Madam Chair, I would like to clarify that it really is an interpretation problem, I feel, because I did not say that they were playing the victims.
Madam Chair, if we needed proof that this bill is no longer what it was at the outset, a private member's bill, that is, we had that proof yesterday evening. We certainly have confirmation that it is now a government bill. The 30-day extension in order to expand the scope of Bill shows the same thing.
Let us tell those who are listening to us that the is perfectly capable of introducing a government bill himself. It will give him all the freedom he needs to include his own amendments that he wants to make to Bill and, not to put too fine a point on it, that he wants to impose on this committee.
Before resuming the remarks that I was making last night, or, perhaps I should say, very early this morning, I would like to insist once more on the importance of the level of decorum and respect to which we as parliamentarians are held.
As a result of this request for the extension and the amendments submitted during the study on the amendments introduced during the discussion on Bill , this became a question of privilege. I would like to share the matter of privilege with the committee and also the decision made by the Speaker of the House in reply to that request:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on the question of privilege—which is not truly a question of privilege—raised by my colleague from Toronto Centre. The question has to do with the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which recommends to the House that it:
...be granted the power during its consideration of Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces) to expand the scope of the Bill such that the provisions of the bill be not limited to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Clearly, a question of privilege had to be raised so that we could see if the eighth report could make a claim for Bill to be extended.
From the outset, Bill , the bill the committee has been dealing with, was a private member's bill, and I can never remind you of that enough. With the request to expand the scope of the bill, here we are again discussing the procedure.
I would like to review for you the reasons why the request should be ruled out of order. However, before I do so, I would like to set the record straight about what my colleagues have said up to now.
When the honourable government House leader, the member for York—Simcoe, spoke last April 25, he misled the House by insinuating that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was asking for:
…the House to debate it for a number of hours and decide whether we think it is within the scope…
As you know, Madam Chair, that is not the case at all. The report does not ask us to judge whether the suggested amendments are within the scope of the bill. On the contrary, as I will explain later, the committee has clearly demonstrated that it knows the proposed amendments go beyond the scope of the bill. In fact, the bill, which was really limited to recognizing and honouring the Canadian Forces, was all of a sudden fixed up with amendments that clearly went beyond its scope and changed it into a different bill entirely. The report asked the House to empower, or not empower, the committee to expand the scope of the bill, not to pass judgment on amendments that could subsequently be introduced at committee.
I must also add that the honourable member for Toronto-Centre clearly did not do his homework by hastily talking about adopting the report before a motion to adopt it had appeared on the Order Paper. Procedure follows procedure and things are moving quickly, but they did not really conform to the legal procedures of the House. This caused some problems and led us to turn to the Speaker of the House.
So a committee is within its rights to ask for instructions from the House about extending the scope of a bill. In the second edition of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, O'Brien and Bosc are clear on the matter:
Once a bill has been referred to a committee, the House may instruct the committee by way of a motion authorizing what would otherwise be beyond its powers, such as, for example:…consolidating two or more bills into a single bill, or expanding or narrowing the scope or application of a bill. A committee that so wishes may also seek an instruction from the House.
That is precisely what the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is seeking to do through its eighth report. However, and I am now getting to the point of my comments, there is a limit to the instructions that the House may give to a committee. Once again, I quote O'Brien and Bosc:
A motion of instruction will be ruled out of order if it does not relate to the content of the bill, if it goes beyond the scope of the bill (for example, by embodying a principle that is foreign to it …)
Madam Chair, this passage is critical and fundamental, because it indeed states that the main essence of the original bill will be transformed. I will continue to quote my comments on the matter of privilege:
That is why, Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe that you must intervene and rule that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's request for instruction is out of order. This request is far too broad and does not allow the House to determine if the committee is likely to include a principle that is foreign to the bill.
There is some precedent where motions of instruction were deemed to be in order and were debated in the House. However, in each of those instances, the instructions were far clearer than those sought by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration today.
When I mention amendments that are far clearer, it simply means that, when making amendments, attention must be paid to the nature of the original bill; amendments must be restricted so that they cannot alter the nature of the original bill. We have an example on April 27, 2010, when my colleague, the honourable member for proposed the following motion of instruction:
That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, that it have the power during its consideration of Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs) to expand the scope of the Bill so that a grandchild born before 1985 with a female grandparent would receive the same entitlement to status as a grandchild of a male grandparent born in the same period.
Madam Chair, that motion was very clear and was rightly ruled to be in order. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was therefore given permission to expand the scope of the bill, but within very precise limits on the way in which the committee could do it. There were clear and precise instructions to prevent the scope of the original bill from being transformed and diverted away from its original intent. By stating its position on the bill, the House could be assured that the committee would not include in the bill a principle that would be foreign to it.
Conversely, the motion of instruction that we have before us comes right out and asks the House for the power to expand the bill to the extent that it would not just apply to the Canadian Forces. Exactly what does that mean? How does the committee want to amend the bill so that it would no longer apply solely to the Canadian Forces?
As it currently stands, the bill allows, among other things, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Forces to obtain citizenship more quickly. Of course, we are in favour of that. By asking that the bill apply not just to the Canadian Forces, is the committee hinting that it would like to amend the bill to allow permanent residents working in professions that have no relation to the Canadian Forces to obtain citizenship more quickly?
In our discussions at committee, in the presence of the witnesses we called, we have actually brought up the possibility of extending Bill to others, not just those who want to enlist in the Canadian Forces. Clearly, this private member's bill was limited to the Canadian Forces and our suggestion was ruled out of order.
Madam Chair, this is not clear at all. How can the House make a decision about a motion of instruction like this when it is impossible to know how the committee will proceed and whether or not it will try to include in the bill a principle that is foreign to it?
I would also add that, if this motion of instruction to the committee were to be deemed in order, it would create a dangerous precedent. If we allow a standing committee to expand the scope of a bill without precise instructions, we will be opening the door to very sensitive issues, given the current context. Let us not overlook this majority government's propensity for using private members' business to promote its own agenda. When used like that, private members' bills become a way for the government to get round the rules.
Catherine Dauvergne, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia appeared as an individual when the committee was studying Bill . She could not have more clearly expressed the danger of asking for this kind of instruction:
Second, such a profound change to our Citizenship Act such as the one the minister is proposing must not be done by a process like this, by a private member's bill. That process reduces the time allowed for debate and for this committee to do its work and it protects the changes that the minister is proposing. This is controlling democracy.
We do indeed find ourselves in a situation where debates are scheduled as if the process were for a private member's bill. Those debates will not have the same breadth and scope as they would if we were dealing with a government bill or a departmental bill to which additional hours of debate had been assigned. This would not be the case for a private member's bill.
The question of citizenship is essential; it goes so deep that it affects all Canadians. We cannot decide on a whim that we are going to change the Citizenship Act so quickly and with such little regard for the constitution as we would be doing with the expansion that the minister is asking for in order to get his amendments through.
For the sake of our democracy and our work as parliamentarians, we must have democratic control over our procedures and over the way in which they are used. Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Examination Regulations stipulates the following:
3. In the case of every Bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown, the Minister shall, forthwith on receipt of two copies of the Bill from the Clerk of the House of Commons:
(a) examine the Bill in order to determine whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;…
These examinations allow us to establish and keep our bills within a legal framework, so that we can be sure that the provisions are not going beyond the limits prescribed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The examinations are necessary and fundamental.
By asking standing committees to expand the scope of bills to include suggestions by ministers, the government is avoiding its responsibility to examine legislation as prescribed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Examination Regulations. With the amendments suggested by the minister, we are in a situation where a private member's bill will be expanded. This makes the bill lose its original nature and turns it into a departmental bill.
With the legal procedure associated with a government bill, we have a legal rationale that allows us to identify the content of any government bill. That is a principle of Parliament and a principle of our democratic roots in the House of Commons.
The constitutionality of private member's business is studied only at the Subcommittee on Private…
When I raised a point of order earlier as to whether this meeting is in order, Mr. Chair, you mentioned that it was, but if I may refer to O'Brien and Bosc in chapter 20, page 1047....
Before I read the citation, I would like to say that you also mentioned earlier, Mr. Chair, that we do follow the written rules exactly, but when the written rules themselves do not stipulate something, precise details of X or Y, then we follow common practice and precedents that have been set by practice. This is how jurisprudence is also followed, how the legal system follows it. There's the written law and then there's the common law that judges have created over the years based on precedents they have set, based on legal decisions they have made and that become part of common practice.
