In a withering ruling, the Federal Court has ordered Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to make up his mind on a politically sensitive immigration case.
The decision from Chief Justice Paul Crampton also makes it clear the minister is obliged to make decisions in a reasonable time frame, no matter how busy he is.
The case in question pertains to an application for permanent residency made in 1994 by Morteza Momenzadeh Tameh, an Iranian man who was admitted to Canada as a refugee. In 2001, officials deemed him inadmissible due to his past involvement in an organization in his home country that until 2012 was on Canada's list of terrorist entities.
Tameh made what is called an application for ministerial relief, which is an appeal to the minister of public safety for an exception. Former public safety minister Stockwell Day refused to grant relief in 2007, but the next year a judge ruled Day had not been fully apprised of all relevant facts.
Since then, there have been four more ministers — and not one of them has made a decision.
"Ministers of the Crown are typically very busy people. But they are not so busy that they can take as many years as they see fit to respond to requests made pursuant to validly enacted legislation," wrote Crampton.
Lawyers for Goodale had argued the minister is just too busy to be held to a timeline for making such decisions.
"He submits he should be left with the flexibility to prioritize his many duties as he considers appropriate, and that requiring him to make a decision within a certain period of time may cause him to divert his attention away from an emergency situation," reads the judgment.
The chief justice didn't buy that argument.
"I am sympathetic, to a point, with the minister's submissions. However, they do not, individually or collectively, justify his position that he must have a complete carte blanche regarding the time available to him to make decisions," wrote Crampton.
He went on to write that the four-year delay in processing Tameh's application is "at the outer limit of what is reasonable" and the additional 45-month delay to be unreasonable.
Crampton then ordered the minister to make his decision within a specific timeline and to reimburse Tameh $4,000 for his legal costs.
"I think the court is sending a pretty clear message that, minister, if you've got to make a decision, make it within four years," said Lorne Waldman, a prominent immigration lawyer based in Toronto.
Waldman said at least 10 of his clients have applications for ministerial relief before the minister and some of them have been there for up to 15 years.
"These are difficult decisions that the minister has to make because they have a political charge to them. What the minister is being asked to do is to say, 'Well this person, yes, you were found to be inadmissible because you were found to be a member of a terrorist group,' but there all these other circumstances that would justify granting an exception," said Waldman.
"So the minister has to personally make this decision and be personally accountable for them. That's why they're so difficult. That's why they've taken so long," he said.
In light of Crampton's ruling, Waldman said he filed two applications at Federal Court this week asking it to order Goodale to make a decision.
A spokesperson for Goodale said the government is reviewing the ruling.
In addition, Scott Bardsley told CBC News the department made changes to the process of applying for ministerial relief and is also considering "whether further improvements could be made to the process."