Congrats Voters!

Canadians have, once again, elected a Minority Liberal government to represent their interests in Ottawa. The Members of Parliament who will be returning to govern are largely the same as those before, with a few significant exceptions. Here in Manitoba, I was pleased that both Jim Carr (Liberal) and Raquel Dancho (CPC) were both re-elected. Members of CIL have worked closely with the staff at these MP offices and they have been doing a great job to serve their constituents.

58% to 59% Turnout

News is reporting that approximately 58% of eligible voters were able to cast a ballot. Considering we are in the midst of a 4th wave (AB has recently declared a state of emergency), I would say this was good turnout. As reported last night, there were ridings where voters waited up to 4 hours in line. Very impressive.

Winnipeg win

Manitoba has a long history of active political participation. From Louis Riel to the activists during the Winnipeg general strike, Manitobans take politics seriously. The province is neither a CPC base as our neighbours to the west, nor a Liberal base as our neighbours to the east. Winnipeg and Manitoba is a quilt of different ridings and, I believe, voters take the issues seriously. Manitoban voters understand the particular issues for our region, in the “heart” of the continent.

In addition to congratulating all voters, I have to send out a positive message to the Liberals. They have, again, a minority government so they will be forced to work with other parties to pass legislation. I would encourage all MPs to find common ground on immigration issues to get things done.

Winnipeg – Smart City

The Intelligent Communities Forum (ICF) has, once again, recognized the skills and intelligence of the people of Winnipeg. We are a “smart city”. This comes as no surprise. Winnipeg has been heralded as one of the most intelligent communities in the world many times before. The ICF compares 180 cities around the world, comparing the level of collaboration and innovation between metropolises in many countries to define a few as “smart cities”.

Tech-Savvy CitySmart City

The results of the 2021 ICF report confirm the obvious: Winnipeg is a leader in the areas of tech-savvy projects and innovation. As noted by CTV News:

In 2018, 2016 and 2014, ICF selected Winnipeg as a Top 7 Intelligent Community, recognizing the city’s global leadership in technology deployment, digital innovation and demonstrating a commitment to using data to improve the quality of life of all its citizens.

For residents of Winnipeg, we are constantly striving for community-led projects. This is part of the fabric of our city. Economic Development Winnipeg is leading the way to support tech-savvy projects and support the private sector to ensure we continue to be recognized an internationally-recognized “smart city”.

TEDxWinnipeg

I was honoured, back in 2018, to be selected to give a presentation at RBC Convention Centre with TEDxWinnipeg. It was yet another opportunity to connect with cutting-edge Winnipegers who were doing amazing projects. We had speakers from all walks of life who had initiated or were involved in amazing projects to better the lives of residents of our wonderful city.

TEDxWinnipeg is, in and of itself, a perfect example of the innovation and collaborative approach to projects in Winnipeg. It brings together thought-leaders from different fields to support innovative new projects to build our “smart city”.

If you are keen, you can watch my presentation on YouTube. 

From Mayor to the Street

Upon hearing the news, Mayor Brian Bowmen commented:

Being named to the international Top 7 list for the fourth time in 10 years and the ninth time for the Smart 21 list over the same period is strong validation that Winnipeg is a consistent competitor with cities from around the world. With a population that is expected to continue growing to a million people, Winnipeg is truly a world-class place to call home.”

I agree 100%. And immigration, with the MPNP program and the numerous universities and colleges that attract talent from every corner of the world, is the backbone on Winnipeg’s continued growth.

Here at CIL, we are thrilled to be part of helping the growth of Winnipeg and Manitoba. We look forward to celebrating when Winnipeg surpasses the 1 Million Residents mark. That will truly be a date to celebrate. We simply need to focus on short-term goals and help families, one at a time. We will get to 1M residents.

If you are reading this and you are interested in joining one of the “smart cities” of the world. Here at CIL, we would love to help you and your family achieve your immigration goals. Come and join us in Winnipeg. We look forward to working with you and helping you get settled in our diverse community.

