We all share the goal of strengthening Canadian citizenship. In the CBA's view, a full public debate on this topic is very important.
We understand that the last time there were significant amendments to the act in 1977, the government published a white paper and cross-country forums were organized to make sure that all citizens of Canada were able to be involved in the discussion. We would encourage the government to consider a similar approach in this case. Many of the proposals in the bill come out of the blue in some respects, and we're reacting without knowing the true rationale.
I'm going to talk about two of the topics that we covered in our submission: the grants of citizenship, and a particular aspect of that, the intention to reside in Canada.
In general, the CBA is of the view that this bill, which is entitled the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, proceeds on the assumption that by making something harder to obtain you increase its worth. The CBA takes the view that citizenship is a bundle of rights that should be assessed on the rights that it gives to the holder. Simply making it harder to obtain doesn't make it better.
Bill does make it harder for people to become citizens of Canada, but in the CBA's view, it doesn't enhance the rights that accrue to citizens. The CBA takes the position that the bill diminishes Canadian citizenship by focusing solely on administrative efficiency in determining citizenship applications, reducing appeal rights for people involved in citizenship matters, and the topic that my colleague's going to discuss, permitting the possibility of banishment of Canadian citizens.
In terms of grants, Bill focuses on efficiency in the handling of citizenship applications. Unfortunately, in the CBA's view, this efficiency is achieved at the cost of the Canadian values of discretion and compassion. The only residency that's recognized under the bill is physical presence in Canada. In our submission we point to a number of examples that are published in the CIC's citizenship processing manual CP5, which shows the types of situations that, in the CBA's view, merit consideration for citizenship applicants. As an example, consider a young permanent resident who wins a Rhodes Scholarship and is off to study at Oxford. Bill might force such a person to forsake either the opportunity offered by the scholarship or their citizenship application.
I want to talk briefly about the “intention to reside” requirement. As you'll see in the submission, the CBA has concerns with this provision. First of all, contrary to the rest of the thrust of the bill, it's the CBA's view that this will complicate the adjudication of citizenship applications. Trying to determine someone's intention at the time of application is next to impossible.
The other problem that this provision creates is discrimination between natural born citizens, who have no obligation to reside in Canada, and naturalized citizens.
I'm realizing I'm already almost out of time, so I'm going to turn it over to Barbara.
I'm going to cover the revocation of citizenship. Someone will have to tell me when I'm out of time.
There are three points I want to make. Taking away citizenship from someone born in Canada because they may have dual citizenship and have committed an offence proscribed by the act is new. That's a fundamental change. For people who are born here and who have grown up here, it can result in banishment or exile. It's a step backwards, a huge step backwards—and it's a huge step being taken without any real national debate or discussion about whether Canadians want their citizenship amended in that way.
When we teach our children in our schools that section 3 of the Charter gives a citizen the right to vote in an election and section 6 gives citizens the right to live, to enter, remain, and leave Canada freely, we don't tell them that it's just a matter of statute—that when Parliament's upset about something young Canadians may do, because this is directed at young Canadians who've committed offences in other places, and that because it doesn’t like what young Canadians do, it is going to change citizenship and take it away from people. That's fundamental.
That's a fundamentally different concept of citizenship that needs to be addressed. It needs to be discussed and debated. We think that it could raise serious human rights concerns. It does raise serious human rights concerns. It may well contravene the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled in the past that we can't exile Canadians. By redefining who a Canadian is, you achieve exile. That's not right. It's against the Charter. It appears to be against the Charter, and I expect there will be significant litigation.
Another problem with it is that it's retrospective, and then another problem with it, yet again, is that it only affects those persons who may have citizenship in another country. People will have to prove that they don't have citizenship in another country, even if they don't actually have a passport from that country, so people who can't claim citizenship through a grandparent are safe from being exiled. People who may be able to claim citizenship through a parent or grandparent aren't. They'll be exiled from Canada. It may also breach the Charter in that it discriminates against people based on the nationality laws of another country.
One of the other problems is the grounds for the loss of citizenship.
Am I over the eight minutes?
I very much support the Canadian Bar Association's position. I'll try to elaborate on some of the points that we were not able to because of time constraints.
We're very concerned—and I'm very concerned—about this serious change in direction of citizenship. It makes citizenship more vulnerable and totally insecure.
Once again, please remember this impacts people born in Canada, so people who have never lived in another country but might , through relatives or grandparents, have a claim to citizenship.
Looking around at the names in this room, I can tell you that most people here probably have a claim. It affects people that have Italian parents, British parents, U.K. parents, Chinese parents, and of particular concern is that every Jewish person in Canada has the right to move to Israel and claim Israeli citizenship. In effect—and I've provided materials on the right of the law of return—every Jewish person in Canada can be impacted by this legislation, because they could claim status in Israel.
