Last week, Paris Hilton found out the public expects the law to treat the rich and famous the same way as it does the average Joe.
For the wayward heiress, that meant her 45-day sentence could not be served in just three days, even if her lawyers could use her celebrity to make it happen.
Our society wants trials held in public so we can ensure Lady Justice decides each case without regard to a person’s fame, stature or power.
When our minister of immigration decides which foreign criminal gets to enter Canada and which does not, there is no such oversight.
Since Canadians want our laws to be “tough” on foreign criminals, we passed immigration laws that render inadmissible just about everyone who has run afoul of a foreign or domestic law. If we want to exempt someone from these rules, then the minister of immigration is authorized to direct they be issued a temporary resident permit (TRP) to overcome their inadmissibility
Who gets one and who doesn’t, and the reasoning behind such decisions, is considered confidential, so the public cannot oversee this very important ministerial function.
Although the process unfolds behind closed doors, it is no secret that rock stars, movie stars, professional athletes, etc., are shoo-ins for these passes. After all, we wouldn’t have too many rock concerts in Canada if every musician who had a drug or drunk driving conviction were denied entry. But how can we be certain who, in fact, is getting the benefit of these TRPs?
By way of comparison, and in the name of accountability, the immigration department publishes on its website the travel expenses of senior employees including those of the minister. So, it was easy to learn, for example, that on Feb. 23, 2007, minister Diane Finley spent $296.62 to travel to Toronto. However, such expenses demand far less oversight than the issuance of a much-needed TRP.
Since these laws are in place to protect the public, doesn’t the public have the right to know when and why the minister admitted a foreign criminal?
Conrad Black re-entered Canada after being charged with some very serious offences. Did he get a TRP, and, if so, who authorized it? Shortly after getting out of jail, Martha Stewart was given one so she could participate in a pumpkin race. Last week, a TRP could have allowed Winnie Mandela to overcome her criminal past so she could enter Canada and speak at a fundraiser.
While these decisions may very well have been the correct ones, Canadians nonetheless should be able to ensure that TRPs are issued fairly, regardless of the person’s race, religion, fame or political connections with government of the day.
If the rules excluding criminals were more realistic, the granting of a TRP would be a rare necessity. However, our laws are so tough that even people who are not a threat to Canada are deemed inadmissible. Accordingly, if TRPs are to be the solution, then greater oversight of their issuance is needed.