I have a point of order, if I can.
On the agenda, one item is missing. When we last broke from the committee, before the minister came to see us on Tuesday afternoon, I had put forth a motion regarding getting information on Mr. Taylor and for this committee to look at it, giving the department 30 days, and for us to look at in camera. That was put off until we heard from the minister. If that was not dealt with in the minister's speech, it was to be brought back. I'm sure that if you read the blues, it's in there. I'd like that to be put on the agenda, please--the motion that I deferred.
I'm very happy to be here, and I thank the honourable members for their interest in this very important issue.
I have been following the deliberations of this committee very closely. As a public servant with 23 years of experience at CIC, and as the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for carrying out the Minister's instructions regarding Lost Canadians, I hope I can, along with my colleagues, answer any outstanding questions you may still have.
With me today are Margaret Dritsas, nationality law advisor; John Warner, analyst; Rosemarie Redden, manager, citizenship case review; Clark Goodman, acting director, CIC program delivery; Rose Anne Poirier, manager, program support; and Eric Stevens, legal counsel. Melba Hefferon and Hugh MacDonald, who live and work in Sydney, Nova Scotia, are not here today because of their responsibilities as primary caregivers.
As the minister was just here last week updating the committee about the question of lost citizenship and other issues, I will keep my opening remarks brief.
As you know, the minister instructed the department in January to dedicate resources specifically to dealing with these cases that have come to be known as lost Canadians.
And we have done that. Among other things, we have set up a dedicated line in our call centre so that those with questions about their citizenship would be served by operators trained to address those types of questions.
We also ensured that those cases that require further investigation are given prompt and individual attention. As an additional measure, we launched a public awareness advertising campaign last week. Since setting up our dedicated phone lines, we have been able to confirm to over 96% of our callers that they are indeed Canadian citizens. Since launching the public awareness campaign, we have received an increase in the number of calls, but again, in over 96% of the cases we have been able to confirm citizenship.
We have continued our concerted effort to resolve the citizenship status of those new and existing cases that have been brought to our attention. Today our inventory is approximately 300, which includes the cases on hold because of the Taylor decision. With the help of our legal colleagues, we have been able to limit, to the extent possible, the number of cases that must be held in abeyance because of the Federal Court of Appeal order. This number now stands at approximately 250, but this situation is not static. Our inventory of cases will continue to fluctuate as new cases are identified and existing cases are resolved.
As you know, Mr. Chair, the Minister last week told this Committee that she plans to introduce legislative amendments to the Citizenship Act in the fall, to address the most pressing circumstances the Committee has been looking at.
Once Parliament has tabled new legislation and amendments are in place, as the associate assistant deputy minister I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we will implement with the dedication and professionalism that we in the operations sector have always brought to our work. In the interim, my colleagues and I will continue to do our very best to help those who have questions about their citizenship status to resolve them with the best possible outcome.
Merci, monsieur le président.
Thank you all for being here.
Let me assure you that it's not the wish of the committee to put you under any difficulty. However, we need to get some questions answered. As we hear from people who are affected by this, they seem to want you to bear the brunt for this. As we ask the tough questions, I think you have to understand that some of the questions are from the individuals who are affected by this and they're asking them through us.
My first question is as follows. Ms. Hefferon and Mr. MacDonald couldn't be here today because of their responsibilities as primary caregivers. As an individual who has older parents, I understand their duties lie with their families first and foremost. However, if an individual whose case has been dealt with by the department officials and has dealt with one official and the individual sends a fax to that official, shouldn't it be the responsibility of that official to look at the fax? Shouldn't it also be the responsibility of that official to act on that fax and answer the individual?
I would like to thank you for coming to the Committee.
The advertising that has been done on this question, relating to citizenship, has been fairly limited. Can you explain the campaign? Are other initiatives going to be undertaken? Frankly, I do not think that everyone has seen the advertising. There was an article by Mr. De Grandpré in La Presse that talked about this. Did you only publish the information once? What method is used for disseminating the information, specifically for the people affected by the laws before the 1977 Act?
I was looking at the information in the kit. For people born before 1977, it is fairly limited. The problem cases that are coming to our attention date from a long time ago. They are older people, people born in 1929 or 1946 or 1952. I would like to know what the objective of the campaign was. If you have not received a lot of calls, could it be because the information seems to relate to people born after 1977?
So could you explain the initiatives and the campaign in detail?
The reason why I am asking the question is that quite recently, this week, a complaint about a case from my office was made publicly. The political staffer in the Minister's office tried to contact the person to solve the problem. We also undertook to contact Sydney directly to get information. What happened was that the information we got from the two sources was not the same. You will understand that because the person in question was 81 years old it is quite unacceptable for the person to be getting conflicting information.