Of particular concern to me as well is the reverse onus that this legislation puts on a person to prove that they would not become stateless, so I ask that you look at proposed section 10.4 that specifies this.
Also, there are no appeal rights. It only talks about a leave for judicial review, and if I have time I'll talk about what that means.
To be honest with you, if a person gets a parking ticket in the City of Toronto, or probably anywhere in Canada, you would have more judicial rights and appeal rights and the right to a fair hearing than you would under the Citizenship Act as proposed under . As a parking-ticket holder you have a right to a fair hearing. Under the Citizenship Act, as proposed, there is no hearing. It is up to the minister to decide whether there's a hearing or not. This can be very political, and these decisions should definitely be taken out of the hands of a minister.
As well, there's no discretion. There's no humanitarian and compassionate review, or allowing a decision-maker to review the full circumstances of a case. The legislation appears—as Barb said—to be focusing on young Canadians who have committed acts that seem to be heinous. However, if you look at the definition of terrorism under the Criminal Code, it's very broad. It includes funding, giving money, giving a donation. For example, right now we see Mohamed Fahmy, the journalist, who is in Egypt in jail. He would be caught under these provisions. He's been charged with terrorism in Egypt for helping put the Muslim Brotherhood's position by reporting through the news. This would be covered under our legislation. Do we really want this type of thing to happen? Is this what we want citizenship to be valued at? Or not valued at?
I respectfully submit that if you've read the legislation, read the details, you may not fully comprehend how broad the provisions are and how many people they'll capture. And I clearly don't think that most Canadians would understand this, so I fully support proper debate and discussion across Canada about this legislation and its broad ramifications.
As I said, almost everyone in this room, or their children or grandchildren, would probably be affected because they might have a claim to citizenship in another country. So it doesn't only affect those who are citizens of other countries now. If they have a claim based on the laws of another country, then they would be affected by this legislation. Once again, it's very broad in terms of terrorism and the offences that would qualify under this act.
Do I have more time?
The proposed grounds for citizenship revocation can be grounded in the political context. In many countries, allegations of terrorism are used to punish political opponents. They are facilitated by low thresholds for convictions and unfair trials, and harsher sentences can be applied. All you have to do is equate these to Canadian law—under which, as I said, Mr. Fahmy's charges would be equatable to a Canadian charge under our legislation—and you're caught by the legislation. Once again, the minister may have a hearing or may not.
I said I would discuss the appeal rights. Under the legislation as proposed, you would have to get leave to appeal to the Federal Court, which means permission to go to court. I would like to explain the difference between what an appeal is and what leave for judicial review is.
A leave to appeal, which is a very difficult test—and only 15% to 20% of the cases in Federal Court are granted leave—is a very legalistic test based on errors of law and judicial oversight. The Federal Court judge cannot substitute their decision; they cannot receive new evidence; and they can't make any findings on humanitarian grounds, so it's a very legalistic paper process. It has nothing to do with the full appeal based on new evidence or other circumstances surrounding the case. There is no in-person hearing. The lawyer or the person concerned can only make in-writing submissions on leave to appeal.
I think it's very important that this committee understand there is no review, because I've heard government workers say, “Well, it can be reviewed at the Federal Court.” It's leave to appeal, which is very limited in scope and doesn't allow for any substantive review of new evidence and doesn't allow a substituted evaluation, whereas an appeal would allow those. As I said, a parking ticket would give you more rights in court than these provisions do.
Today, for example, in the newspaper, the Toronto Star, Ottawa has declared a charity organization to be a terrorist organization. It's called IRFAN, the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy. This is an example. Many Canadians have donated to that charity. If you donated to that charity, to take a broad perspective of what terrorism is in Canada, you could be caught under the provisions of section 83 of the Criminal Code for having funded an organization.
The humanitarian wing of this organization provided money to help children and the needy. Again, this is an up-to-date example of the type of activity this minister might categorize as being under these provisions, but we don't know if somebody else in the future may consider this type of activity. Funding and donating money would be covered under the provisions of terrorism under the act. This is an example out of the paper today.
As well, the five-year sentence is specifically for terrorist attacks—all other sentences under the legislation talk about life sentences— inside Canada or overseas. As we can see from the cases of many Canadians who are overseas dealing with these types of situations, usually the penalties would be much greater than five years. So five years is almost a slap on the wrist for this type of activity, and that should be seriously reconsidered.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'm delighted to appear, if remotely, before the honourable committee with apologies that I could not be physically present.