So I'd like to cite O'Brien and Bosc, second edition, where it says:
In the absence of written rules, a committee can refer to practice when the members are uncertain as to how to proceed on a particular issue. Practice may also be used as a factor to be taken into consideration by a committee Chair who is required to make a ruling. The starting point in these circumstances is to examine how the committee proceeded in the past. If the analysis must be carried further, the committee can then examine the practice of other committees of the House and the practice of the House itself, if it can be applied to the committee's proceedings.
That's the end of the quote I'd like to read. I don't want to sit here and read the entire O'Brien and Bosc to you. Clearly, in our House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual or book, it states that when the rules itself don't provide exact certainty on a particular issue, practice is what we turn to, what we rely on. For committee meetings, the practice is that they are previously scheduled. For example, for our committee in this current rotation we meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8:45 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.
However, we all know that special circumstances could arise and there are ways of convening a meeting. So the chair in absentia convened a meeting. However, Mr. Chair, I do note that a three-minute notice is not what the common practice is for a new meeting to be called in this place. Looking at the practice of this committee itself in this parliamentary session from my own personal experience, and looking at the other committees of this House—just as O'Brien and Bosc says, you look at the previous practice of that committee, you look at the previous practices of other committees of this House, because the committees, of course, are creatures of the House—if those practices are not sufficient, you look at the practice of the House itself.
For other committees, we know that notice has traditionally been more than three minutes, and we know that the practice for the House itself is a minimum of 30 minutes' notice whenever you're being convened, whenever you're being called to the House. The unplanned calling to the House is generally for a vote when the bells ring, and those ring for 30 minutes. However, Mr. Chair, this time what we had thrown at us, in our faces basically, is a three-minute notice period.
Mr. Chair, now that I've presented some new evidence to you, I'd like you to please clarify for me if the notice of three minutes that was given to us by the chair, through the clerk, at 1:57 a.m. for a meeting to commence at 2 a.m....if that practice of three minutes' notice is actually in contravention of our House of Commons Procedure and Practice. I'd like you to provide some clarification on that, please, Mr. Chair.
I will continue then. Perhaps I should first remind you of what I have been saying this morning, since I was interrupted.
If I may, Mr. Chair, I will go back to Bill , which is a private member's bill. I will first remind you of its purpose and provide you with a little background. In this context, I will also talk about its substance and remind you of the bill's title, which is quite telling in terms of the bill's scope. If the bill were expanded to include the amendments introduced by the , even the title would no longer fit the proposed content. Let me remind you that the title of this bill is .
The bill introduced by our colleague Mr. Shory was definitely talking about acts of war, not of terrorism. In fact, the minister's amendments are so broad that they would have a significant impact on Bill , by creating two classes of citizens. I think that is an important point we need to keep in mind. However, that will have little or no impact on terrorism. Actually, if we include the additional amendments, Mr. Shory's bill will no longer promote citizenship, but it will devalue the fact of having dual citizenship. Quite clearly, that goes against the principle of fairness in law and it brings in an arbitrary component, as well as an idea of discrimination, as I mentioned before.
In terms of the context of this bill, let me remind you that Mr. Shory wants to reduce from three to two years the required years of residence in Canada for a member of the Canadian Armed Forces wishing to obtain citizenship. In so doing, the bill proposes that a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada who has another citizenship and who engages in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship. In addition, a permanent resident of Canada who engages in such an act of war is deemed to have withdrawn their application for Canadian citizenship.
I will therefore read what the bill says:
1. (1) Subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act is amended by striking out “and” at the end of paragraph (e) and by adding the following after that paragraph:
(e.1) is not a person to whom subsection 9(1.2) applies; and
(2) Subsection 5(4) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(4) In order to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada, and notwithstanding any other provision of this Act,
(a) the Governor in Council may, in his discretion, direct the Minister to grant citizenship to any person and, where such a direction is made, the Minister shall forthwith grant citizenship to the person named in the direction; and
(b) in the case of any permanent resident who is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who has signed a minimum three-year contract and who has completed basic training, the Minister shall, on application, reduce by one year the required years of residence in Canada for the purposes of paragraph (1)(c) or subsection 11(1).
2. Section 9 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):
(1.1) A Canadian citizen who is also a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
(1.2) A permanent resident of Canada who has made an application for Canadian citizenship is deemed to have withdrawn their application if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
3. Subsection 11(1) of the Act is amended by striking out “and” at the end of paragraph (c) and by adding the following after that paragraph:
(c.1) is not a person who has ceased to be a citizen by virtue of subsection 9(1.1); and
Mr. Chair, if we take a look at Bill , we see that the first page is the cover page that mentions the title of the bill. On the second page, there is a short summary. On the third page, we see the subsections of the Citizenship Act and the desired amendments.
Mr. Chair, when this private member's bill was referred to the committee, we quickly reached a unanimous conclusion about its scope and limitations, as well as the need for clarifications and amendments to improve it. That is actually why it was referred to committee before second reading. Of course, we had no idea then that the amendments that the committee and various parties were ready to bring to this bill would go beyond its scope and purpose, which is to honour the Canadian Forces.
We discussed it and listened to witnesses before reaching the unanimous conclusion to appropriately recognize our armed forces. One way to recognize and honour the armed forces is to make it easier for permanent residents to obtain citizenship so that they can strengthen the number of our military men and women serving our nation.
That said, Mr. Chair, when the minister himself appeared before us and told us that he might propose additional amendments to Bill , we obviously wondered about the new scope of the bill. Mr. Chair, I stress and reiterate that we were concerned right away about the possibility of new amendments being added to the bill to include measures that no longer corresponded to the initial bill at all. That is why we in the official opposition have expressed our deepest concern and clearly pointed to the magnitude of the changes made to the initial bill through these new amendments. We are simply noting that, by continuing down this path, making additional amendments will distort the bill to such an extent that this bill will no longer be a private member's bill, but rather a government bill altogether.
I would like to remind you that, since this bill is no longer a private member's bill, but rather a government bill, from a minister in this case, the minister could himself prepare a government bill with the amendments he wants to make to Bill .
So concerns and questions definitely come to mind. The motion we are debating today dealing with the 30-day extension of the bill is not in order. In that context, I will continue to refer to some of our discussions in committee on Bill .
Initially, we supported this bill with good will. We actually voted to have it sent to committee to be amended and to move forward the way it was supposed to in the beginning, with a view to honouring the Canadian Forces. The goal of the bill was to create another pathway to integrate permanent residents, to underscore the incredible worth of Canadian citizenship and to honour the contribution of our brave men and women in uniform. Clearly, we could not be against the intent of a bill like that, on the contrary.
This diversity is one of our country's characteristics. Canada's diversity is incomparable to other countries and I think we are fortunate because of that. Initially, this bill was supposed to specifically allow permanent residents, who represent this diversity, to enrol in the Canadian Forces. Under those circumstances, we were in agreement. We were all for bringing this diversity to our military. We actually supported the idea of fast-tracking Canadian citizenship to reward the dedication of permanent residents who serve in the Canadian Forces. We were also in favour of Canada's diversity being reflected in the Canadian Forces.
But now some aspects of the bill dealing with applications for renunciation of Canadian citizenship and the withdrawal of applications for Canadian citizenship are problematic. As stated, the bill proposes that a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada who engages in an act of war against the Canadian Forces is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship. Similarly, a permanent resident who engages in an act of war will be deemed to have withdrawn their application for Canadian citizenship. However, the bill does not clearly indicate whether legal proceedings are needed to determine whether someone did engage in an act of war and does not specify who would make that decision. That is one of the bill's shortcomings. We talked about that issue in committee. We were supposed to explore it further and decide on amendments that would address this shortcoming.
In addition, some key terms were not defined. For instance, the term “act of war” is not defined in Canadian law. Likewise, the term “legal resident of a country other than Canada” is not defined.
We still had to deal with a bill that, as I have just described, had a great deal of limitations and shortcomings. In a way, we had to take a second look at the bill and its limitations in light of its purpose of honouring the Canadian Forces, instead of extrapolating under the pretext that the minister wanted to make amendments to this bill. But there was so much extrapolation that the initial bill clearly became a government bill. Let me remind you that the minister will have full latitude to introduce a bill like that if he wants.
I also wanted to stress the fact that the major changes made by the Conservatives to the Canadian immigration system have not made it more effective or fair, unfortunately.
The NDP supports the idea of Canada's diversity being better reflected in the Canadian Armed Forces. However, the circumstances under which Canadian citizenship could actually be revoked or an application for citizenship withdrawn must fully comply with the law and follow the normal legal process. Yes, it is true that some witnesses talked about the concept of natural justice, where anyone can have an opportunity to defend their own situation or case, since that is provided for under the law. Since many aspects of Bill had limitations, the justice system would not be allowed to have a say in a measure dealing specifically with the potential withdrawal of citizenship.
