Mr. Chair, honourable members, my name is Mark Davidson and I am the director of legislation and program policy in CIC's citizenship branch.
As you can imagine, I have followed the work of this committee closely over the past several months as you have been exploring issues of citizenship loss. So, I am pleased to be here, along with my colleagues, to help to answer questions you might have.
With me, as I mentioned, is Clark Goodman, who is the registrar of Canadian citizenship. We also have Rose Ann Poirier, from our case processing centre in Sydney; Rosemarie Redden and John Warner, from our case management branch; Margaret Dritsas, who is the nationality law adviser in my group; and Eric Stevens, from our legal services unit.
Mr. Chair, you heard from a number of witnesses who have testified about discovering they are not Canadian citizens. Some of them, like Mrs. Barbara Porteous, were born outside Canada but have lived most of their lives here. Witnesses such as Mrs. Porteous have told you their stories and of their shock at discovering they do not have the citizenship they believed they had.
Mr. Chair, I can certainly empathize with them. They have lived in Canada most of their lives, worked, paid taxes and participated in the lives of their community.
Their emotions upon discovering they are not actually citizens are perfectly understandable. l'm sure I'd feel the exactly the same way if I were in their shoes. You have heard from other witnesses whose lack of citizenship was not a surprise, but who nevertheless feel they have a legitimate claim to Canadian citizenship.
Mr. Chair, the testimony you've heard speaks volumes to the value that people do place on Canadian citizenship. It also highlights the fact that every case is different, that every person's story is unique.
The dilemma we as public servants face is that while every story is unique, the rules and the law are constant. As public servants, the decisions we make are, for the most part, framed by legislation approved by Parliament.
As you well know, there are two key pieces of legislation governing citizenship: the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 and the Citizenship Act of 1977, which replaced it.
Our job as public servants is to apply these pieces of legislation to the circumstances of individual cases to the best of our abilities.
Some of the laws passed by Parliament, particularly with regard to the 1947 act, might seem a bit archaic by today's standards. Provisions that limited the ability to pass on citizenship to a child born outside of Canada, depending on whether the father or the mother was Canadian, or whether the parents were married at the time of the child's birth, strike me as a very good example of that. But it is not our role, as civil servants, to stand in judgment of why the laws of the day were enacted. They were the laws of the day, and the role of civil servants is to evaluate cases on the basis of the applicable law.
When Parliament approved the 1977 Citizenship Act, it recognized that despite efforts to make the rules fair, there would be situations where the impact on certain individuals would not seem fair at all, so the act gives the minister discretionary authority under subsection 5.(4) to grant Canadian citizenship upon the approval of the Governor in Council, also known as the GIC.
When the minister appeared here in February, she made it clear that she was making it a priority to review the cases of people who did not have the citizenship they thought they had or felt they merited. She stated that she was prepared to use the authority the legislation provides her to grant citizenship where it is merited.
The minister has instructed us to bring forward cases where these individuals have demonstrated they have a significant attachment to Canada, have lived here most of their lives, and thus merit consideration for this special grant of citizenship.
We're here today to assist this committee in its work and to answer your questions as fully as possible, while of course respecting our role as civil servants.
I'll ask my colleague Clark Goodman to provide a few details on what has been done since the minister's appearance before this committee in February.
Clark is responsible for program delivery and so is better placed to given you an update on our activities.
As Mark indicated, my name is Clark Goodman. I am the acting director of citizenship and immigration program delivery, and also the registrar of Canadian citizenship. My responsibilities including overseeing the operational activities related to Canadian citizenship.
As I mentioned, I also carry another title, that of registrar of Canadian citizenship. This authority is delegated to me by the . As registrar, I have the authority to determine who may function as a citizenship officer to grant citizenship on behalf of the minister and to approve citizenship applications in the case of a proof of citizenship. As well, I delegate people to administer the oath of Canadian citizenship. Furthermore, I am responsible for approving any forms used within the citizenship program.
I have been following your discussions on the issue of citizenship with interest. The issue has also received a fair amount of attention in the media in recent months.
As Mark suggested, I would like to give you a brief update of our department's response to this issue and an update on the volume of calls we have received and the number of confirmed cases of people who have learned that they do not have citizenship status.
As of May 1, we are managing an inventory of approximately 400 cases where people do not have citizenship. These cases are under review to see how they might be resolved and whether they merit a special grant of citizenship.
The number is down somewhat from when the minister appeared, as we were resolving cases more quickly than new ones were coming to our attention. On the minister's instructions, we created a dedicated unit in our call centre to deal with calls related to the loss of citizenship. That happened on January 26 of this year.
