Commentary by Ujjal Dosanjh in Vancouver
Dear Minister Ahmed Hussen,
Many of us cheered when you were recently made the Immigration Minister. We felt that as an immigrant Canadian you would surely bring to your position a new and hopefully more compassionate perspective on what it may mean to be Canadian. But our cheers were short lived. You have brought disappointments to some hearts, mine included.
On Monday March 6, 2017 you deported Len Van Heest, a Canadian for the last 59 years. Yes, a Canadian but without the citizenship papers. At the age of seven months and in diapers, he legally landed in Canada with his family. At sixteen he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. He has several convictions for assault, mischief and uttering threats – all stemming from and related to his mental illness, the bipolar disorder. His last offence was in 2012.
Mr. Minister, obviously as a minor under the old law, Van Heest would have been unable to apply for his citizenship on his own – assuming that he even realized or knew in his mental state about the need for him to do so. His parents may not have applied their minds to this issue before he became a 'criminal' and therefore barred from receiving Canadian citizenship.
Power and discretion
Mr. Minister, you had the legal power and discretion to stop Van Heest's deportation. You chose not to because you didn't see it as fit and proper to do so. His deportation means that you must have felt the mentally ill Van Heest was responsible for not applying for citizenship that he had to before he had reached a certain age. It also implies that you and your officials felt it was just and fair for Canada to hold a mentally ill man responsible for piling up a criminal record that disqualified him from ever applying for Canadian citizenship, even though he had entered Canada as an infant. The mentally ill Van Heest – criminal or not – is the product of Canada.
Citizen or not, he is undeniably Canadian. If he is a criminal, he is a Canadian criminal.
Minister, above all Van Heest's deportation was made possible by the regressive legislative changes the Harper regime had made lowering a convicted immigrant's prison sentence threshold for making him/her "inadmissible" to Canada and therefore deportable. It is unacceptable that your government has neither changed, nor is it planning to change this unfair law that makes someone like Van Heest – a Canadian for all practical purposes – deportable.
But on the other hand, you recently testified in support of your government's Bill C-6 that will amend Harper government's law that enabled Canada to revoke the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists holding dual citizenships. Under Bill C-6 the revoked citizenships of convicted terrorists including that of Zakaria Amar – the ring leader of the Toronto 18 who wanted to commit mass murder and behead the Canadian Prime Minister – would be reinstated, re-bestowed upon them.
Mr. Minister, you passionately and eloquently argued: "When you are a Canadian citizen you shouldn't feel less valued just because you have dual citizenship with another country." You also said an individual whose citizenship was already revoked will have it reinstated.
Mr. Minister, I support your government's view that one Canadian is like another despite some holding dual citizenships. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. But in my view a Zakaria Amar is much less deserving of Canadian citizenship and compassion than a Len Van Heest.
Minister, I am deeply troubled and disappointed at your missing compassion and eloquence in defence of Van Heest; mentally ill Van Heest; a 59 year long Canadian; and so what if not so on paper.
Van Heest's was and is exactly the kind of case in which you should have used your ministerial power and discretion to keep or allow anyone into Canada. In my humble opinion, you made a serious error of judgement by deporting Van Heest. You have the power to allow him back into Canada. You should use it.
My Dear Minister, It is never too late to do the right thing.
Ujjal Dosanjh is a former Attorney General and Premier of British Columbia and former federal Minister of Health. He describes himself as a "A child of Indian peasants working to make the world a better place."