Having said that, I'd like to focus on and highlight the dramatic and pragmatic positive changes to the citizenship act and point out a systemic design failure in a portion of the act that may have unintended consequences.
What is most pleasing is the requirement to file a tax return. This is a game changer. Families can plan in advance economically what it means to receive and maintain Canadian citizenship. The duration of six years, given the lifetime commitment to Canada, is reasonable and overdue.
Requiring four years on six years with a minimum of 183 days in a year for four years on those six years cuts a Gordian knot. For the first time, we have a pragmatic, transparent threshold to access Canadian citizenship. That is long overdue.
There is an issue, a design flaw, that I would like to point out in proposed paragraph 10(3)(a). I'll read the relevant portion: “Before revoking a person's citizenship or renunciation of citizenship, the Minister shall provide the person with a written notice that specifies a) the person's right to make written representations”.
How is it that to revoke refugee status, the person is entitled to an oral hearing? How is it that to revoke the status of permanent residence, the person is entitled to an oral hearing? A citizen has no right to an oral hearing when faced with revocation?
That's a design flaw and I would respectfully point out that Ms. Jackman, Ms. Seligman, and others may not be too far off point when they illuminate the strength of the charter to defend individual rights when confronted with this situation.
So that's really the heads-up. It is an easy fix, it is a quick fix, but on the whole, we got it right on this bill. And I'll donate the time to questions subsequently.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and to our witnesses, thank you all for appearing today. I truly appreciate it.
Richard, I'm so used to seeing you sitting at the end of the table, not on a TV screen. I don't know how I'm going to manage, but we will, I think.
Folks, thank you very much again for your submissions. But Christopher, you gave some examples at the beginning.
Listen, my parents came here at the end of the Second World War, from very trying circumstances, and it wasn't easy for them to get citizenship. Back in the day, you had a two-year contract. You were given a job for two years and you had to do it. And oftentimes, especially Allied veterans were taking over jobs that were previously vacated by former prisoners of war. It was rather galling, quite frankly. But they managed, they stuck it out, and they carried on. And, quite frankly, my parents have valued Canadian citizenship. They're 94-years-old and 87-years-old, respectively, and they've never been prouder to be Canadian citizens, which they've imparted on us all. Yes, I was born in this country, and I'm very proud that I was born in this country, and I've served this country for many years in the military.
So when we have provisions, by the way, that allow those members who are permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces to fast-track their citizenship, I think that is just the absolute right thing to do for people who are prepared to put their lives on the line for Canada.
So I think putting in provisions that allow people to earn their citizenship and understand the value of being a Canadian makes a lot of sense. To use Richard's words, it's pragmatic, it's dramatic, and people have to understand that value.
We have a Discover Canada guide that tells people. First of all, we talk about people committing offences in Canada. They shouldn't come to this country to commit offences in the first place. It's in the Discover Canada guide. You don't immigrate to be a criminal in somebody else's country. Sometimes people do, and maybe with that intent. But this is something that very clearly we should take to heart. And we built up that Discover Canada guide, our Conservative government, to clearly tell people what is acceptable and not acceptable in this country, how to vote, what our procedures are, what our democracy is like. It's a very clear guide, I think, for people to follow.
When this bill was created, by the way, it was vetted very clearly through the justice department, by our lawyers. But, Richard, I take your point on proposed section 10, and that's obviously now part of the record and I think that's going to get examined by us. But here are a couple of questions to you, so I don't go off on a tangent and eat up all of my time.
Listen, a common misconception of the bill is that the “intent to reside” provision is unconstitutional. And on Monday, we had Minister before us, and he confirmed that the bill had been checked not only with the legal team at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as I just said, but, of course, with the justice department. And I know that you particularly support the aspect of defining “residence” in the bill, in the law.
So do you believe that by defining “residency” in the bill, that this not only strengthens the value of Canadian citizenship, but also ensures that residency fraud is reduced, if not eliminated entirely?
Your comments, sir.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the witnesses.
Actually, I do not quite share that the courts in the future will interpret it differently because all you have to do is look at the Supreme Court's decision on our constitutionality on changing the Senate. They went back to its original intent of seven provinces and 50% of the population.
So I think if the people who are charged with interpreting our laws are consistent, I think these substitutions will not happen. I appreciate what Mr. Veeman said. What happens if you have a permanent resident who came here to study and then goes to the United States or goes to Oxford to study?
As long as he intends to come back to Canada to be a Canadian citizen, which in my case I did.... I went to the United States for my graduate studies and I came back and it was not an issue, but then that was under a different immigration law prior to 1976.
