House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizens.

Topics

Question No. 2
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

With regard to RCMP patrols in national parks: ( a ) how much are they costing Canadian taxpayers; ( b ) how many arrests have been made since May 8, 2001; and ( c ) how many poachers were arrested during the fiscal years 1998-1999, 1999-2000 and 2000-2001?

Question No. 2
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Malpeque
P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Solicitor General of Canada

(a) The RCMP has expended $17,598,602 for the year 2001-02 and $5,666,995 for the year 2002-03 as of September 26, 2002, for a total of $23,265,597.

(b) The RCMP does not have a central database where arrests are recorded. The RCMP does collect data on the number of persons charged with violations of the Criminal Code, other Federal Statutes, the National Parks Act and Provincial Statutes, such as the Motor Vehicle and Liquor Act. There have been 11,776 individuals charged since assuming law enforcement duties in the Canadian National Parks.

(c) The RCMP did not assume responsibility for poaching investigations until May 2001 (FY 2001-2002).

Question No. 9
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

What is the cost of the visit to Canada by Queen Elizabeth II, broken down for each federal department and agency involved, including the Governor General and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Question No. 9
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Minister of Canadian Heritage

The Department of Canadian Heritage currently anticipates a total cost of $6,400,000 for the 2002 visit to Canada by Queen Elizabeth II.

The portion of this amount that relates to our obligations to other government departments are projected to be as follows:

DND--$150,000

RCMP--$70,000

PWGSC--$250,000

Rideau Hall--$130,000

House of Commons--$20,000.

Question No. 9
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 9
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Question No. 9
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

November 7th, 2002 / 10:10 a.m.

Bourassa
Québec

Liberal

Denis Coderre Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved that Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it has been a privilege to introduce Bill C-18 in the House.

In this building, which represents the essence of our country, we will now debate a bill which touches upon the very identity of Canadians. We can see the importance of the Canadian citizenship bill when we think of the Canada we want in the years to come.

The Speech from the Throne says:

Canada has a unique model of citizenship, based simultaneously on diversity and mutual responsibility.

It says also that the government

--will reform our citizenship legislation to reassert the rights and reinforce the responsibilities that go with being Canadian.

I fully agree with these statements and I wish to explain to the House how the bill reflects these principles.

The legislation has a number of aims. First, it would ensure that our citizenship rules more clearly reflect the fundamental values of Canadian society.

Second, it would recognize and protect the value of Canadian citizenship.

Third, it would impress upon Canadians and newcomers that citizenship is a partnership, and that both citizens and the country have rights and responsibilities.

Fourth, it would change how we make decisions so that we can obtain fair results but in a more efficient manner.

For Parliament, citizenship is a fundamental issue. Deciding who is a full member of society is one of the most important powers of the modern state.

Canadian citizenship has been in existence since 1947. Since then, Parliament has made major changes just once. In 1977, the current Citizenship Act was enacted, but it has remained essentially unchanged since.

Our current legislation is based on a very solid foundation, and in the new bill we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. While the existing Citizenship Act has many fine qualities, we must admit that our legal system, our values and the way we manage things have changed a great deal in 25 years.

The principles and practices in the current legislation should be fine-tuned to better reflect our present values and those that will guide Canada in the future. It is one of the reasons why this bill is a priority during this session.

Ours is a democratic country, open to new commerce. When I attend our wonderful citizenship ceremonies, I am glad that we continue to warmly welcome people from the four corners of the world.

As Canadian citizens, we want our new fellow citizens to respect and share some fundamental principles like respect for the rules of democracy, freedom and respect for the rights of others, even if they do not share our views.

Bill C-18 is itself an example of the values it promotes. In the first place, this citizenship legislation clearly sets out the principles on which it is based. A statement of objectives indicates the seven aims at the heart of the proposed new act.

They include the need to reaffirm that all citizens have the same status, to protect the integrity of citizenship and to require strong attachment to Canada for the acquisition of citizenship. It would be hard to be more transparent or set more fundamental goals.

The criteria for citizenship as stated in the bill are clear, objective and transparent. In a society like ours, which is based on the rule of law, this is the way to deal with this issue. The decision making process is also based on clarity, objectivity and transparency.

The bill is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was not in force when the current legislation was passed. As things stand now, hundreds of children adopted abroad each year by Canadian parents have to come to Canada as immigrants instead of Canadian citizens. The same thing does not apply to biological children.

The new bill would correct this form of discrimination.

As for the right to challenge decisions, the proposed procedure would be straightforward and accessible in clear-cut cases. Applicants would be able to request administrative review of decisions where an error in decision making has occurred. Applicants would also have access to the Federal Court.

At the other end of the scale, only the Federal Court will have the authority to make the serious decision to revoke citizenship. This change reflects some comments I have heard and to which I would like to respond.

At the beginning of my speech I reminded members that the bill aims to reassert the rights and reinforce the responsibilities that go with being Canadian. Persons who wish to obtain citizenship also have responsibilities. The first of these is allegiance to Canada and to its democratic system.

We have two other expectations that were known before and that are reiterated in this bill, and they are the applicants' knowledge about Canada and their knowledge of at least one of the two official languages of our country.

This new legislation is also more specific as to the substantial connection our citizens must have with their country.

We would no longer allow Canadian citizenship to be transmitted indefinitely from generation to generation among people who have never lived in Canada. However, to honour our tradition of openness and balance, persons born in Canada would continue to have an automatic right to citizenship.

The bill is also more flexible for those who have to work and do business abroad, by extending to six years the period during which they actually have to reside in Canada for at least three years before they can apply for citizenship. This is our way of recognizing that globalization is a reality and of extending a welcome to new immigrants.

Canadian citizenship has great value. When we attend ceremonies where people take the oath of citizenship we understand that being Canadian is a heartfelt source of pride. Members should ask any of the dozens of our colleagues in the House exactly how the simple ceremony changed them. I wish to congratulate them for having made that gesture and I would encourage them to continue attending citizenship ceremonies.

The bill recognizes the importance of the act of becoming or publicly declaring oneself a Canadian. It enshrines citizenship and reaffirmation ceremonies.

The men and women who preside over the ceremonies, known as citizenship judges under the existing Citizenship Act would officially become citizenship commissioners. They would become advisers to the minister in citizenship matters and play a role as citizenship ambassadors to the Canadian population as a whole. In so doing they would promote both the concept and the importance of citizenship.

