Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to rise this morning to speak to an issue of great importance for the riding of Fredericton, for New Brunswick, and certainly for all of Canada.
Canada is both diverse and inclusive. These characteristics are wound into our identity. In fact, Canadians' respect for diversity of neighbours in our communities, and our tendency to include others who may not resemble us in appearance or in mind, is a hallmark of the very best of Canada.
The government has and continues to demonstrate through its actions that it will ensure that what it does reflects this type of country, the very best of what we have to offer and the very best of what we can be.
Legislation to amend the Citizenship Act, which was introduced in the House last month, lays out changes that will provide greater respect for diversity and inclusion, as well as flexibility for those who seek to contribute to our country and are trying to meet the requirements of citizenship.
It will help immigrants obtain citizenship faster, help them contribute more fruitfully to our communities, and help us build a stronger socio-economic fabric in Canada.
Proposed changes in Bill would also repeal provisions of the Citizen Act that allow citizenship, the prime tenet and characteristic of what it means to be Canadian, to be revoked from dual citizens who engage in certain acts against the national interests. These provisions will ensure that there is only one class of Canadian.
Additional changes that are proposed will further enhance program integrity and ensure that our immigration system reflects the fact that we are an accepting, welcoming, and caring nation.
Fredericton is home to over 6,300 immigrants, who have arrived from over 60 countries. Of the over 600 permanent residents in Fredericton in 2012 alone, over 40% were opening new businesses and contributing to the local and regional economy.
Immigrants invest their own money to be successful. They buy existing businesses. They start new businesses. They hire professionals and employees. Other immigrants in the Fredericton region are specialized professionals who are needed in specific industries, and international students who have come to our community and decided to make New Brunswick their home.
Newcomers contribute so much to our communities.
That is why the government encourages all immigrants to begin the process for full and permanent membership in Canadian society. We know that one of the best foundations for successful integration into life in Canada is Canadian citizenship.
With Bill , the government will help immigrants become citizens more quickly by reducing the period for which permanent residents must be physically present in Canada before being eligible for citizenship by one year. The proposed change would reduce the requirement for physical presence in Canada from the current four years out of six to three years out of five.
The government would also remove the requirement for applicants to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year during each of four years within the six years prior to applying for citizenship. Keeping this requirement would not allow applicants to benefit from the shorter physical presence requirement or the new non-permanent resident time credit.
Because of changes made by the previous government, since last June adult applicants must declare on their citizenship applications that they intend to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. This provision has created great concern among some new Canadians, including those in the riding of , who fear that their citizenship could be revoked in the future if they move outside of Canada, even for a short period of time. This is just one example of the mean-spirited approach towards newcomers that people in and across this country gleaned through the previous government's imposition of changes to the Citizenship Act.
The current government is proposing to repeal this provision, as well as other provisions. All Canadians are free to move throughout and outside of Canada. This is a right that is guaranteed through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Recognizing that immigrants often begin building an attachment to Canada before becoming permanent residents, Bill proposes to provide applicants with credit for the time they are legally in Canada before becoming permanent residents. This change would help to attract international students and experienced workers to Canada.
Currently, due to changes made by the previous government, changes that for the life of me I simply cannot understand, people cannot count time that they spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident towards meeting the physical presence requirement for citizenship.
Again, the changes in this new bill would let non-permanent resident time count toward the new three-year physical presence requirement for citizenship, for up to one year. Under this change, each day that a person is authorized to be in Canada as a temporary resident, or as a protected person before they become a permanent resident, it could be counted as a half day toward meeting the requirement for citizenship.
In the riding I have the honour to represent, the riding of , we boast of two world-class universities, which have a stellar history and reputation of recruiting high-calibre students to our community. The University of New Brunswick, Canada's most entrepreneurial university, and St. Thomas University, a leader in liberal arts, recruit prodigious persons from around the world each year. These students come to , to New Brunswick, and they study hard, get active on campus, and quite frankly they engage with the broader community.
With so much to offer, and in a province with an age demographic that demands we do everything possible so these students can continue to contribute to our socio-economic wealth, why would we not do everything we can to keep these members in our community, ease their pathway to citizenship, and build a stronger , a brighter New Brunswick, and a better Canada?
The changes introduced in Bill that I have just spoken about support the government's goal of making it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada, something that is good for all Canadians.
The amendments proposed in Bill would fully repeal all the provisions of the Citizenship Act that make it possible to strip Canadian citizenship from dual nationals who are involved in activities against the national interest.
These grounds for revocation apply only to people with dual or multiple citizenship. The legislative changes implemented by the previous government in May 2015 created new grounds for the revocation of citizenship that make it possible to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals if they have engaged in activities against Canada's national interest. Bill repeals those new grounds.
Clearly, all Canadians who commit criminal offences must face the consequences of their acts through the Canadian justice system.
I began by talking about the diverse and inclusive nature of Canada. This characteristic and defining feature of our country has been on full display over the past several months as tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have been welcomed into our communities right across the country. Please let me acknowledge once again the tremendous effort of people in Fredericton and right across New Brunswick who have punched well above their weight in accepting more refugees per capita than any other region of this country.
We know that accepting and providing opportunity for newcomers has always been in our best interests as a country. It is in this spirit, through the intentions of this bill, that we would build that stronger Fredericton, that brighter New Brunswick, and quite frankly that better Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise in debate today on Bill . As this is Canada's House of Commons, I will do something very special to start off my remarks today, which I have not done before in this place. I am going to take the oath of citizenship:
That I will be faithful
And bear allegiance
To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second
Queen of Canada
Her Heirs and Successors
And that I will faithfully observe
The laws of Canada
And fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Most MPs in this House, and I am sure many of our new members on all sides, have taken part in citizenship ceremonies. I think my colleagues would agree that it is a most special occasion, because we see people who come to this country for remarkable opportunities, we see them with family and friends, and they swear or affirm that oath and become an official part of the family. By that point they have already become a vibrant part of their community.
I attend ceremonies, both outdoors and indoors, and on Canada Day. I write to all new citizens in my riding to congratulate them, welcome them, thank them, and urge them to become active members of the community and to really engage in what that citizenship provides, if they have not done so already. We have to keep that in mind. I have been to homes where that letter that I have written them as new citizens is displayed on the wall because they value that citizenship and hold it very close to their hearts.
This is an important debate that has been manipulated at times. It certainly creates passion. I will provide a precise discussion of the subjects in Bill C-6 and hope we can move some of the government members off their stand, which is actually not a principled stand on Bill . I will explore why it is not principled with respect to revocation.
Bill does not just deal with the elimination of the narrow grounds of revocation that were extended to crimes against the state by the previous government; it also intends to repeal the intent-to-reside provisions. Some members have suggested that this would impact mobility rights under the charter. As a lawyer, I do not think that is the case at all.
The very basic expectation that all members of this House would have when they see people take that special oath that I did at the beginning of my remarks is that they are joining the family with the intent to be part of it. Why would we remove that provision? It makes no sense. We expect people to maintain their ties with whatever country they came from and use the tremendous wealth and opportunity we have as Canadians to go around the world exploring. Intent to reside has no conflict with any of that. In fact, we love the fact—and I have this in my own riding and the wider GTA—that people will then become ambassadors, advocates, or fundraisers for the countries they came from when they joined the Canadian family.
That in no way is hindered by suggesting that new citizens should intend to live in the country they are joining as a full citizen. Therefore, that one clearly makes no sense and has not been well articulated by the government either in its election or in the debate so far.
It would also reduce the number of days that someone would be physically present. This could be debated but is not as controversial. Certainly, the 183-day commitment is a tax-driven number, but it is changing from the old standard of 183 days per year and four out of six years to three out of five. There is less consternation associated with that principle, but it is in Bill as well. I have not heard a clear reason for a change to be made there; however, it is minor and so it will not be the subject of most of my remarks.
My final point is with respect to the change to language requirements, with the expectation of some competency in English and French for new citizens. The bill changes the target groups from 14 to 64 to 18 to 54. I have some concerns with that as well, particularly in an environment where we see people working longer in the workplace and with respect to the important role that immigration and our new citizens play in our economy by filling gaps, building businesses, and becoming job creators.
A few years ago, I nominated a friend of mine to be top Canadian immigrant of the year, and I think there might be a couple of members of this House who belong in that special awards ceremony given each year. My friend, Ihor Kozak, was serving in the Canadian Armed Forces within a decade of immigrating from Ukraine. I was amazed that he not only embraced the citizenship and opportunity that Canada represented, but coming from an area of the world that was still having problems with Russia, he wanted not just to be part of Canada but also to serve Canada.
I am amazed by immigrants in my riding, new citizens who have built businesses and are employing people, adding to the economy and taking leadership roles in service clubs and their church communities. I am constantly amazed by that. We should target that and make no bones about wanting people to come. We want them to participate fully in our economy, in our communities, in faith groups, in civic organizations, and run for Parliament, and many have. We should encourage that and should not shift it with the expectation that we are changing it.
However, most of my remarks will be preserved for that first element I talked about in my concern with Bill . The Liberal government has suggested that Bill is a principled stand when it comes to revocation, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Unity of citizenship, I heard the member for say. That is not true.
If the government and the minister who introduced Bill want to be principled, they would end revocation. Revocation is not ended in Bill . Some of the grounds for revocation are removed, but revocation of citizenship for a naturalized Canadian remains.
I will show how the narrow crimes-against-the-state provision that we added in the previous government perhaps should attract revocation more than fraud or misrepresentation, or at least equally so, in terms of the morally blameworthy standard, which is the underpinning of criminal law.
I am very proud of the last Conservative government's record when it comes to immigration and new Canadians. We had 1.6 million new citizens over the course of that government. The year 2014 was a record year, with 263,000-plus new citizens joining the family, reciting that oath with which I started my remarks, which is very important. As well, we did not reduce immigration, despite a global recession, because we know how critical our new citizens are to our economy and to building opportunity for others. The Conservative government's average of about 180,000 or so new citizens per year is much higher than the 164,000 or so under the previous Liberal government.
There is a lot of rhetoric with respect to Bill , but I have not heard much statistical support or even moral clarity for the direction the government is taking.
One thing all members of this House should recognize is that equality is not sameness. Not everyone is the same. In fact, we embrace diversity, and diversity is part of the equality all Canadians enjoy, but it is important to let the government know that there are citizens who have rights and responsibilities as Canadians and that there are citizens who have rights and responsibilities and obligations as other citizens as well. In fact, Canada has almost one million dual citizens. About 200,000 people who were born here have acquired citizenship in another country through a family member, and there are about 750,000 dual citizens who are naturalized Canadians and who retain their citizenship from their mother country or the country from which they came to Canada.
