Evidence of meeting #23 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was citizenship.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrew Griffith  Director General, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Rick Stewart  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Nicole Girard  Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Good morning. Bonjour.

This is meeting number 23 of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, on Tuesday, June 16, 2009. The orders of the day include the review of the subject matter of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, enacted in the second session of the 39th Parliament.

We have three guests here before us today. Nicole Girard is the director of legislation and program policy, citizenship and multiculturalism branch. Welcome, Ms. Girard. Andrew Griffith is the director general of citizenship and multiculturalism branch. Good morning to you, sir. Finally, we have Rick Stewart, who has appeared before us in the past. He is the associate assistant deputy minister of operations.

Mr. Griffith, I understand you are going to make a brief presentation to us on this topic. You have up to 10 minutes. Thank you very much for coming, sir.

9:05 a.m.

Andrew Griffith Director General, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members.

My name is Andrew Griffith. I am the director general of citizenship and multiculturalism branch at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. As the chair noted, I am accompanied by my colleagues Rick Stewart and Nicole Girard. We appear in connection with your study of the subject matter of Bill C-37.

As you know, Bill C-37 was passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, received royal assent on April 17, 2008, and was implemented a year later on April 17, 2009.

In the past, the committee had expressed concern about implementing the law within a year and raising awareness about the new law. Today, I would like to take a moment to briefly describe the legislative amendments, the implementation efforts and steps taken to communicate those changes to the public.

I'd also like to address the situation of individuals who did not obtain citizenship and whose situation merited special consideration.

Because of the demonstrated need for stability, simplicity, and consistency in citizenship status, what follows is the basic outline of the amendments provided in Bill C-37.

Mr. Chair, these amendments restore or give Canadian citizenship to many who never had it or who lost it due to previous laws; limit Canadian citizenship to the first generation born to Canadian parents outside Canada; and allow people adopted outside Canada by Canadian parents between January 1, 1947, and February 14, 1977, to apply for a grant of citizenship. This expands on the provision implemented in December 2007 to allow children adopted outside Canada by Canadian parents since February 15, 1977, to apply directly for citizenship without first having to become permanent residents, also known as Bill C-14.

Under the old rules, it was possible for Canadians to pass on their citizenship to endless generations born outside Canada. To protect the value of Canadian citizenship for the future, the new law limits citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada, similar to rules in other countries like the UK and New Zealand.

This means that children born to Canadian parents in the first generation outside Canada will be Canadian at birth only if one parent was born in Canada or one parent became a Canadian citizen by immigrating to Canada and was later granted citizenship, also known as naturalization.

Canadian citizens who have children born outside of Canada who are not eligible for automatic citizenship may be eligible to sponsor them for permanent residence, and once in Canada they can apply for citizenship. This of course includes children who are stateless. Stateless children who are unable to obtain a travel document may be issued a single-journey travel document by the department to enable them to come to Canada.

As an additional safeguard against statelessness, Bill C-37 contained a provision for a grant of citizenship for children who were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent, who were born stateless, and who have always been stateless. These persons are not required to become permanent residents; however, three years' residence in Canada is required in order to access a grant under this provision. This provision meets Canada's obligations under the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

While Bill C-37 restored or granted citizenship to the majority of those who lost citizenship or who never had it due to outdated provisions in past legislation, there may be individuals who did not obtain citizenship and whose situations may merit special consideration. Individuals who lost citizenship and who do not qualify under Bill C-37 may either apply for permanent residence and then for citizenship, or request consideration for a discretionary grant of citizenship without going through the immigration process.

I understand that concerns were raised by witnesses at last week's standing committee meeting about the use of the discretionary powers under section 5(4) to resolve citizenship anomaly cases not covered by Bill C-37.

On May 29, 2007, when announcing her intention to table legislation to deal with lost Canadians, then Minister Diane Finley acknowledged that the legislative proposals would not resolve all cases. She said, “Those rare cases where the facts turn on circumstance of birth outside Canada prior to January 1, 1947, and where citizenship is in doubt, would remain”.

She went on: “Given the variety of individual circumstances in these cases, I believe that we must continue the current approach—to judge each case on its merits, and as warranted, use the powers available to me as minister to bestow special grants of citizenship under subsection 5(4) of the Citizenship Act.”

The section 5(4) provision of the Citizenship Act addresses exceptional cases. Each of these cases is considered on its own merit. Since decisions to grant citizenship rest with the Governor in Council, there is no guarantee that an application will be approved.

Since 2007, 184 lost Canadian cases have been approved by the Governor in Council for a discretionary grant of citizenship. This includes 104 in 2007, 69 in 2008 and 11 in 2009. The total number of 5(4) grants for 2009 is 21 to date—this includes lost Canadians as well as all others.

We are aware of concerns that this exceptional authority is not being used enough. However, generally speaking, anyone who has never been Canadian, who has not lived here for many years, or who has never lived here and has a citizenship of another country in which they have resided most of their life likely does not have a strong case for the exceptional use of this discretionary authority to grant citizenship. However, where appropriate, given the facts of the case, an exceptional grant of citizenship has been made or we have made other arrangements, such as issuing temporary residence permits.