They will continue to preside over citizenship ceremonies. In the past five years, these judges have sworn in an average of 160,000 new citizens per year—from St. John's to Victoria to Iqaluit—in dignified community ceremonies performed throughout the year and the solemn ceremonies during the week of July 1 and Citizenship Week.

Because people in Canada value citizenship we have a duty to see that a certain kind of merit principle is observed. People who do not share our fundamental values should not be granted citizenship. If they have obtained citizenship through misrepresentation, Canada must be able to correct the situation by revoking or annulling their citizenship.

This legislation provides better tools to ensure that.

Naturally, only the Federal Court will have the power to revoke citizenship. At the same time, it could order the removal from Canada of terrorists, war criminals and members of organized crime who had become naturalized Canadians.

In black and white cases the minister would have limited power to annul citizenship. In exceptional situations the governor in council could refuse applications from individuals who do not respect the values of our free and democratic society.

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. members of this House discuss the bill before them, they must not forget that citizenship and immigration are closely related.

Last year Parliament adopted the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The aim of that legislation was to reform and update Canada's legislation on immigration. Our citizenship legislation also needs renewal.

Many of our future citizens come to this country as immigrants or refugees. Like all Canadians, they are entitled to expect their receiving country to have a consistent policy regarding the two stages of their journey toward becoming Canadians.

I wish to move on to the management issues associated with the bill. The Canadian system currently handles approximately 190,000 citizenship applications a year. It is therefore understandable that we would want a system that would be efficient and produce fair decisions.

Relying on objective criteria will promote that. This bill will provide for an administrative decision making process. The majority of applications that pose no problem could then be processed much more efficiently.

Simple errors in decision making could be corrected without intervention by the courts. That would save much time and energy for my department, for applicants and for the Federal Court. Everyone would benefit from the new system.

To conclude, I firmly believe that this bill will make many winners and very few losers, if passed as is.

The losers would be war criminals, terrorists, members of organized crime, individuals with very few ties to Canada, and people who lie when applying for citizenship.

The winners would be all new citizens and Canadians who have joined our big family either by birth or by choice.

I am confident that members of the House will find this legislation worthy of quick adoption.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to give some thoughts on this new citizenship bill introduced by the minister.

I would like to shock the minister by congratulating him for bringing the bill forward and for some of the measures he has put into the new bill, which all members of the House have been asking for fsome time. As we know, the minister's predecessors in two instances tried to have a new citizenship bill introduced into the House and were unsuccessful. I am sure that this minister will be able to get the deed done, so I do congratulate him for that.

The new oath of citizenship is particularly positive. It reads:

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

This is a good oath and I congratulate the minister for that.

The second big area where I wish to congratulate the minister is in moving the decision to strip Canadians of their citizenship from the cabinet level back to the judicial system. In our country, which is based on the rule of law, having these kinds of decisions made for political reasons by political players is not acceptable. The minister has recognized that and he will receive a lot of kudos for the measures he has put into the new bill.

Citizenship is an exciting privilege for many people. All members of the House have had the pleasure of being present at citizenship ceremonies where a number of people from all countries receive their citizenship and certificate. It is a privilege to be part of the pride and happiness those occasions generate. Our country has had citizens join it from all parts of the globe and we are enriched by that.

The Citizenship Act is a very important document in that it sets out who has or may obtain the right to obtain citizenship, the grounds for and the process of revoking, restoring or denying citizenship, and the administration of the citizenship process. It is one that would affect many people, so it is an important piece of legislation.

Although the minister covered some of this, I want to go through the way the new bill differs from existing legislation. Canadians will be interested to know that the legislation being amended today was first introduced in 1947, which for a change was before I was even born. Some days that is a nice thing to be able to say. In 1947 Canada was the first Commonwealth country to enact its own citizenship legislation. The act was updated in 1977, 30 years later, to simplify the naturalization process and here we are in 2002 with an update of that 1977 legislation.

It is fair to say that most legislation could do with some modernization and some updating from time to time and certainly the government has recognized that here. It brought in a bill to update the Citizenship Act in 1999 and also in 2000. Both of those bills died during the review process. I am confident this one will not, but time will tell.

The bill changes some things and I want to go through that for Canadians who are watching the debate and who want to know exactly what we are dealing with.

First, in the current act, physical presence in Canada is not clearly defined as a requirement for citizenship.

The new bill says that there must be residence, it must be physical presence and it must be for three years during a six year period. An applicant for citizenship must be physically present in the country. It simply makes sense, as the government pointed out, that there be some real and substantial connection to our country on the part of people who are requesting to be made citizens.

The process under the current act is a quasi-judicial decision making process under what are called citizenship judges, which are appointments, by the government, and, I have to say, sometimes patronage appointments that are not necessarily based on background or knowledge of the area but on political considerations.

Under the new act that has been changed. The administrative decisions would now be made by the department, using objective criteria. That would be fairer and more certain for everyone concerned.

Under the current act, people can be prohibited from receiving citizenship only if they commit indictable offences. Under the new bill, summary conviction offences or offences in other countries can be used to bar people from receiving citizenship. This again makes sure that the law-abiding commitment to the rights and privileges of others in our country is respected by those to whom we extend Canadian citizenship privileges.

Under the current act, it is very difficult to rescind citizenship. Under the new bill, there would be new powers to annul citizenship obtained using a false identity and also to refuse citizenship in some circumstances.

Under the current act, revocation of citizenship has been vested in the cabinet. That has caused a great deal of concern, as I mentioned at the opening of my speech, but I will return to that later. Under the new bill, there would be a full judicial process. Again, returning to the rule of law and due process has been a very important step in the new bill.

Under the current act, adopted children must come to Canada as immigrants. Under the new bill, adopted children would be able to acquire citizenship without becoming permanent residents, which would make it much easier for Canadian parents to adopt children from other countries.

In the current act, the oath does not include allegiance to Canada. Under the new bill, the oath would require allegiance to Canada. Again, as I mentioned at the outset, that is something that I believe all members of the House applaud. Certainly the Canadian Alliance is fully supportive of that change.

Those are the main changes that we are dealing with in the act.

The remarks I have to make are, first, that we are supportive of the main thrust of the bill, particularly the new oath and the judicial process being restored for stripping Canadian citizens of their citizenship, the residency requirements and better language to deal with some of the loopholes that have been troublesome in the act since 1977.