I have heard the say a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. If he wanted to do so, he could eliminate dual citizenship, because dual citizens in some cases have military service obligations, as is the case with Greece, and they may have tax obligations.
Therefore, there are rights and responsibilities as Canadians, but some Canadians have additional rights and responsibilities, and that has to be debated.
I embrace dual citizenship, but I dive into the issues. I do not just use it as a slogan. Let us recognize that for what it is. A lot of Canadians cherish the ability to have that dual structure, but let us not suggest that is the norm.
Fifty-two countries do not allow dual citizenship. If we are going to have an informed debate in the House of Commons on the issue of citizenship, this should be part of the debate. Many of those countries are Liberal democracies and allies and friends. Germany, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands do not permit dual citizenship, and India, Japan, South Korea, and China do not permit dual citizenship, so when new members of our family from any of those 52 countries become citizens in Canada, they lose their citizenship automatically.
I am not suggesting we go there, but let us have a debate. If we recognize that some Canadians have additional rights and responsibilities attached to their citizenship, then let us have that debate. Let us not suggest that what was done by the previous government somehow diminished Canadian citizenship. The previous government recognized the importance of Canadian citizenship and the duty of fidelity and loyalty and a shared commitment of country and state and the new member.
Revocation would still be permitted by the present Liberal government for fraud or misrepresentation, but not for the narrow grounds of crimes against the state. Since 1977 there have been 56 revocations. It is likely higher than that, because recent numbers have been hard to nail down. One of those was Mr. Amara, one of the Toronto 18 terrorists, who was convicted for plotting a terror attack. The others are primarily Nazi war criminals. In 2011, Branko Rogan's citizenship was revoked, and that was supported by the Federal Court. Justice Mactavish recognized the inhumane acts he committed in the Bosnia conflict and his fraud when he came to Canada, and that led to revocation. What was the abusive act? Evidence was provided that he abused Muslim prisoners in Bileca, Bosnia. His citizenship was revoked. Why was his citizenship revoked? It was revoked for his fraud or misrepresentation in coming here and the court's recognition of inhumane acts, which was why he committed fraud. The court made a moral determination based on his previous behaviour.
However, if somebody committed those same reprehensible, inhumane acts in this country, it would not be determined morally blameworthy enough under Bill . That is, if someone commits fraud after being part of a genocide elsewhere, that individual would have his or her citizenship revoked, but if the individual promotes or creates that here through an act of terror or treason, that would not be considered morally blameworthy enough. That is an absurd position in law.
I have not heard my colleagues in the government articulate a rationale as to why inhumane acts abroad could lead to revocation but such terrible acts in Canada would not. We are talking about three narrow grounds. We are talking about charges under the Criminal Code, the National Defence Act, and our Official Secrets Act, or Security of Information Act as it is called now.
A lot of new members of our family take the oath, which I remind people says:
||...I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Many of the people who take that oath would suggest that to commit crimes against the state they are now joining would be morally blameworthy enough to show that they have not lived up to their obligation. This is not window dressing. This is an oath administered in front of a judge, and it is to be a true oath. If there is malice or fraud in someone's heart while that oath is being taken, then that oath should be nullified, in my view.
The last government extended revocation on the very narrow grounds of treason, espionage, and terrorism. Those are crimes against the state. We have heard about the slippery slope. People were misleading Canadians during the election by suggesting that if they committed some criminal act, it might be applicable, but these are narrow provisions, and I will tell the House how rare they are. Since Confederation, there have been eight cases of treason, six of them in World War I. Louis Riel was a tragedy in the early years of our country. That is how narrow the ground is that we are talking about.
Espionage is equally small, and it is hard to get numbers, but it is literally in the single digits. As for terrorism, there have been 22 convictions since the last Liberal government introduced the act following 9/11. Of those, with the amendments made by the Conservative government, there has been one revocation.
The ridiculousness of the slippery slope and the fear created by the government over this issue have been shameful. We are talking about narrow ground. More people have committed fraud over heinous acts abroad than have committed acts of terror or treason here. That has to be part of this debate.
I want to start hearing the same sort of rationale and approach, because this actually is not new to Canada. In fact, between 1947 and 1977, revocation under our Citizenship Act in its various forms has come and gone. Engaging with the enemy or serving in an enemy army was grounds for revocation in the past. Treason was grounds for many years and then was eliminated in 1967, in a time when treason and World War I and World War II seemed far-off notions. This was pre-terrorism and the global rise of terrorism.
Liberal governments of the past have revoked citizenship for fraud and for a variety of potential grounds. That is the right of the state because, as some scholars have described, citizenship is a right to have rights. We extend a whole range of rights before citizenship, which is great. It is part of our country and our charter. However, we have to recognize that with citizenship come rights and responsibilities.
Revocation is not a criminal sanction. It has been described by scholars as preservation of the conditions of membership. When we use that description, it sounds a lot like fraud or misrepresentation. If someone lies about their name and what their past might entail, that is equally as bad as lying about their intention to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, is it not?
I have not heard an argument here from the government. We are talking about a handful of cases since Confederation that might be extended by these narrow grounds. I am expecting more from the government, and I think our new citizens are expecting more.
If we think about the case of Mr. Rogan, the modern war criminal who created atrocious crimes against the Muslim population in Bosnia, it was right that we did not allow him to use fraud to gain citizenship by concealing his inhumane acts. At the same time, Canadians would expect that if someone came here with malice in their heart, made that oath, and at the same time or shortly thereafter was plotting crimes against their new state, that person was not being faithful to that oath and to our high standards of citizenship.
In the past we have also had constructive repudiation of citizenship. That is something the Liberal government has used in the past as well, whereby a known terror suspect abroad who is a dual citizen is just not brought home and will languish in a foreign jail in the country where he was caught. There has been a handful of these constructive repudiation cases, which I think amounts to the same thing.
What I would like to hear from the government is more than just electioneering. This is the citizenship of our country. A crime against the state and the narrow grounds that we extended revocation to is a crime against what we all pledge and what we all embody as Canadians with the freedom and remarkable opportunities we have.
If the government wanted to be principled, it would have eliminated revocation, but if revocation of citizenship is still there for fraud, for terrible acts conducted elsewhere, why would terrible acts conducted here, in violation of that citizenship oath, not be equally as morally blameworthy and subject to revocation?
I am hoping that in the rest of debate we will hear this, so that we can preserve how important and special Canadian citizenship truly is.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
Before going any further, Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am proud to speak in support of the bill. I am proud to do so as the son and grandson of first generation Canadians, as a former public servant who fought against organized crime and terrorism, and now as a member of Parliament in the House, at the very heart of our democracy.
Make no mistake, Bill is very much about protecting our democracy. It is about showing respect for the generations of immigrants who helped build our country up from its very foundations. It is about protecting the pathways to citizenship for future new Canadians. It is very much about ensuring that equality of citizenship remains a right enshrined by the charter.
On this side of the House, we believe, as the has said, that Canada is strong not in spite of its diversity but because of it. The new policy measures introduced by our proposed legislation will safeguard this value through and through. This was a key promise during the election, and Canadians are right to expect that we would deliver on it.
Nevertheless, there are some on the side of the official opposition who object to the bill. In brief, they say that our proposed legislation will make Canadians less safe and it diminishes the value of Canadian citizenship. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the law passed by the party opposite drastically overreaches, introduces hierarchical classes of citizenship, does nothing to keep us safe, and does nothing to enhance the value of citizenship.
Let me highlight the flaws under the old Bill .
Under the law as it stands, Canadians who are convicted of certain serious crimes, and yes, including terrorism, may be stripped of their citizenship, but only if they hold citizenship in another country or could hold citizenship in another country. Therefore, it is not just Canadians who are dual citizens, but also Canadians who could be dual citizens, whom the opposition considers less equal than others.
It is not just terrorism, either. In the latter stages of the last election, a number of leading voices from the opposition were calling to expand the list of offences which could trigger revocation. Therefore, when the member opposite asks for evidence and facts about the slippery slope, there it is. It is part of the public record. It is not hard to see why some on the other side of the aisle say these things. Who does not want to punish a murderer, let alone a terrorist, and who does not want to denounce those who denounce Canada by their violent actions, motivated by a twisted ideological purpose?
As we reflect on these questions, I think of my own experience in prosecuting terrorists. I worked on the Toronto 18, along with some of the finest public servants I have never known. This case involved a plot to detonate bombs in Toronto and to wage an attack on Parliament Hill. It was a serious and complex case and alarming to the public.
One of the ringleaders of this conspiracy was Zakaria Amara. He was convicted. Some of my hon. colleagues across the way have referred to Mr. Amara frequently of late. This is because Mr. Amara was born in Jordan and was, thus, caught under the dual citizenship provisions of Bill . Just weeks before election day, he received a letter from the then government by the then minister of citizenship and immigration that he would be moving to revoke his citizenship.
The opposition says that Mr. Amara is the only one who stands to win when we pass Bill , as it will have the effect of reversing the revocation process and allow him to maintain his Canadian citizenship. Mr. Amara is no winner. Mr. Amara is a convicted terrorist and he is serving a life sentence. I helped put him and his co-conspirators behind bars, which is where he remains to this day. The only winner is the Canadian public that saw an individual convicted following a fair trial and due process.
Let us put aside the winners and losers rhetoric. The opposition goes on to argue that revoking Mr. Amara's citizenship and deporting him to Jordan or some other place will make Canada safer. They are wrong. Where is the logic in deporting a convicted terrorist from our soil to some other place, where Canada has a diminished capacity to prevent future terrorist activity and where the deportee would only have an increased capacity to continue to recruit, to radicalize, and potentially to return to do more harm to us should he choose to resume his agenda?
I challenge my friends across the way to come up with a credible answer to that question. I think they will find it difficult to do so.
Even looking at their own policies, one finds inconsistencies. For example, the Conservatives also sought to make it a crime for Canadians to travel to some of the very same regions to which they would banish domestic terrorists. How can they reconcile that for the average Canadians? They cannot. Indeed, not only would deporting convicted terrorists not keep Canadians safer, I fail to see how it would keep any of our friends or allies safer.
I want to spend my remaining time talking about one of the central focuses of Bill , which is to uphold the equitable principle of Canadian citizenship.