As well, we are talking about an arbitrary process and we are told that the Minister will make a decision. What kinds of precedents will be created? In fact, we expect that it will be done transparently, but at present we are seeing that this is not possible.
I simply wanted to draw a few situations to your attention. We do want to cooperate, but the information is contradictory.
I want to thank the folks from the department for being here yet again. I appreciate you making the trip and coming in today. Again, I have to apologize. I have to go over to speak on Bill C-57 in the House at some point, so I'll have to leave the committee. It seems to me I'm always leaving when you folks are here, and it's certainly not something I choose to do. I'd rather be here.
I do have one question. Ms. Siddall, in your opening remarks you mentioned that you had seen an increase in the number of calls since the advertising campaign had been undertaken. Do you have any statistics yet on that, or any sense of what change that has made?
I'm just looking for the right number to give you.
The total number of inquiries about potential loss of citizenship received at the CIC call centre between January 26 and May 31, 2007, was 2,565, which is approximately 0.22%, or less than one-quarter of 1%, of calls that were received by the call centre. Of these 2,565 calls, 2,460 people had their citizenship confirmed. Of the remaining 105, 26 were invited to submit an application for a discretionary grant; 13 were identified as permanent residents; 10 were counselled to submit a permanent residence application; and the rest are under study.
I'll respond to that, Mr. Chair.
There's no reporting mechanism in place to track an individual case if it falls in the category A, B, or C. We have a quality assurance program in place to review our files to make sure we are doing a good job, but in terms of reporting on a type of case and following up, no. I will say that our quality assurance program informs us when we see something that needs fixing: if we were having errors on an application form, for example, how we could use quality assurance to improve the file, and things like that.
Thanks, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the staff for being here.
I think it's fair to say that all members of Parliament appreciate the work that you do in your department. I can tell you on a personal level that the more I've learned about this file since I joined this committee, the more I appreciate the complexity of what this department does and the importance of this issue to the people who are involved.
You said that for the people who call in about 96% can be assured that their citizenship is fine, that they are Canadian citizens. So I guess it's really the 4% that we're talking about, and if you've been following this committee, you'll know that in the past many weeks we've heard people from the 4%, so to speak. We've had many compelling stories told here that quite frankly sound like no-brainers to us, that the stories that we're hearing ought not to be a problem and yet they are. So that's what I think we're trying to dig down into in this committee and deal with.
There is one concern we've heard this morning, and I share this as well. We appreciate the fact that the department is advertising that this hotline has been set up. I know that advertising is a bottomless pit that you can just pour endless resources into and still not everyone will hear what you've done. But I think that's one concern—whether there's been enough. And I look forward to seeing some of the documents that get tabled in terms of the amount of advertising and how it has gone.
The increase in the number of calls per day suggests that the issue has a higher profile than it did before, and I imagine part of that is due to the advertising. I suspect part of it's due to the media coverage of the story that has taken place over the past couple of months.
One of the issues that come up when we've heard witnesses has to do with the way that information is conveyed to people. We've heard stories regarding people coming into one of your offices. Quite frankly we've heard stories about people coming in to MPs' offices and asking a question about their citizenship and they get told almost casually, or have been told almost casually, “Oh, by the way, you may not be a Canadian citizen”. This shakes people to their foundation if they've been in Canada for decades and all of a sudden someone drops this on them like a bombshell.
As I listened to that testimony what struck me, as an analogy, is if you went to a doctor's office and you had some tests done, you wouldn't show up two days later and have the receptionist say, “Oh, gee, I think I heard you have cancer, but I'm not sure, it could be somebody else”. The notion is that in the medical profession or community there are strict protocols in terms of how information is conveyed back to people, recognizing the sensitivity of it. Certainly having listened to the testimony, my sense was that we haven't dealt with this information maybe as carefully or as sensitively as we have in the past.
So both in terms of the 4% of the people who call in whom you cannot tell right off the bat there's no problem, but also in terms of the people who may walk into one of your offices or just call a general number rather than your hotline, are there protocols in place? Have new protocols been developed to ensure that your staff are dealing with people in a sensitive way, recognizing the way that this information may hit somebody? Can you bring us up to speed in terms of what you've done in that area and whether you feel that you've done enough?
I can respond to that question.
First of all, of course, we have the call centre out there and we have a dedicated line to answer people's questions, and if the questions cannot be answered at that point, the persons are referred to the case processing centre and they will call them back.
As far as local offices go, I have reminded the managers to be courteous with people who appear in their office, to answer their questions, and refer them to the website and the call centre to discuss their case.
If a case appears in the media that I hear about, I will call the office and speak to them about it, as an example.
Janet, do you want to add something?
