House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-16.

Topics

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Some hon. members

Yea.

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The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members

Nay.

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The Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Speaker

The recorded division on Motion No. 55 stands deferred.

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at the report stage of the bill. Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, would you please defer the votes.

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The Speaker

As requested, the votes are deferred until Monday, March 27, at the end of Government Orders.

The House resumed from February 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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March 23rd, 2000 / 1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the last time I rose in the House to speak to Bill C-16, it was a rather short intervention. I barely had the time to outline the main elements of my speech; I was supposed to have some 40 minutes but had a mere two minutes.

It is with great pleasure that I take part today in this debate on Bill C-16, the Citizenship of Canada Act, which all the members have had the opportunity to look at. It is about 40 pages long and is designed to replace the existing Citizenship Act.

Members will recall that the House studied this bill once before, as it is a carbon copy, so to speak, of earlier Bill C-63. That bill had been tabled in the House and had gone to committee. This morning, we had the opportunity to discuss that at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It was mentioned that, when the earlier bill was considered, more than thirty individuals, organizations and experts had testified before the committee to express their concerns with regard to the Citizenship Act.

That earlier bill having died on the order paper, the government has now introduced a new bill, Bill C-16, to replace the existing Citizenship Act. I will describe this bill as simply and as succinctly as possible, giving a brief historical overview of citizenship in Canada, and then moving to the changes proposed in Bill C-16.

Later, I will explain the Bloc Quebecois vision with regard to the concept of citizenship, which can be both legal and civic.

I will then talk about a number of amendments, one in particular from my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, who was the citizenship and immigration critic at the time Bill C-63 was being studied.

In my opinion, my colleague presented a constructive amendment at report stage, which made it possible to improve Bill C-63 on citizenship.

Those amendments had the support of a number of individuals and organizations. I will address the amendments made by my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve shortly. It is my intention to do so because they are of interest and of considerable importance to a number of different groups.

The concept of citizenship may have a connotation and a definition that are purely legalistic. Naturally, the legal concept of citizenship confers certain rights and responsibilities. These responsibilities and rights are civic in nature, but they are also political and to some extent social. There is also the aspect of responsibilities.

Bill C-16 replaces Bill C-63, which died on the order paper. It has a lot of history attached to it. Hon. members must keep in mind that, prior to 1947, not just anyone could become a Canadian citizen. One had to be a British subject. That is hard to imagine now, but I think that some of my colleagues who will be taking part in this debate will address this aspect.

Before 1947, a person could be Canadian provided he were a British subject. We had to wait until 1977 for the Citizenship Act as we now know it to come into effect. The 1977 statute, which still applies, was aimed at encouraging this citizenship, at making it more accessible in a number of ways. There are three or four elements characterizing the 1977 legislation.

The first one was that it reduced from five to three the number of years of residency. This is an important element. It eliminated the discrimination between men and women when adopting a child born abroad.

The act introduced a new concept: dual citizenship. From then on, people could have dual citizenship. The 1977 act was aimed at making it easier to become a Canadian citizen.

The bill before us today—for all intents and purposes and as surprising as it may seem—is the first review of the Citizenship Act we, as parliamentarians, have the opportunity to vote on.

Since 1977, apart from a few statements from subsequent ministers—in particular the member for Westmount, who, during her previous mandate, made various statements—it is the first time parliamentarians are called upon to vote on an in-depth review of the Citizenship Act.

I would like to highlight a few of the changes to the existing legislation. One clause of Bill C-16 deals with the issue of birth in Canada. Technically, a child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen.

A few exceptions apply. If a parent of the child is a diplomat, there are a number of exceptions. These exceptions are maintained in the bill before us today.

Then there is the whole question of the physical presence with regard to residency. It boils down to the fact that a person who has been physically present in Canada for three years is a Canadian citizen. On should remember that today's reality, both in Canada and across the world, is that, with globalization and other trends, an increasing number of citizens are travelling.

In recent years, we have seen the large number of foreign immigrants and investors who invest in several countries and who must take into consideration the provisions of the Citizenship Act. This bill takes into account these two aspects, including the globalization aspect, the fact that people, particularly business people, have to travel more and more frequently to other countries.

Another aspect of Bill C-16 is foreign adoption. I think all parliamentarians know that, right now, a child adopted abroad must go through the permanent residence process before being granted Canadian citizenship.

Of course, under the existing Citizenship Act, medical examinations are mandatory at the time when an application is made. The whole process is often lengthy, and more than anything else, it gets in the way.

The bill before us will speed up the process for granting citizenship to children adopted abroad. As we often hear, it is like motherhood and apple pie. It is certainly in our best interest to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for adopted children. However, one thing must be clear. Everybody knows it, but I think it is important to remind the hon. members.

In Quebec, the whole issue of adoption comes under the Civil Code. In this regard, I would say that the changes made pose a certain number of problems for us with respect not to content but to form of course. We firmly believe that, on this issue, it is important to define the mechanisms of co-operation between the provincial government and the federal government in order to comply with the Civil Code of Quebec.