My question, actually, I'll speak about a corollary to this. You know, in the current bill, as with the previous one on Bill , what we did was we started to regulate immigration consultants and we started to make sure that immigrants in Canada receive sound and proper advice. Now we're proposing a similar request in the Citizenship Act to also regulate citizenship consultants.
I was previously in the public accounting area and I said great, the more legislation that the government comes down with, the more there is for us to work on and to be interpreted. It becomes sort of like a work creation for us.
When I listened to Richard I asked how regulating both the immigration consultant and the citizenship consultant would benefit Canadians overall. How does this benefit the industry overall or are we just creating another avenue of business for all these consultants? Perhaps you can share your thoughts on this and how you would strengthen our immigration and citizenship acts.
Well, having an authorized third party intervene creates added value operationally to the citizenship determination process. So on the one hand the federal government has created a professional organization that is subject to regulatory oversight. That's a good thing.
And on the other hand it has created in effect a privatized vouch-for system paid by the user. So, procedurally, I see advantages to having authorized third parties. You were mentioning immigration consultants. This would include members of the bar and Quebec notaries as part of the package.
In connection with the overall, what we have perhaps omitted in our discussion in the last hour is what's not in this proposed legislation. What we do not see here is the issue of revocation of citizenship by birth. In other words, there's no attack on “visa babies” and “anchor babies”.
And kudos to the parliamentary system for not including that aspect in this law. That, I suspect, was the missing piece of the puzzle connected to the intent to reside provisions. Gladly, happily, the citizenship by birth issue is not before us today and I will maintain the fight against such an introduction now, as I have in the past, as I will in the future.
Thank you very much. It's good to be back to speak with you about Bill . As you know, the bill was introduced on February 26, 2014, and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at the time said that the bill is meant to reduce citizenship fraud, increase efficiency of the system, and reduce backlogs.
At OCASI we believe that the bill is likely to exclude more people from citizenship by making the process more difficult. We are especially concerned that the bill diminishes the value of Canadian citizenship by treating differently those who have dual citizenship and those who don't between Canadian-born citizens and naturalized citizens, and between immigrants who do not work in the Canadian armed forces and those who do.
The bill gives more power to the minister to revoke citizenship and reduces judicial oversight.
We are particularly concerned about the impact on racialized immigrants and refugees and on immigrant and refugee women and children.
I wanted to remind us that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru and the 75th anniversary of the SS St Louis, reminders of Canada's history of shamefully racist immigration policies.
Changes to the Citizenship Act must work to undo the racist policies of the past by welcoming newcomers, bearing in mind that the majority of new immigrants and refugees today are people who 75 or 100 years ago would have been deliberately excluded from Canada.
We believe that, in discussing this bill and moving forward with our discussions, there are certain principles we must pay attention to. The act lays out citizenship rules and thus defines who is Canadian and who we are as a country. This important legislation must therefore incorporate the following principles:
a) Respect for the principle that all citizens are equal.
b) Respect for the principle that citizenship is a status from which rights derive, and is thus similar to our status as human beings. It is not something that can be lost through bad behaviour.
c) We must ensure that the legislation is consistent with the best interests of the child.
d) And we must recognize that some permanent residents face systemic barriers to full participation, including refugees who have suffered persecution and long years of deprivation.
I am going to touch on a number of clauses in the bill that we wanted to respond to.
The first involves longer periods of residence in Canada before applying. Bill C-24 would require applicants for citizenship to have lived four out of the last six years in Canada, compared to three out of the last four under the current law. It will no longer allow applicants to count time in Canada before becoming a permanent resident. The change will result in making people wait longer before they can qualify to apply for becoming a citizen, undermining Canada's stated commitment to integrate newcomers.
Becoming a citizen is particularly important for refugees who have no other country they can turn to. Until they are citizens, they have a sense of insecurity and face practical problems, such as difficulty travelling without a passport.
Certain permanent residents will be disproportionately affected, such as refugees and live-in caregivers. Racialized women are over-represented among live-in caregivers, and many typically endure years of exploitative working conditions. Not being allowed to count time spent working in Canada to qualify for permanent resident status will further disadvantage these individuals. Other permanent residents such as those who qualify for the Canadian experience class, including international students graduating from Canadian universities, will also be disproportionately impacted by this change.
And in Ontario, over and over I've been hearing from international students that part of the drawing card to come to Canada for school is because there is a pathway to permanent residency and then to citizenship.
We have two recommendations here: keep the period of residence to three out of the last four years and keep the rule allowing applicants to count at least one year in Canada before becoming permanent residents.
