The government has appointed the mother of a Conservative minister’s former staffer, and the father of another former Conservative staffer, as citizenship judges.
On Oct. 4, the governor general appointed Laurie Mozeson of Edmonton as a full-time citizenship judge for a period of three years, on the recommendation of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The minister had employed Ms. Mozeson’s daughter, Marlee, as an intern and special assistant. She also worked as an assistant to Mr. Kenney’s parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism. Her brother previously worked for Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.
Last year, Mr. Kenney also recommended the appointment of a citizenship judge who is the father of Foreign Minister John Baird’s former deputy chief of staff.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said these judges might well be qualified for their jobs—but there’s an appearance of patronage.
Others emphasize the strong relevant credentials of the people appointed.
Mr. Kenney has defended the citizenship judge selection process, pointing out that there is a screening process involving tests and interviews, and the “vast majority” of people appointed as citizenship judges have no political party ties.
Marlee Mozeson interned for Mr. Kenney in Ottawa in the summer of 2010. The next summer, she started working for Mr. Kenney as a special assistant in a Greater Toronto Area regional office, according to The Hill Times.
Later in 2011, she was promoted to be the assistant to Chungsen Leung, the minister’s parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism, according to The Hill Times.
Travel and hospitality spending reports on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website indicate she continued to work in Mr. Kenney’s office until at least May of this year. She is now listed there as a former staff member and her name no longer appears on the government’s online employee directory.
Neither she nor Jonah Mozeson responded to email requests for comment. Several emails and phone calls left for Laurie Mozeson were also not returned. Mr. Kenney’s spokesperson, Alexis Pavlich, wrote in an email that she wouldn’t comment on internal staffing.
Marlee’s brother, Jonah, used to work for Ms. Ambrose, including for a time as her communications director, reported The Hill Times. His name is also no longer in the government’s employee directory.
Embassy confirmed with acquaintances of the family that Laurie Mozeson is the mother of Marlee and Jonah. The family is from Edmonton, a city Ms. Ambrose partly represents.
Laurie Mozeson, whose appointment took effect Oct. 29, is eligible to make between $91,800 and $107,900.
Her appointment appears to come not a moment too soon for some northern Albertans clamouring for a citizenship judge.
Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan said in Question Period on Oct. 19 that Mr. Kenney “has left northern Albertans in legal limbo with no citizenship judge for 10 long months,” just before he told her one had been appointed.
Edmonton-Leduc Conservative MP James Rajotte told CBC News in July that he had put a few names forward for consideration for the job.
He refused to say whom he recommended when asked two weeks ago, preferring to keep it between his office and Mr. Kenney.
The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website outlines a screening process that narrows down a list of qualified and competent citizenship judge applicants, which is then forwarded to the immigration minister.
It includes an initial screening of applicants’ resumes to ensure they are Canadian, fluent in English or French, have a university degree or equivalent, five years of job experience, and their job or volunteer record demonstrates a “high standard of citizenship.”
Then there’s a written exam, reference check, and an oral interview evaluated by an advisory panel.
These checks are meant to ensure applicants have good analytical, decision-making, and communication skills, as well as self-control, and cross-cultural sensitivity, among other qualities.
“Citizenship judges are independent, quasi-judicial decision makers,” stated the CIC website.
They decide which citizenship applicants meet the government’s requirements, and they administer the citizenship oath to those who do. They also promote citizenship to community groups.
CIC spokesperson Remi Lariviere said in an email that while anyone may suggest a possible citizenship judge candidate, the person in question must submit their own application, which is screened against the job’s prerequisites.
“All citizenship judges have to go through the same screening process,” he wrote.
Ms. Mozeson has been a barrister and solicitor with Alberta’s justice department for four years. She was a prosecutor for both the federal justice department and Alberta attorney general for 17 years. She has also been a justice of the peace in Alberta’s traffic court. She is a member of the Law Society of Alberta.
