Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
My name is Nicole Girard. I am the director general responsible for the citizenship and multiculturalism branch at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
As the chair has mentioned, I am accompanied here by my colleagues, Ms. Mary-Ann Hubers, acting director of legislation and program policy; Mr. Eric Stevens, legal counsel for CIC; and Mr. Glenn Gilmour, legal counsel at DOJ.
I'd like to thank the committee for providing us with this opportunity this morning to contribute to your discussion of MP Shory's private member's bill.
As you are aware, the bill consists of two key elements. First, the bill proposes to fast track citizenship for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are permanent residents by reducing the residence requirement for citizenship by one year for members.
The second element of the bill, which has generated quite a bit of discussion, consists of provisions that would deem a person to have applied to renounce their Canadian citizenship or to have withdrawn, in the cases of permanent residents, their application for Canadian citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
I'd like to take just a few minutes to address some of the concerns raised by the committee members, other witnesses, and stakeholders over the course of recent hearings. These include concerns about the term “act of war”, concerns about statelessness, and some of the issues raised about due process.
First of all, concerning an act of war, as the committee has heard, the term “act of war” is problematic. This is because there is no clear definition in law of the term “act of war”. As a result, the term “act of war” would be very difficult for us to apply and could render the deemed renunciation provisions in the second part of the bill ineffective.
To address this issue and to ensure that the bill achieves its intent, Minister Kenney proposed that the committee consider amending the bill by replacing the reference to persons who commit an act of war and specifying instead that the act would apply to persons who have served as a member of an armed force of a country or any organized armed group engaged in an armed conflict with Canada; have been convicted of high treason under section 47 of Canada's Criminal Code; have been sentenced to five years or more of imprisonment for a terrorist offence as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code, or an equivalent foreign offence for terrorism; or have been convicted of specific offences under the National Defence Act involving traitorous or terrorist acts.
These amendments would be in line with one of the main objectives of the bill, which is to deprive or deny citizenship to those who commit acts of violence and treason against Canada.
It is worth noting that similar provisions existed under the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act.
Under that act, for example, Canadians could have their citizenship taken away if they committed acts of treason, if they served in the armed forces of another country that was at war with Canada, or if they unlawfully traded or communicated with the enemy during a time of war.
Under the current act, as was noted this morning, citizenship can only be revoked in cases where it has been obtained by fraud. Other democratic countries have analogous legal provisions to deprive people of their citizenship for reasons of treason or terrorism. For example, citizens of the United States can be deprived of their citizenship for being a member of an armed force at war with the United States and/or following a conviction for high treason. Australia also has a provision where citizens who become members of the armed force of a country at war with Australia can be deprived of their citizenship.
With regard to statelessness, the committee has heard and expressed concerns that Bill C-425's provisions could render people stateless. The deemed renunciation provisions, as currently written, would apply to dual Canadian citizens as well as legal residents of a country other than Canada. The challenge with this is that the potential result is that a Canadian citizen who is a legal resident of another country but who does not have another citizenship to fall back on could be rendered stateless. This would be in contravention of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which Canada is a party.
To ensure that Canada respects its international commitments in this area, Minister Kenney asked the committee to consider an amendment to ensure that only Canadians with dual citizenship, whether they were born or naturalized in Canada, would be deemed to have renounced their Canadian citizenship. It's important to note that similar provisions to take away citizenship in other countries, such as in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, also include restrictions to apply such provisions only in cases where it would not lead to someone becoming stateless.
With regard to due process, concerns were also raised in this area under the proposed bill and ensuring there would be appropriate safeguards in place. Under the current act, citizenship judges, who are independent decision-makers, are the decision-makers for renunciation cases. As the minister explained, for deemed renunciation of citizenship under this bill, the appropriate legal safeguards would be in place. CIC would gather available information to determine if the deemed renunciation provisions apply. The individual would then be notified and given an opportunity to provide additional information relevant to the decision. A citizenship judge would then make the decision as to whether or not individuals are deemed to have renounced their citizenship. In addition, individuals would be able to seek review by the Federal Court of a decision to take away citizenship.
Concerns were raised with regard to the possibility—and it was mentioned this morning—that an equivalent terrorism conviction may be from a country where there are questions about the independence of the judiciary or where membership in an armed force may have been the result of coercion. As the minister explained, to ensure that individuals in these situations are not unfairly penalized, the minister would retain discretion not to pursue applications for deemed renunciation for individuals, for example, where they may have been compelled to do something against their own volition. Such a provision would be in line with discretionary provisions under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Once again, Mr. Chair, I wish to thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. I hope these remarks have been helpful, and we would be happy to answer your questions.