Making Sense of Mason v Canada: When Does Violence Threaten Canadian Security?


This article was authored by Barbara Jo Caruso, founder of Corporate Immigration Law Firm (CILF) with offices in Toronto and Ottawaand a Founding Member of CILA.

In the world of Canadian immigration law, the recent Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) decision in Mason v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2023 SCC 21 has ignited considerable discussion within the legal community. This case centers on the nuanced interpretation of a seemingly straightforward provision, specifically the question of when acts of violence committed by foreign nationals in Canada can be considered threats to national security or the security of Canada. Let’s break it down.

The Appellants: Earl Mason and Seifeslam Dleiow

Earl Mason and Seifeslam Dleiow, foreign nationals residing in Canada, became central figures in this legal rollercoaster. In 2012, Mason faced charges of attempted murder and firearm-related offenses following a bar altercation that escalated to gunfire. These charges were later dropped due to legal delays. On the other hand, Dleiow faced allegations of violence against intimate partners and others in unrelated incidents. He pleaded guilty to some charges and received a conditional discharge, while other charges were stayed.

The Allegations: Inadmissibility on Security Grounds

The heart of the matter lies in the inadmissibility reports prepared against Mason and Dleiow. They were alleged to be inadmissible to Canada on “security grounds” under section 34(1)(e) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). This section deems a permanent resident or foreign national inadmissible for “engaging in acts of violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada.” Importantly, their acts of violence were not claimed to be connected to national security or the security of Canada.

The Interpretation Debate

The case proceeded to the Immigration Division (ID) for admissibility hearings. In Mason’s case, the ID ruled that section 34(1)(e) “security grounds” referred to a threat to the security of Canada or another country, requiring a clear connection between the act of violence and this threat. Since Mason’s actions lacked such a connection, section 34(1)(e) was deemed inapplicable. However, the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) disagreed. They argued that inadmissibility under section 34(1)(e) encompassed a broader concept of security, aiming to ensure the safety of individual Canadians from acts of violence. In Dleiow’s case, the ID followed the IAD’s interpretation, deeming Dleiow inadmissible and issuing a deportation order.

Legal Rollercoaster: Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal

This legal tug-of-war didn’t stop at the ID. Both cases proceeded to the Federal Court, which sided with the Appellants. The Federal Court ruled that it was unreasonable to apply section 34(1)(e) to acts of violence not connected to national security.

Subsequently the Federal Court of Appeal raised a pivotal question: Is it reasonable to interpret section 34(1)(e) without requiring proof of conduct linked to “national security” or “the security of Canada”? Surprisingly, they answered in the affirmative, supporting the broader interpretation.

The Final Verdict: A Reasonable Interpretation

Finally, the SCC stepped in to settle the debate. They concluded that the IAD’s interpretation was indeed unreasonable. To invoke section 34(1)(e), there must be a clear connection between the act of violence and national security or the security of Canada.

This decision was significant because the IAD’s interpretation could have led to the deportation of foreign nationals to countries where they might face persecution, potentially contravening Canada’s obligations under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Road Ahead

With this decision in place, administrative decision-makers under IRPA must adhere to the clarified interpretation of section 34(1)(e) going forward. They will need to discern which acts of violence genuinely qualify as threats to national security or the security of Canada.

Mason v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) serves as a stark reminder of the profound and far-reaching consequences that the interpretation of legal provisions can have. This case underscores the importance of a careful and nuanced approach in defining what constitutes a threat to a nation’s security, affirming that not all acts of violence hold the same weight or are created equal in the Canadian immigration law context.

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