To understand the scope of the issue, we have received approximately 1,900 calls linked to questions of loss, and in the vast majority of cases the people are in fact Canadian citizens. Some simply needed to apply for a new card or to continue to use their birth certificate as proof of citizenship.
To put this in perspective, our call centre has received close to 800,000 calls overall in the same time period. So calls related to the loss of citizenship represent less than 0.5% of all calls in that period.
Of the approximately 1,900 calls, all but 75 received confirmation that they were indeed Canadian citizens. Some of these 75 have been identified as permanent residents and invited to apply for a regular grant of citizenship. Some were counselled to apply as permanent residents, others were invited to apply for the discretionary grant of citizenship, and of course some cases are still under review.
These cases are being treated as priorities. Case officers have been assigned to all of the cases that we have identified with potential citizenship issues. Each one is unique, and the individuals are being dealt with on a personal basis.
We are working with the Canada Border Services Agency and other partners to understand that no one is removed from Canada while the case is under review and that government benefits such as health care and old age security are continued.
Of the cases that have already been reviewed, 46 individuals have been approved for a grant of citizenship, and as Mark mentioned, the criteria we are using for recommending cases to the minister to approve grants of citizenship are those cases where the individuals have a significant attachment to Canada and have lived here most of their lives.
Some of them have already attended citizenship ceremonies and received their Canadian citizenship. One of those is now a bona fide citizen, Barbara Porteous, who herself made known the fact that she received her citizenship on April 19.
We are also remitting fees that we would normally charge for citizenship applications for those who have come forward since the minister's first statement on this issue and who are now receiving a special grant of Canadian citizenship.
There have also been discussions about how many people might be affected by some of the provisions in our Citizenship Act. From an operations perspective, my colleagues and I are very much focused on those confirmed cases where people have come forward.
Despite the widespread attention the issue has received, the number of people who have come forward with legitimate cases is, as you can see, relatively small.
Nonetheless, the department is committed to reaching out and allaying any concerns individuals may have about their citizenship status. To that end, the department is also coming forward with a targeted advertising campaign in an additional effort to try to reach people who may be affected.
For those cases that we receive, you have my assurance that Citizenship and Immigration Canada is working to resolve as many cases as possible, as quickly as possible, using the discretionary authority available to the Minister.
We will be happy to answer any questions.
You're asking me a question I can't answer. I don't know what the difference is. I'll hear from members who want to speak to this. I don't know what the difference would be, so—
Order, please. I'm going to recognize people. You don't have to go jumping at this so quickly. I'm going to recognize everyone in turn.
Mr. Batters has asked a legitimate question, which I'm trying to deal with here. I'm simply responding to him and telling him that I don't know what the ramifications are.
I know it's not an unusual procedure for people to be sworn in, and that's as much as I can say on the issue, Mr. Batters.
Other people wish to make a comment on it. I would ask you to be patient. I'll get around to you.
Go ahead, Mr. Telegdi, please.
I think it's fair. We need to allow some time to debate some issues without getting overly excited about it. We've had witnesses from various departments testify, and no one has asked that they be sworn in. I'm not sure, but there may be some basis for it. I'm sure it's a procedure that can be utilized. I would like to at least see some reasons why you would want to have department people sworn in.
I would expect them all to speak truthfully, indicate what the facts are, and what they want to testify on. We've done that routinely from time to time. Because I've seen that done routinely, it seems to me you would have to somehow establish that this is a different case from the ones we've had before, or establish some basis upon which you think it would be necessary to have people sworn in.
We have had much testimony before without swearing in, and there's been no indication why you would want to do it in this case, other than that we want to do it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It looks like we'll probably hold more than one set of hearings on this issue, because this issue is of great urgency, and I sense absolutely no sense of urgency from the department.
One thing that really struck me was the comment made that not many people came forward despite widespread attention to the issue. Well, the answer for that is very simple. If you happen to have a job that involves being a Canadian citizen, you can end up losing the job if you are found not to be a Canadian citizen.
This committee heard witnesses on the question and the cost. The case was the Mennonites and their circumstances. I think Mr. Teichroeb told us it cost him $100,000, and I detected absolutely no urgency on the part of the department.
I have a series of questions, and I want very quick answers.
Does your department keep a genealogical file specifically targeting Mennonites in Sydney, yes or no?
Mr. Chair, I'll try to answer the question as best I can.