Witnesses clearly told us that this was an arbitrary way of doing things. This is really a situation where the rule of law has no place, which is not normal. Let us not forget that, constitutionally speaking, we have the charter to give us the necessary benchmarks so that every individual has a right to a defence and to an appeal under any circumstances.
In addition, we must not forget that this bill will create two classes of citizens, those with only one citizenship and those with more than one citizenship. Those with more than one citizenship would quite simply run the risk of losing their Canadian citizenship, even if they were born in Canada and have never gone to those other countries whose citizenship they have.
If we take into account those considerations, it is clear that statelessness is a possibility. When we talked about the implications, witnesses told us that we really had to be rigorous and pay attention to potential situations of statelessness resulting from a bill like this, since it makes it possible to withdraw the citizenship of people who, for whatever reason, would not be able to establish their second citizenship.
They also mentioned that there were similar measures in other countries that could also lead to statelessness. One of the witnesses clearly mentioned that this was likely to lead to a race between countries to revoke citizenship. It would simply be a matter of which country would be first to revoke the citizenship of a person who committed a particular act. As a result, we were told that an actual bidding war for withdrawing citizenship could take place between various countries.
Another very important dimension is the risk of children being forcibly enlisted in the army by adults who give them weapons and allow them to play soldiers in the same way an adult enlisted in the army would. Those child soldiers can therefore also be affected by a bill like that. Actually, their citizenship could be revoked for having participated in acts of war in the past, while they are not responsible for being forcibly enlisted in the armed forces.
Statelessness was therefore at the heart of our debates on Bill .
I would also like to go back to the issue of citizenship. By having two classes of citizens, those with Canadian citizenship only and those with dual or multiple citizenship, this bill imposes an additional penalty, which is not related to the crime, but rather to the fact of having dual citizenship. That creates an arbitrary and discriminatory concept. As a result, individuals could be charged with crimes they have not committed, just because they have dual or triple citizenship.
I found the comments of one of our witnesses very wise. He drew a parallel and said that citizenship was not like a driver's licence that could be revoked from any offender who went over the speed limit or caused an accident. We really must keep that in mind. Citizenship is much more than a driver's licence, and our role is not to revoke it from offenders in any way, shape or form.
In addition, this bill is discriminatory since some people are not even aware that they have dual citizenship. What will we do with all those people? In this case, witnesses told us that some people don't know that they have dual citizenship.
This bill is arbitrary because it imposes a penalty that cannot be applied to everyone, by stripping some people of their citizenship. This bill is also dependant on what other countries in the same situation as ours do and on many other factors such as the number of citizenships that people have.
As I said, distinctions are being encouraged between individuals. Of course, the content of Bill is not complete. The limited scope of the bill means that there are a lot of gaps that need to be filled. However, by making additional requests and proposing amendments to completely change the bill, the seems to go beyond the mandate of this committee.
The bill also provides for discretionary powers. Once again, we find a provision in a bill that allows for additional discretionary powers. In fact, appeals will not be governed by specific rules and will depend on a political will.
Granting discretionary powers through a bill means ignoring all our legal and court benchmarks, which I think is dangerous. The government will grant itself the power to interfere in decisions, to take the position of a judge or a court and to decide whether or not to revoke the citizenship of a given individual. In addition, the right to appeal, which is a legal procedure, is not even proposed in this case. Under these circumstances, clearly, the line between politics and the law is being completely erased. We are at a point where the minister can give himself the power to make rulings on cases, which should be the responsibility of the courts.
I would also like to turn to what witnesses told us about the scope of Bill . Clearly, we applauded the possibility of fast-tracking the citizenship applications of permanent residents. However, the remarks of some witnesses enabled us to understand that the number of permanent residents affected by this bill would be minimal.
It goes without saying that questions come to mind. Given that approximately 15 permanent residents are recruited annually by the Canadian Forces, why would we have a bill that has a negligible impact? Its purpose is to honour the Canadian Forces and to give them an opportunity to be more open to diversity, but given those numbers, we are wondering whether the objective actually corresponds to the intent expressed in this bill.
It was important to look at that together in committee. The bill being limited in its application, the honouring of the Canadian Forces became purely symbolic. So are we still talking about symbols, are adjustments being made or are we going to continue to debate the substance of this bill? Our witnesses told us nonetheless that, with a limited scope, the result would be a symbolic honouring of the Canadian Forces rather than a genuine honouring, which was the intended effect.
The government keeps throwing around the possibility of making Canada safer and the deterrent effect of this bill. Mr. Chair, we know full well that this bill will not have any real deterrent effect on terrorist acts or any other crimes. Witnesses told us so. We also know that, in the U.K., for instance, 13 revocation procedures have been brought forward since 2002. Basically, there is no real reason for making those amendments to the bill.
I will continue then. I was talking about the shortcomings of Bill and the repercussions of the provisions in the bill.
I would first like to go back to the two classes of citizens, which I mentioned. Clearly, according to this bill, Canadian citizenship can be considered a privilege and can be revoked just like a driver's licence can. However, we are not talking about a traffic violation for which someone's driver's licence may be suspended. We are talking about people's citizenship, after all.
Let us look at the legal aspect. Bill imposes a double penalty on those affected by the initiative, because a legal penalty might be combined with a revocation or withdrawal of the Canadian citizenship. That is commonly known as a double penalty. Obviously, people with dual citizenship would be subject to a harsher ruling than those who solely have Canadian citizenship.
To substantiate my comments, I would like to refer to some presentations that were given at our committee meetings. They clarify in a very relevant and meaningful way all the discussions that we had in committee regarding Bill . They also provide additional information on whether this bill is appropriate and whether it is appropriate to expand its scope.
I will start by reading the comments made by the Canadian Bar Associations regarding Bill :
I am writing on behalf of the National Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA Section) regarding Bill C-425, Citizenship Act amendments (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces). The CBA is a national association of over 37,000 lawyers, notaries, students and law teachers, with a mandate to promote improvements in the law and the administration of justice. The CBA Section comprises lawyers whose practices embrace all aspects of immigration and refugee law.
Citizenship and the rights and obligations that flow from citizenship are the fundamental cornerstones of a democratic society.
I think those comments are fundamental because they really place the concept of citizenship in a context of paramount importance for our democratic societies.
Bill C-425 would amend the Citizenship Act to deem dual citizens who “engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces” to have applied to renounce their Canadian citizenship. The CBA Section opposes such a significant alteration of the nature of Canadian citizenship without a greater opportunity for discussion and participation in the drafting process.
As you can see, the section emphasizes that we are dealing with a major amendment to the very nature of Canadian citizenship. As I said earlier, it is not the same thing as having your driver's licence suspended because of an offence. We are talking about a fundamental precept of our society.
The Bill proposes to create two classes of citizens. Dual citizens would risk losing Canadian citizenship in certain unclearly defined circumstances, even if they were born in Canada and had lived their entire lives here.
What is this bill trying to do? As the Bar noted, someone born in Canada who committed any wrongdoing would lose their citizenship de facto. As a result, this type of designation would create a category of first-class citizens, if you will, and a category of second-class citizens. This principle is completely and utterly in disagreement with the very concept of citizenship, according to which, in principle, an individual who is a member of a nation is a full-fledged member.
Although it is implied in some of the public discourse on the Bill that it targets naturalized citizens, it does not in fact make that distinction. A naturalized Canadian who does not have another nationality or had renounced their other nationality would be protected from loss of Canadian citizenship. A citizen born in Canada who had acquired another nationality through their parents or other means would, however, be at risk of losing their Canadian citizenship even if they had remained in Canada since birth.
Earlier, I mentioned that some people were not even aware that they had dual citizenship. This means that they would be caught off guard if this provision of the law would inadvertently left them without their Canadian citizenship.
The CBA Section is troubled by comments from the government suggesting that substantial additions could be made to the Bill in the review by this committee. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has suggested that the Bill may be expanded to include loss of citizenship for individuals connected to certain acts of terrorism. Without these proposed amendments, it is difficult for the CBA Section to comment, although our experience with the breadth of the “terrorism” sections of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act gives reason for concern.
In the opinion article, the Minister says ”there should be a high legal threshold for triggering deemed renunciation of citizenship, with appropriate legal safeguards.” We agree. However, the Bill provides neither protections nor clarity. The concept of “act of war” is not defined in the Bill, nor is there a clear reference to a definition elsewhere. Given the nature of contemporary warfare, defining the limits of an “act of war” could prove to be a challenging task. Considering that even the most egregious criminal offences would not put Canadians at risk of losing their citizenship, the precise nature of activities that might carry such a penalty should be very clearly defined.