I would add that we do have a protocol that has been developed for dealing with these cases. The guidelines for dealing with people who may not have status in Canada are published on our Internet site, including scripts to guide our agents so that they're using sensitive language.
I have personally met with other federal government offices that may be the first point of contact. For example, I met with the chief executive officer of the Passport Office early in the year, in January. He circulated among his network reminders to be very sensitive at the level of passport officials when they are dealing with people who do not have proof of their Canadian citizenship, and to ensure that those people are properly referred back to our department. Indeed, it's only Citizenship and Immigration that could confirm whether or not someone born outside of Canada is indeed a citizen.
Likewise, I've had conversations with the Canada Border Services Agency. They have confirmed as well that if they have any cases in which people may have concerns about their citizenship status, those people will be referred to our case management branch so that they can receive a call from a knowledgeable and trained citizenship officer.
We've also had the same conversation with the Consular Affairs Bureau, of Foreign Affairs. They have also sent a network-wide message to their network abroad, reminding them that they need to be sensitive and where to go for the information.
I would have to agree with you that it can be devastating to hear the news in an insensitive manner. However, we are and will continue to make real efforts to make sure that when people have doubts about their citizenship, they can speak to someone or get information off our website that guides them through that process in a sensitive manner.
I'd like to thank the delegation from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration for being here today and for answering our questions.
Obviously the committee has done an enormous amount of work on this issue of lost citizenship, not just in this Parliament, but in the Parliament preceding this one as well. It is a very important issue to a growing number of people from whom we've heard testimony.
I have just a few questions dealing with that issue. The first is just dealing with the presentation Ms. Siddall gave to the committee, talking about dedicated resources to deal with lost Canadians. How much money has been set aside to deal with these new resources?
Good afternoon. I have some questions, but I also have some comments.
You said earlier, Mr. Goodman or Ms. Siddall, that if you could not provide information to people who approached you, you referred them to your Web site. A Web site does not mean much to people who are 80 years of age or older. Perhaps they should be provided with other sources of information. These people have trouble talking to an answering machine, so imagine what going to a Web site might mean to them.
The situation was unique in Quebec before 1994. I am a Catholic priest and I recorded children in the Catholic baptism records. From time to time, I baptized children born in the United States, in an American hospital. I recorded them and I sent the information to the civil status office, saying that they were Canadians. Are the children whom I baptized stateless persons? Have they lost their citizenship? They were born in the United States, and I had no documents other than the one from the American hospital. I filled out the appropriate form, I sent it to the civil status office, and the child was registered, so he or she was automatically Canadian. Are those children stateless today?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to say thank you to the delegation from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration for appearing before us. It's good to see you all.
I want to continue discussing the advertising that has been done in conjunction with this very important issue that the committee has been studying.
The minister, when she appeared before us last time, held up some advertisements that had been placed in national newspapers. I didn't have an opportunity to look at those myself, and I have to admit that I haven't really noticed those ads in national newspapers. I guess it's something that doesn't affect me, and prior to being a member of this committee, it's not something that I have seen.
I wonder if you have given any consideration to running television ads. Probably the most people in Canada can be reached through television. Certainly Mr. Karygiannis is bilingual, and it sounds like a great idea for it to be run in both official languages.
I appreciate that you talked about the sensitivity with which the department's handling this issue, and that there is some sensitivity training that's going on with the front-line staff, because it must be absolutely devastating for someone who has assumed that they're Canadian their entire life only to find out that maybe they're not. Have you considered perhaps running a television ad where someone lays out in a very sensitive manner the different categories that people who might be affected may fall into or be so-called lost Canadians? We've talked at length that perhaps you could have a war bride in the ad, for example, talking about if you're someone who falls into this category. This is something you might want to look into.
There are other people we've heard from in this committee who may be affected, some of whom would be Hutterites and the so-called border babies. Running different advertisements and being proactive to seek out these people, rather than waiting for them to someday discover they may not be a Canadian citizen, and be devastated--has that been considered? That's my first question.
As a corollary to that question, have you given some consideration to targeting the specific groups? Instead of a broadcast television ad on Hockey Night in Canada that's going to cover absolutely everyone and that personally doesn't affect me and doesn't affect a number of people in this room but only really affects specific groups of people, you could maybe go out and target specific organizations, the war brides for example—we heard a lady involved with the war brides in a previous committee meeting—Hutterite colonies, people who are specifically affected by this. You could be proactive and have advertising campaigns directed at them, saying this is something you might want to look into. Instead of the shotgun approach inThe National Post, you could have a very specific targeted approach with those individuals.
I would just like you to comment on those points.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
In terms of television and advertising, I think it sounds like a wonderful idea, but there's a cost. We'll certainly take that back for consideration. In terms of proactive targeting, we have been working with various groups that potentially represent individuals who might have concern about their citizenship. We have been working for years with the Mennonite Central Committee, for example, on the Mennonites.