Taken at its highest, the opposition argues that if we do not strip away citizenship from convicted dual citizens and those eligible to be dual citizens, we are somehow tainting citizenship for those citizens of the “old stock”, to quote one expression coined by the opposition party. The thrust of its position is that it undermines citizenship to allow a convicted terrorist to remain in our midst.
Let me be clear. We in the House are united in our resolve against terrorism. The has repeatedly said that terrorists belong behind bars. No one should ever doubt his resolve, nor that of the government, to confront any individual or any organization that would bring harm to our country and to see them brought to justice.
The previous government may not have liked to admit it, but all members, on all sides, take seriously our responsibility to keep our country safe. Bill would do just that. It would subject all criminals to the full force of Canadian law and the Canadian justice system. It would eliminate the former government's exception for those who hold, or could hold, citizenship in another country. It would mean that every Canadian, whether born here or naturalized, must obey the same laws or face the same consequences. It says that if people are convicted of terrorism in our country, they will go to prison in this country and they will stay there.
The opposition says that we should compromise the equality of our citizenship, but all it offers in return is a false promise of security.
Canadians have rejected the politics of division and fear. They have said, clearly, that there is no place in our laws for discrimination between those of us who were born here and those of us who were not. It now falls to us in the House, with this bill, to say the same.
My support of the bill is based upon the rule of law. My support of the bill is a vote of confidence for all the professionals who work in the law enforcement, intelligence, and corrections communities. My support of the bill is based upon the fundamental principle that it is the bedrock of who we are and the basic measure of what we share. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.
To be clear, I do not begrudge the members opposite for being angry, or even afraid in the face of terrorism. Those are the basic human responses to seeing our laws broken and our freedoms abused. However, we must not allow our fears to erode the principles and values on which our country was founded: equality, fairness, and compassion.
We are better than the law that is now on our books. It does not make us safer, but it does make us less equal. That is why Bill must pass.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to stand up and support Bill in the House.
I know that during the last 11 weeks of our election campaign, I must have heard from hundreds of my constituents about this bill. Many of them were dual citizens. Some of them were new citizens. Some of them were not new citizens but had been here for quite a while. They were concerned that citizenship was meaningless, that no matter how much they were Canadian citizens, no matter how long they had lived in Canada, and no matter what they had done, they could easily be deported for crimes against the interests of this country.
No one is suggesting that by repealing the Conservative decision to deport people with dual citizenships because of crimes that they should not be held responsible for, tried, and brought to justice under those crimes. What we are saying is that they are now citizens. A citizen is a citizen is a citizen. If people who are Canadian citizens have committed a crime against Canada and against Canadian security, then they should be tried in this country. They should be kept under guard here to ensure they are not a continued threat and that they face justice in this country, because they are Canadian citizens.
This is a promise we made in the last election, that we would repeal this bill, and we are now keeping this promise. This is going to be very important, not only for my constituents, but for many Canadians across this country who were concerned about this issue.
The second thing has to do with the ability to become a citizen and how fast we can do this. Right now, applicants have to have four years of permanent residency out of six years in this country before they can become citizens.
This is so illogical. It is not common sense. We have people who come and are not yet permanent residents. They are waiting to become permanent residents. They have businesses. We are living in this global economy where people have one foot in businesses all over the place. They are carrying on their businesses. They are travelling for all kinds of reasons for business purposes. These people come bringing a business agenda to Canada, bringing their skills, knowledge, and investments into Canada. Sometimes they should be able to move back and forth as they are awaiting citizenship.
I know there are many young people who have come to this country with their parents, who have finished university, and who are doing internships in other countries. They are doing all kinds of work in other countries in various areas. They not only have to spend periods of time out of the country, but have to spend a lot of time outside the country to study and do business there. This opportunity for Canada to have global citizens is extremely important. This assists international students who come here and who want to become citizens.
The path to citizenship is an important path. I just came from Europe where the OSCE, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was talking about the whole concept of refugees and immigrants coming into the country. What we have in Canada, and possibly the United States to some extent, that they do not have, is that we try to make citizenship a pillar of what it is to be Canadian. The moment we are citizens, we suddenly belong. We are equal to everyone else in this country, whether we have only become citizens a day ago, or whether we have been citizens for 20 years or were born here. We all belong, and that sense of belonging gives people a stake in Canada. Suddenly what is good for Canada is good for them, and what is good for them is what is good for Canada. They want to bring their children up with the opportunities they can get in this country.
Most immigrants and citizens are pulling for nation building. Citizenship, for us, is a path to nation building.
When I was a minister, one of the things we heard, when we had good information from the long-form census, was that by 2011 we were going to be dependent for our net labour force on foreign-trained workers, whether temporary or permanent ones, who wanted to come here and become citizens. Canada's labour force is dependent on this. We do not have enough people being born here to continue to fulfill our requirements, especially for very skilled workers. This is a good step in the right direction, not only to encourage people to come here, but to become part of the society, to make Canada economically, socially, and culturally strong.
I feel very strongly about that. This whole requirement that they be here to live is important. It helps to be flexible. It gives people the opportunity to be able to do those things.
The other issue, again, is let us have common sense. We are now saying that the language requirement, as it used to be, will be between the ages of 18 and 54. Most young people under the age of 18 are learning English or French in schools. Most seniors over 54 who come as family class, family reunification, are too old to get a job here, so their ability to speak either language is not as important. They can learn that from the community integration service agencies.
In British Columbia, we have many service agencies that are doing an excellent job of helping people to be functional in the language. People between 18 and 54 need to be functional in their professional capacity and in other areas, in language, to become good citizens, to get into the workforce and do that work well. I think that is important
One of the things I also like about the bill is that we are telling Canadians that we take very seriously what citizenship is all about. We will authorize the minister and/or his or her officials to seize any document that he or she has reasonable grounds to believe is fraudulently or improperly obtained, or could be fraudulently and improperly used. This is important. It is keeping an eye on people who are trying to become citizens with false documentation, pretending to be something they are not.
That is another way of tracking people who are coming to this country for reasons other than wanting to become full participating citizens, wanting to contribute to Canada. I think this is part of a concept of good security. This piece is important, as well of looking at the number of days in which a person would have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are a criminal. We are adding one more component to this. It will continue to say that if an individual is serving time in prison or on conditional sentencing in the community, then those days cannot be counted toward citizenship.
This bill is a common sense bill. It recognizes that citizenship is very important for this country, that the ability to nation build is what we have done from day one in this country, when we all first came to the shores. Some of us have been here a longer time than others, like me. The point is that we all came and built a nation. It is today seen as an important nation because it is a global nation. We think of the ability of people to come to Canada, to maintain their language, their culture, and their sense of attachment to where they came from. It allows us, as a trading nation, to globally assist Canada in understanding the needs of countries we want to trade with, and how to do that in a culturally sensitive manner.
This is part of a bigger picture. This is part of building a nation. This is part of building a labour force. This is part of allowing people to bring their families together.
I think we learned a lesson a long time ago, when we brought in the Chinese and for 25 years we did not allow them to bring their families. How awful and cruel that was. None of us want people to be away from their families. Families are a solid unit. An individual who brings their family here is able to develop roots, to dig those roots, so that everyone can pull in the direction that Canada wants to go, that children can grow up feeling safe and secure and have the opportunity to become fully functioning Canadians.
This is all part of who we are. We have much to teach the world. When I was in Europe, again recently at the OSCEPA, there are so many people in Europe who see immigrants and refugees as “other”. They feel that these people will change the face of Europe. I am here to say that our face in Canada is changing daily and yearly because of all the people who come to our shores as immigrants and refugees. They have contributed, and they have built a fantastically important global nation, which has brought to the world an ability to have peaceful resolution to conflicts, an ability to see the world in a true light, and to contribute fully.
I want to say how much I support the bill and what a good piece of common sense legislation it is.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that I will share my time with the member for . I look forward to hearing him speak to this bill.
Not a single day goes by that I do not think about what a huge privilege I have to sit in the House and represent the people of my riding, Mégantic—L'Érable.
As a new member of Parliament from a small region of Quebec, I must say that this place is rather impressive. This is where elected officials contemplated the laws that have defined the Canada we know today. This is where they discussed and debated. Each government, each Parliament, and each parliamentarian had the opportunity to contribute to making our country, which is still a young one, one of the most admired democracies in the world. We are admired for our values of equality, compassion, justice, hospitality, and openness.
I am also impressed by the quality of the parliamentarians in this 42nd Parliament of Canada and by the diversity of its members. Just take a look around during question period and listen to those talking, and it becomes clear that Canada is a unique place in which everyone, regardless of where they come from, can help contribute to our country's future.
I would like to quote the , who spoke to the House yesterday about Bill :
|| Whether an international student, or someone who works at GE, or a new Syrian to our community, we should acknowledge, encourage, and reward the choice that individuals make to come to Canada and to call this place home. They are experiencing Canada, especially before citizenship matters. Their choice to be here matters.
This will not always be the case, but the minister is absolutely right. I agree with her thoughts on this. Many people from around the world have chosen to live in Canada. Out of all the countries in the world, they chose Canada. This is the first country they chose to come to, as a new host country. I completely agree with the minister that we must acknowledge, encourage, and reward the choice that individuals make to come live in Canada.
What we must ask ourselves is why did these people choose Canada as their country? Why did they make that choice? The answer is obvious. They did so because Canada has always been a welcoming country, not just for the past 10 years or 100 years, but from the beginning.
It may not seem like it, but I am a very distant descendant of a German immigrant, a mercenary who came here to fight in a war and who chose to stay.
That is the nature of our Canadian citizenship. It is recognized around the world. When we travel, being Canadian is a little bonus wherever we go. Therefore, in my humble opinion, we must do everything we can to protect our values and this identity.
As I said earlier, as parliamentarians it is our role to make good decisions for future generations, just as parliamentarians in the previous 41 parliaments did before us. We have a responsibility towards Canadians. I would like to quote the member for , the former minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, who said in his speech yesterday:
| Canadian citizenship should be the gold standard; it should not be the bargain basement of citizenship in the world.
That brings me to Bill . I am sure that the government's intentions are very honourable. Every single one of us is here to try to make things better, but we have to admit that sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes it is because we want to do too much a little too fast. We rush into things that we will regret sooner or later.
Unfortunately, the consequences of such precipitous actions cannot be undone. When a government makes a promise, such as a slight $10-billion deficit, and then realizes that it did not look at the books properly and that its promises will cost Canadians a fortune, it cannot break its promise. It has to live with that and try to explain to Canadians why a slight deficit is now a huge one. Actions and words cannot be undone. There is no going back. It is a broken promise.