There are some concerns. No act is perfect. Of course our job as legislators is to make sure it is perfect or as perfect as it can be given the variety of perspectives among members of the House.

I would like to suggest to the House some changes that we could and should make to the bill to improve it.

Although the change that would make it a court process for stripping citizens of their citizenship is a positive one, I believe a couple of areas of this whole issue have not been dealt with in the legislation as well as they should have been.

Unfortunately the legislation does not make stripping citizens of their citizenship retroactive. In other words, those people who already are before cabinet with recommendations that they be stripped of citizenship will remain in the cabinet process, as the legislation is now written, rather than going into the judicial process. We do not think that is fair.

It was very interesting that under the new Immigration Act, which we debated not too long ago, and the new regulations that came in, those regulations were made retroactive. In other words, even those people still in the process would now be dealt with under the new rules after a short period of time. There was some difference of opinion about how adequate that was. The committee felt that the retroactivity would be a problem. In this case, the opposite has happened. Instead of the cases presently in the system being dealt with under the new act, as they are under the Immigration Act, under the Citizenship Act they would remain in the old process. This is not consistent and we believe it is also not fair to the people in the process.

The fact is that the people who are before cabinet with recommendations that they be stripped of citizenship stand to lose one of the most important rights that a human being can have, that is their citizenship in a particular country. We believe that privilege should not be taken away without the highest adherence to the natural justice process and the highest standard of proof.

Under the present process, the standard of proof required is only a balance of probabilities. This means there would be a fifty-fifty chance that people would actually be stripped of citizenship but they could still have the citizenship removed. We believe that the standard of proof should be beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard in our courts, and it should be found to be beyond a reasonable doubt in a court in a judicial process, not a political process.

Without casting any aspersions on the many fine people who serve in our cabinet, they are political animals. They must serve a lot of political interests. Some of us are aware of the politicization of some of the cases before the cabinet for loss of citizenship. It is very important for all parties to have a judicial process with due process, with a high standard of proof and a high standard of care that protects everyone. It is very important that we consider amendments to the bill to put everyone who stands to lose their citizenship into the judicial process with the highest standard of proof possible.

Another concern is that the number of people being considered by the federal court for revocation of citizenship could increase the caseload of the federal court. I would ask that somewhere, either in the legislation or in the regulations, that should be recognized. Additional resources may need to be made available to the federal court to handle this additional caseload, and we should address that. We have too many judicial and quasi-judicial processes that are overburdened to the point where due process for our citizens suffers, and that is not acceptable.

There was an article in the newspaper yesterday about the Supreme Court being deluged with applications for it to hear different cases, to the point where the Supreme Court said that it could not do all of them and that it had to limit them.

If important decisions are going to be made by the Federal Court we think it is critical to have sufficient resources and sufficient judicial eminences appointed so this can be looked after.

Under the new act, the minister would be able to actually annul citizenship if someone were found to have obtained citizenship fraudulently either by using a false identity or having been found after the fact to have violated the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. We think, particularly post-September 11, that this is a very important addition to the act. However we find it odd that the minister's power to annul is limited to five years after citizenship is granted using these inappropriate criteria or fraudulent means.

What if the minister does not find out about the fraud or the violation for five years? If the minister does find out after five years does the individual receive a get out of jail free card because the fraud or the war crime was not known before that time? We do not think the five year limit makes sense. We will be asking some pretty tough questions about that. If we are not satisfied that there was a good reason for limiting that window to five years, then we will certainly be supporting amendments to broaden that. We know that sometimes fraud and evidence of a violation of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act can come out more than five years down the road and it needs to be dealt with at that time.

We also have instances where there can be denial and refusal of citizenship, particularly if someone has been convicted of two or more summary conviction offences or an offence in another country. We applaud that because it is important. Canada, as we know, among all the nations in the world is very committed to a law-abiding, just society. We also think that if someone has been found to commit an indictable offence he or she should simply not be accepted as a citizen of this country.

Right now, as I understand it, an individual cannot apply if his or her application for citizenship has been suspended for five years, but then that person can re-apply. I do not think that is appropriate. I think that if someone has committed a very serious indictable offence, and those kinds of convictions would be rare and well justified under our very careful court system, then that individual should simply be deported from the country and not accepted as someone worthy of being accepted into our citizenry.

I have some concerns with the minister having the ability to deny citizenship if a person “has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society”. On the surface this would seem to be a bit of no-brainer.

As a lawyer, which I am, as are many members of the House, I realize that there needs to be some specificity and some objectivity here. I am a bit concerned that this phrase can be very widely interpreted and that people could be convicted on what others might comprehend in their minds or on very loose criteria.

This is such a serious matter that the particular phrase needs to be more specific. We need to be clearer on what is meant by “flagrant and serious disregard for principles and values underlying a free and democratic society”. It is very important that there be more certainty and objectivity in the law so people will have some fairness and clarity about when this particular provision might be invoked.

With respect to adoption, as I mentioned before, we really applaud the fact that this new provision will make it easier for Canadian parents to adopt internationally, to adopt children from other countries. We do have a concern, however, about a new provision that allows adults to be adopted after the fact, so to speak, if a Canadian citizen or someone who has become a Canadian citizen had a parental sort of relationship to that person when a minor. The Canadian citizen could adopt that adult person, who automatically would receive Canadian citizenship. I do not think this is appropriate. I think that adults should receive Canadian citizenship on their own merits because they have reached adult status. We do not think this provision should be in the bill. We point out that there is some concern about abuse of that provision as well. It allows people who otherwise would not be able to receive Canadian citizenship to do so without meeting the criteria.

We also support the provision in the bill whereby the administrative function of citizenship judges would now be performed by departmental officials using objective criteria. There would be much more certainty and much more coherence in the way citizenship decisions are made.

We do have a concern about the individuals who are to become what is called citizenship commissioners. Although they would have no administrative responsibilities under the act, they have been designated to “promote citizenship”. We have a concern about this for a couple of reasons. One is that we know the immigration and citizenship department has scarce resources. Some of the settlement programs are being cut back, for example, particularly ESL and day care for permanent residents and people who hope to obtain citizenship. Other programs are being cut as well. At the present time these citizenship commissioners, and I assume this will continue, earn between $74,000 and $87,000 a year. We just think that those resources would serve new Canadians and people who hope to obtain citizenship much better if they were put into some of the settlement programs and used to beef up some of the other areas of activity of the Canadian immigration and citizenship department.

