Immigration Law: Consequences of Criminality – Interview with Canadian Immigration Lawyer Mark Holthe – Transcript

It was my pleasure and honour to have been asked to speak to my colleagues at the CBA Immigration Subsection here in Calgary yesterday. The topic was the consequences of criminality which are manifold, and while the Immigration law in this country prioritizes security and enforcement, all is not lost nor is removal a foregone conclusion even in the event of a conviction in Canada, or a conviction or charge outside of Canada. After the speech, I sat down with my friend and colleague, Mark Holthe, an accomplished and experienced immigration lawyer for an interview which he will be posting on his popular immigration podcast. The transcript of that interview follows.

Mark Holthe:                     I’m here with my good friend and colleague, Raj Sharma. Raj, thanks for joining me.

Raj Sharma:                        My pleasure.

Mark Holthe:                     We’re testing this out with our digital recorder here. I usually do these interviews via Skype call, but I’ve got high hopes that the audio is going to be great regardless. Thanks for putting up with me, Raj, and happy to have you with us. Today, Raj has agreed to come in and talk a little bit about criminal inadmissibility and some of the consequences that can flow when people get themselves into trouble here in Canada, but before we get into that I want to take a moment to share a little bit of background on Raj, and where he’s come from professionally, and where he’s at.

Raj Sharma’s a lawyer and founding partner of Stewart Sharma Harsanyi, one of Western Canada’s largest dedicated immigration law firms. He received his Masters of Law from Osgoode Hall and is a former Refugee Protection Officer with the Immigration and Refugee Board. Now, I’ll get to the question of how you got into immigration and I’m going to go out on a limb and think that that probably influenced it a little bit.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right.

Mark Holthe:                     With over a hundred reported decisions, Raj has indicated to me, he frequently appears before all divisions, as well as the Federal Court, the court of appeal, and has also appeared before every level of court in Alberta. Raj regularly speaks on immigration matters in the media, and he’s been a panelist and speaker at the CBA National Immigration Conference in 2014 and ’15. He also writes a lot on immigration, multiculturalism, and diversity. Recently he was the recipient of the Legal Aid of Alberta’s Access to Justice award and has been recognized as well as one of Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40. Raj is an extremely accomplished individual and I know that he won’t plug himself, so I’ll do that for him, but whenever I have a difficult case with respect to enforcement, or appeal work, or anything like that I send it to him and his firm. Once again, thanks for joining, Raj.

Raj Sharma:                        Thanks, Mark. I’m East Indian, or as I like to describe ourselves as brown, so no matter how accomplished I am, obviously given that I’m not a doctor I’m probably a disappointment to my parents.

Mark Holthe:                     Well, we’ll have to get your parents on to come back and I’m almost positive with everything that you’ve done, at least within our industry and how you’ve distinguished yourself, that there wouldn’t be a parent on this planet that wouldn’t be proud of you. Enough of the feel good stuff, fill us in. How did you get into immigration?

Raj Sharma:                        I never intended to get into immigration law. I did my JD at the University of Alberta. While I was there, I didn’t take any immigration courses, immigration just wasn’t even on my radar. I summered at a large law firm here in Calgary, Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer. I didn’t like the large law firm milieu so to speak. Then I spent some time with Dennis Edney, who’s now the lawyer for Omar Khadr. Then I also clerked up the Alberta Court of Appeal and ended up doing my articles with the Federal Department of Justice. I think I had at that point an understanding that I would be somewhat closer to a barrister or a litigator than I would be in terms a solicitor.

There was one [immigration] case that I handled and my mentor at that time at the Federal Department of Justice was Glennys Bembridge, who is now a Federal Court Justice with a different last name [McVeigh], but there was this one case and it involved a family, they’re doctors, and their son had autism. I was the articling student, so I had to put together the affidavit supporting the officer’s finding of medical inadmissibility. I found that really, really interesting, but I kept saying to my mentor at that why can’t we just consent on this file, the family’s really deserving, and ultimately I think that the family did get relief. After that, I’d met my wife at Winnipeg at a wedding …

Mark Holthe:                     I’m going to jump in.