Fortunately, there is still time for the government to avoid making a mistake with Bill . I would like to take the up on his offer. Yesterday, he said, “We do not claim perfection.” We suspected as much. Then he said, “If some members on the committee, of any party, have ideas for how to improve it, we would be open to such suggestions.”
Here is my idea. I urge the government not to rush this, to take its time and listen to the official opposition's point of view on this bill.
For example, yesterday, the member for gave the minister some excellent suggestions based on her personal experience as the daughter of immigrants who chose Canada. I invite all of my colleagues to read her story and her reasons for opposing many aspects of Bill .
My hon. colleague was quite eloquent, and there was a great deal of wisdom in her comments. She said:
|| My concern with the bill is that it puts the cart before the horse in a lot of ways. It looks at issues that perhaps are not of the utmost concern with regard to immigration policy in Canada. I hope we can come to some sort of consensus because this is something that is going to affect our country over the next 10 years.
Those are wise words of openness and collaboration that our critic said here in the House yesterday. The government still has a chance to show wisdom by taking the necessary time to introduce a bill on citizenship that will help maintain the high standards of Canadian citizenship.
What are we to make of a bill that allows an individual to keep his citizenship after he has been found guilty of terrorism and wanting to kill and spread fear in his adopted country? Is that the type of bill that should be hastily passed without consultation? Since the beginning of the session, every time there is talk about reform, we have heard, “We will consult Canadians on electoral reform, we will consult Canadians on the budget, we will consult Canadians, we made promises, and we will consult Canadians on those promises as well.”
It is good to want to consult Canadians, but sometimes, in other cases, the government says, “This is how it is. We are not holding consultations, we made a promise and we are taking immediate action to forget the bad years of the Conservatives”.
In this case, the government members would do well to consult people and listen. As the minister suggested in his speech yesterday, they should take the time to listen to the official opposition and understand the issues behind this decision to abolish Bill in the way that they have done.
Canada continues to be one of the safest countries in the world. That is why thousands of people from around the world choose us as a safe haven. However, Canada will not be a safe haven to anyone who wants to destroy it through violence and hatred. We need to send this very clear, straightforward message to anyone who wants to become a Canadian citizen.
To be Canadian means to want success for all one's fellow Canadians, regardless of race, gender, religion, beliefs, or culture. That is what it means to be Canadian. There is only one type of Canadians: those who share these values, as every one of us here in the House does.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by outlining my family history to some degree. My grandparents both immigrated from the Netherlands separately and were married in Canada. They went on to produce a large family of 10 children. I have over 80 cousins from that set of grandparents. They have been a very productive Canadian family.
I would like to thank and recognize in particular two of my aunts who worked tirelessly on my campaign. I would not be standing here today without their help, that is for sure.
I rise today to discuss the integrity of some of the proposed changes to our Citizenship Act. The previous Conservative government brought in Bill , the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. The measures enacted in Bill C-24 reinforced the value of Canadian citizenship and gave us a means to protect our country and citizens by revoking citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, high treason, and certain spying offences, or who have taken up arms against Canada.
A NRG poll of over 1,000 Canadians showed that 83% of Canadians and 85% of immigrants to Canada supported revoking citizenship from convicted terrorists. Many groups representing new Canadians endorsed the bill as well.
We believe that new Canadians enrich and strengthen our country. Their experiences and perspectives as immigrants strengthen an important part of who we are as a nation. They are the strength of our nation's future. We want newcomers to Canada to have every opportunity to succeed and to have opportunities for economic success.
A constituent of mine, Ray Galas, a hay farmer from northern Alberta, called me yesterday. He wants the government to focus on the economy so that newcomers arriving in Canada have every opportunity to contribute to our great country. A strong Alberta makes a strong Canada, a place for all to succeed.
We also want newcomers to experience many of our freedoms. All the new Canadians agree that we want to experience safe communities. Dual nationals convicted of terrorism erode the public safety we all cherish.
There are choices when it comes to penalizing dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism. One of them is jail. Revoking the right of citizenship is a penalty that fits the crime. The legislation that the Liberals seek to repeal allowed Canada to revoke the citizenship of the convicted terrorist Zakaria Amara, a member of the Toronto 18 . Members may remember that Mr. Amara was sentenced to life in prison after admitting to his role in the plan to attack sites in Toronto. He was convicted of knowingly contributing to a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of the group to carry out an act of terror.
In 2007, Canada revoked the citizenship of two Nazi war criminals, enforcing the principle that Canada will not be a safe haven for anyone convicted of war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity.
The Liberals want to strike down this law. Canadian citizens have a responsibility to embrace Canadian values. A part of this responsibility that we all share as citizens is the special responsibility for the preservation of the principles of democracy and human freedom. These are cornerstones of our nation.
We are a law-abiding, generous, and compassionate country. The measures in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act were enacted to better protect our country and better combat the ongoing threat that countries worldwide are grappling with. Most of our peer countries have similar legislation in place.
I would point out that Bill is the Liberals' first bill dealing with immigration and public safety. It is extremely worrying that under this legislation, dual national citizenship cannot be revoked for the commission of an act of terrorism, but can be revoked for fraud. We are concerned about the Liberals' lack of focus. The ability to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism and similar offences is a sound, good, and commonsense law. It is law that helps to maintain the integrity of Canadian citizenship. We do not support the Liberals' attempt to weaken our country. We will continue to push to keep our country one of the best countries in the world.
Another component that concerns me is the removal of the requirement for an applicant to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. The intention-to-reside provision likely does not restrict the mobility rights guaranteed under the charter. What it does do is reinforce the expectation that citizenship is for those who intend to make Canada their permanent home. This is not an unreasonable expectation. We want to ensure that citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada.
There is a reason that Canadian citizenship is the most sought after citizenship in the world. We have a reputation as one of the best places to live, a place where jobs, security, hope, and freedom are available to all. Every year we receive thousands of applications from people who want to live here. We hope that those seeking Canadian citizenship intend to bring their personal experiences and contributions to our nation, just as many of the preceding immigrants did during the course of our nation's history.
The sum of our experiences has made us a better country. We hope that future immigrants will also contribute to our nation and enrich our country by residing here. It is disappointing that the Liberals have chosen to focus on the intent-to-reside provision when there are more pressing issues facing us in immigration, such as the shortage of applications from skilled labour immigrants.
There is another component of Bill that gives us cause for concern. That is the provision that reduces the number of days during which a person must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship. Currently, the physical presence requirement is fulfilled if an applicant resides in Canada for only 183 days in four out of six years prior to making a citizenship application. The Liberal government proposes to change the physical presence requirement to three out of five years before the date of application.
The Conservative Party believes that stringent residency requirements promote integration and a greater attachment to Canada. We are opposed to any provision that weakens the integrity of Canadian citizenship, and we recommend that this component be struck from the bill.
Another component of Bill C-6 seeks to prevent applicants from being granted citizenship while serving conditional sentences, or allowing such time to count towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship. We agree that these measures are reasonable and we support this component of the bill.
We also support the provision that all applicants must continue to meet the requirements of citizenship until they take the oath, regardless of when their application was received.
The Conservative Party believes that the strength of our nation lies in the strength of our citizens. Gaining citizenship by means of fraud undermines our nation and leaves us vulnerable. We support the component that gives citizenship officers the authority to seize fraudulent documents provided during the administration of the act, including during in-person interviews and hearings. The integrity of our Citizenship Act is not something we can take for granted.
If we allow dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism to remain Canadian citizens, we weaken our public safety. If we reduce the number of days during which a person must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship, we weaken integration within Canada.
In closing, we will examine the bill in detail, but we are extremely concerned about these changes.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour and pleasure to rise in the House today to speak about the government's plan to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act. As this is a concern relating to citizenship, which is so central to Canadian identity, and matters of immigration, which are essential to the Canadian story, it is especially an honour for me, as the son of immigrants, to be here today.
Mr. Speaker, I want to also mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for ,
As the provisions only apply to Canadians with dual or multiple citizenships, they contribute to the creation of a two-tiered system. It is unacceptable in a democratic society that dual or multiple nationals are vulnerable to losing their citizenship.
This is a point that was raised time and again by stakeholders and private individuals when the previous legislation, Bill , was first introduced.
Groups were as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, and Amnesty International. I would like to quote a few of these concerns.
David Matas of B'nai Brith, who testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration stated that:
|| We should not be revoking the citizenship of Canadians for crimes committed after the acquisition of citizenship, no matter what the crime.
I want to emphasize that point that Mr. Matas made.
I will continue with his quote:
|| Once a person becomes a Canadian citizen and commits a crime, then he is our criminal. We should not pretend otherwise.
Barbara Jackman, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association, stated before the same committee that:
|| For people who are born here and who have grown up here, it can result in banishment or exile.
She went on to observe that we punish people through the criminal justice system.
In its submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Bill , the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants stated that, in its view:
|| Treating dual citizens differently is discriminatory and violates the fundamental principle that all citizens are equal. Citizens should not face different consequences for committing the same crimes. Creating separate rules for dual citizens creates a two-tiered citizenship, with lesser rights for some citizens.
These are just a few of the many examples of organizations and individuals publicly expressing their view that the revocation measures created two different kinds of citizenship.
Many of my constituents in have told me that this is unacceptable. I heard it throughout the election campaign, and I have heard it since. There is great support for this bill in . My constituents want all Canadians to be treated fairly and with a high level of respect. London, Ontario, was built on immigration, and many Londoners hold dual or multiple citizenship. These are extremely proud Canadians who value and respect this beautiful country. We have an obligation to be fair and respectful to them, as well.
Our government has listened to these concerns and Bill clearly addresses them.
No government should ever have the ability to take away an individual's Canadian citizenship. Any Canadian who commits a crime ought to be punished. There is no debate on that point, at all, on this side of the House and, I am happy to say, with my hon. colleagues in the NDP.
However, the revocation of citizenship crosses a line that we must never accept. Without citizenship, the rights and equality we all enjoy become meaningless. Canada is a country that prides itself on solid democratic principles and foundations and is an example for other nations. However, playing fast and loose with the definition of citizenship is a very slippery slope and inevitably calls into question our leadership in this area.
I again point to the importance of my constituents. I am here to represent them and I want to reference what I have heard on the ground, as their MP.
