Critics blast Conrad Black's planned return to Canada
The revelation that disgraced media baron Conrad Black will be allowed to return to Canada upon his release from a U.S. prison prompted outrage in the House of Commons Tuesday from Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.
Mulcair demanded to know why Canada has granted a temporary resident permit to Black – a man with a criminal record who gave up his Canadian citizenship more than a decade ago.
Black paid a $200 fee in March for a one-year resident permit, valid from early this month.
Black is expected to be released from a Miami prison this week after serving about half of the remainder of his 13-month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice. He gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001 in order to get a seat in Britain's House of Lords.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told Mulcair that privacy rules prevented him from answering questions about Black's return. He said such decisions are made by citizenship and immigration officials, not politicians.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons, Kenney did say that he had been anticipating a request from Black to return to Canada.
"In this case, I thought there may be an application forthcoming so I instructed my officials last February to deal with any such application on their own without any input from myself or my office, to ensure that it was handled completely independently," Kenney said.
Temporary resident permits are issued to those who are considered inadmissible to Canada, but have a "compelling reason" to be in the country, according to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.
For a permit to be granted, the applicant's need to enter Canada "must outweigh the health or safety risks to Canadian society," the site states.
Kenney said that citizenship and immigration officials approve more than 10,000 temporary resident permits for foreign nationals every year.
He said it's not uncommon to grant such permits to people with criminal records, if they were found guilty of non-violent crimes and if they're considered to be at a low risk of re-offending.
Kenney said officials scrutinize resident permit applications on a case-by-case basis using strict criteria. Family ties to Canada and humanitarian concerns are also considered in the application process, he said.
During question period Tuesday, Mulcair said there appear to be two sets of rules, citing the case of a man who was not allowed back into Canada after serving 30 days in a U.S. prison for aggravated battery, despite the fact that he had a wife and children here.
Gary Freeman, who claimed he shot and injured a Chicago police officer in 1969 in self-defence, was denied a temporary residence permit.
"It's a clear case of a double standard: one for an American black man from Chicago, another for a British white man coming out of a federal penitentiary," Mulcair said.
But a Toronto immigration lawyer said she does not believe Black benefitted from any favouritism.
"I think we can agree that somebody who used violence in the past is a different case than someone who committed a financial crime," Chantal Desloges told CTV's Power Play on Tuesday.
"Certainly while people may have a distaste for Mr. Black … nobody can argue that he's dangerous to anyone," she said.
Black's 2007 conviction stemmed from his business dealings while he ran the media empire Hollinger International Inc. He was originally sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail, but released from a Florida prison in 2010 pending an appeal.
A Chicago judge denied Black's appeal last year and ordered him back in jail for another 13 months.
Black has said in media interviews that he would like to return to Toronto, where he and wife Barbara Amiel own a home.
Desloges said it's likely that Black will apply for permanent resident status once he's in Canada. Amiel, who is a Canadian citizen, can sponsor him.
If Black is granted permanent residency, all he has to do is live in Canada for one year before he can apply to get his Canadian citizenship back, Desloges said.