Queen’s is #1

I am proud to see that my alma mater, Queen’s University, has been ranked #1 in Canada and #5 in the world, based on Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings. I attended Queen’s University from 2005 to 2007 for my law degree (LL.B, converted to J.D.) and I had a great experience. Located in Kingston, Ontario, the town has a strong campus culture and it is conveniently located between Ottawa and Toronto. While I was in law school, for example, we were able to make multiple trips to the Supreme Court of Canada and meet the justices on Canada’s top court. Down the highway in the other direction, it was easy to spend weekends in Toronto and Queen’s has a strong connection with Bay Street firms.Queen's

I hope you don’t mind if I take a trip down memory lane. I owe my practice and my firm, in part, due to the top level of education at Queen’s. My professors include Sharry Aiken, Barbara Jackman, Geri Sadoway, Paul Paton and FCA Justice David Stratas. Each one of these professors helped me find my passion for immigration and refugee law. During presentations at the University of Winnipeg and at BCIT, I have talked at length about the Singh decision at the SCC and the importance of this decision on all refugee claimants – even in 2021. My presentation would not have been nearing as interesting without the conversations that I had with Barb while I was at Queen’s.

My Blank Key

When I was in my small section at Queen’s, Professor Pardy gave each of us a blank key as a symbol of our law degree. He passed along a didactic story, which I will not repeat here, with the point that it is a privilege to go through law school. We learned how legal systems work. We learned how to read and interpret legalese. I remember a line from Rake where he was talking about how lawyers stopped using Latin. To paraphrase, lawyers were able to make English so cryptic and incomprehensible, they no longer needed to use Latin. Indeed.

Not All Roses and Puppies

I love talking to students about going to law school. This should not be an easy decision. If you or someone you know is thinking about going to law school, they need to understand the good… and the bad. In 2007, I graduated from Queen’s with around 160 other law students. Since then, 4 of my classmates have lost their lives. These deaths are tragic on different levels. Anyone who is considering a career in law should be aware of the high stress & anxiety. I have not checked recently but lawyers are generally at the top of the list for drug and alcohol abuse. Not surprisingly. (If you’re wondering, I meditate and I have a strong support network. I also take self-care very seriously.)

I want to wish all Queen’s grads an amazing 2021. Congratulations on getting #1 in Canada. Great school.

FCA reverses decision on STCA

In a decision dated 15 APR 2021, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the previous decision by Justice MacDonald regarding the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) and the constitutionality of this Agreement. This is a disappointing yet predictable decision. I have huge respect for my former professor and FCA Justice Stratus but I disagree with his reasoning. Based on communications with lawyers at the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers (CARL) and staff at the Canadian Council for Refugee (CCR), I expect this decision to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) for final judgment. STCA

As you may be aware, I have been outspoken on the STCA for many years. On 10 June 2017, I gave a presentation to the national CBA immigration conference in Toronto, Ontario with Officer Jurisic on behalf of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Officer Nicolaou on behalf of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Since 2016, I have also given interviews on CBC News, Global News, CTV News, The Toronto Star and many other news organizations on the constitutional and legal issues with the STCA.

Based on the extensive and objective evidence presented to Justice MacDonald at Federal Court, I agree with her analysis that the USA fails to meet its international obligations for asylum seekers. I agree with her conclusion that the legislative scheme per Canadian law fails to offer sufficient protection to individuals who are seeking to enter Canada from the USA and access the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB-RPD) for a proper and fair hearing. 

Justice Stratas’ decision has been published on the FCA website and the full decision can be found online. His three (3) main points are these:

  1. The Claimants could have challenged the review process in IRPA and they did not;
  2. The Claimants could have asked for judicial review of the Officer’s decision or filed mandamus applications to Federal Court instead and they did not; and.
  3. The Claimants could have used certiorari procedures to challenge the administrative decisions and they did not.

In my view, this first point is valid and I have been very critical of the Government of Canada’s failure to follow the mandatory review process in IRPA. They have repeatedly failed to adhere to these provisions in IRPA. These review provisions are in the law and Justice Stratas is correct that the government has failed to meet its legal obligations per the review process.

I will not comment on points #2 and #3 at the moment as I am preparing a detailed analysis of those issues.