Raj Sharma:                        Yes.

Mark Holthe:                     You said, “Why can’t we just consent to this?” What was his response?

Raj Sharma:                        It was a strange response. The response was just like, “Oh, we just have to …”

Mark Holthe:                     Carry it through.

Raj Sharma:                        It was more like it was like, “Oh, the client instructions …” I’m like, “What client? We’re the government.” I was explained that different departments are actually clients of the Department of Justice. I found that very odd because I don’t think that’s true. I think that a client/solicitor relationship doesn’t encapsulate departments of government being clients of each other. I found that odd.

In any way, I’d met my wife in Winnipeg at a wedding, my cousin’s wedding. She was in Calgary, born and raised in Calgary, so I needed a way to get to Calgary somehow, so I was applying for jobs in Calgary and I got this called up to do this test or examination at the Immigration Refugee Board. I was offered this position to become a Refugee Protection Officer. That’s where in fact I met my partner, Bjorn Harsanyi, so we both started off as Refugee Protection Officers, hearings officers in 2002.

Mark Holthe:                     Obviously that makes a pretty nice background for sliding over to the other side. It gives you an opportunity at least having worked on the other side to get a better understanding of how the government operates, how the department operates, a little bit more inside to the minds of what goes through a decision maker on that side. I have to assume that that helped you as you moved over to the other side with your advocacy on behalf of clients.

Raj Sharma:                        I think so and I think that, and again there’s this tradition of this entrepreneurial tradition within my community, and of course my second and third languages also helped, there was a burgeoning South Asian community in Calgary at that time. Really, it was timing, and so Calgary’s just really good to me. I’d moved to Calgary at about the right time and I went into private practice at about the right time, right before Calgary took off, so to speak. 2004 I started my practice, late 2004 I started my practice. At that time, just trying to take whatever you can get, so again, I wasn’t really centered in immigration.

Then there was this legal aid file, this three hour legal aid file for criminal inadmissibility. It involved a foreign national in Canada accused or there was an allegation of weapons, … gun smuggling, and weapons trafficking. At that point I thought, “Well, this is a foregone conclusion.” I looked at the IRPA and I said, “Well, this is just, there’s no way out here,” but my partner at that time pushed me a little bit and so I looked at it, I looked at it again. I put in far more hours than the three hours allotted to me, and low and behold I was able to succeed. I think that was the first time that I was in the media, that was the first time I was on TV or the newspapers, at least when it came to my legal practice.

It was after that that my practice in immigration took off because it was after that that I joined Caron & Partners and then again after I left Caron & Partners there was another Vietnamese fellow, [another] fork in the road. There was another client, Jackie Tran, and that file I took on in 2009. Both of these cases probably had something to do with the direction of my practice.

Mark Holthe:                     Yeah, that makes perfect sense because I think for most of us business immigration lawyers, I guess that’s how I classify myself, when there’s a sticky situation I get uncomfortable pretty quick. I have a tendency to try to take the path of easiest and least resistance with my clients. If there’s push back from the government, I tend to try and say, “Do we need to refile? Do we need to rethink our strategy?” Sometimes it’s faster to just accept the stupid decision that you get from an officer and then just try to satisfy whatever they want, and refile, and get it approved, but there’s a number of situations where people get themselves into a corner where they really don’t have a nice, easy solution other than taking the government on.

Raj Sharma:                        I think .. it depends on what you’re facing. Now, in your case you have to solve a sort of business problem. Prior to 2009, before Tran, I was actually doing hundreds of LMIA’s, or LMO’s that they were called at the time, so I was representing major corporations, I was getting fat, I was just doing pure solicitor work, and I think again timing came to my rescue because once I got into the Tran file, which necessitated three different Federal Court applications, [emergency] stay application, IAD, ID, and right about that same time the economy in Calgary sort of collapsed, so to speak. If you’re a one trick pony, that is you’re only doing one aspect of immigration, you could be susceptible to that sort of change.

