Court of Appeal said the case is now moot because those involved have received the Immigration Department interviews that they had been seeking.

However, the ruling clears the way for lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of people who were in the process of immigrating to Canada when the federal government abruptly changed the selection criteria. If they win, the federal government could have to reverse its position and process their applications under the previous criteria or pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursements or damages.
"There is a very big potential liability here," said immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, who persuaded the court to dismiss Coderre's appeal.

The case centres on the government's decision last year to overhaul its selection criteria for people seeking to immigrate to Canada, imposing tougher standands in areas such as education and language proficiency. At one point, the government extended the deadline for processing applicants under the old law, telling parliament's immigration committee that it should be enough time to process a backlog of 30,000 applications.

In February, however, Federal Court Justice Michael Kelen ruled that officials had misled the committee about the size of the backlog. Instead of 30,000 applicants, there were 80,000 to 120,000 applications that were waiting to be processed.

While Kelen's ruling only applied to the 102 prospective immigrants who had taken the case to court, it has opened the gates for thousands of others in the backlog who believe they have a better chance of coming to Canada under the old selection criteria than under the new rules.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said at least a dozen law firms including his own have filed lawsuits on behalf of prospective immigrants caught in the backlog, many of them from Asia. In many cases, the applicants are married and while one of the partners has a university education in areas such as computers or engineering, their spouse does not - making it more difficult to get into Canada under the new rules.

The solution, said Kurland, is for Ottawa to agree to process all those caught in the backlog under the rules that were in place when they first applied.

In its ruling yesterday, the Federal Court of Appeal said 78 cases that have been filed in the Federal Court's trial division, representing an estimated 5,800 prospective immigrants.

Waldman puts the number of people involved in the various lawsuits much higher, at 7,400.

Officials in the Immigration Department and Coderre's office were tight lipped yesterday, saying lawyers are studying the ruling to determine what to do next.

Diane Ablonczy, Canadian Alliance immigration critic, said the government should abandon any idea of appealing the Federal Court of Appeal ruling to the Supreme Court.

"The bottom line is that Denis Coderre should be doing what he promised these applicants he would do and that is to process them in a timely manner under the rules that were in place when they applied. That is the fair and honorable thing to do."

Ablonczy said there should also be a review of how the issue has been handled.

"This is a huge black eye for the minister and his department for which there should be serious consequences. We need to identify who was responsible for lying to parliament, who was responsible for the decisions that led to these applications not being processed as promised. Those individuals should be sanctioned."

Email: ethompson@thegazette.canwest.com