I'm going to turn to my colleagues, because I know that you've been working with the association related with war brides and children of Canadian Forces personnel.
I can add to that. I personally met with the Mennonite Central Committee recently. I was invited to speak to them about files, as was Mark Davidson, who was here on May 2, I believe.
With respect to DND, DND has a section of their website devoted to citizenship issues with links to CIC. The citizenship branch has received about 22 inquiries directly from the Department of National Defence.
As I mentioned earlier, we've contacted the provincial governments to let them know about what's going on. As Ms. Siddall mentioned, she's been in contact with CBSA and HRSDC and others.
Do you want to add something?
I'm going to ask a few questions.
Getting back to the numbers and remembering the discussions we had in previous parliaments with previous ministers, this whole issue of lost Canadians has been around. When the officials or ministers argued against it in various forms, they always came up with big numbers as the reason we cannot deal with it.
I think there's a realization now that the numbers are indeed big, and as much as Professor Edmonston put out his estimates, he did not include the Mennonites.
I think the committee's going to have a big problem seeing discrimination based on the fact that these folks had religious weddings and did not have civil weddings. When the faith community appreciates this fact across the country, I think they're going to be putting on some heat, in particular on the party that's supposed to be a proponent of the religious groups. I think that's coming.
We've come a long way, from having no legislation to where we're now going to be getting legislation, which the committee looks forward to.
In the proposals the minister was talking about as to what she's going to be dealing with as of January 1, 1947, are we going to have a grant of citizenship that is applicable from the time they receive it, or is it going to be retroactive? I think that's a question we'll be debating in the fall. I'm just wondering whether you have thoughts on it.
Maybe you have a sort of warning that this question will be asked once the bill comes down, and you might correct it before it gets here.
The other issue I'm wondering about and that the government has recognized they have to update is that they cannot discriminate on the basis of people being born in and out of wedlock. My big question is, and I hope you will come in with a rationale, how you can consider Mennonites who had church weddings to be, number one, born out of wedlock and be treated that way, and number two, how you can say there's a cutoff as to when we can discriminate.
If we recognize that we should not be discriminating against people born out of wedlock in this day and age, why is there the artificial date, January 1, 1947? We can discriminate before, but we cannot discriminate after.
It doesn't make any sense. It seems we could have solved the whole problem if we had just carried that spirit all the way through.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen, for appearing before our committee.
First of all, I would like to say that during my time here in Ottawa, I have been impressed with the good work, the hard work and dedication of public servants. You guys should be really proud of the job you are doing.
A voice: Hear, hear.
Ms. Nina Grewal: Last week, told us that she has instructed her officials to increase their efforts to raise awareness of this very important issue of loss of citizenship. Could you please elaborate on what steps have been taken to implement this directive?
In January, the minister asked us to reallocate additional resources and to place a priority on those individuals who have been living in Canada for most of their lives and unfortunately believed they were Canadians, but found they were not perhaps Canadians. This is what we have done, and we've spoken to some of those actions already.
In terms of raising awareness, I don't want to take too much time, but we've worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs on at least a dozen occasions. They have updated their website and have sent messages to their consular officials abroad.
We have been working with the Passport Office to raise their awareness, and they have updated their website. There are now linkages back to the CIC website, where we did a lot of work to try to make the information more user-friendly in terms of tools for self-assessment.
We have worked with Service Canada and have provided them with the linkages. They have a very good link and section on their website for newcomers to Canada and for Canadians.
We worked with the RCMP for those cases in which we're moving forward to recommend a discretionary grant by the minister, to have better turnaround times on those few cases that might require fingerprints.
We've worked with CBSA to ensure that they do not remove anyone from Canada without coming back to us first, because someone's citizenship status may be in question.
We've worked with Human Resources and Social Development Canada.
With DND, we've had an ongoing relationship. They have a good section on their website, but we have again updated that.
We've worked with the provinces and the territories. There was an exchange of letters between our deputy minister and his counterparts, and there has been a letter sent by Mr. Goodman to his counterparts to ensure, first of all, what constitutes proof of Canadian citizenship and to ask them to check with us before they remove any benefits.
We have an ongoing relationship with the Mennonite Central Committee, the organization—I'm sorry, I forget the woman's name—that deals with the children of.... It's Christine Eden, and there have been others.
We have updated a number of our publications, and you've seen them in your package today. We have our posters. We have the campaign that was just launched. And of course we keep referring to one of the best resources, our call centre. Because it has dedicated lines, no one has to wait to get through. If people do not want to reveal their identity, if they're concerned, they can certainly describe their circumstances and we will give them the best advice that we can. However, I do have to say that to make a definitive determination on whether or not someone is indeed a Canadian citizen, we do need documentation.