Should the government wish to make a critical change to the nature of Canadian citizenship, it would be more appropriate to do so by presenting its own Bill to Parliament...
Mr. Chair, this relates to the key issue that we started with a private member's bill that was expanded only to become a government bill. Our questions and concerns have also been shared by our witnesses. As illustrated in what I just read, the Canadian Bar Association also refers to this aspect. In addition, the CBA feels that:
...it would be more appropriate to do so by presenting its own Bill to Parliament and providing the time and opportunity for adequate consideration and public discussion.
Mr. Chair, in this context, the legislative procedures that usually take place must be followed. In other words, debate must take place and the same amount of time should be allocated to debating this issue as the amount of time usually allocated to debating a government bill. That would make it possible for everyone in the parliamentary precinct, for every member of the House to debate a very sensitive and important concept and dimension of our society. As a result, the debate, in this case a public debate, can be conducted properly, as the Canadian Bar Association suggests:
Informed debate and discussion are at the core of the democratic process of legislating.
Mr. Chair, let us remember that the democratic process is an essential process for our House of Commons without which we would not have a reason to exist or we would not be able to represent our constituents. Without this process, we would not be able to make public some important changes that are part of such a broad context that, democratically speaking, we need to be able to discuss them freely.
I will continue by reading the very enlightening comments sent to us by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). The comments were submitted to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on April 17, 2013.
The ICLMG is a pan-Canadian coalition of civil society organizations that was established in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The coalition brings together 39 NGOs, unions, professional associations, faith groups, environmental organizations, human rights and civil liberties advocates, as well as groups representing immigrant and refugee communities in Canada. Active in the promotion and defence of fundamental rights within their respective sectors of Canadian society, ICLMG members have come together to share their concerns about the impact of new anti-terrorism legislation and other anti-terrorism measures on civil liberties, human rights, refugee protection, minority groups, political dissent, governance of charities, international co-operation and humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Chair, that shows the magnitude of the issue and all the ramifications of these new legal provisions that could be implemented. They could have a major impact on the granting or retention of Canadian citizenship.
In the introduction, the monitoring group says:
Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces) is a private member’s bill, introduced by Devinder Shory, MP. The bill would allow permanent residents who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces to obtain Canadian citizenship more quickly, and would provide for Canadians to be stripped of their citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
Bill C-425 is currently before committee. On 21 March, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration told the committee that he is proposing a number of amendments to the bill. Among these is an amendment to have the power to strip citizenship of people who have been convicted of various terrorism offences.
Mr. Chair, the monitoring group provides the following explanation in a footnote:
The exact wording of the amendment was not tabled, but the Minister proposed that citizenship could be stripped from “those who've served as a member of an armed forces of a country or as a member of an organized armed group that was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada; or have been convicted of high treason under section 47 of the Criminal Code; or have been sentenced to five years or more of imprisonment for terrorism offences, as defined in section 2 of the code, or equivalent foreign offences for terrorism; or have been convicted of offences under sections 73 to 76 of the National Defence Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life because they acted traitorously; or have been convicted of an offence under section 78 of the National Defence Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life; or have been convicted under section 130 of the National Defence Act for committing high treason punishable under section 47 of the Criminal Code or for committing a terrorism offence and it is defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to at least five years in prison.”
The comments I just read indicate that the minister also proposed that citizenship be stripped only from dual citizens so that people would not be left stateless.
Here are some concerns raised by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. First of all, according to the ICLMG, all citizens must be treated equally. I was just talking about this fundamental issue and about not discriminating between a permanent resident and a Canadian citizen. Yet this type of rhetoric is brought forward and the monitoring group is concerned about that:
1. All citizens must be treated equally
It is unfair and discriminatory to have citizens face different consequences for committing the same crimes. Creating separate rules for dual citizens creates a two-tier citizenship, with lesser rights for some citizens.
That is where we are at, Mr. Chair. We are faced with an important decision in light of the amendments that the brought forward to expand the scope of this private member's bill. In so doing, instead of pursuing the initial objective of the bill, we would replace it with considerations that are basically not consistent with fundamental human rights.
The second concern expressed by the ICLMG is as follows:
2. Vagueness of terrorism definition
The term “terrorism” is problematic because it is vague, broad and politicized. In fact, there is no consensus on its definition at the United Nations, nor are there any definitions of the concept in any important international instruments such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
That means that there are benchmarks and we cannot legislate based on a concept that would make us ignore those restrictions or pretend that they no longer exist. We would be interfering with the issue and proposing changes to the Citizenship Act that go far beyond those national and international benchmarks.
Earlier, I referred to the charter that no longer limits our laws in a meaningful and necessary way. The definition introduced...
I was saying that, for some Canadians, this would be a serious breach of the right to free expression protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We can extrapolate and see what is currently going on in some countries where the right to free expression and freedom are obstructed. I'm talking about certain countries. Take the Arab Spring, for example. The people decided. Young people, women and students decided to go to the public square to tell the government in power that they no longer supported what it was doing. Mr. Chair, would these people be considered terrorists? I don't think so. All they did was express freely and democratically what they were experiencing. It's important to consider and protect it.
The ICLMG states the following:
Another problem with such a sweeping definition of terrorism is that it fails to distinguish between criminal terrorist entities and freedom fighters or liberation movements, whose legitimacy can shift depending on the time period and the dominating political interests at stake.
I mentioned Nelson Mandela, who unfortunately has pneumonia. My prayers go out to him. I hope he gets better.
Take Nelson Mandela, for example. He spent over 30 years in prison on the grounds that he was a terrorist. He was convicted by the government in power at the time. We understand the scope of certain legislation and the decisions it may unfortunately lead people to make. Anyone, because they wanted to simply defend their rights or exercise their right to expression, right to equality, right to fairness, could pay the price for legislation that might run counter to this absolute and fundamental right of all citizens.
The ICLMG's third concern is the following:
3. Foreign convictions may be unfair
It is especially troubling that people could be stripped of their citizenship based on a foreign conviction. Criminal proceedings in some countries are routinely unfair; cases relating to terrorism are particularly vulnerable to proceedings that violate the principles of natural justice. The proposed amendment does not offer a fair and independent process in Canada for the person to show that the foreign conviction was unjust.
Maher Arar is a Canadian dual citizen who was unfairly suspected of terrorism and jailed in Syria. Fortunately, he was able to return to Canada, and as a Canadian citizen, he was able to advocate for his rights, leading to the O'Connor Commission which cleared his name.
Mr. Chair, we unfortunately know of situations in our history where unfair and unjustified accusations have been made in certain countries that are quite comfortable with being undemocratic and with convicting someone who might be against the government in power or against the laws proposed by that government. This example shows that we need to be extremely careful and vigilant so that we do not get stuck in situations that could lead to unjustified imprisonments.
If the proposed amendment is passed, a Canadian in a situation similar to Mr. Arar in the future could be unfairly accused and convicted of terrorism abroad, and stripped of his Canadian citizenship, while still in jail abroad.
Mr. Chair, the consequences are enormous. The Maher Arar case shows us just how far we may stray with the amendments proposed by the . We need to be careful. As I said, to make sure no Canadians are harmed, it is our duty as parliamentarians to continue to hold democratic debates and exchanges, without time allocation motions muzzling us and reducing debate on key issues.
Having said that, I will move on to the ICLMG's fourth concern:
4. Amendments send a negative message
No one anticipates that the power to strip citizenship would be used in large numbers of cases. Nevertheless, the symbolic importance is significant.
We were talking about the impact that symbols may have. We know quite well that they can have both a very positive impact and a very negative impact. When it comes to a case like the one we are facing and it involves expanding a private member's bill, it is clear that the symbolic aspect is important and that it needs to be taken into consideration.
In fact, the proposed amendments send a message that Canadians are not all equal. Imagine a message like that. Our country is recognized as an essential force, a true leader when it comes to human rights and freedoms. Canada has built a reputation in this respect and it is important to preserve that. Internationally, Canada has made its mark with these principles. It continues to do so but, unfortunately, in an increasingly harmful way because the government is making decisions that, I repeat, go against national and international provisions, and that is not normal.
The amendments we are looking at today ensure that we are creating a message, a symbolic one, but we know…
I will summarize what I've said. Obviously our witnesses' arguments are telling. They provided some clarity and clarification by sharing certain concerns and by discussing where problems may arise.
In fact, we truly believe that it is essential to pay significant attention to those comments. Obviously, in terms of what I have presented, we think it is important to consider all these guidelines I have presented, be they national guidelines under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or international guidelines established by the UN or by other international conventions we have signed and ratified. It is essential that we put forward bills that take into consideration these warnings, if I may call them that, that must provide a democratic and fully responsible framework for the measures put forward in certain bills.