The other thing, of course, and we have shown concern about this in many other areas, is that unfortunately these positions do tend to be patronage appointments. We think it is not a good use of public resources to reward friends and supporters of the government.

I want to be careful when I say that to acknowledge and to affirm many of the citizenship judges who have acted in the country in the past. I personally have dealt with some of them, as I know all colleagues have, and I have found many if not most of them to be highly dedicated people who are very well respected, with outstanding skills in really welcoming new Canadians and doing their jobs. However, now that there is no administrative function I think it simply would be better not to have these positions available. They really do not serve a strong purpose. It is a purpose that could be served by other members of the department or members in the community. I think it would be better if these patronage positions were simply eliminated so that those resources could be invested in ways that would serve new Canadians and the immigrant community more effectively.

With respect to due process, there is a provision in the draft legislation that a judge is not bound by any legal or technical rules of evidence. I made an investigation into this because on the surface it seems unbelievable that in Canada we would have any kind of judicial proceedings that are not bound by the ordinary technical rules of evidence. I wondered why there was this departure.

The explanation I received, in which Canadians and the House will be interested, is that all citizenship legislation has had these kinds of exceptions because sometimes information about applicants for citizenship is received through security documents or from foreign intelligence provided to the department, to Canada, on the understanding that it not be disclosed. However, it can be very important in protecting Canada from accepting as citizens individuals who are known by the intelligence community or through security activities not to be the kind of individuals who meet the criteria for citizenship.

I will simply say that this kind of exception should be rare, which I understand it is. I think it should continue to be, but to the largest degree possible it should also be specific. If we are ever to depart from recognized judicial practice in this country, where the rule of law is so important and such an underpinning of our whole society, it should be in only very specific, objective situations. I would be very concerned if it were somehow to be framed in this new legislation so that it could be expanded for whatever reason past any sort of appropriate limits. That again is something that we will need to consider very carefully in committee.

This is particularly important because under the new process, whereby people can be stripped of citizenship by the Federal Court, under the legislation there is no appeal from that finding. In other words, if the Federal Court makes the decision to strip someone of citizenship and is not bound by legal and technical rules of evidence, we can see where fairness, due process and adherence to the highest standards of evidence and truth could possibly fall by the wayside. I think that particularly in those cases we need to be very careful to make sure in regard to due process and rules of evidence that any departure from them is completely and fully justified under very strict criteria.

With respect to physical presence in Canada, we of course support that. We think it is very important. I think all Canadians would agree that those who become citizens should have a real and substantial commitment and connection to our country.

The next point is very interesting. If someone is in a common law relationship with one of our citizens in another country, one of our citizens posted abroad through work for a federal or provincial government or as a member of the armed forces, the common law partner's relationship with the Canadian citizen, once the relationship has existed for a year or more, will count toward time in Canada. I think this is really the hot date rule: make sure that Canadians posted abroad will be those people will enjoy having relationships with. But I say that facetiously. I think that because the Canadian is posted abroad, that individual's partner legitimately would have a connection to Canada through the partner.

One of the main points of this legislation is the new citizenship oath, which I think is very important. It ensures that new Canadians pledge to value and respect their Canadian citizenship and our country. As well, a revocation, currently done behind closed doors, will now take place in the more transparent and accountable venue of the courts. While some of the provisions I have noted need to be looked at, it certainly is a long step in the right direction.

The adoption provisions and the change from citizenship judges to a more objective process are also very positive.

I commend the government. I know that it is difficult not to move forward with a particular piece of legislation. Government is damned if it does and damned if it does not. If government moves ahead even though the legislation is flawed, then Canadians are not served. If the legislation is withdrawn, government takes heat for not getting it right. But I do think that in such an important area it has been good that government has listened to the citizenship and immigration committee and to other Canadians and other groups to make sure the legislation continues forward until it really does serve Canadians well and does meet some of the criteria needed in our modern society, particularly with the new circumstances we are confronted with, internationally and in our own country.

I again congratulate the minister and the government on making good strides in the legislation. I believe there is need for improvement. I know that other members will speak to it. Some have very strong feelings about some of the points I have raised and will be speaking very strongly about them. I am confident that these issues will be anxiously considered in the citizenship and immigration committee and I very much hope there will still be amendments to make the legislation even stronger on behalf of Canadians. I look forward to being part of that process.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is reassuring to see so many members in the House, among them the minister and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

This is the second time this week that I have had the opportunity to take part in a debate on a government bill. You will tell me that that is what we are here for and it is a great pleasure for me to do so.

Last Tuesday when I spoke on Bill C-17, I had many concerns with regard to the respect of human rights and freedoms. Today, my remarks will be of a special nature since the debate deals specifically with one of my favourite issues, because citizenship is no small thing. I am our party's critic on everything related to citizenship and immigration.

So I was somewhat eager to see the bill to repeal the old 1977 act back before the House. The return of that bill was more than expected. The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is the third one facing the challenge of reforming the Citizenship Act currently in force. The question is: will he manage to carry it through to completion?

However, another question comes to mind when one takes a careful look at this new Bill C-18. In its current form, should this bill be passed? The table is set for a very relevant debate.

Before getting into the ins and outs of Bill C-18, we must understand its underpinnings. Why has the minister taken the initiative to put this bill back on the order paper? Hon. members are as aware as I that a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1977. Today's reality is totally different. Since September 11, 2001,moreover, this has been pointed out on numerous occasions in this House, and rightly so.

The phenomenon of globalization favours migration. Increasingly, countries are having to develop more clearly defined immigration policies to deal with the new challenges this brings.

If migration is on the rise, then obviously permanent residence and citizenship applications will also increase. Canada, like Quebec, is a host country for immigration, as we know. Canada receives about one-quarter of a million immigrants yearly. These will all be entitled eventually to apply for Canadian citizenship, at which point the measures set out in Bill C-18 will apply.

As well, even before that, there is the permanent residence application process. This entire process involves the same desire, to live together in one place, sharing the values of justice and fairness for all.

