Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support Bill an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
I would like to begin with a list.
This list includes Afghanistan, Argentina, China, Germany, Grenada, Haiti, India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Somalia, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
What do these countries have in common? They are all nations from which members of the House hail. Forty-one members of the chamber, spanning four different parties, are citizens of Canada who were born outside of this country. I am one of that group of 41 members. I was born in Uganda and arrived here as a young refugee in 1972.
Bill says to me and 40 of my fellow MPs that our citizenship is no different than that of our Canadian-born colleagues. In fact, Bill C-6 says to millions of Canadians who naturalized here after arriving from overseas that their citizenship has the same value and is accorded the same respect as the citizenship of those born in this country. It tells them that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Allow me to explain.
Bill would reverse the divisive legacy of legislation enacted by the previous government. Under what was then Bill , the previous government enacted legislation that allowed persons born abroad to be stripped of their citizenship on the basis of acts against the national interest—treason, spying, terrorism—but this applied only to those born abroad. Therefore, if someone was born in Canada and committed the exact same criminal act against the national interest, their citizenship could not be stripped. Canadian-born individuals would be dealt with by the criminal justice system alone, whereas foreign-born Canadians were subject to a double penalty: punishment under the criminal justice system, together with revocation of their citizenship under the Citizenship Act.
The old legislation, enacted by the previous government, was wrong for two reasons. The first is that it was unfair and unequal. We heard about the unfairness of the old Conservative legislation from strong immigration advocates, such as Legal Aid Ontario's refugee law office and Romero House in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. The inequality of the old legislation was laid bare by the litigation it caused. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers brought a charter challenge to Bill contending it created two tiers of citizenship.
The second and more important reason is that the old Bill was flawed because it sent the wrong message to newcomers. People like me, who fled their homelands to make a fresh start in Canada, are thankful for the opportunity to be here, but ultimately, we all seek the same thing: full and final integration. The previous government's Bill failed such Canadians, precisely because it rendered them more vulnerable. It told them that they are citizens, but citizens with an asterisk. By retracting the odious legislation the previous government passed, I and millions of Canadians who came here from other countries are being told that the politics of division are over and that they do, indeed, belong.
That is enough talk about the old legislation. I now want to talk about the merits of Bill .
Bill meets what we like to call the triple-E test. It is evidence-based, it makes economic sense, and the bill is ethically sound. Allow me to address each of these points in turn.
The first point is that Bill is evidence-based. Our government campaigned on a commitment to return to evidence-based policy, and that is precisely what Bill C-6 represents. Studies demonstrate that facilitating a path to not only obtaining but maintaining citizenship promotes a better integration of newcomers and their sense of belonging. This point has been reinforced to me time and time again by settlement and community groups doing important work in Parkdale—High Park, such as Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, the Four Villages Community Health Centre, the Canadian Ukrainian Immigrant Aid Society, and the Canadian Polish Congress.
The second point is that Bill is good economics. These very same studies show that the bill would have clear economic benefits for Canada. Immigrants who are given a path to permanence through citizenship have higher educational and economic outcomes. This point has also been communicated to me in my riding by terrific organizations on the front lines of settling newcomers in Toronto, like the Parkdale Intercultural Association, the Parkdale Community Recreation Centre, CultureLink, the Parkdale Community Health Centre, and Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services.
Bill is also ethically sound. Until the previous government's decision to enact the old Bill , we never had two tiers of citizenship in this country. It is not morally justifiable to divide citizens among those fortunate enough to be born here versus those who naturalize after arriving from overseas.
Our new bill does a lot more than just eliminate the two classes of citizenship created by the Conservatives. As I said, Bill also makes it easier to obtain citizenship in several important ways, which I will now address.
The barriers to citizenship that would be removed by this bill are many. I propose to address four.
The first relates to the length of time required to qualify for citizenship. Our legislation will require an applicant to be present in Canada for three years over a five-year time span, rather than the current four-year requirement over a six-year time span. Therefore, the bill would expand the pool of potential citizens and allow them to apply earlier.
More specifically, Bill is more flexible. It does not require a person to be in Canada for at least 183 days per year over each eligible year. Instead, one needs simply to be here for 1,095 days over a five-year period. What does that mean? It means flexibility. If one's job takes one overseas for an extended period, this would not make one automatically ineligible for citizenship.
