Espionage and Immigrating to Canada

Section 34(1) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides, amongst other things, that a foreign national or Canadian permanent resident is inadmissible to Canada for engaging in an act of espionage that is against Canada or that is contrary to Canada’s interests, or being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in espionage against Canada or that is contrary to Canada’s interests.  It is one of the most serious inadmissibilities in Canadian immigration law.


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (“IRCC”) Enforcement Manual 2 – Inadmissibilities contains the following definitions and guidance to officers regarding how immigration officials are to determine whether someone is inadmisisble to Canada for espionage.

Espionage is defined as a method of information gathering by spying; that is, the gathering of information in a surreptitious manner, secretly seeking out information usually from a hostile country to benefit one’s own country.

Paragraph A34(1)(a) contains two possible allegations that could render a permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible to Canada for acts of espionage:

1. if the act of espionage is against Canada, or

2. if the act of espionage is contrary to Canada’s interests.

Espionage “against Canada” means espionage activities conducted by a foreign state or organization in Canada and/or abroad against any Canadian public or private sector entity on behalf of a foreign government. It may also include activities of a foreign nonstate organization against the Government of Canada, but does not include acts of industrial spying between private entities where no government is involved.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of activities that may constitute espionage that is “contrary to Canada’s interests”:

 Espionage activity committed inside or outside Canada that would have a negative impact on the safety, security or prosperity of Canada. Prosperity of Canada includes but is not limited to the following factors: financial, economic, social, and cultural.

 The espionage activity does not need to be against the state. It could also be against Canadian commercial or other private interests.

 The use of Canadian territory to carry out espionage activities may be contrary to Canada’s national security and public safety and therefore contrary to Canada’s interests.

 Espionage activity directed against Canada’s allies as it may also be contrary to Canada’s interests.

Note: These guidelines are intented to be dynamic as the concept of what is contrary to Canada’s interest may evolve or change over time.

Spying on Campus Organizations, Churches, Schools, etc. 

Qu v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) is the leading Federal Court of Appeal decision regarding what constitutes espionage under Canadian immigration legislation.

Mr. Qu was a citizen of the People’s Republic of China studying at Concordia University in Montreal.  He was active in the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, a campus group, and regularly reported on that group’s activities to officials at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.  The Federal Court of Appeal had to determine whether spying on a campus organization, as opposed to a formal institution of democratic government or process, constituted espionage under Canadian immigration legislation.

The Federal Court of Appeal determined that it did, and that the definition of espionage should be interpreted broadly, and that the ability of individuals to freely belong to associations was integral to the democratic process in Canada. The Court went on to state that:

In Canada, a democratic institution is not limited to a political institution, it includes organized groups who seek through democratic means to influence government policies and decisions.

Canada is a pluralistic society with a variety of autonomous organizations independent of the government and to one and other.

As a free and democratic society, Canada values and protects democratic non-governmental institutions which enhance the participation of individuals and groups in society.

The Federal Court of Appeal accordingly went on to note that an individual could be inadmissible to Canada for espionage if they engaged in spying against an organization that was engaged in lawful activities in Canada of a political, religious, social or economic nature, and as such that this was not limited to trade unions, professional associations and political parties.

Intelligence Gathering vs. Espionage

In Peer v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the Federal Court had to answer the following certified question:

Is a person inadmissible to Canada for “engaging in an act of espionage… against a democratic government, institution or process” within the meaning of subsection section 34(1)(a) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, if the person’s activities consist of intelligence gathering activities that are legal in the country where they take place, do not violate international law and where there is no evidence of hostile intent against the persons who are being observed?

Mr. Peer was a member of Pakistan’s Corps of Military Intelligence and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.  They would monitor individuals, including those from democratic countries, when they were in Pakistan.  Mr. Peer argued that his gathering of intelligence on the activities of foreign nationals was simply intelligence gathering and as it was on domestic soil did not constitute espionage against Canada.

Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal disagreed. While the Federal Court of Appeal did not provide any reasoning, Justice Zinn at the Federal Court level wrote:

I have no doubt that many centuries ago one could not easily engage in espionage unless one travelled to a foreign land to gather the relevant information because there was no other way the information could be obtained.  That is quite simply not the case now, if it ever was.  If I were to accept the submission of the applicant that one cannot engage in espionage while remaining in one’s own country, I would have to accept that intelligence agents who monitor telephone and internet communications from the safety of their country are engaged only in “intelligence gathering” and not in espionage, even when the information they gather relates to sensitive state secrets.