Given the changes the world is undergoing, it is normal, essential in fact, for legislation to adapt to the changing times. If the principle of Bill C-18 is indeed to bring the existing legislation up to speed so that it better reflects our values and aspirations, I am all for it. Let us make no mistake about it, however. Being in favour of the principle of a bill does not in any way mean supporting every provision it contains. The current context of the fight against terrorism seems to be becoming the justification for every imaginable action. We fully agree that it is absolutely vital to avoid the death of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, but we absolutely do not agree with this justifying shameless attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms. Enslavement can never be justified in the name of freedom.

Now for Bills C-63, C-16 and C-18, the current fashion here on the Hill is, without a doubt, to hold debates two, sometimes even three, times on similar bills with different numbers.

Today we are debating Bill C-18, which used to be known in another life as Bill C-16, which in turn had started out a few years earlier as Bill C-63. All this may seem confusing and repetitive in the end. However, if we look closely at the bill, we see that there are differences in certain details, but very important differences.

Unfortunately, the differences between Bill C-16 and new Bill C-18 are not always for the better. Indeed, clauses 16 and 17, which I will come back to later, seem to result from an ill-defined reaction to the post-September 11 context.

It is certainly not by limiting the scope of the rule of law that we will improve matters in the world.

To come back to the old bill, Bill C-16, clause 10 stated, and I quote:

The Minister may, for the purposes of this Act, deem a person who is in Canada and who has resided in Canada for at least 10 years to be or to have become a permanent resident as of the day the Minister specifies.

The purpose of this clause was to allow people who have been in Canada for at least 10 years and who wrongly believed they were Canadian citizens, to become Canadian citizens, after having obtained permanent resident status, during the period set out in the legislation.

Take the case, for example, of parents who immigrate to Canada with one or two children, aged two or three, say, and become Canadian citizens. It is easy to understand that the children believe, quite honestly, that they too are Canadian citizens. This is not the case. In fact, if this person—once he or she reaches the age of 18, 20, 22, or even 16—commits a minor offence as an adolescent, he or she could be deported to his or her country of origin, even if he or she has no meaningful social ties to that country.

Will a child who lived one or two years in Haiti with his parents, and who then lived in Canada for 14 years, feel like a Haitian or a Haitian Canadian? That is the question that needs to be answered. Things would be easier if clause 10 from the former Bill C-16 were reintroduced in Bill C-18.

If hon. members think that this example is just a figment of my imagination, something that cannot happen in real life, they are mistaken. This is a real life example. On June 25, 2002, during its general assembly, the Bloc Quebecois adopted a proposal dealing expressly with this issue. The deportation of young Haitians who had criminal records because they made foolish mistakes, as many people do when they are young, was the result of a serious misapprehension on their part. They believed they were Canadian citizens, with the same rights, privileges and duties as any other full fledged citizen. How could it be otherwise, since they grew up in Quebec?

This is not a cosmetic improvement but, rather, an addition that can make a huge difference in a person's life. What happened between Bill C-16 and Bill C-18 to make this provision disappear? If the rehabilitation of young offenders is a principle in which we firmly believe, should it not apply to these young people who grew up in Quebec, in the case of these young Haitians, and elsewhere in Canada?

In fact, to fully realize what may have happened throughout the legislative process that was primarily intended to modernize the old Citizenship Act, it is interesting to take a look at the features of Bill C-18.

First, it goes without saying that people who are born in Canada will always, without exception, be Canadian citizens. It is difficult to provide otherwise. However, those who are granted Canadian citizenship, that is, people who were born abroad to Canadian parents, will only be able to transmit this citizenship to the first and second generations. In fact, in order to retain their right to Canadian citizenship, those in the second generation will have to apply before attaining 28 years of age and have resided in Canada for at least 1,095 days, that is three years prior to the date of the application.

The idea is to avoid having people who have no connection with Canada and who have never come here avail themselves of Canadian citizenship. While this is a new provision in Bill C-18, compared to the current act, this provision was also included in Bill C-16. So, this change is not totally new.

Even though the concept of globalization is spreading at the speed of light, if you get to the U.S. border and state “I am a citizen of the world”, you will soon find out that this expression is more poetical than practical. Let us say that these days it has become increasingly less fashionable to be stateless.

This is why Bill C-18 provides for an exception for third generations, should such a situation arise.

Mr. Speaker, I have a trick question for you. To make sure you are still listening to me, since it is cold outside, is there another category of persons that may acquire Canadian citizenship? Think carefully, Mr. Speaker; I am sure I will not have to tell you. You are right: adopted children can become Canadian citizens. This is where the issue starts to get a little tricky.

To start with, let us look at the current process for granting citizenship in the case of international adoption. To become a Canadian citizen, a child must first go through the immigration process, namely apply for landed immigrant status and then citizen status. Admittedly it may be very frustrating for parents who adopt a child to have to wait several years before the child can become a full-fledged citizen. That is a situation adoptive families would like to see rectified and we fully understand them. Nevertheless, I would like the government to proceed cautiously with any legislation on this issue.

Although we recognize the logic in granting citizenship, I would say virtually automatically, to adopted children, we must be careful not to create two different classes of citizens.

As members know, in Quebec we have the Civil Code. The Civil Code creates obligations for our law makers. Adoptions must be recognized by a Quebec court since this is an area of provincial jurisdiction. If the federal government goes ahead with the proposed changes without consulting the Quebec government beforehand to harmonize legislation, that might have a negative impact. I happen to know the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quite well, and I know for a fact that he hates negative impacts. I can see the committee chair nodding.

With Bill C-18, the new measures would not apply to a child adopted by a Quebec family. He would then have to be sponsored and to go through the whole immigration process to finally be able to receive the same status as a child adopted in another province.

This would imply extra sponsorship costs for Quebec parents, which do not seem quite fair to us. As a matter of fact, in a letter dated November 6, 1998 and referring to Bill C-63, the grandfather of Bill C-18, ministers Rochon and Boisclair said, and I quote:

This bill raises various problems in Quebec, particularly with respect to the connection with and the specifics of our Civil Code, to the health care issue and to the additional costs that might be incurred as a result.

We can already identify two major factors. On the one hand, the provincial government does not oppose the principle of the proposed amendments as such, but rather the way in which they might be implemented. On the other hand, negotiations between both levels of government are essential to prevent any inequity. And I have no doubt whatsoever that the minister will want to correct potential inequities.

You understand that I will take this opportunity to remind this House that Quebec is a leader in international adoption. This is yet another compelling reason for the federal government not to proceed unilaterally on this issue, as is, we must admit, too often the case, unfortunately.