Anyone who has the need to get their proof of Canadian citizenship is asked to file an application and submit the application with the case processing centre in Sydney. If any of the cases that are received fall under the categories of the criteria that were identified by our minister as requiring expedited service, those cases are identified up front and are processed urgently. Resources have been deployed to ensure that this is happening.
For cases that are of a more regular nature, that can follow the normal course of process, those cases are being processed within a two- to three-month period for the time being.
Cases that are identified as requiring urgent processing are dealt with immediately. Clients are being contacted by a special group at the case processing centre, the program support officer group, and clients are counselled specifically on the basis of their individual cases. We are providing this service quickly within a 24-hour period, whether it's clients who are coming to us via the format of an application or contacting us by phone through our call centre. So we are trying to focus a lot of our resources in making sure that the commitment made by the minister is followed.
For cases where we can identify that need that can be processed through the discretionary grant process, those are immediately identified as well, and they are sent to the case management branch unit here in Ottawa.
Perhaps my colleague Rosemarie Redden could expand on the process at that point.
Once the file gets to the case management branch in our unit that handles citizenship cases, staff have been instructed to treat these as a top priority, which we are currently doing. A case summary is prepared and it is reviewed by the analyst, the director of legislation and program policy, as well as the legal adviser, to ensure that it fits within the parameters of the types of cases the minister has asked us to focus on and that it fits within the parameters of subsection 5.(4) of the Citizenship Act.
Once we determine that it is a case that falls within that parameter, the client is contacted by an analyst and provided with individual counselling. An application under subsection 5.(4) is invited. Once the application is received, the clearances are initiated and a submission is prepared for the minister to forward to the Governor in Council with a favourable recommendation. And by clearances, I'm talking about the regular security and criminality checks.
I can speak about the campaign itself; I can't really speak about the decision to do it.
From my point of view, we're trying to make sure that our websites are updated, that we now have, going into production, some promotional material around how to retain citizenship, how to prove citizenship, and such.
We had several documents out before in the past to assist people in submitting an application, either for a grant or a proof of citizenship, and what we've done is updated them to make sure they're more relevant.
Mr. Chair, perhaps I'll answer that, if that's okay.
Yes, we are certainly trying to ensure that individuals are aware. We've asked individuals to come forward if they have concerns about their citizenship. As Clark has indicated, the vast majority of individuals who have phoned that dedicated line have turned out not to have problems. As an abundance of caution, we felt it was a good practice to expand that message, not only on the website and through pamphlets, but also by beginning a new public campaign to bring that message even further to the fore.
We've also been working very closely with our partners in government and outside the government—for example, Passport Canada, Service Canada, and indeed the Mennonite Central Committee. Clark and I were at a meeting last week with 20 or so documentation workers from the Mennonite Central Committee in southwestern Ontario to talk about citizenship issues with them; this is also part of that expanded messaging we're undertaking.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today. I'm sure there's nowhere you'd rather be on a Wednesday afternoon.
Like Mr. Siksay, I must also leave a bit early. This is not a regular meeting time for this committee, so I apologize for leaving early.
We heard lots of witnesses who came forward during this process who gave some pretty compelling testimony. As a relatively new member of the committee, and as a lay person in this field, it seemed like what I would call a no-brainer, quite frankly. The evidence seemed overwhelming that they ought to be, that they were, Canadian citizens and that somehow, there was a glitch in the system. The department didn't look very good that day.
I appreciate the fact that you have to work with the legislation and the regulations you have, but we were certainly left with the impression that the department wasn't as sensitive as it could or should have been in different cases.
I have a couple of questions. This was one of the things that was brought forward. Someone goes in to get documentation for something, and they think they've been a Canadian for 50 years, and all of a sudden, some, possibly junior, person in an office somewhere tells them that, by the way, they're not even a Canadian citizen. I remember thinking that it would be like the receptionist in a doctor's office telling you that, by the way, it says here that you have cancer and you're going to die next week. That would never happen in a medical office, because there's an understanding that that kind of information is very traumatic, particularly if you're not even sure whether it's right.
So has the department taken any steps to make sure that your staff—your front-line staff and your staff in the main offices—appreciates this and appreciates that when they're talking to someone in this situation, they shouldn't just be blurting that information out? Quite frankly, I would almost think that the department should have a process on how that information should be conveyed to a person, and not in that haphazard way. Can anyone tell me what steps have been made in that area?
Thank you for the question. I'll ask Clark to answer part of it.