My main critique of the FCA decision is that it fails to sufficiently consider the blatant violations of international law. I agree with another former professor Sharry Aiken:

“The court didn’t find that conditions in detention were acceptable — what they said was that there is an effective safety valve. But the evidence brought forward in these cases was that the safety valve isn’t working,” she said. “The court was not wrong that in theory the review process could have been part of the challenge, but doing so would have mired the case in years of litigation about privilege because the government has said the process is privileged information, and in the meantime real people are suffering. So, it was the expert opinion of those who advised on the case, including many administrative law scholars, that that pathway would have been not feasible in the circumstances.”

In other words, it is true that the claimants could have argued different points of law, as identified by FCA Justice Stratas; however, the fact that they focused on other points, and their arguments held up at Federal Court, means that those points should have been the focus of the FCA decision. Those were the points in the underlying decision.

Politics is the other side of this issue. The Federal Court of Canada decision re STCA was made with the Trump Administration as the backdrop. Under that administration, the violations of human rights law and international law were blatant and indefensible. Now, under the Biden Administration, it seems that relations between Canada and the USA may warm up and we may not see as many clear violations south of the border.

In my view, the FCA decision should be appealed to the SCC for final determination on the future of the STCA. I would urge the Trudeau government to take the comments of Justice MacDonald seriously. The current system should be reviewed and we should not take the past assumptions for granted. By allowing human rights violations in the USA and not allowing those refugee claimants access to the Canadian refugee determination system, Canadians are complicit in the abuse.

 

Fix Tribunal Mistakes

Normally, we are focused on getting positive results. That is where we spend most of our time & energy. Today, for example, we had a client approved under the MPNP program and he received a Nomination Certificate. Even during a pandemic, we are able to celebrate victories and we get results for all our hard work. In other cases, however, we get a positive result and there is a mistake made by the Officer or the Tribunal.

Tribunal mistakes are not common. This was the case in March 2021. We got a positive decision from the IRB for our clients and they were on their way to getting Permanent Resident (PR) status. The problem was that the tribunal misspelled our client’s name. This can lead to serious problems in the future.

Tribunal Mistake

For immigration, the importance of detail cannot be overstated. Everyday, we focus on making sure all the documents and evidence are 100% true and consistent. To be clear, it is not good enough if the information is only 99% accurate. We hold ourselves to the highest standard to ensure that our clients do not have future issues, based on our work.

For this case, we contacted the Tribunal and explained the mistake. The RPD Member reviewed the situation and issued an Amended Decision with the accurate information. Now our clients can apply for PR status and they know that their information in the government’s records are correct.

Tribunal mistakes can be fixed. I want to be clear that the IRB rarely makes mistakes. There are many layers of professionals at the tribunal who vet and review documents before they are issued. In this case, the RPD Member’s decision was sent to the Case Management Officer who had to sign off on the decision before it was issued. Personally, I have given presentations with IRB staff to make sure the public and other lawyers are aware of how the tribunal operates.

You cannot see our client’s information as we need to redact all their personal information to protect their confidentiality. I can say that the tribunal mistake was minor and it was corrected.

We did this extra work for our clients at no additional charge. We strive to provide the best service, for reasonable fees. This family can apply for PR status and Canada is a better place.

IRCC Processing Delays

Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada

Congrats to all CEC Applicants!

For more than 27,000 applicants in Canada, they have been selected to apply through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) on 13 FEB 2021. As reported by IRCC, the minimum CRS score for this draw was only 75 points. Essentially, all candidates in the pool who had any merit to their application were selected and invited to apply for Permanent Resident status.

To qualify for the CEC category, applicants must demonstrate:

  • minimum language skills established through either IELTS or CELPIP or TEF; and,
  • at least 1 year of skilled work experience in Canada in the past 3 years.

There is no education requirement for the CEC Class. Basically, this category is designed for foreign workers in Canada who have been contributing to the Canadian economy. IELTS or CELPIP or TEF results are valid for 2 years only and they must be valid on the application date. CEC

This past draw is unprecedented. The minimum CRS score of 75 is extremely low and we cannot predict whether this type of draw may occur again in the future. To be clear, if your Express Entry profile is in the FSW stream, the FST stream, the PNP stream or any other path to Permanent Resident status, your profile will remain in the Express Entry system.