I was very lucky in the sense of I did quite a bit of solicitor [and] business [immigration] work, but given that strong litigation year we were able to just basically switch our practices over to a litigation aspect. In business [immigration], you’re tasked with making sure that the business runs smoothly. Where it’s an individual facing loss of status, it’s a zero sum game. In business there may be not, it’s not a zero sum game, but in someone facing removal or deportation to a country that they haven’t been in since they were a kid, it’s a zero sum game which is you win or you lose, so at that point you start bringing out all the arrows in your quiver and you’re doing whatever you can for your client because it is, for them to some degree, it’s life or death in the sense of it’s a death of a relationship, it’s a death of your relationship to Canada, and it’s a death of your status in this country.

Mark Holthe:                     Let’s shift to the topic at hand. I think a lot of our listeners, this isn’t something that they’re very familiar with because I think genuinely people try to avoid committing crimes in Canada and getting themselves removed.

Raj Sharma:                        Right, and we know for a fact that immigrants or first generation Canadians have a lower crime rate than native born Canadians, so you’re absolutely right. Most of your listeners and our clients, most of them, the vast majority enjoy a lower criminal rate or criminality than Canadians would.

Mark Holthe:                     Yes, absolutely. As those that are listening in here, as I introduced when I started the podcast here, the interview with Raj Sharma, I indicated that we’re going to be talking a little bit about criminal inadmissibility, so Raj, can you give us a little bit of an introduction? When we talk about criminal inadmissibility, how does that play into this world of immigration?

Raj Sharma:                        Immigration is about, and notwithstanding whatever we hear these days from Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, there are no such thing as truly open borders. A country will always dictate who enters and who remains, so there was a case that went to the supreme court of Canada involving a woman actually — most of the cases I deal with actually do involve men — but Medovarski involved a woman and Medovarski reaffirmed that concept that non-citizens do not have an unqualified right to enter or remain inside of Canada.

When we look at criminality, the threshold for removing non-citizens from Canada is spelled out in intricate detail in the Immigration Refugee Protection Act and there is a bifurcation, i.e., it’s somewhat harder to remove permanent residents from Canada and quite a bit easier to remove foreign nationals from Canada. When we talk about foreign nationals, we’re talking about students and those here on work permits or those that are visitors in Canada. When we talk about permanent residence, obviously those are individuals that have applied for permanent residency, they’re not citizens yet, and so we have a paradigm, a very detailed framework that deals with non-citizens that get in trouble with the law.

Mark Holthe:                     When we talk about getting in trouble with the law, does the Immigration Act or the government, do they view certain crimes more seriously than others? How is that distinction set up?

Raj Sharma:                        No, and maybe they should. That would have been a proper starting point. Maybe you should have been involved in [drafting] this legislation or these laws, but unfortunately the distinction of the severity of a crime is based on the maximum [potential] term of imprisonment or the actual incarceral term that’s imposed. When we talk about prison or incarceral terms, we’re including conditional sentences or sentences to be served in the community, so the distinction is not between the type of offense, someone that’s convicted of a white collar offense such as fraud could face removal just as easily or perhaps more easily than someone accused or charged with simple assault.

Mark Holthe:                     Even if an offense, let’s say it’s a hybrid offense, so it could proceed summarily or via indictment, the person that is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for that offense versus someone that’s sentenced to six months under the eyes of the lovely immigration authorities, it’s irrelevant.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right, and it also doesn’t take into account your length of time in Canada, so you could be a permanent resident and you could be here since you were two or three, and you could be [here] thirty years, and you could have an issue. Of course, this is the fragility of the human condition, we all make mistakes, so it doesn’t take into account the length of time that you’re in Canada…, nor does it take into account the nature of the offense, whether it’s violent or whether it’s non-violent. It’s a blunt instrument unfortunately, Section 36 in particularly.

Mark Holthe:                     If you have an individual that’s committed a crime in Canada it’s pretty clear we know what the offense is, we know what the conviction was, there’s not a lot of debate about it, but what happens if someone wants to enter Canada or comes to Canada and has a conviction that occurred over seas or in another country, how does Canada treat those?