Second, Bill would restore the knowledge and language testing requirement to the previous age range. The previous government passed legislation indicating that testing would be required for any applicant aged 14 to 64. We are restoring that age range back to the previous norm, which is age 18 to 54. This change would improve access to citizenship for the very young and for those 55 and over, thereby helping to speed up their formal integration.
Third, the intent to reside provision is being removed. Bill would no longer make it a requirement to declare one's intent to reside in Canada before becoming a citizen. That requirement was unmerited. All Canadians have mobility rights. More importantly, the old requirement created a great deal of confusion. Over 200 applications were returned to individuals who failed to complete the intent to reside portion of the application, because they did not understand it. They feared their citizenship could be revoked if they moved abroad. It cannot.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Bill would allow time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident to count towards one's three-year requirement to become a citizen. This provision allows for a 50% credit for time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident, up to a maximum credit of one year.
Who will this help? It would help temporary foreign workers, international students, and protected persons by speeding all of these groups on their path towards citizenship. This makes sense. These people have already spent time here. They have already worked and studied here. They have already built an attachment to Canada.
I turn now to one of the criticisms we have heard about the bill, which is safety.
Allow me to be crystal clear. Bill would not imperil the safety of Canadians. Our government's commitment to safety is unwavering. We have a place for terrorists and it is called “jail”. We have a place to prosecute terrorists and that is called the “criminal justice system”. When one commits a crime in Canada, one is prosecuted by the criminal justice system. We do not need a Citizenship Act tool to address a Criminal Code problem.
However, there is also a broader more philosophical underpinning to Bill . When we boost integration and put in place mechanisms for success, we strengthen ties and loyalty to this country. This does not threaten our safety. It is part of a host of initiatives, such as our response to the Syrian refugee crisis, which demonstrates Canada's openness, our inclusivity, and our compassion. These efforts counter radicalization and reduce threats to our safety. In fact, I would say we do this better than any country in the world, and I am proud to be part of a government that is restoring this reputation both here and abroad.
It is also important to understand that Bill is not an outright rejection of all aspects of its predecessor, Bill , passed by the previous government.
What, from Bill , have we decided to keep? There are provisions we have kept, but there are also provisions we have actually improved.
For instance, we have kept the physical presence requirement rather than the term “residence” because physical presence is easier to verify.
Revoking citizenship based on fraud and misrepresentation has existed since 1947, and this power remains in Bill . Bill , passed by the previous government, facilitated fraud detection, which is very important, and we have kept provisions that make this possible, as well as provisions that permit government to strip people of citizenship quickly when they have committed fraud. More importantly, we have also enhanced some of these provisions. For example, we have added a section that allows us to seize documents used in the commission of fraud. Finally, we have also committed to implementing all of the Auditor General's recommendations regarding preventing citizenship fraud.
Another improvement relates to conditional sentence orders. If convicted, time served in the community on a conditional sentence order can no longer count toward the three-year residence requirement and if one is on a conditional sentence order, one cannot take the oath of citizenship. Again, these are improvements on the predecessor legislation.
Let us talk about the committee. The bill has just returned from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We are also a government that believes in working across the aisle. At committee when amendments were proposed that made sense, that conformed with the policy direction we are pursuing with this legislation, that improved the bill, we did not hesitate to accept those amendments. Those amendments help us create a more diverse and inclusive Canada.
One of the amendments by the NDP added the term “statelessness” as a ground on which citizenship may be granted at the discretion of the minister. Another NDP amendment requires the minister to consider reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of citizenship applicants with disabilities. Those are amendments proposed by the opposition that we accepted on their merit and we welcome them as part of this new bill.
In conclusion, I want to return in my remarks to where I began.
When I provided a list of the 22 different nations that make up the homelands of members of the House, it was simply to provide a snapshot of the diversity of this chamber. This chamber serves as a proxy for this country, a country that is made up of literally millions of individuals whose provenance extends to every corner of the globe. To that diverse group, Bill says, “Your citizenship is no less valuable, no less respected, than that of a citizen born in this country”.