I remind members, and I will take the trouble to read the part of the bill dealing with adoption, that:

  1. The Minister shall, on application, grant citizenship to a person who, after February 14, 1977, was adopted by a citizen while the person was a minor child and whose adoption: a ) was in the best interests of the child; b ) created a genuine relationship of parent and child;— d ) was not intended to circumvent the requirements under any enactment for admission to Canada or citizenship.

As I pointed out, we are not against the underlying principle of the bill, but we firmly believe that there should be mechanisms for co-operation between the two governments in order to facilitate its enforcement in compliance with the Civil Code of Quebec.

What Quebec is asking for in this regard is that a bilateral approach be taken to ensure consultation at all stages of the process before the federal government grants citizenship.

We believe that this work should be done in co-operation with the provincial government. When Bill C-63, which has now become Bill C-16, was reviewed, a number of stakeholders, including the Fédération des parents du Québec, told us “We support the principle, but we are asking the federal government to put in place a mechanism that will respect Quebec's requests”.

Another issue is the oath of citizenship. I want to read the oath of citizenship. The bill provides that:

A person acquires citizenship on being granted citizenship by the Minister and taking the oath of citizenship.

The current oath reads as follows:

I swear that I will be faithful and bear true 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.

Bill C-16 provides that, from now on, newcomers will have to express their loyalty to Canada. The oath will be replaced by the following:

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada...

I am convinced that the member for Bourassa has a deep respect for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, because in his numerous missions abroad he had the opportunity to meet her many times.

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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Not yet.

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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont, QC

I continue reading the new oath of citizenship:

I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.

We admit that there must be an oath of allegiance. However, in our opinion, and the amendments by my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve to Bill C-63 in connection with this oath of allegiance, to the Queen of course, but also to Canada, provide that a certain number of documents clearly setting out the democratic values of Quebec ought to be provided. These documents were adopted, often unanimously, by the Quebec National Assembly.

What my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve proposed was the following: Would it be possible, at the time of the oath of allegiance, to provide people with the Quebec elections act, in order to provide Canadian citizens who are members of Quebec's political community with the most accurate information possible concerning the democratic reality of Quebec, so that they may exercise their democratic duty in as transparent a manner as possible.

We also wanted new citizens to be presented at the time of their swearing in with the Government of Quebec's declaration on interethnic and inter-racial relations.

This is a document that was adopted by the National Assembly on December 10, 1986. I would remind hon. members that this was not a declaration presented by a sovereignist Parti Quebecois government. No. It was a legitimately elected Government of Quebec, a Liberal government no less. It was passed by the National Assembly. We believe all new Canadian citizens should be made aware of this declaration, which is based on a statement adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations in November 1983.

The third element we would like to see communicated to new Canadian citizens when they take the citizenship oath contained in Bill C-16 is the charter of the French language, passed in 1977. This charter states that French is the language of common use and the working language in Quebec.

Of course, through the years this charter has been slashed by judgments of the supreme court, but we still see it as the fundamental expression of the political community of Quebec and a clear demonstration that business, work and teaching are done in French in Quebec.

We believe that in Quebec and in particular in Montreal, where I live, there is linguistic duality, but that Montreal is and hopefully will remain a French language city in America. It is our belief that the charter of the French language, if it were given to new citizens when they take the oath of allegiance contained in Bill C-16, could send a clear message to those new Canadian citizens.

Another document we believe should be given to new Canadian citizens is the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms.

Communication of these documents is not only the Bloc Quebecois' idea. This idea did not come out of the blue. It also had the support of numerous organisations in Quebec and among them, of course, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. I see the hon. member for Bourassa smiling and saying to himself “Indeed, the sovereignist family sticks together more then ever.”

However, contrary to what the hon. member may believe, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste was not the only supporter of the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. Mr. Dorsaint, of the Office of the Haitian Christian Community of Montreal also gave his support to the amendment. The member for Bourassa, who was smiling at what I said a moment ago, probably knows Mr. Dorsaint pretty well because he goes visits his riding on a regular basis and knows that there is an sizeable Haitian community in his riding. The president of the Haitian Christian Community supported the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. So did Mr. Corbo, chancellor of the Université du Québec, and many others.

We believe these requests are certainly legitimate and would help improve this bill.

This morning, I asked that there be at least one day of public hearings on Bill C-16. I did it because we basically think, and I personally think, that even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of Bill C-63, the committee must study this bill. We cannot consider a bill in committee and report it without giving people a chance to be heard. That would be a serious breach of democracy that penalizes a certain number of groups that want to improve this bill.

I am pleased that the committee finally yielded to my arguments. I see my colleague from the Conservative Party, who did not quite agree with what I was saying in committee this morning, as well as the member from the NDP. However, the committee finally yielded to my arguments. Why? Because the committee is the place where we can do an in depth study of the bills before us, and we must study this bill.

However, we must not take too long to study this bill. Why? Now I am the one who is yielding to the arguments presented by my colleagues this morning, because we are still waiting for the complete reform of the Citizenship Act that the government has been promising us for a long time.