If you have been selected, we advise:

  • You must act quickly to obtain all the required documents
  • We expect significant delays at IRCC based on the large number of applicants
  • We expect a bottleneck at the PR application stage and long processing times

The Liberal Government has previously announced its immigration target for more than 400,000 new Permanent Residents in 2021 and it is aiming to increase the number of immigrants in future years. With +27,000 Principal Applicants on track to submit PR applications on behalf of themselves and their families, the 13 FEB 2021 draw may lead to +100,000 new Permanent Residents in Canada.

This past CEC draw is a huge opportunity for many skilled workers in Canada. We urge all applicants to focus on gathering documents to establish the eligibility requirements. Any applicant who is inadmissible for any reason, including misrepresentation, criminality or any other reason may receive a Procedural Fairness Letter from IRCC to provide an explanation. If you are in this situation, we would advise you find a representative to help.

Congratulations to all Americans

Sanity has returned to the White House. We want to congratulate all the Americans around the world who voted for Biden. Over the past 4 years, I have met with dozens, or possibly hundreds, of people with horror stories. Americans who want to claim refugee status in Canada because they believed the Trump government would kill them. Skilled workers in the USA who lost their work permits and they want to immigration north. Foreign investors who changed their minds and decided that Canada was their best option as they read of racist and discriminatory policies. I have heard countless stories of the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in the USA and folks desperate to find paths around the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). It has been rough.

We have tried to help as many people as possible. It has been very clear the situation in the USA has been dire. Blatant breaches of international laws. Clear violations of human rights principles. 

Finally (finally!), we have hope that the Biden government will correct some of the wrongs and return the American government to sanity. We have hope the USA will return to a country that values its relationships with its neighbours and that values human life.

I want to be clear about one point. Trump has been great for our business. These past 4 years have been extremely busy. In the past, Canada was competing with the USA for the best IT professionals, investors and skilled workers. Trump changed that. Suddenly, there was no question that it was better for immigrants to come to Canada. But each new file that we get from clients who are fleeing Trump policies is bitter-sweet. We love to help but we also want the USA to return to its humanitarian roots. We have hope that Biden will lead the USA on a better path.

Personally, I was invited to Las Vegas to meet with wealthy investors from around the world, mainly China, Vietnam and UAE, as they lost confidence in the EB-5 program and they turned their attention to Canada. We have had many opportunities to assist clients who would not have considered Canada before Trump. Trump destroyed the reputation of Americans around the world. I suppose I should thank Trump for indirectly offering these opportunities. I will say that I would have traded them in a second for an American government that did not have abusive policies.

Over the past 4 years, we have gone through countless boxes of tissue from people recounting the abuse and suffering they faced in the USA. Advocates across the board have been vocal with systemic abuse in the American system.

My mother was born in the USA and I have family members in California, New York, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and other states. We have even helped my family members who have plans to move to Canada based on their fears. Most of my family members voted for Biden – but not all. We do what we can to help.

I am optimistic. I was very moved by the poem by Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman at Biden’s inauguration:

We’ve braved the beBidenlly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
So true! Ms. Gorman is truly a truth teller.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
Amen! Congratulations to all Americans who voted for change to give the Biden administration the power to repair the wrongs from the past and to build a better future. I look forward having conversations with potential clients who are debating which is the better country for their families: Canada or the USA, rather than having conversations about the racism and discrimination in the USA and how can Canada give them a safe home.

 

Immigration Nation YouTube Interview

On 3 DEC 2020, Alastair was invited to Immigration Nation to answer questions on Canadian immigration laws and regulations. Mark Holthe has been providing very useful information for folks around the world and the focus of this interview was on our CIMM Testimony from 18 NOV 2020. Both Mark and Alastair gave testimony to the parliamentary committee based on our expertise and experience. You can view the entire 66 minute discussion on the Immigration Nation YouTube channel.

