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Recent comments by politicians calling for the use of immigration laws to deal with criminal justice issues are ultimately targeting groups that are already vulnerable, says Toronto criminal and immigration lawyer Lungile Tinarwo.
Toronto mayor Rob Ford was recently reported as saying that he would be asking the prime minister to look at using “immigration laws” to remove those convicted of gun crimes from Toronto, while federal immigration minister Jason Kenney reportedly called for the deportation of “foreign gangsters” without delay.
“My initial reaction was one of shock at the mayor’s comments, in part because the comments/suggestions appeared to be based on what seems to be very problematic presumptions that gun crimes and convicted gang members are connected to and/or tend to involve foreign nationals and/or immigrants,” says Tinarwo, an associate with Hicks Adams LLP.
“Assuming of course that the mayor believes that the individuals who are ultimately convicted of gun crimes and/or may be involved in gang activity are foreign nationals, then further exploration of the issue will demonstrate that a vast majority of people that become involved in the criminal justice system in this way have either grown up in Canada (immigrated here at a very young age) or were in fact born here,” she says.
However, Tinarwo says she doubts immigration law should or will be used in this regard.
“If there is any consideration given to the use of immigration law in this way, it will most definitely raise some serious concerns and require extensive discussions with stakeholders, particularly the community leaders in different areas of the GTA,” she explains.
At the same time, she says, the Federal Government’s Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act will arguably achieve what appear to be the mayor’s goals, which is the removal of individuals to other countries who are convicted of crimes in Canada and who meet the criteria under the new legislation.
“The problem I see, of course, is that the new legislation itself which it is being described by the government as “fair” will disproportionately affect certain sub-groups of people within society. So, the suggestion by the mayor raises all the same concerns as have been and will continue to be raised by the new legislation,” says Tinarwo.
By making the changes that are being suggested, Tinarwo says certain sub-groups within society that are already particularly vulnerable will be more severely affected, which she anticipates will also further complicate the job of criminal defence lawyers.
“Criminal lawyers already work within very difficult-to-manoeuvre situations and any changes in the nature suggested by the mayor will further complicate our ability to assist people coming in contact with the criminal justice system,” she says.
Ultimately, what is missing from the discussion, says Tinarwo, are the problems that plague the system as it operates at the moment.
“Rather than targeting particular groups and basically suggesting that gun violence is synonymous with foreign nationals, the governments – municipal, provincial and federal need to direct their efforts at fixing the problems as they exist within the different communities. There are neighbourhoods that have been labelled as “high risk” or “high priority” neighbourhoods and the demographics of those neighbourhoods tend to encompass immigrant populations. The cuts in funding to social, educational and other programs lies at the heart of the difficulties experienced in the GTA,” she says.
Rather than focusing their energies on labelling and assumptions, she says, the different levels of government need to reassess the system as a whole.
“Immigration laws are to be used to deal with immigration, and the criminal justice system should be used to address the issue of crime in society. Using immigration law to deal with issues that arise out of the criminal justice system will allow the government to target already vulnerable groups of people in Canadian society,” she adds.