I have heard loud and clear from my constituents in London North Centre that fair treatment of all Canadians and dedication to the principles of democracy, tolerance, and equality are what they expect in their elected officials and, more than this, in the Government of Canada.
I would also like to add that, while this position reflects my stand and that of our government, it was a former Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who held this view, and I am glad to continue that point in the debate that will follow, I assume.
By introducing this bill, we are taking concrete steps to return to a system where all citizens are treated equal, regardless of whether they are dual or multiple nationals. This is a commitment my party made before forming government, and we are following through now. This is a matter of principle and fundamental values for us. There should be one tier, only one tier, of Canadian citizenship.
I have no doubt that members in the House are concerned about security, and I want to turn to that point now for a moment. I can assure all of them that we remain unwavering in our commitment to protect the safety and security of Canadians. Canadians convicted of treason and terrorism will be dealt with through our justice system. As the has stated, we have courts and prisons in Canada, and offenders will not go unpunished.
As well, there are measures in place before someone becomes a citizen. A person may be denied a visa or other travel document, refused entry to, or removed from Canada for security reasons or criminal activity, preventing him or her from becoming a citizen. Furthermore, prohibition grounds in the Citizenship Act remain in effect, barring individuals convicted of certain offences or engaged in activities against the national interest from acquiring citizenship in the first place.
Moreover, repealing the national interest grounds would not affect the ability to revoke citizenship where it was obtained fraudulently. The minister would continue to have authority to revoke citizenship in basic fraud cases. Furthermore, the Federal Court would continue to have authority to decide on cases where the fraud is in relation to a fact regarding security, human or international rights violations, or organized criminality. The ability to revoke citizenship where it was obtained fraudulently has been in place since the first Canadian Citizenship Act came into force in 1947, and it will continue to be in place.
Three additional proposed amendments included in this bill would further enhance the integrity of the citizenship program. The first is to include conditional sentence orders in the prohibitions provisions. The second is to ensure that the need for applicants to meet citizenship requirements, from the time their grant of citizenship is approved to the time they take the oath, applies to all applicants. The third would provide authority for the minister to seize documents that are fraudulent or are being used fraudulently when provided for the administration of the Citizenship Act.
As we have emphasized, Canada's commitment to diversity and inclusion is an essential, powerful, and ambitious approach to make Canada and the world a better and safer place. A Canadian is a Canadian, and that must never change.
Bill would bring us closer to putting this principle into action and to remaining the open, tolerant, and diverse country that we have been throughout our history and, I hope, we will continue to be.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill .
Like my colleague from , I too proudly come from immigrant parents, and so immigration policy that creates clear paths to citizenship is very important to me. It is a bill that I believe will positively influence my riding of Davenport where I have, blessedly, a very high number of immigrants who come from many different cultures, and that lends to the wonderful diversity not only of my riding but of our city and indeed our country.
This Liberal government is committed to a Canada that is both diverse and inclusive. Canadians know that our government recognizes that historically we are strong because of our diversity and not in spite of it. We also know we have to get immigration policy right and create clear, compassionate, and fair paths to citizenship if we are to have a healthy economy moving forward.
The and the have been clear from the outset: flexibility and diversity are going to be crucial to our future as a country and indeed what we offer the world. We want to encourage that diversity and take steps to ensure that the path to citizenship is a flexible and fair one, but also one that encourages all Canadians to take pride in being Canadian.
Speaking to an audience at the Canadian High Commission in London shortly after taking office, the eloquently stated:
|| Compassion, acceptance, and trust; diversity and inclusion—these are the things that have made Canada strong and free. Not just in principle, but in practice.
|| Those of us who benefit from the many blessings of Canada’s diversity need to be strong and confident custodians of its character.
It is a strong attachment to Canada and to those values of compassion, progress, opportunity, and justice that we hold dear and that lead citizens to be strong and confident custodians of our national character.
Critics of the measures outlined in Bill may say that the greater flexibility these changes would bring would diminish an attachment to Canada and to our shared values as Canadians, creating so-called citizens of convenience. Being Canadian is a privilege and an honour. Few of us would dispute that.
However, far from diminishing the value of Canadian citizenship, the measures in Bill C-6 would in fact increase and foster a greater attachment to Canada. What is even more important is that in introducing Bill C-6, there is a message that we in the Liberal government are sending, and that is different than that of the former government. The message is that we recognize, with the exception of our indigenous community, that everyone in Canada at some point was an immigrant to our great country and that we value our immigrants. We feel lucky that there are so many people who want to create a home in Canada, who want to contribute to Canada, and who want to do their part to create an even better Canada.
Bill would support the government's goal of making it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada. The Citizenship Act will continue, and has continued, to have several measures that contribute to deepening attachment to Canada, deterring citizenships of convenience, ensuring program integrity, and combatting fraud. All Canadians should be treated equally, regardless of whether they were born in Canada, naturalized, or hold citizenship in another country. As the has said, and is now quoted way too often, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.
Critics may also point to changes to the age range for language proficiency and citizenship knowledge testing as another way that attachment to Canada would be lessened. However, this government understands that for younger and older applicants this is a barrier to citizenship. Indeed, in my riding of Davenport, for whatever reason, many residents have remained permanent residents for years and decades and have waited until they have reached 55 years of age to become a Canadian citizen. It could be that while most of them have worked most of their adult lives in Canada and contributed to the Canadian economy and society, they are still not comfortable with their language level and lack the confidence to take the language test currently required to become a Canadian citizen. However, Bill C-6 would bring the age range and knowledge requirements back to 18 to 54, and I applaud that. I know the residents in Davenport will also applaud these changes.
The Liberal government believes in the importance of having adequate knowledge of one of Canada's official languages, and understanding the responsibilities and privileges associated with being a citizen of our country. Adults aged 18 to 54 will still be required to provide evidence of their proficiency in English or French and to pass a citizenship test.
These changes will not put newcomers at a disadvantage. Younger applicants will acquire knowledge of Canada and official language capability through their schooling, which is excellent.
Older adults applying for citizenship will find support to be knowledgeable about Canada and to speak its official languages through a wide variety of services offered across the country. This flexibility will help children, their parents, and grandparents achieve citizenship, an important step that will allow immigrants to gain a deeper sense of belonging to our society and to become more active citizens.
An important way that we will accelerate attachment to Canada is by allowing time spent residing in Canada before becoming a permanent resident to count toward citizenship requirements. The Citizenship Act would be amended to allow each day within the five years preceding their application that a person was physically present as a temporary resident or protected person before becoming a permanent resident to be counted as a half day toward meeting the physical presence requirement for citizenship, up to a maximum of one year.
Moreover, every day a person was physically present in Canada as a permanent resident will count as one day of physical presence for citizenship. This means an applicant could accumulate up to 365 days as a temporary resident or a protected person. They could accumulate the remaining 730 days as a permanent resident to meet the 1,095 days of physical presence required to become a citizen.
This acknowledges that post-secondary students who come to this country to study often find Canada a great place to stay and build their career. Indeed, there are many of these wonderful students in my riding of Davenport. They are extraordinary people, and it would be a blessing to have them want to apply to become a Canadian citizen. If they choose to stay in Canada, it is because they have developed an affection and an attachment to this country, whether because of work, family, or opportunities.
They have started to build their lives here, benefiting our communities and, indeed, our country as a whole. We should acknowledge, encourage, and be grateful for the choice they have made to make Canada their home. Their experience in Canada matters. Their decision to come to Canada, build a new life and home here, and contribute to building our great nation matters as well.
Treating our immigrants well and creating viable, fair, compassionate paths to citizenship are matters of principle to the government. Canadians are proud of our country and our values. We welcome immigrants. We help them settle, integrate, and succeed. This is our history, our present, and our future.
Whether newcomers arrive as refugees, family members, or ethnic immigrants, their contributions to Canada and those of the generations to follow will be positive. Our current and future economy depends on us getting our immigration policy right. Bill is just a first step of what I hope will be many more steps to come in reforming our immigration system.
We encourage all immigrants to take the path of full membership in Canadian society. One of the strongest pillars for successful integration to Canadian life is achieving citizenship. With that in mind, I encourage all of my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill .
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am pleased that Bill is moving through the House of Commons. As New Democrats, it is not exactly all that we want, but at least it will result in some movement on a number of different initiatives that have not only hurt this country economically, socially, and culturally, but also hurt the individuals we need to be a successful country.
I come from a riding that has over 100 organized ethnic cultures that have been part of the foundation of our border town, which basically has a third of the nation's trade go through it a day. It also has some of the most diverse areas. It is where the War of 1812 took place and was the end of the Underground Railroad, where people came to Canada to escape slavery in the United States. A number of times we contested bounty hunters coming into Canada to remove individuals back to the United States to collect a bounty and return them to slave owners. In many respects we had become a refuge against the acts and activities that we, as a part of the British empire at that time, clearly viewed as needing to change, such as the slave trade. That opposition of ours is very much a part of our cultural element. Although we were geographically large, at that time we were a small colonial country in terms of population. We were standing in the wings of the United States and offering something called freedom against its very controversial republic of union and the southern states, which eventually led to the Civil War. It was quite a stand for the people, communities, and so forth, of our country to take at that time.
Therefore, when we talk today about the changes called for in Bill , we must keep in mind that if we were to continue with the policy brought in under the Conservatives in Bill , we would be harming our ability to be successful in the world.
I will point to a couple of local examples that are also somewhat national in nature because they happen in many other border town facilities.
We have not only had many immigrants and refugees come to our region and contribute in recent years, as we have discussed over the last two years with respect to Syrian refugees, but we have also had a steady stream of immigrants come into our region who have helped to build the national footprint of this country and make significant local progress on many different issues.
Bill was basically more than just a fly in the ointment with respect to the Canadian dream of being a multicultural country; it became adverse to our economy and to the families that we need because we do not have a growing population ourselves. It is the reality of our future.
It is interesting when I hear some pushback about this from certain members of the public who ask the honest and interesting questions they feel the need to ask, such as who will pay for their pensions in the future if we do not have skilled labour and other types of labour coming to contribute back to the Canadian economy.
Interestingly enough, in a border town like mine we have seen the harmful effects of the extension of days and time required to be spent in Canada before a residency gets completed. In my riding alone, the issue was so bad that we received a budget for a single position in my constituency to hire someone four days a week to deal with immigration itself. We are not funded for that position in the overall budgeting of the House of Commons, which is sad because we had a new Walker Road immigration facility open up in Windsor eight or nine years ago. It also had a room for ceremonies. People could go and get their file looked after and could get updates. That office was not only subject to staffing reductions by the past regime, but we have also seen it close to the public.