Those are a few of the things. Our guidelines are to our staff and to anyone who would also like to see how we're handling these specific instructions from the minister to deal with these cases on a priority basis. They are available on our public website.
I appreciate the advice that some of the committee is giving us on how we can continue to raise awareness in perhaps a more targeted and sensitive way, so that we can offer these services to individuals. Hopefully our success rate in reassuring the vast majority of them will continue.
Thank you, Mrs. Redden; however, you and I and the deputy minister have spoken on a particular case of someone who was considered to be a lost Canadian. I pointed out to you and I pointed out to the minister that it was not two weeks. More than likely, it was 120 days. I'm going to read to you, on the record, what the RCMP responded with yesterday:
—and I'm not going to mention the name—
has not reached our system.
CFSS processes more than 15,000 criminal record searches each month. The processing time is currently in excess of—120 days from receipt of an application. Note that processing time can vary due to incoming workloads.
I'd like to table this, Mr. Chair.
I have another question. Is your department aligned with the Department of Indian Affairs? Could somebody be an aboriginal and not be a Canadian citizen? Could somebody be granted aboriginal status under the Department of Indian Affairs and not be a Canadian citizen, yes or no?
I want to bring to your attention an individual who was born out of wedlock, to a Dutch mother and a Canadian aboriginal father. This individual was granted aboriginal status, yet this individual has been denied by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
How dare we—ministers, members of Parliament, officials—deny our first nations their right, their birthright? How dare all of us even discuss that we're going to deny second-generation Canadians their birthright?
How dare you in the department and the minister say to my daughter, if she has children outside Canada, that they cannot be Canadian citizens? This is what the minister—
The first question that I would like to respond to is the issue of the RCMP clearances. If you believe there's a case that we are considering putting forward to the minister for a discretionary grant, I would certainly invite anyone to bring it to our attention.
I would also like to read for the record a quote from Superintendent Robert Thompson, the director of Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services:
The present is to advise of the formal arrangement that has existed between CIC Case Management Branch and the RCMP Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services (CCRTIS) since February 2007 relative to citizenship anomaly cases. The RCMP undertakes to treat Case Management Branch requests for anomaly cases as priorities, with the commitments to responding to each request for service within a two-week cycle time. The RCMP will continue to honour this agreement until December 31, 2007, at which point in time the agreement will be revisited by both parties.
So there is an agreement between us and the RCMP to expedite the fingerprint checks, where necessary, for those cases that we are putting forward for a discretionary grant, a section 5(4) grant.
On the second question, I have no comment on that question. I think you've raised an issue that is more of a legal issue, and I do not have the expertise to answer that question.
Well, Mr. Willy Van Ee—and I'll refer you to the book Voices of the Left Behind
—is the only—
I would suggest that you folks read that book. Committee members are going to be reading the book, and they'll certainly be asking you questions on it.
Mr. Van Ee is the only status first nations person in Holland. He had his status conferred upon him, so it would be nice if his birthright is recognized and we don't end up with another blockade someplace because we refuse to recognize his Canadian roots.
So I recommend the book Voices of the Left Behind to you. This case is outlined in there. It's the only case of its kind in all of Holland, one person. This person is a status Indian, and he should have that recognition granted.
We'll leave it at that. You have been alerted to it.
I will start, but I have my experts here.
The basic premises, because of the way things are written in the Citizenship Act, are the issues of being born in or out of wedlock and of what is considered a legal marriage. The definition of a legal marriage is one that is recognized in the jurisdiction where it took place.
The difficulty with the Mennonite issue that has been raised here is that those religious marriages that took place in Mexico, for example, were not recognized by Mexico as legal marriages. That's what caused the problem.
Ms. Siddall, before we go to Mr. Siksay, I have one question, and it really causes me a great deal of problems.
If a couple comes to us from Mexico and they are a same-sex couple, they can apply for refugee status. They will get refugee status because they are discriminated against where they come from. We're progressive on that, which is good. At the same time, how can we say to Mennonites who had a church wedding that because their wedding was not recognized in the legal sense in Mexico, they all of a sudden lose their birthright?
There's a lack of consistency. On the one hand, Immigration bends over backwards to recognize cases of discrimination. But then we go into another arena, under Citizenship, and we say that if a couple only had a church wedding, we can't adopt the same policy if they didn't have a civil wedding, because church weddings aren't recognized in Mexico. Rightfully, we don't adopt that policy in terms of same-sex couples who are being discriminated against.
I again want to thank you all for being here. I'm still here. Our speaking order changed in the House, so I'm able to stay through the full committee meeting.