We have seen that the amendments proposed by the minister went beyond this initial bill and led us down a path where we are creating, as I said, differences between citizens in a country that, let's remember, is a land of immigration. We know that a lot of people flee their countries and choose to come to Canada and become Canadians so they can benefit from the democracy and freedoms offered by our great country. This bill will create two classes of citizens and, by the way, it will make a distinction between someone with sole citizenship and people with multiple citizenships. Those people may be at risk of losing their Canadian citizenship, even if they were born in Canada and have never been to the other country where they hold citizenship. Canadian citizenship must not be viewed as a driver's licence that could be taken away at any time.
I would also like to come back to what I was saying—I'm not sure if it was yesterday or earlier this morning, but that doesn't matter—about the decision by the Speaker of the House, in response to the question of privilege raised regarding the tabling of the committee's eighth report, which covers expanding the scope of Bill .
The Speaker of the House ruled that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was admissible, strictly speaking. However, he had significant reservations about broadening the scope of the bill. He referred to the absence of explicit jurisprudence in the matter and the dangers related to that.
Therefore, Bill cannot necessarily be amended in this manner, and we had to be very careful. However, the government does not seem willing to be careful, since it came back with this new motion requesting a 30-day extension to study Bill C-425 in order to broaden its scope.
Clearly, the fact that a private member's bill is being turned into a government bill does not respect the tradition that goes on in Parliament. If the minister wants to implement a legislative agenda, he should do it directly through a government bill, not through a private member's bill.
At the end of May, after their first setback from the chair, the government came back with a new motion presented in committee. This new manoeuvre is a big concern for us, Mr. Chair, because it leaves room for major slip-ups and it especially would set a precedent that might be damaging for the jurisprudence relating to how bills are handled by Canada's Parliament.
Mr. Chair, these practices that aim to bypass the customary procedures and processes are becoming particularly worrisome and require constant vigilance.
Let's go back over a few facts that deserve particular attention.
On March 21, the appeared before the committee. During his testimony, he literally dictated numerous amendments that broadened the scope of Bill considerably and radically changed the meaning of the initial version.
It should be noted that these amendments fit on two pages per official language, while the document tabled by the member for fit on a single page, including the French and English versions. Already, without even taking the time to read the proposed amendments, we can see by the number of pages that these amendments will really distort the bill in question which, itself, fit on only one page.
These amendments, which were the only ones proposed by the Conservatives, were then tabled by the at the very end of the process of studying the bill. Therefore, the members of the committee were not able to ask witnesses about what could have become the very essence of the bill.
Let's remember that the legislative text tabled by the member for , in addition to being significantly broadened, was completely changed. In the end, less than 10% of the final document came from the initial bill. Even the title of the bill no longer had any purpose because the section on honouring the armed forces became purely secondary and was really swept aside. In fact, the amendments were no longer in line with honouring of the Canadian Forces.
That shows you just how imposing the amendments were, so imposing that the amendments proposed by the minister were rejected by the chair. Indeed, the chair had no choice but to reject the amendments. There was no other solution. The chair had to make that choice and say, pure and simple, that the amendments proposed by the minister could not be received. Since they went against the initial principle of the bill, they were deemed inadmissible by the chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
As a result, the had to table a report in the House. Mr. Chair, the report tabled by the government was quite worrisome. It requested that the scope of the bill be broadened to include aspects that had nothing to do with the Canadian Armed Forces, when that formed the very basis of Mr. Shory's bill.
Two related problems stem from that.
First of all, the minister has just skirted around the work done by the committee members by imposing his amendments on his parliamentary secretary and, obviously, the committee. Then—and this is the heart of the matter—the bill…
So I was saying that two related problems stem from this fact.
First of all, the minister just circumvented the work done by the committee members by imposing his amendments on his parliamentary secretary and on the committee. Then—and this is the heart of the matter—the bill of the member for practically disappeared because of government amendments.
As a result, we cannot really speak about a private member's bill. Rather we are interpreting it as a government bill. This practice is another attack by the Conservatives of parliamentary institutions. What is worrisome about all of this is that suddenly our work is focused on a false content. Let me explain.
These meetings, which took place over two months, were not really about the actual content of the bill. The real bill is the minister's imposing amendments to the bill of the member for .
Given that the took so long to share written amendments imposed by the minister, we weren't able to question witnesses about the minister's amendments. We were not really able to do our work. And mostly, the amended version of the bill would not have been a private member's bill, but a government bill. That hijacks the process and, above all, limits the scope of our work as members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Moreover, on May 21, 2013, the Speaker of the House ruled on a point of order raised by the hon. member for regarding this report, as I said previously. Although the Speaker found it admissible, the report's content gave rise to a number of questions and, above all, a number of reservations. By that very fact, we are in a position to insist on the fact that permission to broaden the scope of the bill can hardly be granted and we must be able to examine these aspects much more thoroughly. This is a whole different ball game, and we cannot go forward with a bill with a scope that has been broadened and no longer resembles its initial version, which had an objective of honouring the Canadian Forces.
We also note that, as I said earlier, there are considerations that highlight the amendments we are considering with respect to broadening the bill. The initial bill was aimed at reducing the wait time by one year for granting citizenship to any permanent resident who is a member of the Canadian Forces and who has signed a minimum three-year contract and completed basic training. If we were considering just that, this bill could be passed by unanimous consent. We would have had no need to debate it because it is a completely commendable proposal. However, complications arose after the statements of the who, in proposing these amendments, tried to change the bill to revoke citizenship.
There is an essential and important difference between a private member's bill, like the one we have here, and a government bill. A distinction must be made between these two types of bill, which are extremely different. Government bills must receive constitutional approval by the , in accordance with the Department of Justice Act.
In other words, when measures like this are presented for a private member's bill, we circumvent the long-standing process that enables us to determine whether legislative processes are consistent with the Constitution of Canada. If we are in a position to do these evaluations, we can determine whether there is a litigation risk when a bill is proposed and implemented. These risks must be assessed and taken into account by the Department of Justice, which leads us to wonder whether this bill, as some witnesses mentioned, is constitutional or whether there is a litigation risk. Those were the questions we asked ourselves beforehand.
In simple terms, section 10 of the Citizenship Act already sets out a process for revoking citizenship. The process states that should a person obtain citizenship through fraud, false representation…
Madam Chair, I'm happy to have an opportunity to speak to this motion. This motion asks for an extension of 30 days to study private member's Bill . Though its title refers to “honouring the Canadian Armed Forces”, we have learned through the 60 days of study we have already had on this bill that it is not really about honouring the armed forces. There is a small piece that honours some people who served in the armed forces, but there are other parts of the bill that go far beyond that.
I don't think at this point it is necessary for us as a committee to give that time extension as we've already spent the 60 days allotted for the study of a private member's bill in committee. As we know, a private member's bill has two hours of debate in the House at second reading stage. After second reading stage it is sent to committee for further study and to be reported back to the House.
When we did that study, we learned of the many flaws and the many different aspects in the bill, and I don't even know whether the sponsor of the bill intended them to be part of the nature of the original bill.
We know that many government members and the minister himself have spoken about the bill and have suggested amendments to it. We know that the government's amendment proposed changes to the private member's bill that made it something absolutely new, something very different. It changed the scope of the bill. The amendment proposed by the government members changed the bill dramatically. They knew it was flawed because of what was presented to us by all of the witnesses who came before the committee.
Let me go through some of the items that the witnesses and the government's own members identified as containing flaws, or some of the facets of this bill that they wanted to change, or that weren't appropriate, that may not have been in compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or may not have been in compliance with the Constitution. Whatever it may be, let's have a look at what our expert witnesses had to say, and let's have a little bit of a discussion about some of those things.
I'll just list a few for now, and I'll try to get through as many as I possibly can.
First of all, in the bill itself, the sponsor of the bill refers to “act of war”. Many have identified that this is not a term that Canadian law understands or recognizes. The sponsor spoke of “pathways to integration” and increasing pathways to integration for permanent residents and newer immigrants to this country. Issues of statelessness were introduced and outlined for committee members by many people.
The concept of revocation of one's citizenship, which is clearly part of the bill, was highlighted by many of the witnesses who appeared before us.
Another issue is that this bill casts the net far too wide. Too many people get caught up in this bill. Even the sponsor of the bill himself mentioned that he recognized that maybe some people were getting caught in the cracks of the legislation, for example, people who were child soldiers or people who had foreign convictions.
Another thing is that if this bill went forward, it would actually create multiple tiers of Canadian citizenship. I'll make sure to go through that as well in as much detail as I can to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to understand what our experts have told us.
