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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is seeking a controversial new power in a bill before Parliament, which would give the immigration minister broad authority to refuse someone entry to Canada if the minister is “of the opinion that it is justified by public-policy considerations.”Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Anti-Muslim preacher Terry Jones's attempt to get into Canada demonstrates the need for Ottawa to be given a broad new discretionary power to keep some people out of the country, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argues.

Mr. Jones, a publicity-seeking provocateur whose Koran-burning demonstrations have sparked violent protests in the Muslim world, was barred from entering Canada last Thursday.

Canadian border officials told the Gainesville, Fla., preacher, who has a minor U.S. conviction for breach of the peace, that he had failed to present a criminal record check from the police – in what appeared to be a combing of the rulebook to find ways to keep him out.

Mr. Kenney said the case "brought to mind" his controversial new bill before Parliament that would give him the power to refuse someone entry to Canada if the Minister is "of the opinion that it is justified by public-policy considerations."

Current immigration laws often do not allow the government to bar people who might promote hatred that could lead to violence, he said.

"They're basically focused on criminality and national security," he said. "But in some countries, it is not a crime to promote hatred or even violence against certain groups."

Mr. Kenney, speaking to reporters in a conference call from London, where he was attending an international border-security conference, said that in another case last year, both the NDP and Quebec's National Assembly asked the government to bar two imams who had "long public records of promoting violent hatred against women, gays and lesbians and Jews."

"But we have no power to deny their entry because they did not have serious criminal records or involvement in terrorist organizations and they did not otherwise represent a security threat."

While Mr. Kenney's call for the authority to bar people like Mr. Jones may win some public sympathy, the breadth of the power he is seeking has also sparked concerns of abuse.

There are fears that power could be used to deny entry to those who hold views the government of the day does not share. And since most visa and immigration decisions are shrouded in secrecy under privacy legislation, the public would never have a full picture of how it is being used.

Mr. Kenney insisted that he intends to spell out to a parliamentary committee the criteria he would use to judge whether someone should be denied entry. He said it would be "an extraordinary power in very exceptional cases to deny admission, essentially when we believe a foreign national may come to Canada [and] promote hatred which could lead to violence.

"That's really the sort of criteria we're looking at," he said. "We're not looking at some broad, generalized power to prevent the admission of people to Canada whose political opinions we disagree with."

In fact, his own office has done just that in the past. Federal Court of Canada Justice Richard Mosley ruled in 2010 that Mr. Kenney's political staffers arranged to bar controversial British MP George Galloway from entering Canada in 2009 because they did not like his political views.

Border officials rushed an assessment that Mr. Galloway was inadmissible on national-security grounds because he had brought aid to Gaza, where Hamas, listed as a terror entity, was in power. But Justice Mosley found the decision had more to do with "antipathy to his political views" than national security.