The intention to reside in Canada. I know the last panel spent some time on this, the fact that applicants for citizenship have to swear an intention to reside. The provision will apply only to naturalized citizens, thus creating a different and less inclusive category. Their mobility rights will be in jeopardy for fear that their citizenship might be revoked for misrepresentation or fraud, while those born in Canada will have the ability to travel freely and pursue education or work opportunities overseas.
OCASI has heard that a growing number of immigrants return to their country of origin or travel to another country for employment because systemic barriers in the Canadian labour market have made it difficult to find suitable employment here at times.
Many others have returned for a period of time to meet other obligations such as looking after aging parents, a practice that will likely increase as it becomes increasingly difficult to reunite with parents and grandparents in Canada.
There is a serious risk that these Canadians would be seen as engaging in misrepresentation simply because they have to go elsewhere to make a living or to fulfill family obligations. We have one clear recommendation here: delete this new provision.
Regarding language acknowledgement, the bill greatly expands the group of individuals who must meet language and knowledge requirements in order to become citizens of Canada. Under the current law, individuals between the ages of 18 and 54 are required to meet these requirements in order to become Canadian citizens. Bill will require applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 to pass the citizenship test.
There are a number of other issues. Older refugees may be able to learn enough English or French to function but may nonetheless have difficulty passing the legislated language test.
Older permanent residents must be encouraged and supported when learning one of the official languages and acquiring knowledge about Canada. However, given the greater difficulties in learning a new language at an older age and in passing tests, expanding the requirements to include those up to age 64 will result in excluding a significant number of individuals from citizenship. Older people are generally recognized as vulnerable members of our society. Creating more barriers to citizenship will make them more vulnerable.
The rationale for extending the test requirements to applicants aged 14 to 18 is not clear. Youth at this age will be in high school and must have been in Canadian schools for the past several years. If they do not speak French or English or know about Canada, the fault surely lies with our schools. Furthermore, with respect to language testing, it is not known what proof of language ability will be accepted. The proofs currently accepted will not work for youth—completion of high school or government-funded language classes—and there is no standardized documentation across school boards throughout Canada. The fear is that adolescents will face significant administrative hurdles to prove their language ability or face the cost of an approved language test, which can run up to $200, a cost that is often beyond the capacity of families. By adding new requirements for youth aged 14 to 18, we risk producing a new category of youth who have spent most of their formative years in Canada but are denied citizenship and thus the possibility of participating fully in society.
Our recommendation: keep language and knowledge test requirements to the existing age group of those who are 18 to 54 years of age. I want to add here that we've been successful in having Citizenship and Immigration Canada also recognize that passing a speaking and listening test does not work for deaf and hard-of-hearing immigrants, and so we were able to have an exception made under which an audiology report will be accepted as an exception. We want to applaud that move, but we also want to see this done.
Thank you for asking me to be here today on behalf of B'nai Brith Canada.
I'm going to talk only about the revocation provisions in the bill because B'nai Brith Canada has a lot of experience with them.
The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act in this area are a mix of good and bad news. The good news is that the government proposes to remove the defects that had hampered the effort to use revocation as a remedy for international criminal fugitives in Canada. The proposed law is better than the present law because it removes the cabinet from the process, it allows for an appeal, and consolidates revocation and removal proceedings.
The old law required cabinet approval. That meant that the government's legal arm could win in court, and then the political arm, cabinet, could reverse the result. This is what happened in the cases of Wasyl Odynsky and Vladimir Katriuk, who the courts said both entered Canada by hiding their Nazi past.
The cabinet, nonetheless, without reason said they could stay. The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada, which I represented, went to court to argue that cabinet could not do that, that cabinet had to revoke citizenship.
However, the court said cabinet could do that, could let those who the court found had lied about their Nazi past on entry remain in Canada. It's a relief to see the proposed law takes away from cabinet this power, which has been so badly used.
The absence of an appeal meant the courts could reach inconsistent decisions on the interpretation of the law, and nothing could be done about it. There was no way of straightening these inconsistencies out. The proposed law, by allowing for an appeal, means the courts can speak with one voice instead of several.
The Nazis in Canada who hid their past on entry were brought to court decades later when they were much older. Their strategy was litigation to death, which mostly worked. Even those who lost their cases in court at every stage had to go through so many steps that the process was never completed before they died natural deaths. The proposed law, by cutting down on fragmentation by providing for consolidation of two steps—revocation of citizenship and deportation—into one, combats this strategy of endless litigation. It is a welcome change.
So that's the good news, but there's bad as well. The bad news is it makes citizenship all too easy to lose in cases that have nothing to do with international crimes. Right now citizenship can be revoked on only one ground, false representation, or fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances. The bill proposes expanding the grounds for revocation.