What about residency requirements? As members know, people can resort to subterfuge, which can sometimes be quite effective, not to mention the types of subterfuge we are unaware of. With your long parliamentary experience, I am sure that if you do the calculations, you will come up with figures much lower than the true figures. Let us face it, when it comes to subterfuge, the federal government is very cunning. Therefore, this was not much of a challenge for it. However, over time, we have smartened up.

This leads me to talk about the requirements regarding residency and physical presence in Canada. I imagine that you see what I am driving at with my references to subterfuge and presence in Canada. As you must certainly know, there are clever people who know different ways to make us believe that they were in Canada, while they actually were not. As a matter of fact, someone who applies for Canadian citizenship must be able, under the current legislation, to prove that he has resided in Canada during the three years preceding the date of his application. It is the law.

How can this be proven? Suppose I love playing golf. I am not very good at it, but I am smart. If I have bought an expensive membership in a Gatineau golf club, let us say that this is one point for me. If I have a valid Ontario driver's licence, which is also valid in Quebec, I get another point. If I also have have big fat accounts in two or three Canadian banks, this has to prove that I reside in Canada. Otherwise, why would I have all that? Is it possible? It is quite possible. And why is it possible?

Simply because, one year after the 1977 legislation took effect, a Federal Court judge ruled that in order to meet residency requirements, it was not necessary to prove physical presence in Canada. That is the reason.

People only have to establish that they have maintained close ties with Canada during the three previous years. There are also extreme cases, where people had resided in Canada only a few days a year, just long enough for a weekend of skiing, perhaps. Any sensible person would admit that this truly is an aberration.

The stated purpose of Bill C-18 is to remedy that situation. What clarification does it provide? If passed, it will specify that 1,095 days of actual presence will be required, that is, three full years out of a total period of six years. Now, theoretically at least, there will be no more doubt, the frauds will be quickly detected.

At the risk of being labelled a spoilsport—something everyone will agree applies to me only rarely—I would point out that the truth must be revealed. In practice, how will this be verified? Until now, unless the government has been doing things behind our backs, there has been no way to verify this. There is no registry of who has entered or left this great big country. Of course, the new definition of residency will help reduce the number of frauds, but by how much?

There is one worrisome thought that comes to mind. What if the government, in its zeal to limit public freedom, decided to carefully examine airline records under these new powers it plans to acquire through its public safety bill we debated earlier this week? Who can state with any certainty that this avenue will not be explored?

Speaking of lack of certainty, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask you one question. Is it true that one of the principles of a free and democratic society is the right to a fair trial? I ask this because a reading of the famous clauses 16 and 17 of this bill makes this exceedingly uncertain.

What astounds me in particular is that Bill C-18 specifically states as follows, quoting clause 3(g), that the purpose of this act is:

--to promote respect for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society.

Moreover, the government appears to believe in this to such as extent that it specifies, in clause 21(1):

If the Minister is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society, the Minister may submit a report to the Governor in Council recommending that the person not be granted citizenship or allowed to take the oath of citizenship

What is meant by “reasonable grounds to believe”? What I might find reasonable, another might not, or vice versa. The minister might find reasonable what I do not. Do “reasonable grounds to believe” mean proof, suspicion, or something else we know nothing about?

I have another question. What will a flagrant and serious disregard mean to the current minister and to his successors? When a piece of legislation is reviewed every 20 to 25 years, it is obvious that there will be other ministers. How is the seriousness of this disregard measured? Does the wording not sound a bit arbitrary? To add insult to injury, once a decision is made by the governor in council, it is final and it cannot be appealed or judicially reviewed. Is that the kind of democracy we want?

Mr. Speaker, you are probably as appalled as I am by the attitude of the government, but you have heard nothing yet. My brief analysis of the provisions so far was only a preamble.

Let us get down to business and go over clauses 16 and 17 of Bill C-18. I am giving the reference because the people who are watching need to be able to look them up for themselves and see what the government is about to do to our basic human rights.

Why not use an example? You are getting to know me. You know that I like things to be crystal clear. I will use an example to show what would happen under the bill as it stands now.

Let us say we have a Canadian citizen named Ahmed Samir. He came to Canada seven years ago and got his citizenship four years ago. He is a Muslim, a quiet man who comes from a good family. He works for a computer company and plays chess in his spare time. I hope you are starting to get a good idea of who he is.

But he still has friends in his country of origin, Syria. He goes back on occasion. After all, it is not unusual for someone who is proficient in IT to make more than MPs. Let us say that officials with CSIS start to have doubts about him. They track his air travel, and thanks to a certain bill that was passed in this House, they suspect him of being a potential terrorist. After investigating, they believe they have uncovered his true identity and they inform the Solicitor General of the case, who discusses it with his colleague, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and they nab him.The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration examines the facts and concludes that Samir obtained his citizenship by lying at the time his permanent resident status was granted, and that his citizenship should be revoked.

That is all it takes. The minister and the Solicitor General of Canada decide to file a certificate with the Federal Court to the effect that the individual in question obtained his citizenship by lying in order to be become a permanent resident, and then a Canadian citizen. In addition, the Solicitor General and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration ask that Ahmed Samir be declared inadmissible, since as far as they are concerned, he represents a threat to national security.

Once the case is before the court, the judge must ensure the confidentiality of the information on which the certificate is based and of any evidence the disclosure of which, in the judge's opinion, would be injurious to national security. The manner of the proceedings is also troublesome. The judge is authorized to proceed, and I quote paragraph 17 (4)( c ):

—as informally and expeditiously as the circumstances and considerations of fairness and natural justice permit;

What does “informally” mean? According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary , informally means “without ceremony or formality”. Does proceeding informally mean showing no respect for rules and formalities? That is the real issue. It is fair to ask this question if the government, which is allowing judges to proceed on an issue as important as revoking a person's citizenship and deporting him or her without respecting formalities, believes that this is acceptable.

Following each request made by the minister or the Solicitor General at any time during the proceedings, the judge shall hear the information in the absence of the accused and his counsel. This is not anything like our judicial system. If, in the judge's opinion, the disclosure of this information could be injurious to national security, he cannot include it in the summary, which means that he cannot inform the accused or his counsel, but he may consider such information in making his determination.

I think hon. members will agree with me that it is hard to defend ourselves properly when we do not know and cannot know what evidence is used against us.

