Outgoing Minister John McCallum received a standing ovation at the CBA conference for immigration lawyers in 2016. It was evident from his keynote address and from fielding questions, that he understood key issues and he had a plan for fixing some of the problems. His leadership at the department has been brief but they have managed to accomplish significant milestones. As of 10 Jan 2017, we have a new Minister, the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen. The questions become: will this disruption in the department cause further delays to the proposed changes? And, will Minister Hussen change the focus of the department and implement his own vision for Canadian immigration?
I have never met Minister Hussen but colleagues who have worked with him are very excited about his appointment. His background as a refugee and his past work in public interest bode well. I am reminded of a quote from US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.
Minister Hassan brings to the office his personal experiences coming to Canada from Mogadishu in 1993 and going through the refugee claim process as a minor. As far as I am aware, this is the first time that a Minister of immigration is a former refugee.
As a reminder, Prime Minister Trudeau released a Mandate letter to guide the Minister with the priorities of the government:
- Lead government-wide efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria in the coming months.
- As part of the Annual Immigration Levels Plan for 2016, bring forward a proposal to double the number of entry applications for parents and grandparents of immigrants to 10,000 a year.
- Give additional points under the Entry Express system to provide more opportunities for applicants who have Canadian siblings.
- Increase the maximum age for dependents to 22, from 19, to allow more Canadians to bring their children to Canada.
- Bring forward a proposal regarding permanent residency for new spouses entering Canada.
- Develop a plan to reduce application processing times for sponsorship, citizenship and other visas.
- Fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants.
- Establish an expert human rights panel to help you determine designated countries of origin, and provide a right to appeal refugee decisions for citizens from these countries.
- Modify the temporary foreign workers program to eliminate the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee to hire caregivers and work with provinces and territories to develop a system of regulated companies to hire caregivers on behalf of families.
- Lead efforts to facilitate the temporary entry of low risk travelers, including business visitors, and lift the visa requirement for Mexico.
- Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
- Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and regulations that require new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.
There is still much work to do. I wish the new Minister all the best to maintain the focus of the department and to continue to work to achieve the priorities above. The department has maintained its commitment to refugees who seek safety by coming to Canada. Hopefully, the new Minister will continue to improve the system.
I look forward to meeting Minister Hussen at the CBA conference in June in Toronto and I will continue to work with the hard-working officers in his department.