Raj Sharma:                        Those things get complicated really quickly because different countries have different legal systems and different countries have different standards in terms of the … You could have a situation [if] you’re from China. Now, China has a 99.9% conviction rate.

Mark Holthe:                     Wow, maybe I won’t ask too many questions as to how that justice system plays out for those people accused, but …

Raj Sharma:                        I mean, so when we start making equivalent, or making offenses, or acts that individuals have done outside of Canada, and we have to somehow try and make them equivalent to offenses in Canada, those things get tricky really, really quickly. That’s one subset of what we do.[But] I just keep getting reminded, even this morning, had a client applied on the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program, skilled individual, excellent English, everything’s fantastic, no criminal record whatsoever, applied on the ANP, got the nomination, applied for the PR forms to [CPC] Sydney. We got the passport request two days ago, three days ago, problem. Last week after a birthday party or someone’s party, one in the morning, [he’s] charged with impaired driving.

Those are the sort of simple, understandable criminality because I think some politicians paint criminals as this broad brush, but criminals are no different than [you or I], it’s just there’s one incorrect decision. I think impaired driving is like that, this is impaired driving, could result in no jail time whatsoever, probably will result in a fine if he ever gets convicted, and a driving suspension. Won’t spend a day in jail, but that’s a hybrid offense and that [a conviction] makes him [as a foreign national] inadmissible.

That’s where I feel a lot of sympathy because you’re seeing literally in front of you the end of a dream and you’re seeing a person that for all other purposes would be an ideal addition to Canada’s multicultural fabric. It’s not really the media, it’s not my cases that hit the news or the front pages that really give a proper idea of my practice. It really is those guys that are within an inch of permanent residency and we wouldn’t consider them to be criminals, but of course they’ve made a grievous and horrendous error by drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car.

Mark Holthe:                     Let’s carry that through, I think that would be interesting. An individual who is in that type of a situation, this happens to them. What can they expect?

Raj Sharma:                        Number one, if they come to me my first response to them, and there may be some sort of false hope, or some sort of strange fever dream that they’re existing under, or they may get some sort of strange advice from someone, or a friend, or a cousin, and there may be a suggestion as to just somehow let it ride out and CIC may not figure this out. My first advice to them is that if they want my assistance, that we will be disclosing the charge and the encounter with the police immediately. That’s the first thing that should happen and one they agree to these sort of terms, then we can start figuring out a solution.

Now, the solution of course, and I kind of outlined that earlier today in my speech here, which is now start looking into conviction options or post conviction options. These conviction options, number one, beat out the charge in trial, because the system is binary, because it’s a zero sum game, we can’t now … I think criminal lawyers and immigration lawyers that dabble in criminal law, there’s no options now. You actually have to go and try to beat this out, you got to find, even if your client is factually guilty, you got to find a way to make him legally not guilty because if he’s not guilty, that doesn’t lead to any criminal consequences.

If it’s an offense, a domestic violence type of situation, and a peace bond is in the offering, take a peace bond. A peace bond doesn’t have any criminal consequences either. There may be possibilities for some offenses for absolute or conditional discharges, take it, take it. That bird in the hand, we can safeguard that immigration at that point. In terms of a DUI, we’re really looking to these curative discharges now and that’s one option as well.

Mark Holthe:                     Maybe you can explain what that is. What is a curative discharge?

Raj Sharma:                        Curative discharge involves a process by which there is a guilt or there is factual guilt and there’s again…. A curative discharge we’ve used where there’s indication of alcoholism [as a] medical condition. If we can establish that, then the judge may see fit to grant a curative discharge. If that happens, then there is no criminal record that could waylay an immigration application or application for permanent residence. That’s not to say, by the way, that that won’t lead to other issues, i.e., you may still need a waiver to get into the US, but the curative discharge is something that we explore for impaired driving, and conditional, and absolute where ever possible [for other offences].