Moreover, clause 17(4)(j) clearly provides that the judge may, and I quote:

--receive into evidence anything that, in the opinion of the judge, is appropriate

—and I draw hon. members' attention to what follows—

--even if it is inadmissible in a court of law, and may base the decision on that evidence.

What is evidence that is “inadmissible” in a court of justice? What kind of evidence are we referring to, particularly since it is specified that the judge may base his decision on that evidence? All sense of proportion is being lost in the whole process, and this is extremely disturbing.

So far in the trial of our fictitious friend Ahmed Samir, it is legally possible that he was not informed of any of the evidence and that some of this evidence would not be admissible in a court of law.

It is now time for the judge to make his decision. Based on the evidence available, he decides to declare Ahmed Samir guilty. You may think, and rightly so, that Ahmed Samir must have some recourse, some recognized right to appeal in a society such as the Canadian society, whose justice system makes us proud, but no. When the judge issues his ruling, Samir is stripped of his citizenship and deported to his country of origin under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and there is no requirement to carry out the review or investigation provided for under that act.

Finally, the conclusion to this hypothetical but very plausible story is found in clause 17(9), which reads:

A determination under subsection (5) is final and may not be appealed or judicially reviewed.

This is the new federal version of democracy and the rule of law. Ahmed Samir is deported without any recourse. And what if the judge made a mistake? Even though that person is a judge, he is still a human being. Nobody is perfect. Anybody can make a mistake. We all know that, and it is even more obvious when we look at the federal government's actions. The right to make a mistake is also recognized by our society. This is why we have various levels of courts and why we can appeal a decision.

It is even not unusual for an appeal court to reverse the decision of a lower court. Why? Simply because that is the way of things. Judges, and the word says it all, are expected to judge, that is to pass judgment on facts, on the basis of evidence presented to them. Not all judges judge a given situation the same way. We must therefore recognize that mistakes are possible and give Ahmed Samir access to a defence worthy of the name. Above all, we must recognize that the right to appeal a decision is essential.

Georges Clemenceau, whom most of us in this House did not meet personally because he has been dead for quite a while, but have heard of, was a prominent French political figure from the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was famous for having been a key player in getting the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919, among other things. He made a very interesting comment about Parliament that I wish to quote:

Parliament is the largest organization ever invented for making political mistakes, but the wonderful thing is that they can be put right, as soon as the country has the will to do so.

There is still time to act to prevent real-life situations like that of Ahmed Samir from happening next year or two or three years down the road. If we have chosen to live in a constitutional state, we must abide by the applicable principles and provisions.

Are we going to have second-class citizens? This is somewhat ironic, because the government boasts about promoting a unique model of citizenship. I say no. And I agree with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that there should not be two classes of citizens. The minister stated very clearly that there would not be two classes of citizens. All citizens are equal and, regardless of how we become citizens, whether through birth or immigration, we all have the same rights and the same obligations. It would seem however, that all do not have the right to a fair trial with an appeal process.

Clause 3(d ) is particularly informative. It states that the purpose of the act is, among other things:

to reaffirm that all citizens, no matter how they became citizens, have the same status.

This is a fine statement, but will it apply in reality? In view of clauses 16 and 17 the answer is obviously no. In our opinion, do I have the right to appeal an unfavourable court decision? Indeed I do. Why then would an immigrant not have the same right? Is this to say that citizenship deserves to be treated with the respect required by the principles and values of a free and democratic society only when it suits us? I hope the government will be able to explain this somewhat controversial position in a clear, fair and respectful manner.

The time has now come to question a slightly archaic feature of Canadian society, namely Queen Elizabeth II. Far be it from me to suggest that this lady is not exceptional, nice and worthy of our admiration. That is not the question. But why should we still require newcomers to swear allegiance to the Queen when Canadian citizens by birth do not have to do so? Is it because we believe that the loyalty shown to her by citizens by birth inherently knows no limit? Some of my colleagues on the government bench may not agree.

If that is the government's argument, it should tell us. My colleagues and I might suggest the names of a few people who think otherwise. We do not have to go very far. If the Prime Minister were to look to his right he would see someone who shares our point of view.

In conclusion, I would like the government to explain something to me: why does Bill C-18, as it now stands, very clearly create two classes of citizens, with different rights and allegiance requirements, when it clearly states in principle that the purpose of the amendments is to reaffirm that all citizens are equal?

Once again, the government is shamelessly using a double standard.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for your kind understanding.

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11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am glad it is appreciated, because your time was up.

As of the next speaker, speeches will be 20 minutes, followed by a 10 minute period for questions and comments.

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11:35 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on second reading of Bill C-18, the citizenship of Canada act.

Like all other members who have spoken this morning, I too feel a sense of tremendous emotion when I attend a citizenship ceremony in my constituency. Perhaps it is one of the most meaningful and memorable occasions for us as members of Parliament. To join with new Canadians when they take the citizenship oath of Canada and to repeat the oath ourselves is truly a moving experience and a reminder of the great freedoms, rights and privileges of this nation Canada.

This is a very important debate for the House. This legislation is very important. Canadian citizenship is the highest right we as a democratic nation can confer upon those living within our borders. These rights and responsibilities define the egalitarian and democratic values that we hold. No one has legal or political rights extending beyond citizenship. A citizen's right to vote and the right to run for political office are our fundamental democratic rights.

In that context, given that tremendous feeling we have about citizenship, the rules for defining citizenship are very important. They run right to the heart of who we are as a nation.

Canada's population has now reached more than 30 million. The 2001 census data show that our growth rates declined in every province except Alberta when we compare our current rate of growth of population with the early 1990s. We also know from census data and other information that immigration was the main source of growth in Canada's population between 1996 and 2001.

It is projected that by 2011 all growth in our labour force will depend on immigration. What we do here in terms of the citizenship of Canada act, and what we do generally in terms of immigration and refugee policy, is vitally important for the economic growth of the country and the future of this land. In that context we must keep remembering that the diversity of our citizens has become a distinguishing feature of what it is to be Canadian, just as has our language duality.

I want to refer very briefly to an article by Gwynne Dyer which appeared in Canadian Geographic magazine in February 2001. I do not know of a better quotation to capture that sense of what it means to be Canadian and the diversity of our population. He said:

Canada, more than anywhere else, is truly becoming the world in one country. It attracts people for all the classic reasons, such as too little opportunity at home and lots in Canada, but also because of its growing reputation as a country that does not try to impose some new uniform identity on its immigrants--and, of course, for a thousand more quirky and individual reasons.