I believe one of the lasting attributes of the bill is one that has been rarely discussed. In facilitating pathways to citizenship, Bill also facilitates pathways to participation. Only citizens can cast votes in this country. Only citizens can stand for election to this chamber. By breaking down barriers to citizenship and putting in their place opportunities to obtain and retain citizenship, Bill C-6 promotes the highest level of engagement possible, engagement in our democratic process.
The ultimate job of any government, regardless of its political stripe, is to promote an engaged citizenry. That is precisely what Bill would do. I am proud to endorse the bill as and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and address this important debate; and certainly an honour for me to follow my friend, the parliamentary secretary from . I did not agree with much of what he said in his speech, but I appreciate his work in this place, and particularly the opportunity we have to work together on Parliamentary Friends of Tibet.
Before I get into the specific provisions of this bill, I want to spend a bit of time setting the philosophical groundwork, at least in terms of how I see it and many on this side of the House see it, on the substance of this debate, underneath these provisions, in terms of what Canadian citizenship is all about.
I will say at the outset that I believe that we live in the best country in the world. I do not say that lightly. I have lived abroad and I have travelled quite a bit. For many reasons, we live in the best country in the world. One of the proof points of that is the fact that we have so many people who want to come here. Over the last 10 years, we have had the highest sustained immigration levels in this country's history. However, comparatively as well, many more people want to come to Canada relative to our population than want to go to many other countries.
As we think about what our citizenship is and what it means, perhaps it is important to start by asking why Canada is such a great country, and what we can do to ensure that in the context of our ongoing definition and redefinition of citizenship we preserve what is essential about our country. We are all very proud of Canadian diversity. The parliamentary secretary spoke eloquently about the diversity that we have in this country. However, many countries around the world have diversity and perhaps have a different experience of that diversity. I was thinking as I prepared for this about the visit of the Chinese foreign minister. China is a very diverse country, but a country in which religious and ethnic minorities face significant difficulties. Russia is a very diverse country. Syria, in fact, is a very diverse country. So we have many countries around the world that are diverse where perhaps the experience of that diversity is not positive for those in the minority.
It is clear, if we look at this comparison, that it is not diversity alone that makes us great and it is not diversity alone that makes us who we are; but it is in fact what we do with that diversity, how we work together in the context of that diversity, and in particular our ability as a nation to build together around shared values. If we have diversity without any kind of shared values, there is always a risk of conflict. I am very proud of our history as a country that has both great diversity and has managed to maintain a strong sense of shared values. That is particularly important for our success.
It is worth underlining what some of these shared values are. We have a belief in this country in freedom. We have a belief in democracy, in basic principles of human rights and, to some extent, in universal concepts of human dignity that underline those ideas of human rights. We have a belief in the rule of law; in universal human equality and value regardless of race, religion, caste, ethnicity, linguistic background, et cetera. We have a belief as well in gender equality, which is very important to who we are in this country. We have unity around these common values in the context of our own diversity. Our experience of not just political unity, not just sort of general accommodation of one another, but of practical community and common purpose, is quite unique in this country.
I will just share this anecdote because it is important. I was in a European capital a number of years ago, meeting with a Canadian friend of mine who was working there. We were in a very diverse part of this city. There were people from all different parts of the world. We noticed around us all of a sudden that we did not see any mixed-race social groups. We saw a group of people from one racial group together, and then a group of people from another. We looked around us in the crowded centre of this European capital and it was a bit jarring to realize that in spite of the fact that this was a very diverse place there were no obvious signs of community, of at least people sitting together within that place.
The advantage we have in Canada is in building substantive community between different people of different backgrounds.
I thought about that experience later when, at the time I think it was the British prime minister, similar comments were made by French and German leaders, talking about the alleged failure of multiculturalism in the European context. As much as I would regard that as not correct, even in the context of Europe, it is worth understanding that there is a different experience of multiculturalism in Europe compared to the Canadian experience.
Canada, from the moment of its founding, was a country founded on shared values and on ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. We can compare that to many European states, which obviously emphasized elements of shared values, but also have measures of ethnic nationalism built into their founding as well.