Now, bear in mind there’s a whole host of offenses that result in mandatory minimum sentences and so we can’t do any number of these things for those types of offenses, but those are some of the arrows in our quiver in terms of post conviction. Where ever possible, if you are facing a charge, either you’re a permanent resident or a foreign national, try to get immigration lawyer involved alongside your criminal lawyer. There may be options to get positive sentencing remarks or positive remarks that are spoken into the record. Those transcripts can come in handy.

If you are convicted, if you are sentenced, it’s important that the client demonstrate remorse, and rehabilitation, engage in programming, and try to turn that life around. If we can demonstrate that, there are some options, which is that that initiating document to establish criminal inadmissibility, the Section 44 report, there is a scope for the officer not to write that report. Again, when I started down this journey I didn’t realize the scope of discretion that’s in the act. There is significant discretion. An officer may choose not to write a report against a permanent resident or foreign national and that may be the first, and maybe the last, real line of defense for a lot of these individuals. We’ve seen that happen, we’ve seen permanent residents, I’ve represented permanent residents, young guys, a technical armed robbery, four years plus sentence …

Mark Holthe:                     A technical armed robbery.

Raj Sharma:                        A technical armed robbery…

Mark Holthe:                     I love this terminology, technical versus a real, is there any distinction there?

Raj Sharma:                        Let me tell you and you tell me whether that terminology or that splitting of hairs is appropriate. A guy got fired from a job at a liquor store, was angry, young guy, and decides to rob the liquor store as some sort of payback, buys a gun that is not operational, just this old, rusted out gun. There’s no bullets in it, it’s inoperable. Goes into the store, people see the gun, so they flee, so he goes to the cashier, he tries to open the cash box, is unable to do so, and runs out without stealing anything. Misfortune added to his idiocy, there’s an off duty police officer who immediately arrests him outside the liquor store, so this guy goes through this process and his criminal lawyer after wasting tens of thousands of dollars of his money, pleads him guilty to an offense that includes a mandatory minimum sentence.

At that point, and I met the judge actually afterwards and the judge said, “Hey, I wonder why that lawyer did that because if the lawyer challenged that on a charter round of cruel and unusual punishment, that that mandatory minimum sentence in this case offends the Charter, I would have granted it to him.” This lawyer tells this guy and his family, “That’s it, game over, you will be deported,” but of course that’s not actually the end of it. [So] I do stand by my characterization of that as a technical armed robbery because this guy, he’s more of an idiot than he was a criminal.

This family went through a lot, this family, his sister in fact, who lived with was married, [her] husband had some mental issues, and she was attacked actually. The police attended and in fact that man was actually brought down by the CPS, so the family went through a lot. We put all this together, put the sentencing transcripts in, the judge, they got a really compassionate judge who said a lot of things into that record. [The client] was out on bail for four years, and upgraded himself, and it really was an ill advised decision. Ultimately, we had an understanding officer. She ended up interviewing him over the telephone, I think, at the Remand institution, and [she ultimately] decided not to write the report.

Mark Holthe:                     I guess that’s the beauty of this is the discretion that’s laced into the immigration process.

Raj Sharma:                        They won’t lightly do it, but if you’ve got the goods .. it can be done. We had another case, we had another individual originally from Hong Kong, came over as a kid, got into some gambling issues, and then got into selling drugs to pay off some of those debts. Served his time, was a model prisoner, and his entire family was here, we set out everything. In this case we asked the Report not to be written, it was written. We challenged the Report at the Federal Court, we received approval or leave on one, it went back, and ultimately a Minister’s Delegate decided to issue a warning letter. That’s drug trafficking [involving a “hard” drug] and that was again significant, so these things can be done for the right individual.

You will have people that have turned their lives around and you can see, you can tell. There’s no faking this because it’s a year’s long journey. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and thankfully our officers, what I’ve seen is that we have fair individuals, open minded individuals, and that’s not to say that I haven’t lost on something that I think I should have won, I have, but even that decision, at least that individual had an open mind. I think our [CBSA/CIC] officers by and large are open minded individuals.