It seems to me that a number of the cases that have come to our attention came about because people applied for passports primarily because of the changes in the United States that require passports for people travelling by air. A number of folks who have never had to go through the process of verifying their citizenship were thrown into that position.
We know the United States is going to expand that requirement next year, by requiring passports for anybody crossing the land border with the United States. I'm sure that will mean many more Canadians who have never had a passport in their life will have to apply for passports. Is the department planning toward that? Do you expect a further increase in the number of applications for verification of citizenship and that kind of thing, as a result of the change in U.S. policy that's coming down the pipe?
I have had a discussion with the Passport Office. They might be able to provide more detail to you, but what they tell me is that approximately 25% of the people applying for Canadian passports are doing so on the basis of a document issued by Citizenship and Immigration, rather than on the basis of a birth certificate issued by a province or territory.
As the overall number of passport requests increases, the increase for those documents from Citizenship and Immigration also increase, but we have in fact been able to keep pace with the increased demand from the Passport Office. Also, our expedited fast-back situation allows a very quick turnaround time when people are travelling on an urgent basis.
It again goes back to who knows what the numbers are. The Passport Office tells me as well that they're already dealing with applications from people who are indicating that they want their passports for the 2008, I believe, coming into force of the western hemisphere travel initiative. They have some projections, and we intend to continue to work with the Passport Office on their projections so that we can match our projections on the need to provide proof of citizenship for those who do not use a birth certificate.
It is a concern, and most of the concern has been with the Passport Office, not with Citizenship and Immigration. I want to be very clear about that.
I think all of our offices have been inundated—I don't think that's too strong a word—with the concerns of people who have had difficulty getting their passports. Some of that difficulty seems to have been because there hasn't been any long-term planning toward the changes that have required people to need a passport. I just want to make sure that kind of planning is going ahead as these other, further changes come onboard down the road.
I just want to conclude by thanking you again for coming, and by thanking you, as Ms. Grewal did, for all the work you do on behalf of Canadians. I know it hasn't always been easy lately, but I do appreciate that you do come here to talk to us about it.
Thanks again, Mr. Chair.
To the officials, I have a comment that I'd ask you to comment on, and than I have a couple of points to make.
In picking up on what Mr. Siksay, I believe, or Mr. Karygiannis said—I'm forgetting which—I would urge you to reach out to members of Parliament a little more than what has been the case, perhaps. As you go out and have these advertising campaigns, especially as they're more and more targeted, the first people these people are going to go to to ask these questions will be our front-line workers in our constituency offices.
I see your packages, but to be honest, I'd really urge you to put together a nice succinct piece, a two- or three-page piece saying here's the issue and here are the groups that are typically affected. It's an executive summary, if you will, written for members of Parliament, but one that could very easily be distributed to all staff members of the member of Parliament. It would be nice to have a conference call, for example, available to the staff of all members of Parliament, and to say that in this conference call we're going to discuss for an hour what the issue is, which people are affected, and whom you may be getting in your office.
This type of information could be put on your website. It could be nice and succinct—say, three pages as people scroll down. I do agree with Mr. Gravel that you're dealing with a lot of people who are probably not web savvy or not hooked up to the Internet, so I think a little less reliance on this most modern powerful tool would be a recommendation that I would make to you, respectfully. That's my first comment.
In this succinct piece that you'd put together, you'd address the questions of, for example, Mr. Karygiannis, saying we have an agreement in place with the RCMP and CSIS that your background checks and fingerprints will be fast-tracked if you fit into these groups. This type of information is powerful for people. As well, I would put in the information package the need for members of Parliament and their staff to be sensitive to these individuals who are coming in.
All this stuff, I think, could be put into a front-line piece distributed to—There are only 308 of us. We all have front-line constituency office workers. You could ameliorate a lot of the damage and a lot of the confusion that's created around these cases through our front-line workers.
Could I have a quick comment on that, perhaps, before I proceed?
Absolutely, and thank you very much for that suggestion.
We certainly have, in the past, done newsletters for members of Parliament on issues. We've done sessions on the Hill. I would go further; we do offer up information sessions for constituency offices on all our services. I'd be very happy to take this back to my colleagues, who work across the country, and have them organize specific information sessions for your constituency offices on these issues.
You can have a town hall, a question and answer, and we can work with you on, as you say, a succinct one- or two- or three-pager that covers the main issues that you're hearing about, and perhaps we could have some dialogue with your offices so that we could test-run it with you to see whether it meets your needs.
Absolutely, and you can create that piece now, over the next month or two, and distribute it. Granted, you don't have all the questions answered, you don't have the new legislation that will be tabled in the fall, and you don't have an outcome to the Joe Taylor case, but then you redo your materials; you update them and you send out another round saying we have an update. I think it would certainly be something that would help me as a member of Parliament.