We have to welcome newcomers in a way that understands that background without compromising what George Cartier called our concept of one political nation. I will read from a book called Straight Talk, which is a book on federalism that captures this well.
That dual quest for the universal and for cultural diversity has been with us since the birth of our Confederation. We have often strayed from it since then, and committed grave mistakes and injustices, but the result is this admirable human achievement that is Canada.
We have had this history from the beginning of combining the universal values in the context of diversity. The same book continues with:
Finally, Cartier wanted Canada to be a “political nation”, a nation of solidarity which transcends race, religion, history and geography to ensure that the French in Quebec would never want to break their solidarity with other Canadians. If we seek a contract at the birth of our federal union, it is certainly the one expressed by Cartier, which has inspired all of Peter Russell's work. Quebecers of all origins have helped other Canadians a great deal to achieve that ideal; they must not renounce it.
Straight Talk was written by the . I think he has had some very good things to say in the past about the importance of common values in the context of this diversity.
Where are we going from here then? What is the philosophy which underlines this legislation advanced by the government?
Early in the new government's term, the was talking to The New York Times about aspects of Canadian identity. Here is what he said, which is something very different than the words I just quoted from the . He said, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada...Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.”
Therefore, we have in the House, at least between our side and the , very different visions of what the Canadian nation is supposed to be.
Ours is one of unity around shared values in the context of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and other forms of diversity. However, the 's concept is one that goes beyond or outside of this idea of shared values and emphasizes the diversity, but at the same time wants to perceive Canada as a postnational state, not as a political nation.
It is with that in mind that we come to legislation put forward by the government, which would allow convicted terrorists to retain their Canadian citizenship. I think we can understand what the Liberals' thinking is on this bill in light of the 's comments to The New York Times and in light of that underlying philosophy.
It is clearly a problem to our historic concepts of Canada as a political nation to say that convicted terrorists should be able to retain their citizenship. A terrorist is not just someone who wants to do violence and mayhem. Terrorists are people, in our current conception of it, who disconnect themselves from our Canadian values, who embrace a wholly distinct set of values than the ones I have outlined, gender quality, universal human dignity, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, and instead commit themselves to fighting for the destruction of those very values. A terrorist is not someone who is pushed outside of the fold of Canadian values. A terrorist is someone who chooses to leave the fold of Canadian values, and that is very clear.
Our concept of diversity that emphasizes shared values says that diversity does not extend to those who wish to destroy us. There have to be parameters or limits ensuring that we remain the country we have always been, a country of unity in the context of our diversity.
The Liberals' view of diversity in many ways bends over on itself. It permits those who are deeply at odds with things in which the Liberals themselves clearly believe, gender equality, human rights, the rule of law, democracy. Yet it allows people who reject those things, who want to fight against those things, to remain in the Canadian family and to use the advantages of their membership in the Canadian family, of their Canadian passport, for example, to then wreak havoc against the very values that we espouse.
I think all of us in all corners of the House deeply believe in the idea of diversity, but we also believe the diversity is necessarily bounded as a practical matter, as a matter of our own survival. There are certain things we must agree are simply not welcome here and they include the desire to destroy our way of life.
I ask Canadians who are watching this to reflect on these differences of vision, the one espoused by the and the one espoused by George Cartier, the question of Canada as a postnational state or of Canada as being part of a common political nation.
It is important to specifically counter some of the arguments that were made by my friends across the way. Members of the government have said many things on this that are substantially true but do not really apply to this legislation. My friend, the parliamentary secretary, praised the importance of having a path to citizenship. We have always had a path to citizenship in our country. Nobody is proposing, or has seriously ever proposed, the creation of a sort of UAE style of citizenship where an individual would have to be born here. We believe very much in a path to citizenship, and we can disagree over the difference of one year here or there in terms of being in a country without disagreeing on that fundamental point.
For those who have a commitment to Canada, there is no substantial problem with saying let us wait another year. Those who do not have a commitment to Canada will perhaps have a different perspective. All of those who have a commitment to Canada, whether it is an additional year, it is not clear to me what the breaking point is about those changes.