Again, this may be the last line of defense for a lot of these individuals because there may not be an appeal to the ID anymore because the atrociously entitled Fast Removal of Foreign Criminals Act has amended the IRPA, so permanent residents that have been sentenced to more than six months, including conditional sentences, don’t have an appeal to the IAD anymore. Whatever they’ve got, they’ve got to address that Section 44 report, that procedural fairness process, maybe Federal Court, maybe a TRP, maybe an H&C, a humanitarian and compassion application, but without that IAD backup, options are limited.

Mark Holthe:                     That’s really interesting because like I said, from my perspective, someone who does not do a lot of that type of work, very little in fact, I see walls, absolute walls sometimes for people that I can’t see past, whereas individuals such as yourself who have a little bit of a broader perspective, and have actually gone and looked behind the wall have realized that sometimes there’s ways through. The message that I got, especially, and just to clarify for the listeners, Raj and I are just meeting at the Canadian Bar Association Office here in Calgary after Raj gave a presentation [to the CBA Immigration Subsection] on this similar topic. One of the messages that came through loud and clear is that maybe people give up too easy, especially counsel, us.

I put us under the bus in many circumstances because sometimes we’re just too willing to roll over. We need to take a serious look at what the possibilities, are and not be afraid to question and challenge an allegation that’s being made against our clients. Even in circumstances where based on a clear reading of the law there’s a certain outcome that’s supposed to flow doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t discretion to go around that and that there isn’t some compassion laced into the system.

Raj Sharma:                        I learned this relatively recently. I went to visit my eighty-five, ninety years old grandmother in Edmonton. I didn’t learn until much later — my grandfather died, so my grandmother came over with my youngest uncle to Canada to her children here. None of us kids actually knew that our uncle was actually her sister’s son. Her sister had died, so she had taken my uncle in. I guess his dad wasn’t interested in caring for him, so I learned this later that Uncle is not actually our uncle, he’s actually my mom’s cousin. …I knew that there was some immigration issues that he was going through early on when he came, so my grandmother explained it to me, because there was no adoption papers and because my grandmother I think is incapable of lying, she’s very straight out that we have no adoption papers, but he has nowhere else to be other than with me.

They battled for like three or four years to try and get my uncle to be here [and succeeded]. Ultimately CIC indicated, “Well, he can’t be here, there’s no adoption papers, we have no consent from his guardian, or his biological father, or whatever the case may be.” We’re from this small mining town in BC and [the family was helped] by an immigration lawyer out of Vancouver. Ultimately my uncle got what was then called a minister’s permit, which is now we call a TRP, a temporary resident permit. When I learned that I was, “Well, I guess that’s what I do.” So I [do] think people minimize or perhaps don’t understand the scope of discretion that’s available. There are roadblocks, there’s hurdles, [but as my personal history demonstrates] there’s very few problems without an absolute solution.

That being said, if you are unmitigated, incorrigible criminal, no officer’s going to give you the benefit of whatever doubt there may be, but there are these avenues that can be pursued and there is a sort of system. You got to work through that system, work with the criminal lawyers, put your client in the best possible light, take advantage of any little nook, cranny, any little shaft of light, and you might be able to widen that crack a little bit for your client to step through, but yes, very few things are foregone conclusions and it’s our job as counsel to put the best possible foot forward for the client.

Again, in my twelve years of practicing immigration law there’s very few actual incorrigible [criminals]. I said this before … that hard cases make bad law and outliers shouldn’t make the world a harder place for the vast majority of people that simply want to come to Canada and give their families a better life. These outliers don’t reflect the vast majority of cases that we deal with. The vast majority of cases we deal with are human fragility, human error, understandable mistakes.

Mark Holthe:                     You mentioned this concept of a TRP, a temporary resident permit, which is now the new version of a Minister’s Permit.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right.