Another topic that was brought forward is the concern that was raised about ministerial discretion and accountability. What we've seen with this current government, especially in immigration-related bills and others, is that more and more powers are being given to fewer and fewer people, so rather than have a tribunal or a group of experts make decisions on things, it's actually the one minister who has more and more discretion on many more topics.
Another problem that was identified was with respect to citizenship wait times and the government allowing queue jumping for asylum seekers and refugee claimants in this country. The government was very clear that it didn't want people to jump the queue, but when there's a citizenship wait time of years in this country, the government is trying to have people jump the queue.
One more topic that I will be touching on is how we can actually honour people who have served in our armed forces.
These are some of the topics, Madam Chair, that I will be delving into throughout my discourse.
Pardon me, Madam Chair. I think I just made a French-to-English bad translation. I used the French word instead of the English word.
A Voice: It happens.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan: Instead of saying “speech”—discours—I said “discourse”, which is not proper English. My apologies, Madam Chair.
To touch on one of the topics I identified, I will speak about the term “acts of war”. The first problem with this, Madam Chair, is that the term is not defined in Canadian law, yet in the bill itself the sponsor says that if somebody commits an act of war, they need to be punished. The experts who came before the committee clearly and repeatedly identified that it would be very problematic because of the terms “war” or “declaration of war”.
We heard from Colonel Michael R. Gibson that the use of the term “war” or the term “declaration of war” in legal language has actually gone out of fashion in international law, not just Canadian law, since the Second World War, yet our government today wants to bring that back. Sorry, it's not the government. I should be correct. Even though it is highly supported and pushed by the government, it is coming to us in the form of a private member's bill rather than a government bill or government business, so I shouldn't say “the government”. However, it does seem very much that the government is the one putting forward this private member's bill and trying to push it through the back door with less scrutiny, less oversight, less accountability, and less transparency, because it just seems that it doesn't want to do the proper due diligence on such a large topic as the changing of our immigration legislation.
This bill would change our immigration legislation and revoke the citizenship of Canadian citizens. The way it is right now, it would create statelessness. We are signatories to the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, yet this bill, as the sponsor has put it forward and as the government continues to push for it, would create statelessness.
Earlier in our debate, we heard government members say that they want to do due diligence on the study of a bill, and that is why they are putting forward this motion to extend the study of this bill for 30 days. It's apparently a new practice. They've all just woken up and want to do due diligence, but what we've seen time and time again with this government is that they move closure. Earlier today we voted on yet another closure motion. For all those people joining us from their homes who may not know what closure is, it's one form of time allocation. It's one form of stopping debate in the House of Commons. This government has moved motions to stop debate on bills in the House of Commons more than 45 times. At the time I wrote down my notes, the number was 45 times.
Thank you, Madam Chair, yet once again for passing the floor back to me.
I believe, from our experience over the last 60 days, that the consideration of Bill at our citizenship and immigration committee was thorough and that it does not need further study, Madam Chair. I'd like to identify some of the reasons why I believe that the study was thorough and that we do not need further study.
I was at the point of speaking of pathways to integration, because the presenting member, Mr. Shory, had mentioned in his remarks to us as the committee that his goal through this bill was to increase pathways to integration for newer immigrants and permanent residents. However, many problems were identified with this, and these are reasons why I believe the discussions we've had are sufficient.
I'll tell you some of what our discussions were, Madam Chair.
I already spoke about the fact that only citizens can qualify for recruitment. I don't want to go back into that, Madam Chair, but what I do want to move on to is how a permanent resident can actually be recruited. When we had members of the armed forces present to us, they did say it does happen in an extremely rare number of cases.
I might say the name wrong, but Professor Grazia Scoppio said:
In order to be eligible for enrolment in the Canadian Forces as an officer or non-commissioned member, a person must:
(a) be a Canadian citizen...
—I'm not going to read the entire quote, but she said that they must be Canadian citizens—
...except that the Chief of the Defence Staff or such officer as he may designate may authorize the enrolment of a citizen of another country if he is satisfied that a special need exists and that the national interest will not be prejudiced thereby.
When she presented this testimony to us, she explained to us how citizens foreign nationals, citizens of another country, can actually serve with the Canadian Armed Forces, wearing the red maple leaf on their uniform, though they don't have Canadian citizenship. I felt that this was important for us because in the deliberation of the bill, the presenter himself said that one of the very important pieces of the private member's bill that he was putting forward was to increase recruitment of permanent residents. But we heard, and it was very clear, that there aren't very many permanent residents who are recruited, and there's only one way that it can be done, and that's through the Chief of the Defence Staff.
On this point, Madam Chair, I think it's very clear that the discussion we had already in the committee was sufficient and that we don't need to continue the discussion on this point. That's another reason that we don't need to extend the study period of this bill in committee and, once again, the reason I will not be supporting this motion moving forward.
Another item, Madam Chair, is that members of the committee were concerned whether this measure in Bill , as it was presented to us, would have a real effect on the people it's actually targeting, given the backlog that already exists with Canadian citizenship. We know that wait times for Canadian citizenship are extremely long.
Constituents in Scarborough—Rouge River have contacted me time and again, through Twitter, Facebook, writing me an e-mail, coming into the office, calling me, responding to mail-outs, whatever it might be, or just speaking to me at the grocery store.By whatever method it might be, many residents of Scarborough—Rouge River have spoken to me about their difficulties with the length of time it takes to go through the residency questionnaire and then, after completing the residency questionnaire requirements, how long it takes while they're waiting for their citizenship. The citizenship application process is such a lengthy process. It's not that you just come here and are a permanent resident for three years and then qualify to apply and there is a quick and dirty application and you're done, and then there's the test, of course. This is not the case anymore.
When I became a Canadian citizen, I didn't have to take the test, because I was a child. Because my mother took the test, my young sisters and I were part of the group with her, so I didn't have the same experience that new Canadians have today. But we know that becoming a Canadian citizen means a lot to many people.
Considering the extremely long wait times to become a Canadian citizen, we asked experts whether Bill was going to achieve the results the member was trying to achieve and would actually reach the targeted groups.
Once again we heard from the professor, who said that the intended outcome was quite unclear. If the intent is simply to expedite the citizenship process for a few select immigrants who happen to have the unique skills to fulfill a special need of the Canadian Forces, then the bill if passed would be accomplishing this outcome and would have a small-scale impact. If, however, the intent is to open the doors of the Canadian Forces to greater numbers of qualified landed immigrants with permanent residency in order to provide—and the professor quoted Mr. Shory, the sponsor of the bill—“new Canadians with more pathways to integration”, as Mr. Shory mentioned, this bill would actually not accomplish that broader outcome.
Looking at the amendments that the government has already put forward and looking at this testimony provides another reason that I will not be supporting the motion that is before us today, Madam Chair.
I want to also tell you some of what one of the colonels who spoke to us mentioned. When we spoke to the colonel, we spoke about the air force and becoming a pilot, and he mentioned that many people want—everybody wants—to become a pilot. You yourself, Madam Chair, mentioned earlier in the debate on this specific motion your wish to join the armed forces and what your experiences were like in that regard. I have also had the wish to become a pilot. What the colonel said is very true; this is a wish that many people have. He said it seems that in the Canadian population everybody wants to fly. He mentioned an airplane, but I think many people just want to soar also.
That said, there are some very severe selection criteria that might prevent many people from joining the forces even if they have their permanent residency. Another factor that he mentioned is that the training is actually very long and demanding.
If the goal of this bill was to reduce the wait time for applying for citizenship from three years down to one year, the colonel mentioned that the training is so long for somebody before they can serve that they won't actually be reducing to that one-year time, because they won't be serving by the time the two-year period has lapsed. They would just qualify under the regular citizenship process and wouldn't really need to have their application expedited, because they already would have met the three-year requirement.
Once again, that is another reason that I will not be supporting this motion to extend the debate here on Bill , Madam Chair.
He went on and spoke of examples of pilots from the U.K. and noted that we have some of them. I have a friend who is a major in our air force—
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll try to remember not to apologize for actually wanting to participate in the debate and to explain why I am not going to be supporting this motion that's before us to extend the time of debate on Bill here in our committee.
The topic I'd like to discuss now, Madam Chair, is the fact that Bill before it was amended—this bill as it is—would actually create people who become stateless. We heard from many witnesses. I'd like to first discuss what we've heard from the UNHCR. I have high respect for the United Nations and I thank them for coming to help us in our deliberations and study of this bill. I'm going to read to you from the actual bill. It says that there is a deemed application for renunciation of Canadian citizenship where that citizen engages in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces and that same citizen is also a citizen or legal resident in a country other than Canada.