There is an important issue alleged by the government, and we hear this talking point many times, of two-tiered citizenship. There are two things that need to be said about this. First, the government has been clear that its intention is to retain the ability to revoke citizenship that was acquired on the basis of fraud. This means that people who acquired their citizenship could have it stripped from them on the basis of fraud.
Fraud is in my mind a much lesser crime than terrorism. For the government to say that on the one hand citizenship is irrevocable for someone who clearly parts ways with Canadian values and then say on the other hand, citizenship can be lost if someone cheated on a form is just not consistent.
If the government really takes this idea that citizenship is irrevocable to its logical extreme, it is hard to understand why it would be dealing with a more extreme issue, yet leaving in place the revocation possibility for a relatively less extreme offence.
I want to say this as well about the regime the government put in place. The government's bill would institute a system of two-tiered citizenship that did not exist before. Under its system, people who acquired their Canadian citizenship could have it stripped on the basis of fraud. Under our system, anybody could have their citizenship stripped on the basis of fraud or involvement in terrorism.
Under the Liberals' citizenship process, nobody who was born in our country or who was born with Canadian citizenship could ever lose their citizenship. Our system treats equally those who were born abroad and those who were born here. Therefore, I am perplexed by the Liberals continuing use of their talking point, in spite of their total unwillingness to actually implement the fullness of this supposed principle that they are espousing.
The fact is that where an individual was born does not matter for our original legislation. People could lose their citizenship if they were involved in terrorism, and it did not matter if they were born here or somewhere else. The value of Canadian citizenship is dependent on their commitment to our shared values, not on where they were born. That is an important principle and a principle for which we have stood.
Of course, as a practical matter, we cannot strip the citizenship of someone who only has one citizenship, and that is true whether individuals obtained their citizenship by a fraud or whether they obtained their citizenship in spite of then going on to commit or be involved in some form of terrorism.
That is a practical matter, and obviously we are limited in the House by certain features of the practical world in what we can do and cannot do. However, as much as possible, we should hold fast to that principle, that Canadian citizenship has value. It expresses the substance of who we are as a country, a country that has unity around shared values in the context of our diversity, and this, unfortunately, is simply not appreciated by the arguments made on behalf of the bill.
Some more clarifications need to be made about the original system we had in place. It is a bit perverse, frankly, that members of the government talk about new Canadians being worried about the provisions of the bill because of misinformation about them, and then go on to continually imply things about the bill that are incorrect. If some Canadians were worried about the provisions of the bill and did not have a proper understanding of what the original bill would do, I would hope the members of the government, who were maybe talking to these Canadians in the context of a campaign, would have provided correct information about the bill.
They might have clarified that actually there is no restriction whatsoever in the original Bill on mobility rights. There is no possibility whatsoever that people could lose their citizenships for a minor crime. In fact, people who commit a major crime, a violent crime, still could not have their citizenships revoked, regardless of where they were born, regardless of whether they were dual citizens. It is only in the case of terrorism.
The crucial point with respect to terrorism is that this is where individuals have stepped fully outside the parameters of Canadian values. They have said that they have no interest in being part of the Canadian family. They have acted in a way that put themselves fundamentally at odds with it in terms of their values.
One of the arguments we have heard as well from my friends across the way is the assertion that putting them in jail is enough, that someone should not face both imprisonment and then the loss of citizenship. However, these are two completely different kinds of sanctions to deal with different kinds of issues. Of course, somebody who is involved in violent crime or terrorism should be punished through incarceration, but there is also the issue of whether this person has retained his or her commitment to be part of the Canadian family or not. These are different issues that should be both dealt with and certainly both considered.
However, there is another practical matter that I think the government ignores in its reasoning. It is the fact that individuals could well be outside of the country and become very involved in terrorism, be fighting for Daesh, perhaps, or another terrorist group, and clearly, in the process of their actions and their involvement in that, take themselves outside the Canadian family. Those people, as long as they retain their Canadian citizenship, have the benefits of Canadian citizenship, can ask for assistance by diplomatic staff and Canadians would be on the hook to bail that sort of an active terrorist out.
Of course, we do not have the ability to incarcerate people if they are abroad fighting on behalf of another terrorist organization. This is perhaps a context in which this would have to be considered, and I do not think it is properly considered by the government's arguments.