Mark Holthe:                     In some circumstances, individuals will have appeal rights when there is criminality involved and they’re facing some harsh consequences, they have appeal rights and other times they don’t. You had talked a little bit about the discretion that an officer has to write that report to refer it or not. Can you maybe clarify that just a little bit for counsel who maybe have individuals that are at the stage where the consequences could be pretty nasty? Maybe there is no appeal right and you indicated that sometimes an officer does have some discretion whether or not to write it.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right. That Section 44 report, so let’s say there’s a conviction in Canada. Establishing that would be pretty straightforward, pretty easy. What counsel can do is respond to a procedural fairness letter, say, “Please don’t write the Section 44 report and here’s why,” and these are going to be [modeled on] the typical Section 25 type of application or submission, so time in Canada, establishment in Canada, those ties here, the family ties here, hardship, or adverse conditions, or challenges upon return, children that are affected by the decision, the circumstances leading to the events, any indicia of remorse, rehabilitation, insight.

All those should be placed squarely before the officer and you say to the officer, “Don’t write this report, please. The guy’s been here for a long time, this is a singular mistake, the criminal record is limited or none other than this lapse in judgment.” If the officer writes the report, its then has to be referred under Section 44 sub 2 by a Minister’s Delegate. If it’s referred, for a permanent resident that means it goes to the immigration division. If it’s criminality or serious criminality in Canada, that’s Section 44 sub 2, that becomes a removal order for a foreign national. Again, there’s less options for foreign nationals here.

If it’s referred to the immigration division, not much you can do if it’s a conviction in Canada. The ID is not going to look beyond the certificate of conviction. If it’s a conviction outside of Canada or an allegation that some offense has occurred outside of Canada, that would be equivalent to serious offenses inside of Canada. Then the immigration proceeding becomes a substantive proceeding. That’s when it takes on some degree of significance. You are then going to start talking about foreign legal laws, standard of proof, burden of proof, and at that point you probably should be retaining a foreign legal expert. It gets complicated really quickly at that point.

After a removal order is issued, post removal order options are limited. A TRP can overcome or allow you to remain in Canada notwithstanding a removal order. An H&C can do the same. One option might be to get a TRP pending record suspension for a conviction inside Canada, for example, if there’s eligibility.

Mark Holthe:                     If an officer chooses to write the report when you’ve made your submissions, can you challenge that part before it gets to the immigration?

Raj Sharma:                        Yes, you can challenge both the writing of a Report to the Federal Court and the referral of the report to the Federal Court. You probably won’t do that if the person concerned is a permanent resident and has an appeal right to the IAD, there’s no sense in that, but if you don’t have that appeal, you’re left with these limited options, so you’re going to buy some more time. By going to the Federal Court either you buy some more time, it goes back, a different officer might come to a different conclusion, or you simply might need time for record suspension.

Mark Holthe:                     Just buying the time, interesting.

Raj Sharma:                        Might be one because you need strategic depth, so strategic depth is usually time, more time in Canada gives you more options.

Mark Holthe:                     Define strategic depth for those who are not following. What are you talking about when you use that terminology?

Raj Sharma:                        Strategic depth I was thinking more in terms of war. If you’ve got a country like Russia and you want to invade Russia, and Napoleon and Hitler both tried that. One of the problems is that Russia has a lot of depth, so you can invade, and invade, and keep invading, and the Russians will have time to mount a response. You can contrast that with, for example, Pakistan, which is thin waisted [country] geographically speaking, there’s not a lot of strategic depth there.

If we were to apply that terminology to immigration in Canada, then I would say strategic depth would be time. A lot of time, we don’t have time, and so give me some time, give me enough time and I can do quite a bit. You need time to marshal resources, to file Federal Court obligations, to file TRP applications, to file H&C applications, to maybe get a rehabilitation application in, so time is our strategic depth and most of the time we don’t have it.

Mark Holthe:                     Yes, that is abundantly clear within our practice. I really appreciate that overview and the insight, it was awesome. Let’s talk about some practice tips maybe. If counsel finds themselves in these types of positions dealing with an issue, a potential criminal inadmissibility, what are some of the things that go through your mind right away that you’d give in terms of advice, things that people want to make sure they do every single time, or little tips or strategies? You’ve already indicated here that you want to try to buy as much time as you can, that’s obviously really important, but are there any specific things or pieces of advice that we haven’t maybe talked about yet that you’d like to share with the listeners?