That's clause 2 regarding proposed subsection 9(1.1) of the Citizenship Act. I had already touched on, but didn't speak in depth, the fact that “act of war” is not defined in our laws so we don't know what that means. Legal experts who came in front of this committee don't know what that means. I did touch on that, so I don't want to go into it right now. Possibly later I might want to come back to the act of war topic, Madam Chair.
We've learned that there are two ways of losing citizenship. One is voluntary revocation, voluntarily relinquishing one's citizenship, and the other is having it revoked or taken away from you by the state that gave it to you. We're not talking about voluntary relinquishment of citizenship here when it says that there is deemed to be application for renunciation of Canadian citizenship.
I want to make sure I read the words correctly so that I don't get interrupted again, Madam Chair.
In this case what we learned from the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was that renunciation is the voluntary act of relinquishing one's citizenship or nationality while deprivation is carried out by the authorities of the state. So those are the terms I'll use to go back and forth: renunciation of citizenship and deprivation or revocation.
I'd like to look at the countries that we generally compare ourselves to. When we do many of our studies we like to compare our laws to those of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, and sometimes also the U.S.A. because the United States is our next-door neighbour and is very similar to us with respect to also being an OECD country and being the global north in the western hemisphere.
The UNHCR had mentioned that the renunciation of nationality or citizenship in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia is carried out through the initiation of a formal procedure by the individual wishing to renounce their citizenship. In the case of the U.S.A., six of the seven methods of renouncing citizenship require that very similar filling out of a formal procedure along with an application to the court.
Also, they mentioned that in the U.S., if you serve in the armed forces of a foreign state that's engaged in a conflict against the U.S, then you are deemed to have renounced your citizenship.
They also helped us understand what deprivation of citizenship is, and that deprivation of citizenship is possible in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. This concept is possible in these three countries we compare ourselves to.
In the United States of America, Congress has no power under the U.S. Constitution to revoke a person's U.S. citizenship, unless of course that person voluntarily relinquishes it. When we speak of the forced deprivation of somebody's citizenship or nationality, the U.S. Congress does not have that power under the U.S. Constitution.
We have seen this happen in Canada, so we know that in Canada, the minister.... I mentioned very briefly the increased discretion for the minister in this bill and how much we've spoken about that. That will be another reason, Madam Chair, that I will not be supporting the motion before us to extend the debate on Bill . I do believe those topics have been studied sufficiently in this committee. I'll make that very clear later on in my speech. I think ministerial discretion is number seven or eight on my list of items I'd like to go through. I'm on number two right now, Madam Chair.
Once again, coming back to the concept of statelessness and looking at the three countries we are talking about, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, all of them contain provisions within their nationality law that provide—I'm going to read this really slowly—“One of the most important safeguards against statelessness is that...”.
Of course, all three of those countries are signatories or parties to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Of course, I should point out here, Madam Chair, that Canada is also a signatory to that convention..
This convention provides an international framework to ensure the right of every person to a nationality by establishing safeguards to prevent statelessness, whether it's at birth or later in life. What we've learned will happen and what we've debated in committee already in the 60 days that were allotted, is this bill would create a state of being stateless later in life for Canadian citizens. If they are citizens of another country, then Canada would deprive them of their citizenship. If their citizenship in another country is not recognized by that state because of that conflict or whatever it might be....
A great example is that many people I have spoken to in Scarborough—Rouge River have fled instances of conflict, have come to Canada as asylum seekers or as refugee claimants, and have lived as refugees or permanent residents, and then have moved on to become Canadian citizens. They're from the country I was born in, Sri Lanka. People who have left the country and have been active and have spoken out loudly, or who have spoken out about the state-sanctioned human rights violations in that country, generally there have been examples where their passports have been taken away because it's been said they are not a true national. They've conducted or said things that are contrary to the state, and so they can't travel or be recognized as a national.
According to Canada, one would think they still have their citizenship from that country, and if Canada were to revoke their Canadian citizenship for any reason, the person would be left in limbo because they've now lost their Canadian passport—
Mr. Dany Morin: They're stateless.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan: Exactly. They don't have the passport of their country of birth.
I use one country as an example, but we know there's a plethora of countries that are in a state of conflict, whether it's armed or not, though armed conflict is usually what leads to many people fleeing a country and seeking asylum in another. So Canada would create a state of statelessness for these people and that is, of course, in contravention of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to which we are signatories. We can't let this happen, Madam Chair.
This was discussed very much. Many of our witnesses who came before the committee during the time we've had to study this bill spoke about this.
I will continue to explain a little more on this same topic of statelessness, Madam Chair, and prove to you, show to you, demonstrate to you, that these topics have been discussed in committee and that witnesses have provided their testimony, and this is why we don't need another 30 days of study on this bill, because the same topics are going to come up again and again in committee when the witnesses appear. If we do grant another 30 days, then these same issues are going to come up. That's why, Madam Chair, we don't need another 30 days of study time on this bill.
Let's look at New Zealand's case. We like to compare ourselves to these countries all the time, so I'll do that here as well.
New Zealand entered a declaration in their legislation itself. They entered a declaration under article 8.3 of the convention at the time of a session pertaining to the right to deprive an individual of New Zealand citizenship when the person acquires nationality or citizenship of another country, or performs duties of another nationality or citizenship that may act in a manner that is contrary to the interests of New Zealand.
The Government of the United Kingdom declared, in accordance with article 8.3—the same article in the convention when they signed it—that the U.K., and I'll read so it's clearer, “...retains the right to deprive a naturalised person of his nationality...inconsistently with his duty of loyalty to Her Britannic Majesty, the person....” I don't want to read all of it.
Nevertheless, when the United Kingdom and New Zealand signed the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, they maintained some ability to continue their practice of being able to deprive individuals of their New Zealand or United Kingdom citizenship for naturalized citizens. What's a little odd is that they actually don't mention anything about citizens of those countries who are born.... Those countries have a two-tiered citizenship system is what I'm learning from this.
Canadian citizenship is valued so much, by my family anyway. I can only speak of my personal experience, and I can speak of the experiences of other constituents who have spoken to me. Every few months, Madam Chair, I have a gathering of new citizens and we share what it means to be Canadian and why they chose to become a Canadian citizen. Time and again it's on the faces of my constituents, who simply light up and want to talk about their Canadian citizenship, because they're so proud. They're so proud that they were able to leave whatever situation they were in and become Canadian, because Canada is a country that treats everyone equally, that treats everyone equitably. People say they know that when they become Canadian citizens....
I vividly remember what one little girl told me. I think she was about nine years old. She said, “When I become a Canadian citizen, it means that I get to go to school. It means that I get treated the same as the boys. It means that I can become a doctor when I grow up.” For her, it meant that she was going to have opportunity, that she was going to be treated as equal to every other Canadian, every other person who is a Canadian citizen. She would have that same treatment.
We don't want to get to a point where we are creating two, three, four tiers of citizenship in this country, Madam Chair. Right now, we have one Canadian citizenship and it is that you are a Canadian citizen. That's it.
Madam Chair, what comes to mind again is something that you hammered home to all of us. You're either a citizen or you're not a citizen. It's like being pregnant or being not pregnant. There's no opportunity to be half-pregnant. If there's a fetus in you, then you're pregnant. There's no, it's a fetus of two months, so it's a half-pregnancy. The gestational period is generally nine months. A fetus of four-and-a-half months is not a half-pregnancy. There's no such thing.
You had very clearly articulated that you're either a citizen or you're not a citizen, and that once you become a citizen you are a citizen. There are no levels to that citizenship. That's the beauty of Canadian citizenship.
The UNHCR representative's report to us mentioned that other countries have made sure that they're able to have those multiple tiers of citizenship, but Canada doesn't have that. We don't want to go there, and we've discussed this in our committee. We've heard evidence on this. That's why, Madam Chair, I think that we've had enough discussion on this in our committee. I'll continue to provide evidence that we've had enough discussion on Bill in our committee and that we don't need to have another 30 days of discussion on this same bill, because we've had much debate. I will continue to give you examples of the debate that we have had in our committee to clearly demonstrate to you and all of the members of this committee that we don't need another 30 days of study on this bill. We just don't.
Let me continue. I almost want to continue with statelessness. I could go into each country's example, but I won't do that right now.
Mr. Jack Harris: Please do.
Ms. Rathika Sitsabaiesan: You'd like me to. Okay then, I will. There are so many examples that have already been put forward before our committee, and I can give you all those examples, Madam Chair.
If we're going to look at countries and examples, maybe I should...let's look at the United Kingdom.