One new ground for revocation is convictions for treason or terrorism offences. A second new ground is reasonable grounds to believe the person served as the member of an armed force of a country or an organized armed group, and that country or group was engaged in armed conflict with Canada.
For terrorism offences, convictions can be abroad as well as in Canada. Yet, terrorism is a charge that repressive regimes use against their opponents who resort to violence to attempt to dislodge them.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in the preamble that “ ...it is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that tyranny and oppression can lead to rebellion. When tyrants and oppressors convict their rebellious opponents of terrorism, and the opponents are Canadian citizens, Canada should not legally be able to revoke the citizenship of those citizens merely because the oppressors and tyrants label that rebellion terrorism.
There needs to be a caveat so not any foreign conviction for terrorism can lead to loss of Canadian citizenship. The foreign conviction, if it is imposed in disregard of accepted international standards, should not be recognized in Canada. This concept of taking into account accepted international standards for convictions is already employed elsewhere in the legislation, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Despite the possibility of revocation for commission of offences, the bill is under-inclusive. It has been an anomaly that you could lose citizenship for hiding on entry to Canada Nazi crimes against humanity, but not for actually having committed those crimes. Often lying on entry is easier to prove than the commission of crimes, but not always. Immigration records may have been lost, but the proof of the crimes themselves may be readily available. Revocation for commission of the major international offences found in the statute of the International Criminal Court—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—should be possible.
The crimes that allow for revocation, though, should be committed before the person becomes a citizen. Revocation for acts committed after a person is a citizen is problematic, even if one limits revocation to dual citizens, as the proposed law does.
A person can be a dual citizen from birth. A person can be a dual citizen without even knowing he or she is a dual citizen because he or she is unfamiliar with the citizenship laws of the other country.
We should not be revoking the citizenship of Canadians for crimes committed after the acquisition of citizenship, no matter what the crime. Once a person becomes a Canadian citizen and commits a crime, then he is our criminal. We should not pretend otherwise.
The bill also proposes a new procedure for revocation and then allocates the different grounds of revocation amongst the two procedures. I have a relatively lengthy section on this, which I'm going to skip over. The government has introduced a new procedure on grounds of simplification, amongst others. At least one point I would try to make is that it actually complicates matters quite considerably, which you'll see if you read through this material. It also runs the risk of the government losing cases against international criminals that it could otherwise win, simply by choosing the wrong procedure.
In conclusion, let me say that we commend the government for its consolidation of revocation and deportation, its introduction of an appeal, and its removal of cabinet from the process. We deplore the possibility of revocation for crimes committed after one is a citizen, the impossibility of revocation for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide, and the introduction of a less fair procedure for revocation in some cases.
The possibility of revocation of citizenship for crimes committed after one is a citizen should be dropped. The possibility of revocation of citizenship for commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, where the crimes were committed before the acquisition of citizenship, should be introduced. The possibility of revocation for a foreign conviction of terrorism committed before the acquisition of citizenship should be limited to convictions that conform to international standards. The less fair procedure of revocation through ministerial decision, subject to a judicial review in some cases, should be replaced by the more fair procedure of Federal Court decisions in all cases.
Those are my remarks. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to speak before you today. I'm pleased to be able to contribute my views on this comprehensive overhaul of Canadian citizenship legislation, which in my view is long overdue.
I might mention in this regard that, prior to my careers overseas with the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs, I served as citizenship adviser to the Ontario Ministry of Education, and therefore, I've had a long-term interest in matters related to this topic.
My comments on specific provisions of the proposed legislation are as follows:
I support the extension of the residency requirements for citizenship applications from three out of four years to four out of six years. I would have preferred that it be extended to the five-year residency requirement, which had been in effect prior to 1977, and which I had recommended in a paper published in 2008, but I understand that compromise may be required to get agreement on this.
It should be noted that no other immigrant-receiving country—at least none I’m aware of—has as short a residency requirement as Canada does at present. Australia has a four-year requirement, it's five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Ireland. The last time I checked it was seven years in Norway and eight in Germany and Switzerland, so we will still have among the shortest residency period required.
The argument has been made that the sooner a newcomer can get their citizenship the more attached they will feel to Canada. While this may be true in some instances, one hears far more often of cases of those who are interested in acquiring citizenship as quickly as possible and wish to do so to move back overseas as fast as possible and regard their Canadian citizenship primarily as little more than an insurance policy.
If anything, I think newcomers will value their citizenship more if they know it is not something that can be acquired quickly or without meeting certain standards.
