TORONTO - I’ve met the Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister responsible Immigration and Refugee policies. Although I do not know him, judging from the literature about him, one could easily conclude that on a personal basis he must be a fine, deserving and accomplished man.
His story, entering this country - without papers, without an education, without a social support system to help his integration, without language skills sufficient to satisfy bureaucratic standards to qualify him, without the security checks to allay the fears of those concerned about security issues – and eventually “making it” to the highest levels of government is an inspiration to all.
Some even felt he might be best suited to help the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues understand the difference between Immigration as a demographic and economic policy and Immigration as a procedural bureaucracy. His “mandate letter” is flexible enough.
He is also an immigration lawyer by profession. He would know the difference between changing the rules to effect change and simply offering service (at a cost) for “navigating the system” – keeping things as they are, one could argue. That would not be the preferred image of himself that he would like to project. His official House of Commons introductory biographical note says, in fact, that he is a social activist, a doer: “In 2002, he co-founded the Regent Park Community Council and was able to secure a $500 million revitalization project for Regent Park.” Not bad.
But this is 2018. Minister Hussen appears to be stepping back from a commitment to a “Pilot Project” to “regularize” – bring into status and “land” – the many hundreds of thousands of Visa-overstays in this country. Several thousand of these “undocumented workers” are resident in his own riding.
It is almost understandable. The project was struck initiated by his immediate predecessor, John McCallum, now Ambassador to China.
He was a cautious type who struck an Immigration Caucus among Liberal MPs that he hoped would inform him and his Department on “gathering evidence’ both as to the size of the problem and potential solutions.
Now both he and his Department deny the existence of such a project, although the use of the word “pilot” in and of itself is a concession that the program is not yet formalized in the structure of the bureaucracy.
They have taken to using the term “illegal” rather loosely to describe overstays and/or unauthorized entry. The chorus in the Immigration Caucus has chimed compliance.
In a CBC Radio interview on April 6, Minister Hussen, after describing how he and three other MPs fanned out successfully to engage potential illegal, Haitian border crossers from the USA, and how he was now going to apply the same one-on-one to similar Nigerian crossers at the Quebec border, affirmed that Canada was not closing its doors to those who want to come here – just to those who do not apply according to the procedures. You know, the same ones designed to keep them out. The irony must have escaped him in the moment. Monday, the Star printed an opinion piece by two law students, Jesse Beatson and Kylie Sier, from Osgoode Hall Law School, which argued that: “Irregular entry is not an offence in the Criminal Code, and should not be labelled as such. The language of illegality also tends to violate the presumption of innocence. This is a principle that should inform ethical journalism.”
Or ethical politicians and bureaucrats for that matter.
Because the "Pilot project" has been transformed by the Minister and his officials from a "program proposal" to one that "doesn't exist".