In the British Nationality Act of 1981, and the Immigration, Asylum, and Nationality Act, 2006, which is where some of these citations are coming from for anybody who's following, for their edification and ability to follow. On the topic of renunciation of citizenship, renunciation being, of course, voluntary relinquishment, it reads in article 12(1):
If any British citizen of full age and capacity makes in the prescribed manner a declaration of renunciation of British citizenship, then, subject to subsections (3) and (4), the Secretary of State shall cause the declaration to be registered.
That's somebody volunteering to give up their citizenship.
Another example is in article 12(2):
On the registration of a declaration made in pursuance of this section the person who made it shall cease to be a British citizen.
The secretary of state declares it registered and then accepts that renunciation. The prescribed manner consists of completing a declaration form, which will be registered by the home secretary and renunciation is only through that application process.
So in the U.K. it's a formal application process. Once a person has voluntarily requested to relinquish their citizenship and put in their application, the Secretary of State will accept it and register it, and then they lose their British citizenship because they chose to. Of their own volition, they are losing their citizenship.
However, the safeguard in the British legislation that prevents statelessness is subsection 12(3), which reads:
A declaration made by a person in pursuance of this section shall not be registered unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person who made it will after the registration have or acquire some citizenship or nationality other than British citizenship; and if that person does not have any such citizenship or nationality on the date of registration and does not acquire some such citizenship or nationality within six months from that date, he shall be, and be deemed to have remained, a British citizen notwithstanding the registration.
So their legislation ensures there are safeguards in the legislation to prevent people from becoming stateless, and Bill will do the opposite. That's what our witnesses have already demonstrated to us in the committee, so we don't need to discuss this further. We don't need this extra 30 days of discussion and study and debate on this bill, because this has already been made clear to the committee members.
Of course, because my honourable colleague wanted to learn more about what's happening with immigration in the UK legal system, I'll continue. With respect to wartime measures, subsection 12(4) continues and says:
The Secretary of State may withhold registration of any declaration made in pursuance of this section if it is made during any war in which Her Majesty may be engaged in right of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom.
This makes sense because you don't want people to say they're not British citizens anymore just because they don't want to fight in a war. So that was a nice protection measure for the United Kingdom to ensure that people aren't just upping and leaving because they don't want to participate in a war.
So far I've only been talking about the subject of statelessness with respect to the presentation made to us by the UNHCR, and with respect to the United Kingdom and the topic of deprivation of citizenship. We just spoke of renunciation and how renunciation can be stopped by the safeguard against statelessness, or in view of wartime measures, but the deprivation of citizenship is what is being presented to us in Bill . Let's look at some of the parallels with the U.K. system.
In subsection 40(2) of the British Nationality Act, on the topic of deprivation of citizenship, it reads, and I'm not reading all of it, just part of it:
The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.
The safeguard against statelessness there is subsection 40(4), which says:
The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (2) if he is satisfied that the order would make a person stateless.
Even in the case of depriving somebody of their citizenship because the deprivation is conducive to the public good in the U.K., they ensure that a person will not be made stateless. This was already articulated to us in committee.
Canada right now is a signatory to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Our laws right now don't create a situation of statelessness for people. It would be we, as parliamentarians, who are required to do the due diligence and it would be our responsibility, in breach of our fiduciary duty to our constituents and Canadians as a whole, if we were to create a situation where we were in contravention of the convention to which we are signatories.
This has been made clear to us by witnesses in the last 60 days' study period that we've had on Bill . This is why we don't need another 30 days of study time of this bill in committee. We have studied this bill thoroughly and we've heard many examples of why we have studied this bill thoroughly already and why we don't need to continue the debate and the study of this Bill C-425 in committee.
I'll continue because I know my colleague wanted to hear of the other countries that we generally like to compare ourselves to. I've only spoken to you so far about one, so I still have New Zealand, Australia, and the United States to get through as well to show how those countries are ensuring that people are not becoming stateless persons and how we need to make sure as Canadians that we are not going to create stateless people in our country.
Let's look at the case of New Zealand. With respect to New Zealand, I will be quoting you pieces from the New Zealand Citizenship Act 1977. Madam Chair, I will adopt the same style and speak of the renunciation of citizenship and how statelessness is being guarded against. Then I will speak of the deprivation of citizenship and how statelessness is being guarded against there.
Thank you. I very much appreciate you, Madam Chair. You have been following the rule of the law, the rule of procedures in this place, and have been extremely respectful to the speakers. So I appreciate you very much. Thank you, Madam Chair, for your fair chairing of this meeting.
The point that I was just about to end there.... You just made your point where, when a speaker is interrupted, they lose their train of thought.
I think where I was at was that we regularly speak with bureaucrats in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. about their experiences with immigration policy and how they do business in immigration, to try to make sure our laws are on par, or better, because we want to make sure we are doing the best and making the best legislation that we possibly can.
On the topic of voluntary renunciation of citizenship in New Zealand, I think the case has already been made very clear, and I don't believe we need further study on this topic, Madam Chair. That's why I don't believe that we need further time to study Bill. This is yet another reason that we don't need further time to study this bill, another reason why we don't need to extend the study period for another 30 days, and another reason why I will not be supporting this motion that is before us today, Madam Chair.
Because my colleague wanted to hear about our countries, I'll speak of the deprivation of citizenship in New Zealand—I'm still speaking about New Zealand—particularly to demonstrate to you that it has actually been made clear already, by the witnesses who have already appeared before the committee, so we don't need further extension of time again.
In New Zealand, once again, section 16 of the Citizenship Act reads that:
...the Minister may, by order, deprive a person of his New Zealand citizenship if he is satisfied that the person has, while a New Zealand citizen and while of or over the age of 18 years and of full capacity,—
(a) acquired the nationality or citizenship of another country by any voluntary and formal act, and acted in a manner that is contrary to the interests of New Zealand; or
(b) voluntarily exercised any of the privileges or performed any of the duties of another nationality or citizenship possessed by him in a manner that is contrary to the interests of New Zealand.
So here we know, it's clear. It has been presented to us by witnesses to this committee, that there are ways in the New Zealand Citizenship Act to deprive a New Zealand citizen of their citizenship if they have citizenship of another country and they have done something contrary to the act, to the interests of New Zealand. So we know that's there already.
They were one of the countries that made a declaration when they signed the convention. Under article 8 of the convention, and that, of course, is the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. New Zealand made a declaration, and their declaration reads as such:
...in accordance with paragraph 3 of article 8 of the Convention New Zealand retains the right to deprive a person of his New Zealand citizenship on the following grounds, being grounds existing in New Zealand law at the present time:
the person has, while a New Zealand citizen and while of—
I don't want to read it again because it's the same piece of the New Zealand Citizenship Act of 1977. That doesn't make any sense because 1977 is the newer version. So let me read what they actually wrote in the declaration:
...the person has, while a New Zealand citizen and while of or over the age of 18 years and of full capacity,
(a) Acquired the nationality or citizenship of another country by any voluntary and formal act, and acted in a manner that is contrary to the interests of New Zealand; or
(b) Voluntarily exercised any of the privileges or performed any of the duties of another nationality or citizenship possessed by him in a manner that is contrary to the interests of New Zealand.
Truthfully, with regard to the New Zealand law, when they wrote the declaration under article 8 of the convention, this article is actually the same. It is what I mentioned earlier. They ensured that a New Zealand citizen wouldn't become stateless, when they signed the declaration. When they were signatories to the declaration, they made sure people wouldn't become stateless. That's pretty clear from this testimony. I have further testimony that I can provide to you, Madam Chair.
We have already heard enough from the witnesses. We don't need to extend the study for another 30 days to hear more of the same testimony from witnesses saying, “We, in Canada, will be creating a situation of statelessness. Oh look, New Zealand has ensured that they have created safeguard mechanisms, and we should make sure we have safeguards.”
We already know this, Madam Chair. We don't need to study Bill for another 30 days. We don't need that. This New Zealand case proved that to us.
I'll continue, Madam Chair. Let's talk about Australia and how the evidence already shows what we have heard about Australia—another country we like to compare ourselves to. The pieces I will be quoting are from the Australian Citizenship Act 2007. Once again, Madam Chair, I will be breaking it down into the voluntary renunciation and then the deprivation of citizenship.
Let's look at the voluntary renunciation in Australia. Subsection 33(1) reads, “A person may make an application to the Minister to renounce the person's Australian citizenship.” Of course, this renunciation is only through application—the formal procedure that Australia has set up. The person can make an application using a specific form to renounce their citizenship. I don't want to go through the exact details. Neither you nor the members of the committee need to hear me go through the exact details of that legislation.
I would like to move a motion, if I may, Madam Chair.
At this point I move that the committee do now adjourn.