Bill enabling deportation of foreign criminals too tough, lawyers say

Immigration and criminal lawyers have teamed up to condemn a federal government bill that could see permanent residents deported after committing a crime that results in a jail sentence of six months.

Bill C-43, the faster removal of foreign criminals act, which passed second reading last week, removes the right to appeal removal orders to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration Review Board when sentenced to six months or more in prison. The existing legislation allows appeals for those sentenced to less than two years in jail.

Mendel Green of immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP told a news conference this afternoon he was shocked by the “one-strike-and-you’re-out” policy for people who have been lawfully admitted to the country. He believes it could even violate the Charter’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Anyone who gets six months or more, they’re gone. . . . They’re banished almost like in Biblical times,” Green said.

“Canadians are a compassionate people,” added Robin Seligman, another lawyer at the conference. “Let someone take a look before you just bar them from the country.”

Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said the title of the legislation was misleading.

“This legislation has nothing to do with the faster removal of foreign criminals,” Mamann said, adding that typical removal order cases involve permanent residents who were brought to Canada as children, and are entitled to citizenship, but have never taken it out for a variety of reasons.

He said the law “goes way too far” by failing to consider an affected permanent resident’s remorse, or the effect deportation would have on them or their family.

Another immigration lawyer, Barbara Jackman, said the bill is just one in a series of new laws that are fundamentally changing Canada’s approach to immigration, accusing the government of “piecemeal attacking and destroying the immigration system.”

“They don’t trust anybody to exercise discretion,” she said.

Andras Schreck, the vice president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said his organization is concerned that the new six-month cutoff opens up a whole new category of crimes that could result in deportation. Whereas the old two-year mark meant only those sentenced to federal penitentiaries were denied an appeal to the immigration board, the new six-month cutoff captures some driving offences and even some summary offences.

“We’re not talking murderers, serial rapists or bank robbers,” Schreck said.

He said the criminal justice system could also expect to face greater costs and delays as permanent residents facing the disproportionate punishment of deportation fight charges rather than accepting responsibility for a crime that carries the potential of six months in jail.

“It removes the incentive to plead guilty,” Schreck said.

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