Yesterday, the committee chair officially tabled the report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on the refugee status determination system. I think that this rather eloquent report, the majority of whose recommendations the Bloc Quebecois supports, shows that there was a problem with the legislation, that it needed to be improved, that there was an important problem in terms of resources. Although the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the bulk of the recommendations, I would remind members that, if they take the trouble to read the standing committee's report, they will see that it includes an opinion that is described as “dissenting” but that could more properly be called “complementary”.

What I took out of this—I am the new citizenship and immigration critic—is that there was an important problem in the study of the process for determining refugee status. This also pointed up the fact that a new act was required as soon as possible.

In Quebec, for example, over 160,000 asylum seekers have been taken in since the mid-80s. This is quite a number. These are people who, for political reasons, feel that they have a right, under the United Nations Refugee Convention—which was adopted in 1951—to apply as political refugees.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's lax approach to processing claims is cause for grave concern. When it can take more than a year for the commission to rule on the refugee status of an individual, we can imagine the human tragedy these people have to go through. We can imagine the tragedy their families have to go through? Why does this happen? Because our system is vague, weak and inadequate.

I think that we have to be very careful because Bill C-16 on citizenship and immigration has to be amended. We believe it does. However, we also believe that we have to pay particular attention to the refugee status determination process. Bill C-16 is an important bill. I have already said that the government can count on our support on the principle of the bill. However, we strongly wish for the support of the government regarding the commitments and the amendments that will be put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.

The Bloc Quebecois raised another point on the refugee status determination process in its minority report.

There is a whole section on detention in the committee report. Surprisingly enough, it is considered in that section that up to now, the federal government was justified in detaining a certain number of individuals who had illegally crossed our borders in boats or even in containers, as odd as that may seem.

I remind members of the immigration department's guidelines. We can detain a person who does not have proper identification or a person who represents a threat to the public security. I totally agree with that.

However, we were hoping the committee report would deal with a new reality, the illegal immigration of minors. Over the last few months, particularly in the Port of Vancouver, we have seen a number of individuals coming through our borders by boat, by air and sometimes by container. We have seen children arriving by boat, particularly young Chinese under 18.

We have seen Romanian children arriving by container in the Port of Montreal. The federal government ordered that these minors be incarcerated in Immigration Canada detention centres. That is unacceptable. I think these minors, these children, should be granted special status.

In my dissenting report, I based my argument on UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I quote article 37 of thet convention, which states:

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

I believe all the laws dealing with immigration in Canada should exempt minors from detention. I think, for example, of the many young Chinese who came into Canada, illegally perhaps, but who were incarcerated in the Immigration Canada detention centre in Laval. I think we have a basic human rights problem here.

Canada must act and change its laws in accordance with UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am sure that the hon. member for Bourassa is in total agreement on such a legislative change, and I would like the minister to take it under advisement.

Another major element is the position developed in the last months, even in the last weeks, by three governments. The Quebec government, of course, including those Quebecers I represent in this House, but the governments of Ontario and British Columbia also pointed out the laxapproach of the Immigration and Refugee Board to processing claims. There is a 12 to 13 month waiting period before refugee status is granted, while the target should be six months.

Would it not be possible that the costs for services provided to those people waiting for a federal decision be paid for by the federal government instead of provincial governments? In some respects, because of the federal government laxapproach, the processing time of claims is unacceptable, which results in increased service costs.

I remind the hon. members that this represents $80 million each year for Quebec. I think the federal government should accept the view of the provinces.

Another major element is the issue of the board, but with regard to Bill C-16, the issue is the oath commissioners.

I have some concerns about the definition of the responsibilities and mandate given to these oath commissioners, who will have increasingly a rather special role to play. When I read the bill, I have a number of reserves and concerns about the impartiality of these commissioners, who should play their role as fairly as possible.

Probably because it is not specified in the bill, we fear that the commissioners might play the role of propagandists. We believe the wording of the bill might result in the commissioners playing a very dangerous role and, to a certain extent, a political role.

We might have the opportunity to come back to this later, but I ask the government to take into consideration these concerns the opposition parties have. We fear the commissioners might have to promote the values that symbolize Canadian citizenship. We agree with the values of civicism, respect for the law and understanding among individuals. However, we fear that with the measures being promoted by the Canada Information Office and the Council for Canadian Unity, the government might try to use the commissioners for political purposes. This is a concern.

The concept of citizenship has a meaning for us, and in keeping with our plan to become sovereign, we are working on developing a Quebec citizenship. Over the last few months, the Bloc Quebecois has launched several projects.

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An hon. member

Oh, oh.

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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont, QC

I see the member for Bourassa is reacting once again. He travels abroad more and more frequently, and he is catching up on what the opposition parties have to say.

I think our citizenship is evolving in such a way that it is now part of Quebec political community. With all due respect to the member for Bourassa, in Quebec, we share one language, one public history and one public culture.

We believe Quebec is unique and this uniqueness is expressed through a Quebec citizenship which is increasingly part of a political community.

I now conclude this speech of close to 40 minutes and I especially want to thank the member for Bourassa for listening to me for these 40 minutes.