17 October 2012

Kenny's power play should be opposed

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is proposing legislation which will give the minister the power to deny visitors entry to Canada even if they don't have a serious criminal record. Now limited to denying entry only for criminal or national security reasons, the new power would allow the immigration minister to deny entry to someone who might promote hatred or violence.

The opposition parties should vigorously oppose this legislation. Hate speech laws in this country include provisions in the Criminal Code, the Human Rights Act and other federal legislation, as well as statutory provisions in all ten provinces and territories. This is the way Canadians should be protected against the promotion of hatred and violence—by due process, not by the arbitrary decisions of ministers. Mr. Kenney has promised a list of criteria to help prevent abuse of the power, which is good and I commend him for it, but free speech is too important to be left in the hands of one man acting in the absence of due process.

In 2009, this government denied entry to British MP George Galloway who was a promoter of neither hatred nor violence. On the contrary, he has long been an outspoken (if somewhat intemperate) opponent of violence. The government barred him on the grounds that he was a supporter of Hamas, a terrorist organization, because he had been involved in providing aid to Gaza. In fact, as he correctly pointed out, he was involved in providing aid to the people of Gaza via the democratically elected government of Palestine.

Perhaps Mr. Kenney's criteria will protect us from arbitrary decisions such as he himself made in the case of Mr. Galloway. But I wouldn't count on it. Mr. Kenny, and immigration ministers who will follow him, are politicians, not judges, and will always be influenced by political considerations. Canadians are mature enough to hear the views of foreign nationals—allow them in, let them have their say and let the law deal with them if they abuse the privileges they have received. When it comes to freedom of speech, we should be advocating less discretionary power for government officials, not more.

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