I strongly support the provisions of Bill aimed at ensuring that residency requirements are actually met, particularly in view of evidence that thousands of people have obtained their citizenship fraudulently by claiming they had spent time in Canada when they had not.
Bill includes greatly increased penalties for such fraud as well as requiring the filing of income tax returns in Canada and a commitment to living here. While these are all useful measures with regard to ensuring that residency requirements are met, I believe it is also important that Canada proceed as quickly as possible with plans to introduce comprehensive screening and recording of the entry and exit of all non-Canadians into or from our soil. In this way we'll have a much more accurate picture of whether residency requirements have been met.
By the same token, I am glad to see that the bill includes measures to speed up the processing of citizenship applications and to reduce the large backlog of applications that has developed. Once someone has met the residency and other requirements for acquisition of citizenship, it is important that they receive it without delay.
In other areas, I fully support those parts of the bill designed to enhance the value of citizenship, such as expanded language requirements. Ability to communicate with some fluency in English or in French, if you’re going to Quebec, is clearly one of the key factors in enabling a newcomer to become a contributing member of Canadian society and to feel at home here, as well as crucial to their employment opportunities in this country.
I am therefore very pleased to see that the provisions of Bill recognize the importance of having a basic command of one of Canada’s official languages as an essential skill for newcomers who are going to be able to contribute to Canadian society and the economy, as well as be able to realize their own dreams and aspirations as immigrants.
I would add, however, that the level required—Canadian language benchmark level 4—is still quite low, and that for immigrants hoping to find employment in many different professions and in managerial positions, significantly higher levels of competency are necessary.
I equally support those sections that provide for the revocation of citizenship for those who obtained or retained citizenship on the basis of providing false information in such areas as residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility, or identity fraud, as well as those who commit acts of terrorism.
As I mentioned before this committee in April of last year, there is strong public support for tougher measures for revoking citizenship. A survey in 2012 found that 8 out of 10 people polled agreed that Canadians found guilty of treason or terrorism should lose their citizenship. A poll taken some years earlier by Ipsos Reid found that three out of four Canadians would support revoking the citizenship of people who had obtained it and went on to commit serious crime, and also found, interestingly, that 35% of respondents supported such measures, even in cases where the offenders were born in Canada. That's unlikely to happen, but that gives you an idea of public support.
I understand that birth certificate is not dealt with in the current bill and is a complicated issue that involves the provinces and territories, inasmuch as they're responsible for health care facilities and registration of births. Birth certificate, however, is an issue that should be dealt with with a minimum of delay. What it provides for now is that any infant born on Canadian soil can get Canadian citizenship. It is known to be widely abused by people who have no connection with this country, but arrange to give birth here so their children will be able to enjoy all the benefits of Canadian citizenship when they're older.
The concept of birth certificate, by the way, was developed in the United States after their civil war, in order to ensure that former slaves born in the U.S.A. would not be denied American citizenship. It's no longer needed for that purpose, however, and has been abolished by virtually every country in the world except Canada and the United States. Efforts have been under way for some time to eliminate it in the United States.
Chairman, this completes my opening comments, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.
Thank you again to our witnesses for appearing before us today and for your informative testimony.
I'm going to make a few comments and ask a couple of questions. We've heard from the witnesses today, both in the first session and in this session now, some commentary on the residency requirement and language requirements and the application of those potentially moving forward when this bill is passed by Parliament.
On the issue of residency requirement, a question came from a member of Parliament to a witness in this committee, asking, “I am a naturalized Canadian, basically, and if I wanted to leave the country and take my Ph.D. studies for five years outside the country, could my citizenship be revoked?” Nothing in this bill would prevent any Canadian citizen, naturalized or otherwise, from leaving to study in the United States or somewhere else around the world for fear of their citizenship being revoked. There is no such thing written in any clause in this bill, and it would be a tremendous stretch for someone to suggest, whether the person were a legal expert or not, that yes, it could be applied in the case where somebody left the country and decided to do a Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York. You became a Canadian citizen 15 years ago; we're not going to revoke your citizenship.
It is just so out there, so far-stretched, that I think we have to be very cautious when we're reviewing this bill—all of us here on the committee, and certainly all parliamentarians—that we don't use extreme examples that have no basis in law or no basis in substance for determining how we move forward in our assessment of this bill.
On the question of language requirements, I have this now back to the necessary residency requirement going from three years to four of the last six years and achieving a level of language requirement, and the language requirement age changing from 18 to 54 to 14 to 64.