A number of people have English as a second language. Let us be clear on this. They may be doctors, engineers, or teachers. They come from all walks of life. Some are skilled workers, some are not. These people are trying to get information about their cases. They may have a spouse, children, or parents who do not know what the h-e-double hockey sticks is happening. That is unfortunate, because they are trying to move on with their lives. The process takes far too long. This has been a habitual problem since I have been here in Parliament. Hopefully the changes proposed in this legislation will improve this to some degree. I hope staffing levels will get augmented. Hopefully, the office will be opened up so that people can get processed quickly.
How would this affect people in Windsor West, Toronto, Montreal, northern Ontario, or any other place in Canada? Employment will be delayed for these people. Their contributions back into our tax system will be delayed. Ironically, over 10,000 workers cross over to the Detroit region every day because that city is short of skilled labour. Some of these people are doctors, nurses, accountants, and marketing consultants. A lot of them have value-added skills, but their skills are not recognized in Canada. Some of these people have degrees but they cannot practice here. They cannot use their experience here. They can do so in the United States.
Thousands of people in the health care industry go over to the United States. These are doctors and nurses and other types of health care professionals. If Canadians need urgent hospital care, they are sent to Detroit to get help. We will pay a premium here in Canada for them to be treated by Canadians working in Detroit who are not allowed to practice their skills in our country. We pay a premium to send individuals over there, where they quite likely will receive treatment from people who have been denied a licence to practice here in Canada.
These delays in our immigration policy over the last number of years and the issue with Bill have created a shroud around families that makes it difficult for them to contribute.
I listened with interest to the previous speaker who said that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. I was at the U.S. embassy with Raymond Chrétien, who was the ambassador at that time. It was the first time an announcement was made that five countries would be put on a watch list. People who were granted Canadian citizenship but came from a third country might be exposed to fingerprinting and having their picture taken and other security checks done. I argued about this at the time, but to this day nothing has ever been done about it. That was the first step that took place. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian was not the case. We now have two-tier citizenship. We need to change that policy as well, and we can work toward that in the future.
Bill provides us with an opportunity to work on different things. We want to work on a few points contained in the legislation. It is not appropriate for the minister to unilaterally act with regard to someone's citizenship without judicial oversight. That is not appropriate in terms of an individual's rights. No minister of any political party should have that type of influence over a process that should be carried out in the courts. There should be accountability for the person, because he or she is a Canadian citizen. They should be entitled to their rights. We need to make sure that those rights are thoroughly reviewed, not only for them but for the rest of Canadian society.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak in support of Bill today, although I do feel that it falls short in a number of areas.
As has been said by several speakers here today and yesterday, most Canadians come from immigrant families, and many of us have stories of parents and grandparents who came to this country to ensure a better life for their children. My mother's family, the Munns, came from Scotland to Newfoundland in 1837, and I was very happy and honoured to hear the member for read a statement on Tuesday regarding my great-great-uncle John Munn, who came here in 1837 as a young entrepreneur and started Munn and Co., one of the greatest merchant companies in the storied history of Newfoundland, a company that was taken over by my great-grandfather, Robert Stewart Munn, in 1878.
My father's father, on the other hand, came from more humble beginnings, the slums of Bristol. He went to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia in 1907, and I am proud to use the leather case that he was given by his colleagues when he left England. I use it in recognition of the courage that he showed in giving up his life in England and moving to the wild west over a century ago.
To my way of thinking, Bill and its attempt to fix some of the serious shortcomings in citizenship law in Canada is a very welcome step. I would like to talk about the provisions in this bill that repeal the parts of Bill that relate to people who hold dual citizenship in Canada.
During a very long election campaign, like everyone in the chamber, I talked to thousands of people across my riding. As we found out on election day, most of them were desperate for a change in government. When I spoke with citizens on their doorsteps or answered questions at forums, they had a long list of concerns with the former government, but what really surprised me about the depth of these concerns was the fact that many people actually knew the names and numbers of a couple of the bills that bothered them.
I was not so much surprised that they knew about Bill , as there had been a number of local rallies in my area and the bill had been well covered in the news, but I was really surprised to find out how many people immediately named Bill as their biggest concern. It is not often people know the names and numbers of bills. They were particularly vehement in their discussions around its provisions for stripping people with dual citizenship of their Canadian citizenship. It did not matter that this bill supposedly targeted only terrorists and spies; when taken in context with Bill , there was a lot of concern at the time over who might be considered a terrorist, a spy, or a traitor.
A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting of environmental activists in a church basement in the Okanagan Valley. Most of the people there were elderly folks who were worried about the impacts of oil tankers along the Pacific coast. They were learning the basics of door-to-door canvassing. We found out some years later that a federal agent had attended the meeting and that some of the volunteers were followed and photographed as they canvassed neighbourhoods.
The previous government clearly treated anti-pipeline activists as traitors, and Bill came close to legalizing that view. Who is to say what future governments may decide about the definition of these serious charges? That is why I am very happy to see that Bill will repeal those parts of Bill that created two kinds of Canadian citizens: those who were safely Canadian and those who could lose their citizenship at the whim of some future minister.
This section of Bill has been denounced by the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and many respected academics. Many of these experts feel that Bill does not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or international law. Like many other bills from the previous government, it was given a rather Orwellian doublespeak name. In this case it was called the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, when it clearly did the opposite.
When we welcome immigrants to Canada and grant them citizenship, they become Canadians, citizens like every one of us here in this chamber. They deserve to be given the same rights of citizenship as all of us, whether or not they choose to retain the citizenship of another country.
On top of that, one has to wonder why we would want to strip people of their citizenship and deport them, even if they have been convicted of treasonous or terrorist acts. Would we want them plotting against Canada from some foreign country, where they could easily be drawn into terrorist groups to harm Canadians and other citizens, or do we want them to be safely behind bars in prisons here in Canada?
I would like to turn now to talking about welcoming new immigrants. We all know the great benefits that immigrants bring to our country. Their hard work helps build this country, and we should remove unnecessary barriers to citizenship. I am happy to see that Bill begins to address some of these issues.
One of those barriers is the requirement that most new citizens be proficient in one of our two official languages. My daughter works in an immigrant support centre teaching English to refugees and new immigrants. Lately her classes have included refugees who have come to our region from Syria. I have met her students and can attest to their enthusiasm for learning English so that they can become fully integrated into the local community, get jobs, and become productive members of our society.
That said, I do support the provision in Bill that returns the age restriction to this requirement to 54 years of age, since older immigrants have strong family support and in turn are supporting their children's family at home. Many of these older immigrants have difficulty learning a new language and can contribute to Canadian society through their relationships with their children and other community members.
On that note, I would like to bring up the extreme difficulties just mentioned by my colleague that face young families of new Canadians who are trying to reunify their families and bring their parents to Canada.
I have had numerous representations, as I am sure many here have, from constituents who have been trying for years to bring parents to live with them in Canada. I have one family that has been trying for almost 10 years to bring their parents to join them in Canada. It breaks my heart to tell them that they have another six and a half years to wait. In the meantime, their parents are getting older and older. They do not think it is useful to continue the process because it is just so frustrating, so I hope the government acts on its promises to quickly clear up this backlog by replacing the present system with one that is fair and really works.
I would also like to note that many immigrant support centres across this country have had their federal funds cut over the past two years, making it difficult for these centres to help refugees and new immigrants get the language lessons and the other help they need to integrate into our communities.
To conclude, I urge the government to continue to remove unnecessary barriers to new immigrants in Canada, both through legislative action and through proper funding for immigrant support.
I would like to reiterate that Canada is a country of immigrants that should continue to welcome new Canadians from around the world. Bill was a giant step in the wrong direction, and Bill is a good step back toward making Canada a welcoming country, a country that we can all be proud of.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for . It is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of Bill .
As the member of Parliament from a riding where immigration is the number one concern for many of my constituents, I am proud to support this bill. During my 11-week campaign and the two years leading up to it, I heard time and again of the issues that people were facing concerning bringing their loved ones to Canada, or their struggles in gaining citizenship while they were completing their residency requirements.
Since the good people of Brampton East sent me to this chamber, my constituency office has received over 400 cases, and 99% of them deal with immigration. They are families who have waited seven years to be reunited. There are thousands who have waited 18 months since they were married to begin their life together. There are genuine visitor visa cases that are being denied time and again. There are also PR holders who have filled out the application, met the residency requirements, and suffered under the unnecessary changes to the Citizenship Act made by the previous government.
I am the proud son of immigrants. My family's story is similar to that of many families across this great nation. My parents immigrated to Canada in the late 1970s in search of social and economic opportunities. They worked hard. My dad was a taxi cab driver, and my mom lifted boxes in a factory. My parents realized that in Canada anything was possible with a bit of hope and a lot of hard work. At the core of their story is the day that they became Canadian citizens. It was not just a document to them. For my parents, it was security and a sense of pride that they were finally part of the Canadian family. At the ceremony, they proudly sang O Canada, and called their relatives for a party to celebrate the occasion.
Time and again, my father tells me that I won the lottery by being born in Canada, that I am a Canadian citizen by birthright, and that being a Canadian citizen is the envy of the world. I could not agree with him more. When asked on the campaign trail how I enjoyed the process, I responded that I am living the Canadian dream.
Brampton East is the second-most diverse riding in the entire country. The strength of our country has always been our diversity and building upon one another's experiences. Yet, at the same time, no matter where we come from or what we believe, we are all united by our Canadian values.
A few weeks ago, I had the honour and privilege of welcoming our new Syrian brothers and sisters at Pearson International Airport. I had the opportunity to chat with some of them, and the hope and joy in their voices was priceless. They knew how special it was to come to Canada as permanent residents. One parent spoke about how her children would now have the opportunity to live out their dreams. One day, a young Syrian refugee will study hard, become a professional, gain citizenship, and become a member of Parliament and sit in this very House. His or her life story will be a story of the Canadian dream.
Day in and day out, my team in Brampton East helps our constituents understand the immigration process, helps them determine their eligibility, and supports them through any challenges they face. Gaining citizenship is a cherished goal for many of my constituents, as well as the associated objectives such as family unification, which our government is also improving upon.