On the first part of your question, dealing with the legislation, citizenship law is exceptionally complicated. And it's probably one of the rare areas of public law in which decisions made by legislators decades ago, parliaments ago, generations ago, still have some sort of carriage. It's not an area that we see at all in the immigration world. We don't deal with the 1952 Immigration Act; it's just not part of our environment. Yet with citizenship, because citizenship can be passed on generation upon generation, those parliamentary decisions that were made in 1946 and 1976 have carriage.
So we do have to be conscious of that. That is just a bit of the context around your question. I'll ask Clark to reply to the second part.
Might I just suggest that you attach another non-800 number to that? If someone lives in California and they want to call, they might be glad to pay the 25¢ for a long-distance call to a 613 number, if they can't get through on the 800 number, or 902, or whatever it is.
My final point is one that Mr. Telegdi made, and I can appreciate this. For someone who is not sure about this, do they ask the question and maybe get the wrong answer, or do they just ignore it and hope it goes away or hope nobody ever finds out that they're not a citizen?
In terms of the advertising campaign you're putting out, you're going to identify which groups of people could potentially fall into this category and encourage people. Have you thought this one through--that, quite frankly, there are a lot of people out there who don't trust the government, either its intentions in the broadest sense or its competence in dealing with these things, so they just stay away from it? How are you going to deal with that? How are you going to encourage people who are reluctant to come forward?
I have a question and a comment.
Mr. Davidson, in your document, you say that we cannot stand in judgment of legislation enacted in 1947; those were the laws. Although what you say may be true, we know that they make no sense today for Canadians who are lost because of marriage or parents.
So, why is it taking so much time to resolve these problems? If these people lost their citizenship because of such legislation, could we not bypass the system and restore their Canadian citizenship to them? This would save time and avoid unnecessary expenses and drama. We're talking about human beings.
My comment is that you may speak in French. We have interpretation in both languages, and you are public servants in a country that is supposed to be bilingual.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today.
I am a new member of the committee, so I'm going to ask you to help me out a little bit so that I can help the minister responsible by providing him with some insight on how he might be able to change things for the better, especially regarding this issue of lost Canadians, which is new to me.
I fully respect the fact that you are public servants and not policy-makers, yet as a new member of this committee, I ask you to give me two or three very specific common headaches that plague you on a daily basis that, if dealt with, would make your lives and the lives of lost Canadians a lot easier. I'm not asking you for recommendations on policy changes; I'm asking for two or three common headaches that you, in your experience, face on a regular basis.
I'm going to stop you there, Mr. Davidson, because I know which road this is going down.
I'm asking you to help me out a little bit, sir. Just restrict your comments, then, to something that everyone in your department—Again, I'm a new member of the committee, and, yes, I'm playing dumb a little bit here, but I truly am brand new to this. So give me something that everyone recognizes is a problem and that the minister will have heard a number of times is a problem. So you're not divulging any confidences here. These are things that could be addressed, and which everybody knows are problematic.
I think to fix all of the errors in the legislation, if you want to call them such, would require parliamentarians and the minister to come together.
I want to focus on the unintended consequences. By saying that many of them were intended, it implies that many of them were unintended.
If we know there are some unintended consequences, and we know that Parliament is not always fast to act, especially in a minority government, and we know, as Mr. Devolin said, that some individuals are concerned about stepping forward and hearing something they don't want to hear, and they'd rather ignore this issue, is there a way that we can fix at least the unintended consequences administratively?
Thank you, Mr. Davidson.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to go on to the testimony of Mr. Goodman here. Although I may be wearing a white shirt and a grey pinstripe suit, I was raised in North Vancouver on a school of hard knocks. I think I can tell when we're getting snowed, and I think the committee here is being snowed.
I asked specific questions. In your testimony you said that you're managing an inventory of 400 cases, and then we learn that there are actually 400 cases that are being held in abatement. Are there 800 cases? Are there 400, or is there zero in inventory?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for your patience and indulgence and taking the time to answer the questions that have been put.
With respect to the numbers and the numbers game, I know Mr. Telegdi has referred to the numbers, but when I was there, when Mr. Edmonston testified, he himself indicated that he wasn't able to say what the numbers might be. He identified categories or groups of people, some of which, or none of which, or a percentage of which might be affected, but he wasn't able to say definitively one way or another. I simply want to dispel any suggestion of the types of numbers Mr. Telegdi indicated.
Would you agree that was the essence of Mr. Edmonston's testimony?
It was good to hear clarification that the money Mr. Alghabra referred to was for implementation that never took place and of course wasn't necessary.
