Are Canadian citizens admissible to Canada?

Admissibility of Canadian citizens

Lucas, a Canadian citizen, currently lives in Brazil. He has decided to return to Canada. However, Lucas has a criminal record in Brazil. Consequently, he wonders if, as a Canadian citizen, he is admissible to Canada. He wants to know if his criminal history could ban him from moving back to his country of citizenship.

What is admissibility?

Admissibility means a person is eligible to enter or remain in Canada. However, it does not grant that person the right to enter. Here is an example:

Suppose Maria has received a Canadian tourist visa. The visa indicates that she is “admissible” based on her application, meaning she has met the eligibility criteria, such as having a valid passport, sufficient funds, and no criminal record [R179].

However, when she arrives at a Canadian airport, she must still go through customs and immigration checks [A18]. At this point, the border officers can deny her entry if they find any discrepancies or issues that were not apparent during the visa application process. For instance, if Maria cannot convincingly demonstrate her intent to leave Canada at the end of her stay, the officer could deny entry despite being admissible to Canada [R180].

Of course, we can always say an admissible person is one to whom none of the following matters apply:

What are the grounds for inadmissibility?

Canadian immigration law outlines several grounds on which a permanent resident (PR) or foreign national (FN) can be found inadmissible to Canada. Here are the main reasons for inadmissibility.

Security Concerns [A34, PR and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada because of security concerns.

  • Engaging in acts of espionage against Canada or contrary to its interests
  • Subversion by force of any government
  • Terrorism or actions that endanger Canadian security
  • Membership in organizations believed to engage in the above activities.

Human Rights Violations [A35, PR and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada because of human rights violations.

  • Committing crimes against humanity and war crimes
  • Being a senior official in a government known for human rights violations
  • Being subject to international sanctions
  • Subject to an order under the Special Economic Measures Act or Sergei Magnitsky Law

Criminality and Serious Criminality [A36, PR (only serious criminality) and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for criminality or serious criminality.

Organized Criminality [A37, PR and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for organized criminality.

  • Membership in an organization involved in planned, organized criminal activity
  • Involvement in transnational crimes such as human smuggling and money laundering

Health Grounds [A38, FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for medical reasons.

  • Health conditions pose a danger to public health or safety.
  • Expected to cause excessive demand for health or social services

Financial Reasons [A39, FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for financial reasons.

  • Inability or unwillingness to support oneself or dependents

Misrepresentation [A40, PR and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for misrepresentation.

Non-compliance with the Act [A41, PR and FN]

Here are some examples of being inadmissible to Canada for non-compliance with the immigration Act or Regulations:

Family member [A42, FN]

Here are examples of being inadmissible to Canada because of a family member.

  • Being the dependent family member of an inadmissible person in a PR application, even if that person is not accompanying the applicant
  • Being the dependent family member of a person who is inadmissible on security grounds in a temporary resident application

This list provides a high-level overview and is not exhaustive. Individual circumstances may vary, and legal professionals should be consulted for specific cases. I have another article that explains inadmissibility in more detail.

Who is banned from Canada?

Sometimes, a person is not facing inadmissibility, yet they are banned from Canada. Here are the main reasons for being banned from Canada:

  • Receiving a deportation order bans a person from returning to Canada indefinitely. However, they may remove the ban by receiving an Authorization to Return to Canada (ARC).
  • Receiving an exclusion order normally bans a person for one year. Unfortunately, the ban extends to five years if the order is because of misrepresentations. The person may not return during these periods unless they receive an ARC.
  • The Minister can deny a foreign national temporary residency based on public policy considerations; this declaration lasts up to 36 months, and the Minister can revoke or shorten it at any time [A22.1].
  • If a person with a removal order ban tries to enter Canada without an ARC, they will receive a deportation order and, consequently, a permanent ban from Canada [R228(1)(c)(ii)]. However, they may overcome the ban by receiving an ARC.
  • Sometimes, diplomatic issues could result in banning certain foreign government officials from Canada. Nonetheless, these cases are rare.
  • While economic sanctions could also ban some people from travelling to Canada, they usually fall under inadmissibility for security reasons.

