Government lawyers want to reverse a series of recent decisions by Nova Scotia Citizenship Judge Ann Janega, and are urging the Federal Court to sanction a judicial review of the cases.
According to the lawyers, the nine citizenship applications approved by Janega do not meet residency requirements.
One of the cases is that of an airline pilot from Nigeria, Akintomiya Oladapo Ojo, who has been living in Prince Edward Island with his family since 2007. Ojo applied for Canadian citizenship in 2013 even though he did not fulfil the residency requirement of spending at least three out of the last four years in Canada.
Federal lawyer Melissa Chan believes that Ojo’s citizenship application should not have been approved by Janeja since he had spent less than half the time required in Canada to meet the residency threshold.
Janega, who was appointed to the federal citizenship commission in December 2013, granted Ojo’s application last November, noting, “He has demonstrated that Canada is the place where the applicant ‘regularly, normally or customarily lives’ and has a centralized mode of existence in Canada.”
Ojo’s family continues to live in PEI while he is working on getting the Transport Canada airline pilot license which will allow him to work in Canada. His job required him to spend 12-week stints in West Africa, because of which he fell short of the Canadian residency requirement.
Ojo’s case has received sympathy from Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley, who has called it a ‘Catch-22’ situation, and reserved his decision for a later date. He even asked a federal lawyer if Ojo should have instead taken a job at McDonald’s to fulfil the criteria for citizenship.
Immigration experts say they had never seen so many cases presided over by one judge coming under federal review all at once. Citizenship judges usually assess applications that are not clear-cut, and experts say it is unusual for federal lawyers to appeal the decisions.
“It’s quite uncommon to see them clustered in a bunch and have a number of cases dealing with the same judge, over the same legal issue, go forward at the same time,” says one immigration expert from Halifax.
“I have not seen a cluster of cases like this before. Cases are usually very spread out over the calendar, as they come in, as they get decided.”
Besides Ojo’s case, the federal government is also reviewing eight more citizenship cases, which they allege have been judged by Janega based on “erroneous” findings of fact.
The current law allows citizenship judges to, in certain circumstances, approve citizenship applications of those immigrants who might not meet all criteria but have demonstrated a strong attachment to Canada. But under new rules the judges will lose a part of their case-by-case discretion.
New citizenship rules have made it tougher for newcomers to get citizenship, with residency requirement alone increasing to four out of six years. The rules also require applicants to be “physically present” in Canada during this residency duration.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the new rules have been designed to discourage “citizens of convenience” who take advantage of Canada’s government benefits while residing most of the time outside the country. CIC also claims that the rules will help immigrants better integrate into Canadian society.