As I try to summarize, what I hear is that what the department is attempting to do is apply the existing rules on a consistent basis, but that there are some rules that are limiting, for one reason or another. Perhaps you are looking to parliamentarians to fix those rules that need fixing to ensure that the problems we've struggled with are taken care of in an appropriate manner.
I appreciate also that there is ministerial intervention, but that intervention of course is circumscribed for appropriate cases.
Would you agree with me that ultimately some type of legislative fix, if you want to call it that, would be required?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I dare say we will have many more meetings at which we'll get to discuss this, because the answers we are getting and the rationale we are getting are, I think, totally unsatisfactory.
You know, to say that a law exists.... Well, instead of fixing discriminatory laws that have been judged by the courts to be not compliant with the charter, they're litigating them. We're wasting resources litigating them. And to say that Bill , on international adoptions, is the priority I don't think is acceptable.
I want to commend you, Mr. Davidson, for pointing out to the committee that the previous government had $20 million to fix the Citizenship Act. When this government came into office, they cancelled it. So I just want to thank you for making the committee aware of that.
Yes, it's a good thing you know this: $20 million, just to repeat it.
Now, one of the problems I have is dealing with the bureaucracy. This whole citizenship thing is incredibly Kafkaesque, as was stated by The Economist. We're the laughingstock of the world. It seems to me that if civil servants in Trinidad and Australia can fix their acts, we should be able to fix our act too, instead of wasting money on putting people like Mr. Chapman...or else turning a tenth-generation Québécois into a first-generation Canadian, denying her heritage. It's a bad law.
I've been on this committee for a long time, Mr. Davidson. I sat through Bill C-63, twice introduced to Parliament, to the committee, with extensive hearings. I sat through Bill C-16. I sat through Bill C-18. In not one of those cases has the department alerted the committee or the minister...because I don't believe the ministers knew about this problem. It wasn't until Mr. Chapman came forward, I believe in 2003, that I was alerted, that the committee was alerted that this problem existed.
This problem has been going on for a long time; I think it's really critical that we understand it. And I believe it is the job of the bureaucracy to alert the minister.
I will read from a letter written in 2005 to Mr. Siksay, signed by Minister Volpe, as follows:
The Canadian Citizenship Act, which came into force on January 1, 1947, automatically granted Canadian citizenship to women who were married to Canadian soldiers overseas before that day. Children born to these couples also obtained citizenship automatically, by birth on Canadian soil or through their Canadian father, if born outside Canada.
I mean, that's what a politician will know. That's what a minister will know. And if you believed that, Mr. Chapman wouldn't have a problem. All those folks wouldn't have a problem.
In 1999, on the CIC website, it said that if you were born in Canada, you were a Canadian. The fact of the matter is that I have served that length of time on this committee, and I did not know about this whole issue until it came to 2003.
I think the lost Canadians listening to us—and they are many—are pulling out their hair. They really are pulling out their hair at the complacency and the answers they are getting from the bureaucracy.
Conferring subsection 5(4).... This was done to Magali. It turned her from a tenth-generation Québécois into a first-generation Canadian—just unbelievable.
My question to you—And there are going to be many more coming, because this just won't do. I have the question for every member here.
Will you tell us, Mr. Davidson, did you get together and caucus and talk about what you were going to say at this committee—that you're going to stick to your 450 numbers and about what kind of evidence you're going to get? Did you do that?
I want an answer from every one of you at the table; just yes or no.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I want to change the focus of the meeting a little bit, if I might.
We have before us respected civil servants, public servants, who serve their country on a daily basis, who do the best job they can under the legislation that's been created for them. We recognize there are some flaws in a 1947 act. There may be flaws in a 1977 act. A lot of these problems seem to have emerged from an act that was made by parliamentarians in 1947.
Some members of the committee want these public servants to sit here on the hot seat and take a tremendous amount of abuse today for a problem in the law. I think it's distinctly unfair that you've been placed on the hot seat, you've been accused of.... We've heard about Mr. Wilson's snowstorm, that we're being snowed. I couldn't disagree more.
Your comments, Mr. Goodman, on the bottom of page 2, I think that paragraph says it all. You've got 37,693 calls. In the end, you've got a problem with 75 cases. You've got 75 cases we are working very hard to resolve. You've dedicated the appropriate resources.
I sympathize with these individuals who are lost Canadians. I have a lot of sympathy. I think every one of you would say you sympathize with these individuals. These are anomalies in legislation that you're working hard to address and correct.
Am I right in that? You're sympathizing and you're working hard to address it.