The department has taken numerous steps to prepare for the implementation of Bill C-37, including the development of regulations, policies, and procedures; manual updates; new application forms and kits; and changes to the global case management system to enable processing, training for staff, and the implementation of an innovative and cost-effective communications strategy to promote awareness of the changes.

CIC staff, including case officers and call-centre agents, have been trained in the new law. As part of its communications strategy, CIC has taken steps to ensure that the new rules are reaching Canadians inside and outside Canada.

The CIC has used a wide variety of channels to spread the word on the new law, including building a web landing page, www.cic.gc.ca/citizenship; reaching out to federal partners such as Passport Canada, Service Canada, and DFAIT; and getting the provinces and territories to use their channels to inform clientele of citizenship changes.

CIC has also used an innovative approach, disseminating the message on the changes through social marketing, including designing and implementing a YouTube video called Waking up Canadian. The video features a man who literally wakes up Canadian on April 17, 2009, and directs people to CIC's website for more information on the changes. The video has had over 185,000 hits.

CIC partnered with the Canadian embassy in Washington to raise awareness of the changes among Canadians living in the United States. The embassy helped us spread the word through organizations like Connect to Canada, a virtual network of more than 43,000 people who share a link to Canada, many of whom are Canadian expats.

CIC has also implemented an online self-assessment tool on its website to give people an idea, through a series of questions and answers, whether they are likely citizens under the new law. Close to 110,000 people have used the self-assessment tool.

Because we do not know exactly how many individuals will be affected by these changes, nor where they live, the video is proving to be an effective and low-cost way of drawing people to the CIC website for more information.

Thank you. That concludes my statement. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir, for an excellent presentation.

Ms. Mendes.

June 16th, 2009 / 9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank you for your presentation and for being here today.

Last week, we heard from several witnesses, whose spokesperson, together with Ms. Stewart, talked about her very specific case and the legal procedures she had to undertake to get her citizenship back.

Are you aware of this rather unique case? She lived in Canada until she was 24, but she was born in England to a war bride. I do not know whether the exceptions in the act apply to cases such as hers.

9:10 a.m.

Rick Stewart Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you for your question. I think the person who are talking about is Jacqueline Scott, not Ms. Stewart.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Is it Scott or Stewart? Is it Stewart? Okay, I'm sorry.

9:10 a.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Rick Stewart

She testified before the committee last week. I trust the committee will understand that I cannot discuss individual cases. However, I can assure you that the decision was made on the basis of the unique circumstances of the case.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Since this case is still before the courts, I can understand that you cannot comment. We were talking about her case, because she appeared before the committee last week.

But what I still don't get is how you allow for the exceptions, exceptions that sometimes are really not anyone's fault, especially not that of the child who is born in a situation that may make his or her citizenship doubtful. How do you cover that in the current law? I don't see care taken in those situations: the child who was born, as she was, abroad, but who came to Canada and lived in Canada most of her life until she became an adult. How do you cover this in the current law?

9:15 a.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Rick Stewart

I have two comments on this.

The current law basically gives equal access to citizenship to children born outside of Canada on or after January 1, 1947, when the concept of Canadian citizenship came into being. It gives citizenship to those individuals irrespective of gender or marital status. The laws that we have to apply cannot fix circumstances prior to 1947.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

They're not retroactive. Okay.

9:15 a.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Rick Stewart

They're not retroactive to a time prior to the concept of citizenship coming into being. That's the first observation.

The second observation is that for individuals who find themselves in those circumstances, there is the “special grant of citizenship” route. When the law can't address their issues or their needs, there is the discretionary grant of citizenship under subsection 5(4). And under that, we look at the whole variety of factors and make an assessment.

As Andrew indicated in his opening comments, we're trying to assess the extent to which someone would face undue hardship by having to apply through a normal immigration and citizenship process. As Andrew said, if you've never lived in Canada, or if you've not lived here for many years, or if you're a citizen of another country, in most cases you're not eligible to meet that criterion of undue hardship.

Basically, the subsection 5(4) provision is not intended to be a substitute or to be used as a substitute for a normal immigration and citizenship process for individuals to acquire citizenship.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

No, I accept that it's mostly for the exceptions, for the very difficult cases.

I'll let Mr. Bevilacqua continue, but I still don't get how you cover the exceptions right now, at this present moment.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Well, how do you cover them?

9:15 a.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Rick Stewart

I'm not quite sure how else to answer the question, other than to say, put all the facts before us that the individual submits. They make their case, they lay out the facts of their case, they provide to us in writing an explanation of why they feel their case warrants exceptional consideration, why they feel they would undergo or endure an undue hardship if they followed the normal immigration process, and why they feel they have a particularly strong attachment to Canada, if you will.

Because it is a discretionary provision in the act to capture those cases that don't fit neatly within the parameters of the law, there are not strict guidelines per se beyond just an assessment of hardship. I can't give you a list of eight things we go through and check in those circumstances.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Can you do us a favour, because this is how we think. This committee is very visual. We need examples.

Let's say that you had to describe a case for me. What would it be? Give us an idea, a scenario; say that case A would be person X. What would this person look like, etc.?