It is important to underline in that context at the same time that it is not the conviction in a foreign court that would lead to these considerations. It would only be a decision of the Canadian courts or an adjudication on the basis of equivalency, an evaluation that was done based on Canadian law with respect to terrorism. It still would not require someone to be in the country.
In terms of the underlying philosophy, Canadians should go with George Cartier, not the postnational anti-identity fantasies of the Prime Minister. It is also important to dig into the substantive provisions of the bill and realize that it does not fix problems that were real, that we were addressing significant problems. Terrorists should not—
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand and speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party to this important piece of legislation.
During the 41st Parliament, the previous Conservative government brought in Bill that made a number of changes to the Citizenship Act. The most controversial of those changes, Canadians are well aware, was the change that effectively created two classes of citizens. There was one in which naturalized Canadians, or Canadians who were born abroad but became a Canadian citizen here, were treated differently than a Canadian citizen who is born in Canada. The expressed it quite eloquently when during the campaign he talked about a Canadian being a Canadian being a Canadian. That resonated with Canadians as well. However there are many other parts of that bill that also were seriously flawed and problematic. Many experts pointed out that the bill was in a number of ways unconstitutional and/or did not respect international law.
From a political point of view, the bill was ill-conceived. It was conducted in haste, and in many ways proposed changes to the law where there had been no demonstrated problem. It was a repeated attribute of the previous Conservative government to make decisions not based on evidence but based on ideology. Bill was a classic example of that. The bill turned out to be very unfair, divisive, was ideologically driven, and most important it was unfair.
The NDP opposed Bill from the very beginning, and we called for it to be withdrawn and amended. We proposed dozens of amendments, all of which were rejected by the previous Conservative government. The bill before us today, Bill , would amend that flawed and very damaging piece of legislation, so the New Democrats are very happy to support this bill at third reading.
Bill will amend Bill in a number of ways, but not in all of the ways that we think it ought to be amended. I will cover both of those.
I will start with where it would amend Bill C-24 in a positive fashion.
Bill will remove the ability to revoke citizenship based on certain specified grounds. It will remove the obligation for a new citizen to declare the intent to reside in Canada. It will restore the length of time that a permanent resident must actually be present in Canada to qualify for citizenship. It will restore it back to the three-year period over five years, from the desire of the previous government, which wanted to expand that to be permanent residents of Canada for four years out of six years. This bill will restore the right to count up to two years of temporary residence before one becomes a permanent resident toward the amount of days that someone has to be resident in Canada to qualify for citizenship. It will eliminate the requirement that an applicant must have been present in Canada for 183 days in four of the last six years. It will remove the requirement for the language and knowledge examinations, which the Conservatives broadened to apply to young people aged 14 to 17, and seniors aged 55 to 64. I will expand on that.
Bill would also add to Bill by preventing offenders from counting time served for conditional sentences—that is a sentence served in the community with conditions—toward the calculation of required presence in Canada. That was a very large gap in the bill that the Conservatives missed. Bill C-6 will also give citizenship officials the power to seize fraudulent documents, which is another important provision that would allow our administrators of citizenship to be able to do their job.
This bill, as I said, is not perfect, and we would like to see additional changes. Bill does not address certain provisions of Bill regarding the following: the power that Bill C-24 granted to the minister to revoke citizenship based on a paper review with no judicial hearing; and it does not address provisions in Bill C-24 that provided a prohibition on citizenship for people charged with or serving a sentence for a criminal offence abroad, which also has to be an indictable offence in Canada. This bill also would leave in the minister's discretion to privately grant citizenship to individuals, which is another power that the New Democrats do not believe ought to be exercised in such an executive and non-transparent manner.
The New Democrats are pleased to support the bill because it repeals many of the harmful and unconstitutional changes to citizenship made by the previous government. We are disappointed that the bill does not go quite far enough in the ways that I just mentioned and we also point out that the narrow scope of the bill did prevent many amendments recommended by expert witnesses, including the Canadian Bar Association, from being admissible at the committee stage.
The has explicitly acknowledged this and suggested that the Liberal government will need to introduce another immigration bill in the fall to address those shortcomings. We want to encourage the minister to keep his word on that and we look forward to working with the minister as he tables a truly comprehensive bill that will improve the Canadian citizenship process and comprehensively restore proper, sound, and fair law to this very vital part of Canadian political life: citizenship.