Raj Sharma:                        I think definitely take a look at the IRCC or CIC policy manuals, Enforcement Manual 5, Enforcement Manual 6, take a look at the loose leaf publication by Mario Bellissimo and Genova, Immigration and Admissibility, they’ve got a handbook as well. You need to get an understanding of the facts and understand the law in a relatively quick fashion. Once you understand the context that you’re in, so if the context is a permanent resident, and there’s an offense, and you’re looking at the loss of appeal rights, and you’ve got a procedural fairness letter, and the sentence has been served, what I would do immediately is probably do ATIP requests, access to information requests, and I would try to get and reconstruct the client’s immigration history as much as possible.

That’s probably the first thing I would do is do an ATIP request. I would do FOIP requests for the correctional service documents, the institution documents, and see what’s been going on over there and try to get access to those parole documents, take a look at their recidivism rankings. I would probably get the sentencing transcripts right away, I would get any pre-sentence reports that were filed or that were before the sentencing judge right away. After I looked at that I would see if I could update that pre-sentence report by a qualified forensic expert and reassess recidivism. Then I would probably put together these substantive submissions. Again, relying on maybe the IRB, IAD, Removal Order Appeals publication. Having regard to the sort of H&C factors and Ribic and Chieu factors. I would put all that together and get it into that officer probably as soon as possible.

That’s probably what I would do and that’s probably what anyone should probably do with a PR facing removal where there’s been a length of sentence greater than six months. If it was less than six months, then obviously maybe I’d just keep my powder dry to some degree, I’d still put in something, but I’d probably just keep my powder dry for the IAD.

Mark Holthe:                     It’s pretty much they’re going to send it that way and choose not to make a decision at that stage.

Raj Sharma:                        I would think as an officer, this is not in the manuals at all, but …

Mark Holthe:                     This is what we want, Raj, yes.

Raj Sharma:                        As an officer, and I used to be an officer, but as an officer if I saw that a PR had a right of appeal, then really I would probably give short shrift to any sort of request for exercising my discretion at the 44 stage. I’d be like, “Look, let me just do my job, let me write this 44 report, and refer it, and let them make whatever submissions he needs to the IAD.” I think the relationship to discretion and the loss of appeal rights is inverse, so if there’s an appeal right, then I would narrow my own discretion. Then if there’s no appeal rights, then I would probably take and expand my scope of discretion within, of course, the ambit of the law.

Mark Holthe:                     That’s awesome and it makes perfect sense. Officers, despite how some people feel, are human beings. When they feel like someone is trying to screw the system over, they’re probably not going to give you a lot of help, but if they feel people are genuine and they’ve made a mistake, and there’s a whole host of …

Raj Sharma:                        The system, maybe the system has been narrowed against, for example, any further request for relief. I think that they’ll substantively consider.

Mark Holthe:                     That’s awesome. I really appreciate everything that you’ve shared here.

Raj Sharma:                        Any time.

Mark Holthe:                     This is fantastic. Now, as always when I have guests on, people are going to listen to this and they’re going to say, “Hey, I’ve got a friend,” or, “I know someone who’s in this exact situation,” and their counsel that they have right now is telling them that they might as well start singing ‘Happy Trails,’ and packing their bags, and they’re saying to themselves, “There must be something else that I can do.” They’re going to listen to this and they’re going to say, “Raj Sharma, how do I get a hold of this guy?” How do people track you down? What’s the best way of getting in contact with you and engaging your services?

Raj Sharma:                        For sure, Mark. Anyone can email us at, that’s, number is 403-705-3398. I think we have a toll free number, but I’m not sure what it is.

Mark Holthe:                     You can go to the website [], right, too.

Raj Sharma:                        Yes, you can definitely reach us and we’d be happy to help. It’s something that we’ve developed for the last seven, eight years or so.

Mark Holthe:                     Awesome, thanks a lot. I appreciate your time. Take care.

Raj Sharma:                        Thanks a lot, Mark.