C 50 editorial: Ottawa’s selective ear

Posted by admin on Jul 31st, 2008

July 31, 2008. Toronto Star

Immigration Minister Diane Finley has promised that implementation of her sweeping new powers under changes to the Immigration Act will be “fair, open and transparent.” But it doesn’t bode well that the promised cross-Canada consultations she is just completing have been closed to the public, the media and a variety of concerned community groups who wanted to attend. The consultations were undertaken to help the government draft regulations to give effect to the new Immigration Act.

While some groups, such as the Chinese Canadian National Council and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, were included in the list of “key stakeholders” invited to the Toronto consultation session, others were not.

These include the Canadian Arab Federation, the Workers Action Centre (a group concerned about a potential increase in labour rights violations under the government’s expanded temporary workers program), and the United Steel Workers (the union that represents many vulnerable immigrant and temporary workers).

“When the government put forth this legislation, it did not consult with those that are most affected, the people working in settlement agencies, the people working in immigrant service provisions and racialized communities,” says Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the Arab federation. “These consultations are more of the same.”

The new law gives the minister the power to issue “instructions” to her department to give priority to certain categories of immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. She has also been empowered to cap the number of applicants in any category and to refuse certain applicants even if they meet all the necessary qualifications.

These changes represent a vast departure from the old “point system” of selecting immigrants. Under that system, every application had to be evaluated and processed in the order in which it was received.

The government says the moves are necessary to stop further growth in the backlog of applicants, which has grown to about 925,000. As a result, each application can take up to six years to process.

Many immigrant groups are concerned the new rules will shut out family members or discriminate on the basis of country of origin. They wanted a chance to make their case. But those not invited to the various regional sessions were given only until today to voice their concerns by email.

The behind-closed-doors consultations will conclude with a round table involving “national stakeholders” in Ottawa in mid-August. Again, the session will be by invitation only. This is not a government that is open to conflicting views.

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