When the previous government announced the changes to the Citizenship Act, it redefined the narratives of citizenship and what it meant to be a Canadian. As a result, it pitted Canadians against one another in the ugliest of ways in order to serve political purposes. This greatly affected the citizens of my riding, many of whom are first generation and second generation Canadians. Their families moved here with the hopes and dreams of building a secure and prosperous life in Canada and providing the best foundation for their children to contribute to Canadian society.
Bill , introduced by the previous government, tore into these hopes and dreams, as well as the hard work my constituents had put into building successful lives for their families. It created a fear and discomfort that is not the norm for Canadian society, and it certainly should not be.
Former citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander defended this bill by arguing that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Simply put, he is wrong. It may come with responsibilities, but citizenship is a right. Once legitimately acquired by birth or naturalization, it cannot be taken away.
Bill gave the government the kind of sweeping power that is common in dictatorships, not in a democracy built upon the rule of law where all citizens are equal. The previous government used national security as a justification for the bill, but Bill could easily have been used against Canadians who were innocent under the laws. That was the danger in the lack of clarity and overreaching scope of that bill. That is the slippery slope that we must avoid at all costs.
Under that bill, the only Canadians who could not lose their citizenship arbitrarily were those born in Canada who did not have another nationality. The double standard and inequality that the law inflicted was immediately obvious to most Canadians. Revoking citizenship is one of the most serious consequences that a society may impose and should remain an exceptional process. It should be conducted with the highest degree of procedural fairness, as rightly noted by the Canadian Bar Association and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. We must trust our justice system to ensure that all criminals of Canadian nationality face the consequences of their actions, but that should not come at the expenses of their civil liberties.
I cannot say strongly enough how proud I am of the government for introducing Bill , which aims to right the wrongs of Bill committed against dual citizens, potential dual citizens, and those looking to become citizens. Canada is, and always has been, and always will be, a country that opens its arms to others, whether it be immigrant families or our new Syrian refugee brothers and sisters. It is also in our nature to support these individuals to become integrated members of our society until they are settled and contributing to their community.
I would now like to focus on the importance of other parts of Bill that may not get as much attention.
I applaud the government for eliminating unjustified barriers to achieving citizenship. Allowing applicants to receive credit for the time they are legally in Canada before becoming permanent residents is a huge step in the right direction, if we value the talent and work ethic of the people who come to work or study in Canada. I am sure we have all met a bright, young international student with a promising career whom we would like to call Canada home, as we do. This improvement to the immigration system would create economic growth in communities, as we have the best and brightest of the world's population joining our workforce.
Allowing applicants to apply for citizenship one year sooner by reducing the number of days of physical presence has already been very well received in ridings like .
Bill would correct a wrong. I am proud of the government for making this commitment during the campaign and now fulfilling its promise.
We can never forget that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.
Madam Speaker, it is hard to speak after listening to my colleague from with his passionate speech, but I will do my very best and attempt to emulate him.
Diversity, inclusion, immigration: these are pillars of this great country and should always inform any debate in this chamber. I am rising today to speak in support of this bill with these fundamentals in mind.
When this House considers a subject as important and as fundamental as citizenship, we should treat these debates with the importance they deserve. Today I am rising to support this bill. My constituents will be thrilled to hear that our government is addressing serious errors that Bill created, whether they were purposeful or not. I thank the minister for swiftly reversing these errors and addressing these concerns.
One of our nation's many pillars is the successful integration of immigrants into new Canadians. Our country is stronger because of our diversity, and our government encourages all immigrants to take the path to full and permanent membership in this country and Canadian society.
Bill achieves just that. These changes would provide newcomers to Canada more flexibility to help meet their requirements for citizenship. I know I am not alone in this House when I say that, day in and day out, as members of Parliament, we hear about the unique paths that newcomers have taken to end up here in Canada. A number of these paths have been filled with hardship, challenges, and roadblocks.
As a government, we have a responsibility to ease immigration to our country, especially when it comes to reuniting families with their loved ones. For the past number of years, we have seen processing times for applications balloon. Now, as a result, I hear about constituents in my riding who have waited not months but years for decisions on their applications.
My family's immigration story is similar to that of millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It is a story I share with many of constituents in my riding of Surrey Centre. My father, Mohan Singh Sarai, emigrated here from India in 1959, 57 years ago, and my mother, Amrik Kaur Sarai, emigrated in 1969. They came to this country to participate fully in Canadian society. My brothers are transportation workers, sawmill workers, and truck drivers, and one is a postman, all active in their communities, coaching, volunteering, or working in community kitchens around the great province of British Columbia.
I look around this chamber, and I know that many have similar stories to tell, and that is exactly what makes this place and country so great. The government recognizes that newcomers often begin building an attachment to this country long before they become permanent residents. This includes students who study in our great institutions, such as Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in my riding.
They would now receive credit for their time while they study in schools in our great land. This bill proposes allowing applicants to receive credit for the time they were legally in Canada before actually becoming status permanent residents.
Let us be clear about what this legislation would accomplish. This bill removes the unnecessary barriers to becoming full members of Canadian society. Our government has taken action by narrowing the age range of those required to meet language and knowledge requirements, so more newcomers have the chance of being granted Canadian citizenship.
Our government has demonstrated leadership by repealing the intent-to-reside provision of citizenship applications. I know there was a period of time during the previous Parliament when the government of the day conveniently forgot about a pesky little document called the charter. However, our government recognizes that all Canadians are free to move wherever they choose, and this right is guaranteed in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I want to talk about something I find to be deeply troubling. Let us imagine a country where people who were born and raised in this country could have their citizenship taken away. That country does exists, and its name is Canada.
Now this might come as a shock to my colleagues from across the aisle, but I agree with them. I will go slowly here so my colleagues can follow.
When terrorists commit a crime against our country, we should lock them up and let them pay for their crime, because when people commit a crime in this country, we lock them up, we prosecute them, and we sentence them to jail. This is the Canada my parents immigrated to, the place I am proud to call my home, and in this country we have a justice system designed to do exactly that: provide justice to Canadians.
I have had this debate with many during and after the election: citizenship is akin to adoption. When parents adopt a child, they take the child not knowing what he or she will become. Some may become doctors, lawyers, nurses, electricians, or maybe even members of Parliament, but some may also end up becoming criminals. However, the adoptive parents cannot, all of a sudden, tell the biological parents from whom they adopted their children that the kid is now a criminal and they want to return the child, as he or she is not their child anymore. Their child is their child is their child.
The same goes for citizenship. When people come to Canada, we assess their medical histories, perform deep and extensive criminal histories and security assessments, including criminal record checks, histories, backgrounds, and we watch them for at least five years. For the first five years they live in Canada, we monitor them and are able to see their actions. Only after completing that long assessment and a written test, and in some cases an interview with a judge, do we decide that they are worthy of our citizenship. After that point, they are ours, period.
Subsequently, if people get radicalized or become terrorists or criminals of any kind in Canada, they are our problem, not the country from which they came. Why should another country take our criminals? Why? They become a problem in Canada, so why should the countries of their birth or their parents' birth take them back? Their act of terrorism or criminality happened or was conceived on Canada's soil, while being Canadian.
Therefore, we cannot just do a brain drain from countries by taking their best and brightest and then deport those who become rotten apples here in Canada. If this were the case, then we should deport the hundreds of mass murderers, serial rapists, pedophiles, and other criminals who are in Canada, in Canadian jails, back to the countries from which their parents came.
With that in mind, do we wish to have people of Canadian descent, who have migrated and become citizens elsewhere, such as the United States or European countries, be deported back here when they do heinous crimes in their new country of choice? No, they should pay for their crimes there.
Let us recap. Should Bill become law, it would give more flexibility for newcomers to Canada to apply, more newcomers would become full and permanent residents of this great country, and they would become citizens faster. Finally, it would remove and end a shameful second class of citizenship that should never exist in a country such as ours.
I hope my colleagues in the House will support our government's initiatives because our country is stronger not because we have no diversity but because of it.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for , who has spent a great deal of time on this debate already. I welcome his words as well.
I will start off with my 10 minutes to talk a little about my background. Hearing the remarks of the hon. member for and the hon. member for , with her intervention, they are seeming to make the bill about a general immigration bill, which is of course absolutely incorrect.
We will not take our lessons from the hon. members opposite when they get on their high horse and talk about their valid backgrounds. There is nothing wrong with that, but I was born elsewhere. My mother's mother was born in Aleppo, Syria. My father was born in Cyprus. I welcome the comments of the hon. members about their backgrounds and their histories, but on the Conservative side of the House, we have proud backgrounds and histories as well.
We have a different perspective on the bill. Just as we respect their perspective, they should respect our perspective. I do not want to hear the insinuation that somehow if members vote against this bill, they are anti-immigrant, or they do not believe that the future of our country will in great part be built on people who were born elsewhere. Those are the facts of the situation. That is my personal history. I take a bit of umbrage when I hear the other side try to corner the market on that point of view.
Therefore, I am speaking as a first generation Canadian. I am speaking about the importance of successfully integrating into Canadian society to take advantage of all that our great country has to offer. However, it does concern me that it appears that one of the first priorities of the and of the Liberal government is somehow to return the citizenship to convicted terrorists. There is no refuting the fact that the person who has the most to gain from the bill is the heinous ringleader of the Toronto 18, Zakaria Amara. Those are the facts.
We believe that there is only one class of Canadian citizens and that all citizens deserve to be protected from terrorist acts.
Therefore, it is particularly alarming to me that Bill would create an unacceptable and, frankly, ridiculous double standard. Under the proposed legislation, a convicted terrorist's citizenship rights are protected, whereas someone who commits fraud is eligible to have their citizenship revoked.
The fact remains that while the Liberals are focused on ensuring convicted terrorists can have their citizenship back, we Conservatives are instead choosing to focus on maintaining Canada's strong global reputation as one of the best places to live, a bastion of freedom with jobs, hope, and security.
Let me talk about section B of the bill. It would remove the requirement that if granted citizenship, an applicant would intend to continue to reside in Canada. I repeat this for the record. We believe new immigrants and new Canadians enrich our country. They make our Canadian experience more wholesome and more successful. The experiences and perspectives they can bring within our borders are integral to the Canadian experience.
We want newcomers, just as when I arrived on these shores as a four year old, not knowing anything about this country at that young age, relying on my parents' wisdom. Thank goodness they chose Canada as a place where they wanted to get ahead in their lives.