The applicant might suggest that those agents are engaged in an illegal activity and thus fall outside his proposed definition of espionage.  However, while the interception of these communications may be an offence in the country from whence the communications originate, I have no doubt that the actions of these interceptors will be perfectly legal and, in fact, are sanctioned in their own country.


What matters in this case is the applicant’s surreptitious gathering of information, or spying, on foreign nationals in Pakistan.  The applicant’s motive or his location when doing this spying is entirely irrelevant in determining that his activities on behalf of Pakistan intelligence constituted “espionage.”

US War Deserters – Immigrating to Canada

Being a war deserter does not in of itself mean that either a refugee claim or an application for permanent residency based on humanitarian & compassionate (“H&C“) grounds will succeed.

On July 6, 2010,the Federal Court of Appeal (the “FCA“) released its decision in Hinzman v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FCA 177 (“Hinzman“)

Hinzman involved an American soldier who for moral and religious beliefs was against “all participation in war.”  In 2004, upon learning that his unit would be deployed to Iraq, Mr. Hinzman fled the United States for Canada. He was AWOL from the US army since his arrival in Canada.  He originally claimed refugee status, a claim which was unsuccessful.

Mr. Hinzman then filed a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (“PRRA“) and an application for permanent residence based on H&C grounds.

A Citizenship and Immigration Canada officer (the “Officer“) rejected the PRRA.  She found that:

[t]he possibility of prosecution under a law of general application is not, in and of itself, sufficient evidence that an applicant has a well-founded fear of persecution. The PRRA application is not an avenue to circumvent lawful and legitimate prosecutions commenced by a democratic country.

Mr. Hinzman did not seek leave to apply for judicial review of the PRRA decision.

The Officer also rejected the H&C application.  Mr. Hinzman sought leave to appeal of this decision.  The Federal Court upheld the Appellant’s decision. However, it certified the following question:

Can punishment under a law of general application for desertion, when the desertion was motivated by a sincere an deeply held moral, political and/or religious objection to a particular war, amount to unusual, undeserved or disproportionate hardship in the context of an application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds?

PRRA and H&C Applications Require Different Tests

The FCA answered the question in the affirmative. It is important to note that it did not rule that H&C would always be appropriate for war deserters, nor did it state that Mr. Hinzman’s H&C application should be successful. Rather, the FCA found that punishment for desertion, where the desertion was motivated by a deeply held moral, political and/or religious objection, could amount to unusual, undeserved, or disproportionate hardship. The Court thus remitted the matter to a different Officer with the requirement that the new officer reevaluate the application using this criteria.

This judgment is the latest in a series of decisions reminding immigration officers that PRRA and H&C applications require different tests.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that PRRA officers give consideration to any new, credible, relevant, and material evidence of facts that might have affected the outcome of an appellant’s refugee claim hearing had this evidence been presented, and to assess the risk to the individual if removed.

H&C applications, meanwhile, require officers to regard public policy considerations and humanitarian grounds, including family-related interests.

The Officer did not appear to consider this, instead noting with regards to the H&C application that:

It is important to note that the possibility of prosecution for a law of general application is not, in and of itself, suffiicent evidence that an applicant will face unusual and undeserved, or disporporitionate hardship. The H&C application is not an avenue to circumvent lawful and legitimate prosecutions commenced by a democratic country.

As the FCA noted, this standard of analysis is generally used for PRRA applications. It is not the test for H&C applications.

Operational Bulletin 202 – War Deserters

As a result of the Hinzman decision, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) released Operational Bulletin 202, which states:

This operational bulletin provides immigration officers in Canada with instructions on processing cases involving military deserters.


