Immigration Law in the Trudeau (Junior) Era

Has anything changed?

Immigration Law in the Trudeau (Junior) Era

Immigration rocketed to the top of the agenda during the final weeks of the last federal election campaign, in part thanks to heartbreaking images of drowned Syrian children washed up on Aegean beaches amidst the world’s worst refugee crisis in decades. All major parties were forced to make promises of action on a variety of immigration fronts. Now that the Liberals have swept to power, let’s take a look at the practical impact on Canadian immigration law.

The most profound change has been one of attitude, summarized by the new minister’s recent statement that “some of our employees have… been led to believe that their main job is to keep people out, whereas we want them to think that their main job is to let people in.1 This attitude shift, from enforcement and security to recruitment and facilitation, will inform every legal and policy change that follows.

The biggest changes so far have been on the refugee file. The new government took action quickly by dropping two controversial appeals, in Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care 2 (on the issue of health coverage for refugee claimants) and Y.Z 3 (on access to the Refugee Appeal Division for claimants from designated countries of origin). These decisions substantially improve the process for claimants as well as their living conditions while they go through it. On the policy side, the Liberals also announced dramatic increases to the intake of Syrian refugees.

In other areas of immigration and citizenship the new government has committed to specific legal changes, including abolishing conditional permanent residence for sponsored spouses and partners, removing the ability to revoke citizenship for terrorism offences, easing the residence requirements for new citizenship applicants, and increasing the quotas for sponsorship of parents and grandparents.

However, all of these actions will take place in the legal and policy context left behind by the previous government. In particular, relatively new powers given to the immigration Minister to change law and policy by way of “Ministerial Instruction” continue to exist, and their flexibility and efficiency will be tempting to maintain. These powers enable significant legal and policy changes without the rigorous (and comparatively onerous) parliamentary oversight that comes with regulatory or legislative amendments.

Perhaps the biggest change we can expect is that the pace of change itself will slow. In 2012, at the height of the era of government activism in the field, there were 92 Operational Bulletins (advisories issued to front-line officers notifying them of major legal or policy changes). As of the time of writing this article, since the Liberals took office, there has been only one.

Despite obvious ideological differences between the previous and current governments, the practical impact on immigration law will likely be felt primarily in the refugee field, and more on the litigation and operations front than on the legislative or regulatory front. We may also see a slight rebalancing of immigration priorities away from economic benefit in favour of family reunification.

Ultimately we can probably expect a continuing shift in attitude – maybe even a “kinder, gentler” immigration system over time – not likely the sea change of law or policy that re-shaped the immigration field in recent years.

  1. Speech to the Canadian Club, 19 January 2016 | 
  2. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 FC 651 (CanLII) | 
  3. Y.Z. v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 892 (CanLII) |