Foreign nationals who are found to be inadmissible to Canada on the basis of security (including espionage, subversion, engaging in terrorism, or being a member of a group that engages in terrorism), certain human and international rights violations, or organised crime can still visit or immigrate to Canada despite being inadmissible for such serious reasons if they satisfy the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (the “Minister“) that their entry to Canada is not contrary to Canada’s national interest. Such applications are referred to as “Ministerial Relief applications.”
In assessing a Ministerial Relief application, Canadian immigration law somewhat confusingly provides that the Minister “may only take into account national security and public safety considerations, but, in his or her analysis, is not limited to considering the danger that the foreign national presents to the public or the security of Canada.”
Ministerial Relief applications, previously done under ss. 34(2), 35(2), and 37(2)(a) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and now s. 42.1, have long been problematic. As the Government of Canada noted when it introduced a standardised process on March 10, 2017:
A number of issues have contributed to inefficiencies in terms of processing requests for Ministerial relief. These include the lack of a formalized application process, the inability to close applications as appropriate in the absence of a declaration by the Minister, and voluminous applicant submissions of varying degrees of relevance to the ministerial decision-making process. Currently, there is no standardized application form and applicants may seek Ministerial relief at any time. For instance, applicants may simply indicate that they wish to be considered for Ministerial relief, providing little or no supporting explanation or documentation. This means that resources are allocated to processing applications from individuals who may not be found inadmissible and thereby not require Ministerial relief (e.g. they have been granted permanent resident status). Until recently, approximately 50% of the inventory of applications comprised cases pending a final decision on inadmissibility. This has contributed to a significant backlog of cases, all of which must be personally decided upon by the Minister.
How to Submit a Ministerial Relief Application
As of March 10, 2017 Ministerial Relief applications must be made in writing. An inadmissible individual can only submit a Ministerial Relief application after their application to travel to Canada is refused / they are issued a removal order, their inadmissibility affirmed and then only when either they have decided to not challenge the decision in court or after they have already lost in court.
The Ministerial Relief application must include:
(a) their place of birth, gender and marital status and the names of any former spouses or common-law partners;
(b) their telephone number and email address, if any;
(c) their former countries of citizenship or former countries of nationality;
(d) their education, including the name and address of all elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary, technical and vocational institutions attended and the start and end dates for the periods during which they attended each school or institution;
(e) their work history, including volunteer work, from the age of 16 years, including start and end dates for each period of work, their job title and job description and the employer’s name and address;
(f) their international travel history from the age of 16 years, including a list of the countries visited, the purpose of the visits, the dates and duration of the visits and any immigration status sought from or granted by any country visited; and
(g) why their application was refused.
Incomplete Ministerial Relief application will be returned. Interestingly, the Government of Canada when it announced that it would return incomplete applications determined that each returned application saves the taxpayer $25,444.00.
The Canada Border Services Agency assesses requests for Ministerial relief and develops a recommendation for the Minister.
Upon being granted relief by the Minister, the matters which had led to a finding of inadmissibility under the above-listed provisions no longer constitute inadmissibility.
A person who has been granted relief may then make applications for temporary or permanent resident status without the applications being rejected on the basis of the grounds of inadmissibility for which relief was granted.
While the above changes are mostly welcome (there is some controversy in requiring that a permanent residence application be refused before one can apply for Ministerial Relief, especially given how long permanent residence applications can take to process) the fact remains that the biggest issue in Ministerial Relief applications is the processing times. The biggest obstacle appears to be the requirement that the Minister personally sign off on granting Ministerial Relief.
Previously, the Government of Canada has taken the position that because of the Minister’s many duties and responsibilities, the Minister should not be subject to any timeline whatsoever in rendering determinations in respect of such requests. In Tameh v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), however, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court strongly disagreed, and opened his decision by writing that:
Ministers of the Crown are typically very busy people. But they are not so busy that they can take as many years as they see fit to respond to requests made pursuant to validly enacted legislation, by persons seeking determinations that are important to them. At some point, they will have an obligation to provide a response.
He went on to state that the Minister must process Ministerial Relief applications “within a reasonable period of time.” What constitutes a “reasonable amount of time” will depend on the actual matrix of a case.
Even in Tameh, the Federal Court accepted that taking several years to process Ministerial Relief applications could be reasonable. In light of the fact that people who receive Ministerial Relief essentially need to apply for permanent residency twice, and given that the Government of Canada has now standardized the process, processing times will hopefully come down dramatically.