As my second comment to Mr. Gravel and to the committee, I want to say that it's a great thing that the Minister is taking some time to make sure she gets this right and is carefully drafting this legislation. We've had an awful lot of questions around this difficult issue, and there's a chance for members of Parliament to add their input into this legislation if there's something they want to see included. I imagine the Minister and the Minister's staff will be carefully studying the minutes of this committee. I think there's a chance there to contact the Minister and ensure that there's input into that legislation, and then, of course, we'll all have input in debating the legislation.
Finally, Mr. Chair, my time is almost up. I want to congratulate the officials as well—just one second, Mr. Chair; thank you very much for the hard work you do on behalf of Canadian taxpayers and for your department, especially in regard to this very difficult question.
I just want to say thank you to the witnesses here with respect to the statements you made previously about working together with members of Parliament over the summer and putting together some town hall meetings. I do ten town hall meetings in my riding every summer, and if I can incorporate some of the issues with respect to citizenship and immigration into them, I think it would be advantageous to my constituents, so thank you on that.
To carry on with the questions that I asked previously, I just wanted to clarify that the department or the minister hasn't put forward a budget of any kind to deal with the dedicated transfer of resources to deal with the lost Canadians or to deal with the $300,000 that is going to be spent on an advertising campaign. There has been no budget set aside as to how much is going to be spent on this issue. Is that correct?
Mr. Chair, I'll try to answer that to the best of my ability.
In terms of applications that are submitted to the case processing centre in Sydney, we have an application from clients that we process. Whether it's an application for grant of citizenship or proof of citizenship, that is the system that is used. That's the electronic system we use to process the applications.
I think we also previously mentioned that we are tracking—In terms of an active application coming forward, that is the system that we are using, and, of course, we can get some information from that system.
In terms of people who are coming forward and calling our call centre, I believe we already provided an answer to that question; there is a more manual tracking done of those particular inquiries as they're coming forward.
I have a quick question for the two lawyers who haven't had much of an opportunity to speak, which is unusual.
Has the department asked you to take a look at the proposed new legislation and comment on its charter compliance? It says it will affect people after 1947, but it discriminates against anybody born before that date. Have you looked at any of legislation? Can you comment with respect to the type of legal ramifications that may come forward?
If some officials want to stay and listen in the audience to what the motion has to say, that would be good.
Just as a general comment, we put this issue on the agenda as a committee and we can all take some pride in it. While previous ministers said they were not going to come forward with legislation, it is now happening. We will have a real opportunity in the fall to hopefully make some meaningful legislation. The differences in dynamics are interesting when we have lost Canadians in and when we have the officials in. But committee members picked up the cause of the lost Canadians and we will have good solutions.
I might say to Mr. Komarnicki that he didn't ask any questions and we had such an easy meeting.
An hon. member: It's just because you're in the chair and not sitting on this side of the table.
The Vice-Chair (Hon. Andrew Telegdi): No, I think it has more to do with Mr. Komarnicki not being here.
So we can look forward to legislation. I really hope that those of you on the government side will push the government to include the other people who are being left out. I don't think the committee can really rationalize why we're leaving them out. There are some other things that they could fix up. But I think we could have major legislation, and it would be really good if you could get that done.
We have a notice of motion from Mr. Karygiannis, and I guess the officials all took off.
On the whole thing regarding lost Canadians, Mr. Goodman said there are about 250 Canadians whose cases are in abeyance, and the minister spoke of 400. We certainly have not been given exact numbers. All these cases are in abeyance because of the decision on Joe Taylor. We have not had an opportunity as a committee to look very carefully at the file of Mr. Taylor.
Before we proceed to make recommendations in the fall and come up with proposed legislation, I'm asking that we ask the officials to give us a complete copy of the report within 30 days. We may need to go in camera to get advice and see what is happening. I realize that this case is before the courts, but certainly the file is available to members of Parliament and officials who can come in and guide us through it. We don't need to ask officials why they made such decisions. But I think it's up to the committee—and I certainly encourage everybody here—that this particular file be brought forward and discussed. If we need to go in camera we can.
One of the committee members asked if we had permission from Mr. Taylor to do that. I think Mr. Chair is in receipt of an email that was sent to him today by Mr. Taylor saying he agrees totally with Jim and we have his permission to ask for his files to be brought to the committee in camera.
Mr. Chair, I think you have a copy of that report. I have given the department a signed authorization from Mr. Taylor for us to proceed on that matter.
I would certainly oppose this kind of a motion on a couple of grounds, and a procedural one as well, from a point of order.
I don't think we should, as a committee, get into specific files and start looking into an individual's files at a committee level. That's something that would be better left to others. We may instruct, give general directions, and give instruction as to what the policy should be and how they should proceed. I think we should refrain from becoming involved in a specific case. I think that's probably not a good practice for us to use, regardless of the situation. The case, whether it's Mr. Taylor's or someone else's, is just not where we should go.