During the interview, folks from many countries participated including India, Brazil, Portugal and the United States. Here are some of the issues:

  • How does IRCC make or amend or changes Canadian laws and/or policies?
  • How are Spousal Sponsorships different from SCLPC Class applications?
  • Why can’t Applicants in SCLPC Class applications appeal to the tribunal?
  • How can I win a Spousal Sponsorship appeal at the IAD?
  • What do I do if I have a COPR but I cannot come to Canada?
  • How do I request an extension to IRCC?
  • Draw predictions for future CEC draws for Express Entry?
  • How many points are required for Express Entry applications?
  • Where can I get help with my Spousal Sponsorship application?
  • How is IRCC going to modernize and/or digitize the system?Immigration Nation
  • Why do even have paper-based applications?
  • How has COVID19 impacted the system?
  • Can applicants apply for a TRV while a Spousal Sponsorship is in process?
  • Please explain dual intent per s22 of IRPA.
  • Explain the new “fiancee visa” for getting authorization for applicants who are in “exclusive dating relationships”.
  • Do you have examples of foreign nationals getting authorization to join their partners in Canada?
  • How have MPNP applicants been affected by COVID19?
  • How do immigration lawyers deal with bad Google reviews?
  • How do lawyers protect themselves from fraud?
  • What happens when agents imposter a lawyer?
  • Can I submit expired Police Clearance Certificates to IRCC?

For information or answers to any of the above points, please watch the Immigration Nation interview. Mark has built a legal practice based on giving free information on his website for general questions. Please note, however, that he does not provide specific legal advice and he will advise that individuals need to book a consultation for a one-on-one conversation to discuss the details of the particular case.

Immigration Nation is a great resource for folks around the world who are interested in learning about Canadian immigration law. It was an honour and privilege for Alastair to be interviewed on this YouTube channel and talk about the issues above.

Cash Bonds

The Canadian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) has been hearing testimony from legal experts, partners and stakeholders. One of the problems is subsection 179(b) of IRPR and Visitor Visa applications (Temporary Resident Applications or “TRV”). This is a huge problem that has led to many families being separated, stress and anxiety. Members of Parliament (MPs) are considering “cash bonds” for TRV applications. The idea is that a Canadian or PR or Applicant can put up cash bonds of, for example, $5,000 CAD to show the Officer they will return to their home country. If they overstay in Canada, it may cost them $5,000 CAD.

MPs have asked many questions on cash bonds. You can hear about testimony here, here and here. Here is a copy of my testimony to the CIMM on this topic:

For my second point, I strongly support the possibility of applicant’s posting monetary bonds for TRV applications in the context of a Spousal Sponsorship applications. These applicants are sufficiently motivated to become Permanent Residents through the family class that there would be low risk in the possibility of them overstaying their visa.

I have reservations, however, if a monetary bond were to become a requirement of all TRV applications. I would not want the TRV application to become out of reach for low income applicants.

I gave the above testimony on 18 November 2020. Cash Bond

On 23 November 2020 (5 days later), the US government unveiled the “Visa Bond Pilot Program” that implemented this idea of the cash bond and my warnings above came true. Details have been reported by US media:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The outgoing administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday issued a new temporary rule that could require tourist and business travelers from two dozen countries, most in Africa, to pay a bond of as much as $15,000 to visit the United States.

The US Government has enacted cash bonds idea that will affect many citizens.

The visa bond rule will allow U.S. consular officers to require tourist and business travelers from countries whose nationals had an “overstay rate” of 10% or higher in 2019 to pay a refundable bond of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000.

Twenty-four countries meet that criteria, including 15 African countries. While those nations had higher rates of overstays, they sent relatively few travelers to the United States.

As described, this amendment is currently restricted to 15 African countries. In particular, folks from these countries will be affected:

Countries whose tourist and business travelers could be subject to the bond requirement include those from Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sudan, Chad, Angola, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea. Other countries include Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iran, Syria, Laos and Yemen.

I want to be clear that this is a bad idea and the actions of the US Government may hurt many low-income applicants who are separated from their family members. Immigration should not be restricted to the rich and affluent.