The Terrorist Label in Canadian Immigration Decisions

By Andy Semotiuk | April 28, 2014

Toronto immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk: I saw an interesting story today in the Toronto Star, under the provocative headline, In Canada’s immigration law, anyone can be a terrorist.

Well, maybe. In any event, a taste:

One elderly woman’s only political act was to stitch together uniforms for armed rebels in Ethiopia, then ruled by a murderous tyrant named Haile Mariam Mengistu.

Another man, now in his 60s, once donated the equivalent of $50 to the militant opposition in his country.

Yet another man used to act as an informal contact for foreign journalists who were seeking interviews with anti-government guerrillas in El Salvador.

None of these three people ever engaged in political violence themselves, and yet all of them – along with dozens and perhaps hundreds of others – face the threat of deportation on the grounds that they pose a security risk to the people of Canada, under a catch-all provision of this country’s immigration law that many lawyers decry as unfair and excessive.

“It’s an extreme overreaction,” says Ontario legal-aid lawyer Andrew Brouwer. “Their stories are so compelling. There’s not a single allegation of ever being involved in any kind of violence, much less a terrorist act.”

There are two aspects to this story. One is that anyone with some ties to a violent past could be blocked from immigrating to Canada as a “terrorist,” no matter how tenuous those ties might be.
The other is the time it takes to get a decision from Canadian immigration authorities.
In the first instance, who is and is not a terrorist can be hard to figure out. This is especially the case if you’re talking about events that happened decades ago, with little evidence to back up a claim either way.
If you think about it, terror is an unlawful means employed by an individual to accomplish an end. Maybe we would be better versed to call all of these terrorists “criminals,” since then we would be required to define what it is they did, which laws they broke, and perhaps whom they broke them with.
That’s the philosophical and semantic stuff. The more practical problem described in the article is the extremely long processing times of these applications.I currently have a case pending that involves a prominent doctor. He is being investigated as a possible security threat because he was from a certain country, and there are concerns about his connections to a former dictator. The dictator has been dead for years, yet this physician’s case is still under review. People mentioned in the article above appear to be facing the same challenges.


Andy Semotiuk is a Canadian and US immigration lawyer with immigration law firm Pace Law Firm. You can learn more about Andy at My Work Visa.