I think the other part of it is—and Mr. Karygiannis mentioned it himself—that the case is before the courts. I think that while the case is before the courts, it would be inappropriate for us, as parliamentarians, to interfere in that process. I know there's a rule of Parliament and a rule that has been recognized by various parliaments that is called a sub judice rule, which exactly deals with the issue of the matter being before the court.
I looked at Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We're referring to that. They said,
Rightly, we have absolute privilege for anything that we say in Parliament. The courts cannot interfere with what we say or do in the course of proceedings in Parliament.
That absolute privilege must not be abused, and the sub judice rule is a means to prevent abuse. As the joint committee said,
“the rule provides that matters awaiting adjudication in a court of law should not be brought forward on motions, debates, questions or supplementary questions...”—
An hon. member: Just a point of order.
It says the sub judice
rule is necessary, not only to preserve proper relations between courts and Parliament, but to ensure the trials are not prejudiced. I acknowledge that it is frustrating for members when the sub judice
rule restricts comments in the House more stringently than comments in the media, but that is unavoidable.
Of course, we go through Marleau and Montpetit. It talks about the same sub judice convention, and it talks about why it exists: “to maintain a separation and mutual respect between legislative and judicial branches of government. Thus, the perception and reality of independence of the judiciary must be jealously guarded”, and on they go.
And then, of course, a member of your own party, the Liberal Party, the Honourable , from Ottawa--Vanier, said in the House when he was speaking on an issue,
I, too, have taken note of your admonition.
—when he was talking to the Speaker—
However, we should be aware that until the matter is before the courts, the sub judice rule does not apply. As far as I understand, one of the groups here might have petitioned the courts, but that petition has not yet been responded to or accepted, so technically it is not even before the courts right now, so the sub judice does not apply.
Now, having said that, this matter is before the courts. It is an individual file, and I don't think it would be appropriate for us to review the case or to make any comments or even to be seen as coming to a conclusion on any aspect of the case while it's under litigation. It's certainly before the Federal Court of Appeal. They are certainly looking at the specifics of this case, and Parliament itself has noted that the principle of sub judice does apply, and it clarifies that members are to refrain from discussing matters that are before the courts or under judicial consideration. It's an important—
Thank you very much, Mr. Komarnicki.
It just seems to me that the Joe Taylor case is holding up all sorts of other cases. Bear with me—there's a policy question involved here. And the policy question is should we continue to discriminate against people who are born out of wedlock before a certain date? That's one question. And the other question is should the fact that you fail to apply to retain citizenship mean that you're not going to get your citizenship?
That's a policy question, and I think it's fair game for us on the committee to say to the government, “you're on the wrong track, because you should not have that policy and you should reverse or change that policy”. Then we'd get a resolution to all the problems that are being caused by the Joe Taylor case.
An hon. member: But you don't need to look at the specifics of the Joe Taylor case. That's another conversation, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Yes, that's another conversation. That's right.
I want to ask that Mr. Karygiannis, or maybe you, Chair, to table the documents from Mr. Taylor giving his permission for the committee to look at this. I hope they can be available to all of us.
Chair, this is a very important case, and one that I think determines a lot of other people's situations. It is important that the committee members understand the application that has been made.
The way I read the motion is that we're talking about the application, and Mr. Taylor's case specifically, as a way of fully understanding what his circumstances are and how that has been treated under the existing law. I don't see that as necessarily interfering with the case that's before the courts at this time. I think it's very important that the committee have a full understanding of the Taylor case, so that's why I'll be supporting the motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I enter the discussion at my peril with respect to the substantive issue, but I would avail the committee of my experience with respect to the public accounts committee. During the committee's inquiry with respect to those who had been involved in aspects of the allegations that were made on the sponsorship issue, Mr. Walsh was called in and, in a generic way, was able to satisfy the committee with respect to the policy issue that has been cited without implicating the court proceedings.
As a result of that, the chair was able to direct the witnesses in a manner that did not in any way conflict with the court proceedings. My suggestion would be that members should avail themselves of similar input from Mr. Walsh, who is the legal advice to Parliament. I don't know what the procedures would be, but I certainly think the issue of natural justice is interesting. In discussion with the staff who were here, the concept of natural justice was one that was used to balance the frustration of those who are coming under the lost citizens that committee members were attempting to focus on. It's a similar issue here.
I would suggest that Mr. Walsh be called in, Mr. Chair, and when you proceed with the motion, it can be framed in such a way that the chair would be able to satisfy the court issues that would be implicated. That would be my suggestion.
If it was necessary to put that in a motion, I would take your direction, to that extent.