Banning a Canadian citizen from Canada could undermine their charter rights and create controversies and court challenges. Such bans are unconstitutional by default. However, please read the rest of this article for more information.

Admissibility for Canadian citizens

A person may become a Canadian citizen either by birth or via naturalization. We also call the process of naturalization a grant of citizenship. Subsection 6(1) of the Constitution Act, 1987, reads: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” Therefore, every Canadian citizen is admissible to Canada.

Charkaoui v. Canada is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007. Paragraph 16 of this decision, referring to an older case, emphasizes, “[T]he most fundamental principle of immigration law is that non-citizens do not have an unqualified right to enter or remain in Canada.”

By reading this paragraph, we could conclude that Canadian citizens are the only group who have the unqualified right to enter or remain in Canada. In other words, they may enter or remain in Canada without strings attached. Consequently, Canadian citizens are always admissible to Canada.

You must know that the citizens’ right to enter and remain in Canada is a fundamental right. However, it is not absolute and could be challenged under section 1 of the same Act. However, it is unlikely for the government to challenge this right.

Image credit – Amnesty International

The case of Maher Arar

The case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, highlights the complexities surrounding the nearly absolute right of Canadians to enter Canada, as outlined in Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Arar was detained in the United States and deported to Syria based on erroneous information linking him to terrorism. The Canadian authorities refused to allow his return to Canada despite his explicit request.

Although a Canadian public inquiry, known as the Arar Commission, later exonerated him, the government’s initial failure to protect his right to enter Canada underscores that while this right is foundational, it can be subject to limitations in exceptional national security circumstances.

Repatriation of ISIS fighters

The issue of repatriating Canadian ISIS fighters and their families is proving to be a complex legal and ethical dilemma for the Canadian government. On one hand, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all citizens the right to enter and leave Canada. On the other hand, there are valid national security concerns regarding the possible return of individuals who were part of a terrorist organization. While some believe these individuals should face trial and possible rehabilitation in Canada, others worry about the risk they could pose to public safety.

A recent article by Jay Heisler highlights that Canadian officials have so far shown little interest in repatriating any of the estimated 60 Canadian nationals who joined ISIS and are now detained in Kurdish-run prisons in Syria, bringing into question how the Charter rights are being upheld in this particular situation. Read the full article here.

The controversy extends beyond just the fighters to their families, who are also Canadian nationals and are currently held in squalid conditions in Syrian camps. These include an estimated number of wives, children, and other sympathizers of ISIS fighters. While Canada has repatriated a few women and children, the bulk remains in limbo.

The slow pace of repatriation and lack of clarity on dealing with these cases reflect the tension between safeguarding national security and upholding constitutional rights. It’s a tightrope that the Canadian government finds increasingly difficult to navigate, raising questions about how far the country is willing to go in balancing security with its commitment to human rights.

Conclusion: The Complex Nature of Admissibility for Canadian Citizens

The topic of admissibility to Canada is layered with legal nuances, constitutional rights, and ethical dilemmas. While Canadian citizens, whether by birth or naturalization, possess an almost unqualified right to enter, remain in, and leave Canada, this right is not absolute. Although the law generally affirms that all Canadian citizens are admissible to Canada, there are limited circumstances, such as exceptional national security concerns, where this right could be questioned.

Cases like Maher Arar and the issue of repatriating Canadian ISIS fighters highlight the tension between safeguarding national security and upholding constitutional rights. These cases show that the government is walking a tightrope between these two vital interests. While the right to enter and remain in Canada is foundational for its citizens, this right can be subject to limitations in extreme circumstances.

As society grapples with evolving security concerns and the ethical questions surrounding repatriation, admissibility continues to be a subject of intense debate. The issue ultimately comes down to how Canada is willing to balance its commitment to human rights with the necessity of ensuring national security.

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.