Besides her legal credentials, she is a past president of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton and has also taken a lead role in a national Jewish group.
Mr. Kenney’s office sent out a press release on Oct. 19 announcing her appointment. Mr. Kenney tweeted that he was “delighted” to reveal the news. A few days earlier, on Oct. 16, Edmonton-Centre Conservative MP Laurie Hawn tweeted his congratulations to Ms. Mozeson. His office later said he doesn’t know her personally.
Mr. Rajotte, who said he knows Ms. Mozeson, told Embassy he was pleased with the appointment as well.
“I haven’t heard anyone question her credentials, and her credentials are quite solid,” he said.
Besides Ms. Mozeson, Mr. Kenney recommended the appointment of another former Tory staffer’s parent as a citizenship judge.
Ted (Raymond Theodore) Salci, the father of former Conservative staffer Cara Salci, was appointed in December 2011 as a part-time citizenship judge for a three-year term.
He has business and real estate experience, and was the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont. from 2003 to 2010. He also held leadership roles in the Niagara Falls chamber of commerce and hospital foundation board, among other community groups.
He told an Ontario legislative committee hearing in 2001 that he was a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in the 1981 and 1985 provincial elections.
Elections Canada data suggests he donated $600 to the Conservative Party of Canada in May 2011.
According to The Hill Times, his daughter Cara worked for Mr. Baird from about 2007 to 2010 while he was environment and transport minister. She worked in different roles including as his deputy chief of staff.
Neither Cara nor Ted Salci responded to phone messages asking for comment on this story.
Mr. Salci’s wife, Sharon, said she preferred not to talk about it but, when pressed, pointed out that her daughter had stopped working for the government in September 2010 and husband wasn’t appointed until the year after.
Ms. Pavlich, Mr. Kenney’s spokesperson, wrote that: “Both judges are highly qualified to serve in their respective capacities,” citing their relevant credentials.
Mr. Salci receives $460 to $540 for every day he works as a citizenship judge because he is part time.
The Niagara Falls Review reported in February that he said he handed in a resume and received a letter from Mr. Kenney’s office asking if he wanted to be tested for the job. He did, and later met with the senior citizenship judge, participated in a video conference interview, and was approved.
With the new job, he said he had to quit his involvement in local Conservative politics because the job requires political neutrality.
Given Ms. Mozeson and Mr. Salci’s qualifications, Mr. Angus said he could certainly see putting their names forward.
“I guess the question we have to ask is the appearance of how this looks, because there are many good barristers, many qualified solicitors out there, but not too many I imagine with familial ties to Jason Kenney’s office, or who have donated to the party,” he said.
“So we have an appearance of patronage. That, I think, undermines both the credibility of the appointment and people’s trust in how the system’s working.”
A larger issue
The NDP and Liberals have routinely lambasted the Conservatives for governor-in-council appointments they have suggested are the product of political patronage.
Governor-in-council jobs range from the CEO of a crown corporation to a member of a quasi-judicial tribunal, and are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of Cabinet.
Last winter, the mother of PMO staffer Alykhan Velshi was appointed as a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission member. Rumina Velshi is a professional engineer who had held director-level roles with Ontario Power Generation. A spokesperson for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said at the time that Ms. Velshi’s appointment was based on merit.
It’s “another case of who you know in the PMO,” said Mr. Angus at the time.
While other citizenship judges appointed during the Harper government have identifiable Conservative ties (George Khouri, for instance, was a Conservative Party candidate in the 2008 election; Harold Gilleshammer worked for a Conservative MP prior to his appointment in 2007 and is Manitoba’s former minister responsible for immigration), Mr. Kenney told a House immigration committee hearing in 2010 that all candidates nominated were approved as a result of a test and interviews.
“The vast majority of individuals appointed as citizenship judges, to my knowledge, have no ties to a political party. Even Conservatives, if they are qualified, are not barred from being appointed to such a position,” he said.
The government’s appointments website lists 26 active citizenship judges.