I am going to talk about the background to the bill. It was introduced by the Conservative government in February 2014, so essentially within a year or year and a half of the last election. The reason I point that out is that the previous Conservative government tended to act on ideological and political wedge reasons, not on sound evidentiary-based reasoning. We think that the bill was motivated politically as Conservatives tried to speak to a base and intolerance in Canadians by creating wedges between people. I will talk about that in a few moments because we think it is always a very unsound way to create legislation in this place.
At second reading in the last Parliament, the NDP tabled a broad amendment calling on the government to withdraw that bill and we also asked the government to send that bill to committee before completing second reading to allow that bill's obvious flaws to be addressed before continuing debate.
Not surprisingly, the Conservatives refused and despite our opposition, they adopted Bill without amendment. Bill C-24 received royal assent in June of 2014. Since then, the New Democrats have been asking for the bill to be revoked, especially regarding the provisions that increase the powers in the hands of the minister, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship in executive fashion without a judicial process, the provisions to eliminate the recognition of time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident, the parts of the bill that prohibit the granting of citizenship to persons who have been charged outside Canada with an offence, and the provisions that increased the residency requirements and the knowledge and language requirements in the bill.
Once again, the Liberals have addressed most but not all of those issues in this new bill. I am going to drill into some of these important issues. First, let us examine the provision that we support in the bill about repealing the national interest grounds for citizenship revocation. Legislative changes of that former bill that came into effect created a new ground of citizenship revocation that allowed citizenship to be taken away from dual citizens for certain acts against what was described as the national interests of Canada. These grounds included convictions for terrorism, treason, spying offences, and for membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada.
The bill repealed those grounds. I want to say at the outset that the New Democrats and I think every member in the House acknowledge the seriousness and unacceptability of those crimes. There is no question about that. Treason, terrorism, spying, acting in a foreign army engaged in conflict with Canada, these are all crimes that I think every Canadian would condemn in the most strenuous way possible.
However, the issue becomes what the proper remedy for that is. What the New Democrats, many members, and obviously the new Liberal government have now acknowledged in the bill is that the proper response to anyone who commits those acts is to be dealt with harshly and appropriately by the Canadian legal system. That is the proper way to deal with citizens, not to strip a citizen of their citizenship rights, which hearkens back to the old medieval concept of a king in the 12th century banishing a citizen from the kingdom as punishment.
That is the kind of spirit that infused the Conservative government with this law. Instead, any person who believes in modern democracy and modern concepts of statecraft, would agree that once people become citizens, they are citizens. Citizens should be dealt with together.
Here is the rub. I have heard the Conservatives say the word “equality” in the House before. They have never been able to satisfactorily explain this to anybody. If a Canadian citizen born in Canada committed a terrorist act, or a Canadian citizen born in Canada spied against Canada or a Canadian citizen born in Canada fought for an armed forces against the Canadian Armed Forces, why he or she would not be stripped of his or her citizenship, but a naturalized Canadian who committed exactly the same act could be stripped of his or her citizenship.
This was the essence of the objection to that provision. It created two tiers of Canadian citizenship. I will stand in the House, and all MPs will stand here, and condemn each one of those heinous crimes, but we will equally stand in this place and say that it is a Canadian value to treat Canadian citizens equally before the law.
I am very happy to see the Liberal government enforce that very important concept.
I want to talk about repealing the intent to reside provision. Since June 2015, adult applicants must declare on their citizenship application, because of the Conservative law, that they intend to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. This provision created concern among some new Canadians who feared that their citizenship could be revoked in the future if they moved outside of Canada. The Liberal government is proposing to repeal this provision, and I congratulate them on that because it is absolutely the right move.
All Canadians are free to move outside of this country and live where they wish. Again, we have another example of discrimination in law by the Conservative government where I, who was born in this country, could move to France if I wanted to and never have to worry about my citizenship being revoked. However, someone who was born in a different country and was naturalized here would have to worry. That is discriminatory. I am glad to see the government repeal that discriminatory provision.