What Does Bill C-51 Mean for Migration and Migrants in Canada?

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Blog | No Comments

On May 6, the House of Commons passed Bill C-51, also known as the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. The Bill amends a large number of current Canadian laws to enable information sharing between government agencies and establish a no-fly list under the authority of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. These changes will have important consequences for Canada’s immigration system.

Bill C-51 has four important impacts which make the entry of migrants into, or their exit from, Canada more difficult. As reported in the media, Part 1 of the Bill makes major changes to the definition of activities which “undermine the security of Canada” (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 2). This expansive definition includes any interference in Canada’s defence, border operations or economic stability, serious harm to a person or property due to its association with Canada or even “undermining the security of another state”. According to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which governs Canada’s immigration system, a migrant may be inadmissible on security grounds by being a danger to Canada’s security (Justice Canada, 2015a, 34d). The new definition therefore provides large leeway in rejection of applications or refusal of entry for migrants who wish to come to Canada.

The second major impact of Bill C-51 relates to information collection, sharing, and disclosure. Led by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Bill enables a variety of agencies to gather and store information on migrants if they believe such persons are a threat to public security (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 5-10). The Canadian Revenue Agency, for example, may be compelled to share taxpayer information of migrants or Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to release information on passport/travel documents to designated federal departments and agencies (Parliament of Canada, 2015, Schedule 3). This information is particularly important since it could be used to justify the detainment or arrest of a migrant suspected as a security threat (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 16).

A migrant who is suspected as a security threat can have their freedom of movement severely restricted, meaning that they effectively cannot enter or leave Canada. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness can add a migrant, if suspected as a terrorist threat, to a proposed no-fly list, requiring additional screening prior to boarding any plane in- or out-bound of the country, or prohibiting boarding at all (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 8.1). Any threat to Canadian security, moreover, could be interpreted under the Criminal Code as a terrorist under the new definition (Justice Canada, 2015b, 83.01.b-c). A migrant would not be aware of their presence on the no-fly list until they attempted to board a plane (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 15.1). If reported to the legal system as being suspected of committing a terrorism-related offence, a migrant can have their passport or travel documents removed, their movement restricted, or even be forced to wear an electronic tracking device (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 16.6).

Bill C-51 continues the trend of increasing ministerial authority in the immigration system. The implementation of immigration policy in Canada has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. In the past, changes were few and made through acts of parliament. Today, great authority is delegated to federal departments and agencies, primarily CIC, to make changes as they see fit. In my work at the International Migration Research Centre in conjunction with Dr. Jenna Hennebry, we identified no less than 111 new immigration policies since 2002 compared to 19 during 1867-2001. The vast majority of these new changes were Ministerial Instructions from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a special authority of CIC to make changes to the immigration system without need of parliamentary approval (Justice Canada, 2015a, 87.3). The Bill broadens the scope of CIC’s authority with respect to inadmissibility criteria of immigrants and information sharing, allowing further policy changes with reduced public scrutiny.

Enforcement is last major important change made by Bill C-51 on migration into or out of Canada. The scope of the Bill is global; any act deemed in contravention of the law in Canada would be an indictable offence in Canada (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 4-5). This indictment would occur upon arrival of the migrant at a port of entry in Canada. For migrants inside Canada, the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Citizenship and Immigration could intervene in court proceedings involving migrants to introduce or remove evidence pertaining to Canadian security (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 52-55). This evidence may be concealed from the public or even the migrant, and, in some cases, used as the basis for a decision on a criminal or immigration decision (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 16; 60). Immigration decisions made or in processing at the time of the intervention would be indefinitely delayed (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 60). Migrants outside of Canada may find themselves unable to enter the country or, when they do, arrested or detained for a period of up to a year (Parliament of Canada, 2015, 17.4; 25). These changes make entry into or exit out of Canada more difficult for migrants.


Bill C-51: Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. 1st Reading, January 30, 2015, 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, 2013-2015. Parliament of Canada, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=7917897&File=4.

Justice Canada. (2015a). Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (S.C. 2001, c.27). Government of Canada. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/I-2.5.pdf.

Justice Canada. (2015b). Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46). Government of Canada. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-46.pdf.

About the Blog Author

Keegan Williams is a doctoral candidate in the Waterloo-Laurier Graduate Program in Geography at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research focuses on international migration, political geography and statistical methodology. Keegan’s thesis explores how states are reconfiguring spaces at sea to manage the movement of people by boat and shift borders in the Central Mediterranean Sea under the supervision of Dr. Alison Mountz. He has worked as a research assistant with the International Migration Research Centre in Waterloo, Ontario, since 2012.

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