I know other members of our caucus and indeed of all caucuses may have shared experiences of the New World as a youngster, coming here not knowing anyone and many times not knowing the language. However, we want people to succeed. We want people to experience our freedoms, experience our safe communities across the country. It is not just about the freedom to succeed. In many cases newcomers are fleeing countries where they do not have the freedom to experience a safe community. That is, by and large, what Canada offers.
We want that safety as well as that freedom. That is the critical part about Bill that we find objectionable. Let me state for the record that this intention to reside provision does not restrict a citizen's mobility rights as guaranteed under the charter. Rather it reinforces the expectation that citizenship is a privilege given to those with the intention of making Canada their permanent home. That is the whole purpose of it.
The Conservative Party would support an amendment that removes this provision from the bill.
Paragraph (c) of the bill would reduce the amount of time a person must have been physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship from four out of six years to three out of five.
Newcomers to Canada should receive every opportunity to succeed in every way possible. The longer an individual lives, works or studies in Canada, the greater the connection that person will have to our country.
On this side of the House, we believe that stronger residency requirements do promote integration, a greater attachment to Canada, and ultimately success in our great country. Make no mistake. Canadian citizenship is a very special thing, not easily emulated around the world. It bestows rights, freedoms, and protections to which many foreign nationals are not privy. As Canadians, they can vote and seek elected office. As such, we believe it is very important to be an active participant in Canadian life for a significant period of time prior to being granted citizenship in order to enrich both their personal experiences within Canada as well as our country's future. Therefore, we would support an amendment that would strike this component of the bill.
What it comes down to is a conception of an open, free, democratic, welcoming society, but one that enjoys the protections under the law, one that protects current citizens, permanent residents, and newcomers as well as bestowing those freedoms.
On this side of the House, we offer a balanced approach to these kinds of issues, balancing freedoms with responsibilities and protections. That is why we have the position we do on Bill .
Madam Speaker, I usually start by saying it is an honour to participate in this important debate. However, I have to say that this is a particularly important debate, one of the most important we have had thus far in the House, because we are talking about what Canadian citizenship means and the core aspects of Canadian identity.
I want to start by articulating what I see as three central principles of Canadian citizenship. I believe that Canadian citizenship should be accessible, should be valued, and should express collective values.
The first principle is that citizenship should be accessible. We take for granted that we are a country where citizenship is not only something people can be born into, but also that people can receive by coming here and becoming citizens. They can be from elsewhere originally, but then buy into our collective values and become part of Canada. Our citizenship is accessible, which is part of our strength—being able to draw on the knowledge and experience that come from other parts of the world.
I was recently in the United Arab Emirates, and that is not the way things work there and in some other countries. People can live there for decades and never have an opportunity to acquire citizenship. Therefore, the way we do it in Canada is special, is important, and provides us with a unique value. I believe there is consensus on this principle of accessibility.
The second principle is that citizenship ought to be valued. It ought to be the sort of thing that we understand means something. To paraphrase Kant, it should never be treated as merely a means, but be valued as a good in and of itself.
For many of the new Canadians I have talked to in my riding and elsewhere, they have a particularly sharp sense of the value of Canadian citizenship. If it is something they did not start out with, if they had to come here and then acquire it, they have a particular appreciation for the value of that citizenship. New Canadians and all Canadians want us to ensure that citizenship is not just a tool to achieve some other end, but is regarded as a thing of value by those who hold it.
The third principle is that citizenship ought to express collective values in some sense. Of course, that does not mean that we have to agree on everything, or even on most things, but it does mean that there is some set of values that we can identify as being centrally Canadian.
Not everyone who breaks the law in any sense steps out of this essential values compact, but there are cases, and we have seen them, of people who clearly voluntarily make a very strong clean break with anything we would understand to resemble Canadian values.
I would argue that if we allow people who are involved in treason, terrorism, or fighting for foreign genocidal powers against Canada, people who clearly do not buy into any semblance of our collective values, to keep our citizenship, then we devalue that citizenship. All members here understand the importance of Canadian citizenship, but it ought to be valued as an end, not merely as a means, and it ought to express something about our collective values, not just express the fact that someone went through a particular process. That is what citizenship is about. That is what it should be about.
Here in Canada we have put these two critical ideas together. On the one hand, we have sought and effectively built a very diverse country ethnically, culturally, religiously, and linguistically. However, in the context of that, we have also sought generally to insist on the importance of common values, on the meaning of our citizenship, and on expressing some kind of collective values. At first blush, this might seem like a difficult combination, diversity on the one hand and common values on the other. Indeed, in most of the world's history, these things were not seen as going together. Most of the world's history has been populated either by small republics or big empires: on the one hand, possibly societies that are relatively small and homogenous and are held together by collective values, and, on the other hand, societies that are larger, more diverse, and controlled centrally.
However, the Canadian ideal was a unique political experiment in world history, and it is one that has worked. It was the idea that we could build a society that was both diverse but also expressed common values, and did so democratically.
We have all heard the expression, “having your cake and eating it too”. This was really our attempt to have our cake and eat it with ice cream and a glass of wine. We have done it and we have built a great society.
However, to have a cohesive democratic society that is diverse, we always need to have and maintain that idea of common values. There is a point at which someone goes too far and steps outside of those common values. This is what we are fighting for, and this is something that we on this side of the House believe is worth fighting for, the idea that citizenship must at some point entail common values. As we have seen, this is an idea contested by members opposite.
The recently told The New York Times that “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.... Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.” It is deeply troubling that the Prime Minister of Canada would spout, respectfully, such nonsense. This is a bastardization of a great Canadian political experiment, a troubling wrong turn in thinking, and it comes at a time when, frankly, Canada is at a high point in terms of its diversity and collective values. We have to maintain them. People come here because of our diversity, but not just because of our diversity, but also because they want to buy into a set of shared democratic values in that context. The vast majority of people who come here have no interest in our allowing terrorists to retain their citizenship.
I want to say as well that this bill is important to me personally. As the son and grandson of immigrants, I was always raised with this particular appreciation of the value of Canadian citizenship and the way it expresses our collective values. My grandmother grew up in a country that did not believe she had basic human dignity because of her race. My mother was born in Venezuela when her father was working on an energy project there. She is, in fact, a dual citizen. My father's parents arrived from Malta just a couple of months after he was born, and he liked to tell us that he had been made in Malta. Since my father is also an obstetrician, we were never in doubt about what that meant. It may be the case that I am the first Canadian MP of Maltese descent and this no doubt marks a major step forward in our social evolution. My wife's family members were immigrants to Canada from Pakistan, where they faced increasing persecution because of their Christian faith. Because of a history of ethnic and religious persecution, both of our families really understand what it means to be in a country like Canada, why our citizenship is valuable, and why we need to fight for those common values against the attempts of the current government to de-emphasize them and to allow convicted terrorists to remain citizens.
I want to conclude my speech today with a few points of refutation to what we have heard in the debate so far. I must say that we have heard some very good speeches from the government side, but we have heard many speeches that just simply repeated the same slogans over and over again about the importance of diversity, as if that were actually a subject for debate. Listening to this debate, I have to say that there is no party with a monopoly on respect for diversity, but there does seem to be one party with a monopoly on sanctimony. Let us put the sanctimonious slogans aside and talk about the issues. Let us talk about the content of the bill, because it is simply too important to get lost in repeated sloganeering.
We have heard a lot of misinformation. We have heard members of the government say that new Canadians are worried that they might lose their citizenship just because they choose to reside outside the country. It is very clear that those people who are citizens are not required to live in Canada, but we do ask and should ask for an affirmation that people intend to reside in Canada. That does not preclude anyone who is a Canadian from living abroad at certain times, but it aligns us with a basic principle that if they just come here to get their citizenship and then plan on leaving right away, it does not really reflect an understanding of the value of Canadian citizenship.
We have heard this strange assertion that this violates the rule of law. Of course it does not. Citizenship is revocable in every country in the world. It would remain revocable in Canada after this bill passes, and these changes have not been required by the courts. Of course, the current elected government has a right to propose these measures, but to suggest that they are required by some principle of the rule of law reflects a misunderstanding of the way the law works. It is the invention of an artificial principle of law.
The Liberals have sought to skew the previous government's record, a record that includes the highest sustained immigration levels in the country's history. This is a critical discussion, so I ask the government members to put aside the slogans, put aside the talking points and misinformation, and let us have this discussion in a serious way. Canadian identity is too important.
Madam Speaker, I will begin by noting that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill .
During the time leading up to the election on October 19, 2015, I heard many concerns from residents of about the changes that the previous government had made to the Citizenship Act, and since this government was elected on October 19, with part of our election platform being to make changes to the Citizenship Act, I have heard from many constituents inquiring as to when these changes will occur.
The bill represents an important reminder of this government's commitment to a diverse and inclusive Canada. It recognizes the contribution that new Canadians make to this great country each and every day.
The proposed changes in Bill would provide greater flexibility for applicants trying to meet the requirements for citizenship. It would help immigrants obtain citizenship faster and it would repeal provisions of the Citizenship Act that allow citizenship to be revoked from citizens who engage in certain acts against the national interest.
I can tell members that citizenship is an issue of critical importance to my constituents in , many of whom are immigrants who have achieved citizenship and are exceedingly proud of their status as Canadians. They are proud of what being a Canadian means for them and their families.
I have heard from recent immigrants about their fears of losing their Canadian citizenship. They saw how the rules of citizenship could be changed by a stroke of the government's pen. Members of diverse communities were horrified, even terrified, that they would be targeted for deportation by their own government.
In May 2015, under the previous government's Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, legislative changes were created to allow citizenship to be revoked from dual citizens. The legislative changes allowed citizenship to be taken away for certain acts against the national interest of Canada. Convictions for terrorism, high treason, treason, spying offences, or membership in an organized group engaged in armed conflict with Canada were grounds for revocation. Citizens felt threatened and under attack by these changes.
I also heard from Canadians who have been Canadians for decades but who still hold citizenship from other countries and had passed this dual citizenship on to their children. They too are horrified, even terrified, that not only they but their children could be targeted for deportation by their own government under the rules set by the previous Conservative government.
Bill would repeal these grounds for deportation. This government believes that the Canadian justice system is fully capable of administering justice, protecting the public interest, and holding individuals accountable for their actions.
However, the value, the strength, and the iconic symbolism of Canadian citizenship would remain intact under Bill . The bill would continue to provide the ability to revoke citizenship when it was wrongfully obtained. False representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances remain grounds for revocation.
Madam Speaker, I will continue my speech after question period and will share my time, as I have mentioned.