We firmly believe that allowing more time in Canada for all aspiring Canadians to develop language skills will give them a better opportunity. They will be more integrated into Canadian society, and it will give a better opportunity to have much more potential for successful outcomes moving forward, and what we want for newcomers coming to Canada is for them to succeed. We want them to do well and we want them to have every tool at their disposal moving forward as Canadian citizens, and that's the spirit in which Bill was drafted, and that certainly is the intent of the bill.
I believe it was Mr. Collacott who said that it is in line with, in fact, even more generous than some of our peer countries around the world in terms of their requirements for residency and language. There is no country that we could point to that we would consider a peer country that would have only a three-year requirement for residency, and then you automatically can apply for Canadian citizenship.
I want to talk about a few things in the bill because mention has been made on the backlog of Canadian citizenship. I believe one witness we heard over the course of the discourse here said that the backlog has been created over the last few years because we're focusing more on fraud. Well, let's just be abundantly clear about that. If we need to take more time to do due diligence to ensure there is no fraud in the system and that only law-abiding people want to become citizens of our country, we are going to do that, and 90% of our applications get processed, and there is no issue.
If we're going to focus on that 10% to make sure that only people who are in the same bracket as those 90% can come into Canada and become Canadian citizens, then that's exactly what we're going to do. We want law-abiding citizens coming into Canada. We certainly don't want anybody who's perpetrated fraud in any way, shape, or form. If they have, then they're not welcome to come here.
In addition to that, I might add, the best way for someone not to have their citizenship revoked is not to commit the crime. It's very easy. It's very simple. One of the witnesses exercised the option of pointing to the names of the people sitting around the table at one point, and said that, look at the names around the table, she could be talking about us. Well, guess what, none of the people around this table are perpetrating crimes. We're not worried about being kicked out.
My name is Menegakis. It's clearly not a native Canadian name. My parents came here from Greece. If I don't perpetrate the crime, my citizenship is not going to be revoked, nor is my children's or anybody else's in my family. That is the best way to avoid having it revoked.
Let's just go back a little bit to reality here. I have one question.
Do I have any time left here?
Thank you to our witnesses who are here with us today.
Ms. Douglas, you mentioned in your presentation that “citizenship is a status from which rights derive”. That's very, very true. Thank you for saying that, because it is so true, and I think sometimes we forget this.
You mentioned that the intent to reside creates two tiers of citizenship, naturalized Canadians and born Canadians. You spoke specifically about mobility rights and about how mobility rights of naturalized Canadians come under question.
Can you expand a little bit on that?
I know that the Canadian Bar Association, in the brief they sent us, also spoke about that. We didn't get a chance to talk about it, so I'd like you, if you could, to expand a little bit on it.
I want to start by clarifying a couple of things. In this bill, when we talk about language requirements, there is a provision for a waiver on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Also, when we talk about criminal actions, we talk about our Criminal Code. The action taken in any country has to be on the same lines as mentioned in our Criminal Code.
Let me get back to the provisions that I strongly believe must become the law of the land.
The committee has heard some opinions for revoking the citizenship of convicted terrorists. I personally, as I've said, stand firmly in the belief that citizenship is predicated on loyalty, and if you seek to destroy the stability of the state through terrorism, you should not hold a Canadian passport.
A Canadian passport is highly regarded. It is very highly respected. Here, on what we are talking about, I'm just shaking my head. We are talking about those few convicted terrorists who intentionally and knowingly use their Canadian passport to go to a third country, maybe go through all kinds of training there, stay there for a few months or maybe years, and then get involved in gruesome actions against humanity. I have heard some witnesses proposing that they should still have the opportunity to stay in Canada and use a Canadian passport, whereas they chose to go somewhere else.
Mr. Collacott, my question is this: what is your view on the justification for the revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists?
I'm going to answer that question in English.
How the law will work out in practice we'll have to see, but of course it's possible. As a lawyer in private practice, I can tell you of an experience that I see. Many people who are citizens now come here as refugees. They then get permanent residence, then they get citizenship, and then they go back for family or whatever. I have seen cases where the government has then proceeded to try to unravel all of that, first of all through revocation of their refugee status, saying that they have re-availed themselves of the protection of their home country. After re-availment, they try to unravel everything.
Now, the way I see it, this often happens in the context of Canadian criminality. They decide they want to deport someone for criminality in Canada, but it's too complicated because they need a public danger opinion, so they try something else. I mean, if somebody just says something, they'll maybe leave most of them alone, but there are a few cases where they'll want to get rid of them for some other reason, so then they'll pick on this. It's easier than following through on that other reason. That's part of the problem we see.
Once we set up the powers, one would hope that they won't be abused massively in every case. But there's always the potential, and the reality is that it does happen.