Some individuals who may have deserted the military or who may have committed an offence equivalent to desertion of the military in their country of origin have sought refuge in Canada. Desertion is an offence in Canada under the National Defence Act (NDA). The maximum punishment for desertion under section 88 of the NDA is life imprisonment, if the person committed the offence on active service or under orders for active service. Consequently, persons who have deserted the military in their country of origin may be inadmissible to Canada under section 36(1)(b) or 36(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The current inventory of military deserter cases is comprised primarily of members of the United States armed forces who have claimed refugee protection in Canada. Desertion from the armed forces is described as an offence pursuant to section 85 of the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Many of the persons in our current case inventory have had their refugee claims heard and have subsequently applied for permanent residence in Canada based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations. Some have also applied for permanent residence in Canada as members of the spouse or common-law partner in Canada class. Others have filed Pre-removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) applications when faced with removal from Canada. These applications are at various stages of processing either in the regions or at CPC-Vegreville.

All cases which have come to the attention of the Case Management Branch (CMB) have been identified in FOSS via a non-computer based entry.

General guidelines
Processing applications for permanent residence in Canada

Given the complexity of equating either a conviction for desertion or the commission of an act constituting an offence of desertion under a foreign law with an offence under an Act of Parliament (the National Defence Act), officers are instructed to contact their Regional Program Advisor (RPA) for guidance when processing applications for permanent residence in Canada made by military deserters. Officers are also instructed to copy the Case Review Division of the CMB on their initial communication with their RPA.

Processing claims for refugee protection in Canada

Notification of all new claims for refugee protection by military deserters and any updates to these refugee claims including PRRA applications must be provided to CMB using the existing guidelines on processing high profile, contentious and sensitive cases (OP 1, section 15).


In accordance with current instructions with respect to cases where a personal interview or an in-depth investigation may be required, CPC-Vegreville is asked to transfer applications filed by military deserters to the appropriate inland CIC for processing.

In 2016, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada removed the reference to the United States from OB 202.

Through Access to Information Act requests we have also obtained what appear to be two internal directives to IRCC officers that will be helpful to anyone with clients whose H&C grounds are at least partially based on desertion.  They include research sources, factors that officers should consider, and possible interview questions.

Staying Removal at Federal Court

The Federal Court of Canada can provide interlocutory stays, including staying removal.

There is a three-stage test to be applied when considering an application for an interlocutory injunction.

A court must determine that there is a serious issue or question to be tried, that the applicant would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were to be refused, and that the balance of convenience (assessed by examining which of the parties will suffer the greater harm from granting or refusing the injunction) rests with the applicant.

As well, it is important to note that a stay of removal is an equitable remedy that is typically only available to an individual who has not committed an inequity.

Irreparable Harm

The Supreme Court of Canada describes ‘irreparable harm’ as follow:

“Irreparable” refers to the nature of the harm suffered rather than its magnitude.  It is harm which either cannot be quantified in monetary terms or which cannot be cured, usually because one party cannot collect damages from the other.

In other words, harm which can be avoided, or if unavoidable can be cured, is not irreparable harm.

Irreparable harm is often the deciding factor in an interlocutory motion.  In British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), for example, the Federal Court found that there was no irreparable harm for Canadian citizens facing loss of their citizenship. The reason for this was because there was (and as of writing is) currently a consolidated Federal Court proceeding through which anyone who files an Application for Leave to Commence Judicial Review will receive an automatic stay.  As Justice Zinn noted:

Here, as the Moving Parties admit, the harm to anyone in receipt of a Notice of Intent to Revoke Citizenship is avoidable. They need merely file an application to this Court for leave and judicial review of that revocation notice and they are granted an automatic stay. To date, many have done so.

If now or in the future there are persons in receipt of a Notice of Intent to Revoke Citizenship who through ignorance or lack of resources fail to challenge that decision in this Court, does that change the harm from an avoidable one to an unavoidable one? I think not.

Asking the Embassy to Re-Consider an Application

Once a decision has been rendered in relation to an application for a humanitarian and compassionate exemption, is the ability of the decision-maker to reopen or reconsider the application on the basis of further evidence provided by an applicant limited by the doctrine of functus officio?
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Appealing IRPA Decisions to the Federal Court of Appeal

Generally, when the Federal Court makes a decision on an immigration matter, the decision is final. As most lawyers tell their clients at the outset, there is no right to appeal a Federal Court decision unless the Federal Court certifies an issue raised in the litigation as being a question of general importance. However, it is important that representatives be familiar with some exceptions to this rule.
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Functus Officio and Appealing to the Federal Court of Appeal

On June 10, 2010, the Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA“) issued its decision in Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Arif, 2010 FCA 157.  The majority and concurring opinions discussed two procedural rules that will interest immigration practitioners  The first issue was when a Federal Court determination regarding a Citizenship Judge’s decision can be appealed. The second was the relationship between section 399(2) of the Federal Court Rules and the principle of functus officio.

When can a Federal Court Order Regarding a Citizenship Judge’s Opinion be Appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal?

Section 14 of the Citizenship Act regulates appeals from Citizenship judges. Subsections 5 and 6 provide that:


(5) The Minister or the applicant may appeal to the Court from the decision of the citizenship judge under subsection (2) by filing a notice of appeal in the Registry of the Court within sixty days after the day on which

(a) the citizenship judge approved the application under subsection (2); or

(b) notice was mailed or otherwise given under subsection (3) with respect to the application.

Decision final

(6) A decision of the Court pursuant to an appeal made under subsection (5) is, subject to section 20, final and, notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament, no appeal lies therefrom.

Subsection six clearly states that the FCA is precluded from hearing appeals from Federal Court decisions pursuant to an appeal of a citizenship judge’s determination. But, does the FCA have jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions of the Federal Court reconsidering, or refusing to reconsider, its decisions?

In answering this question, the Court applied the test that it articulated in Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Saji, 2010 FCA 100.  There, the Court ruled that:

…, an appeal from the Federal Court to this Court is only precluded by subsection (6) as a decision made “pursuant to an appeal under subsection (5)” if the decision in question relates to the ultimate question, namely, whether the [C]itizenship [J]udge erred in approving or not approving a citizenship application, or in determining a question related to it.

Applying this test, the Federal Court of Appeal found that a decision not to reconsider the decision of a Citizenship Judge is a question that determines the ultimate question, and hence is not appealable.  Accordingly, the FCA found that it was without jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

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Illegal Immigrants Do Not Have a Charter Right to Health Care

In a case that has generated media publicity, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that illegal immigrants do not have a Charter right to health care.  The facts in Toussaint v. Canada, 2011 FCA 213, were simple.  In 1999, the appellant entered Canada as a visitor.  She never left, and never attempted to normalize her status.  In 2006, her health began to deteriorate.  In 2009, she applied to Citizenship and Immigration Canada for medical coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program (the “IFHP”).  Her request was denied, as the IFHP is limited to refugee claimants, resettled refugees, persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and Victims of Trafficking in Persons.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that the appellant met none of these conditions, and that the IFHP could not have been intended to pay for the medical expenses of those who arrive as visitors but remain illegally in Canada.

A significant portion of the judgment related to Charter arguments regarding whether denying illegal immigrants access to the IFHP breached the right to life and security of the person (s. 7 of the Charter) or the right to equality (s. 15 of the Charter).

The Right to Life and Security of the Person Challenge

Section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that:

Life, liberty and security of person

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

The Federal Court of Appeal did not disagree with the appellant’s assertion that the denial of health care coverage expose her to significant risk to life and health, or that the risk was significant enough to trigger a violation of her rights to life and security of the person.  It did, however, determine that the denial of health care coverage was not the operative cause of the injury to her rights to life and security.  Rather, it found that the Appellant staying in Canada illegally was the main reason that her life and security of the person was affected.

Furthermore, the Federal Court of Appeal reiterated what has become the accepted jurisprudence that the Charter does not confer a freestanding constitutional right to health care, and that the courts can (and frequently do) deny claims under the Charter to obtain state funding or financial assistance for necessary treatments.

The Equality of Person Challenge

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Although “immigration status” is not mentioned as a prohibited ground for discrimination in s. 15, the courts do have the ability to read in analogous grounds.  In Egan v. Canada, for example, the Supreme Court of Canada held that sexual orientation is an analogous ground.

Unfortunately for the appellants, the Federal Court of Appeal did not accept that immigration status qualifies as an analogous ground under s. 15 of the Charter, primarily because immigration is not a characteristic that an individual cannot change.  The court noted that it is not immutable or changeable only at unacceptable cost to personal identity.  Indeed, the court noted that immigration status is a characteristic that the government has a legitimate interest in expecting a person to change.

There were other reason for dismissing the s. 15 Charter argument, including that the policy did not stigmatize or expose illegal immigrants to prejudice, however, the above is probably the most significant in terms of developing obiter dicta.