Canada's multicultural citizenship, our multicultural heritage, is unique and is very important. It has become a defining characteristic of our nation in the eyes of the world.

The evolution of Canadian citizenship truly reflects our evolution as a society from our ethnocentric past to our multicultural present.

I come from a riding that is probably one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in Canada. We have an incredible history of welcoming people from all over the world. We have an area with strong multicultural roots that has always welcomed immigrants from every continent. We have experienced a large influx historically of people of Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish and German heritage. More recently, immigrants have come in large numbers from the Philippines, India, Portugal and many other Asian, Latin American, African and eastern European countries.

Our community with all of that diversity works in harmony. We have demonstrated, as other constituencies represented in the House have demonstrated, that diverse communities work and are a very positive force for building a great future in this country. In that context, I want to reference an article by Winnipegger Gerald Friesen, who wrote in response to outrageous comments made by Jean-Marie Le Pen who, in March of this year in his challenge for the presidency of France, challenged the viability of all immigrant based communities.

Gerald Friesen wrote that Winnipeg offers an alternative vision and proof that in fact diverse communities are viable and work and can be a positive force for social change and for building a civil society. I want to briefly quote Gerald Friesen because what he said is important to the debate we have at hand. He said:

The crucial story is that prairie Canada and Winnipeg, the region's largest city down to the 1960s, conducted Canada's first large-scale experiment in integrating immigrants from diverse backgrounds into a single community. The prairies demonstrated that a plural citizenship was possible.

You might say, so what? Didn't Chicago and New York and hundreds of other American cities have the same experience? Yes, they did. And the U.S. results, despite continuing struggles, are admirable. But Americans are quick to claim that they are unique. They are not. Consider the range of peoples in historic Istanbul, in historic Baghdad, in today's Sydney or London. Like these others, the Winnipeg example puts the lie to Le Pen's basic contention: it demonstrates that people of different ethnicities, races and religions can indeed live together in fruitful, vital cities.

That was a little background on my constituency and why I feel so strongly about this whole debate about citizenship as well as about immigration and refugee policy.

I want to put this in the context of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since its passage, the charter has become instrumental in enforcing citizenship rights. It is our obligation to ensure that this standard is rigorously applied, especially to something as fundamental as a citizenship act.

The wake of the tragic September 11 events has presented the most significant challenge to our rights and freedoms as citizens in recent years. There are those who would react to this horror by severely restricting the very rights and freedoms that this terror aims to destroy.

We must guard the balance between security and freedom carefully in this defining legislation. In our view it is unacceptable that some Canadian citizens are being singled out for discriminatory treatment. The rise in the occurrence of racially or religiously motivated hate crimes is profoundly disturbing. We know the stories. We have been dealing with this in the House over the last couple of days. Some Canadian citizens have experienced discriminatory treatment abroad, particularly in the United States, due to profiling practices.

The recent case of Maher Arar, a 32-year-old Canadian citizen arrested during a stopover at New York's Kennedy airport on September 26 as he was travelling to Montreal from Tunisia and deported to Syria, brought home just how fragile our citizenship rights have become. That the confidence in Canadian citizenship has weakened to the point that one of our foremost authors, Rohinton Mistry, who was born in India, felt compelled to cancel engagements in the United States because of continued harassment by United States airport security authorities is unacceptable.

It is critical that this legislation is consistent with Canadian values that are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, often taken for granted by those who are born here and acquire those rights as their birthright.

Just as changes to our view of citizenship have acted as markers of our social progress, citizenship has also provided the focus for several of the most shameful incidents throughout our history, occasions wherein we as a nation have failed to rise above our bigotries of the moment, some racial and some gender.

In that context we ought to acknowledge the work that has been done inside and outside the House to seek recognition for Ukrainian Canadians who were interned and who were considered enemy aliens. I want to acknowledge the work of the member for Dauphin—Swan River who has a bill before the House to seek official recognition and restitution. It is important for us in this regard to acknowledge the work of those who are struggling to achieve recognition and restitution among the Chinese community and to deal appropriately in this place with the Chinese immigration head tax and the Chinese exclusion act. These two incidents in our past still haunt us. They must be addressed and deserve to be considered in the context of this debate about citizenship.

As we consider changes to the Citizenship Act, they remind us that we must be vigilant to keep our vision and ideals at the highest level and to resist the ever present pressures to backslide or settle to lesser, divisive and exclusionary alternatives. At the time, assigning the restricting of citizenship rights to certain citizens or to deny citizenship altogether to certain identifiable groups may have been acceptable to the majority. Women had to engage in an incredible struggle to attain the right to vote. First nations only won the right to vote in 1960.

These and many other affronts to our current norms were promoted as reasonable by contemporary authorities. Race based immigration policies have only been formally dropped in recent years. Some Canadians contend that lingering vestiges of that bias may still be systemically embedded in our current policy. These issues are not ancient history.

As we examine Bill C-18, the Canadian Citizenship Act, our first question must be, does the bill meet the test? Is this the best we can do to express ourselves to set the parameters for defining Canada in the year 2002?

One key objective of the bill before us is to encourage those eligible to be citizens to in fact take the final steps to become citizens. We must acknowledge that in that process our full knowledge and sense of what it means to be Canadian, respecting the rights and freedoms of all people within the borders and boundaries of this country, must be respected.

We have just completed a lengthy parliamentary discussion and debate to finalize the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The government's stated objective in introducing that legislation was to increase Canada's openness to immigrants. The House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee reviewed that legislation and also put a considerable amount of work into studying this in its report, “Competing for Immigrants”.

I am pleased to see today that the minister has tabled a response to the committee's report, “Competing for Immigrants”. I want to register at this time some concerns about the failure of the government to address the main issue of many in our committee, and those who appeared before our committee, about setting a tone, establishing a vision. This included encouraging immigrants to come to this land, not closing the door to legitimate aspirants, or putting in place double standards that clearly are disincentives to those looking at Canada as a country of choice and emphasizing a renewed multiculturalism.

What we have looked for, and still look for, from the government both in terms of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and now the Citizenship Act, is a proactive strategy that encourages people from all walks of life to choose Canada, not one that puts in place a double standard in terms of people within this land nor differentiates between people for who are Canadians by birth and people who are here as landed immigrants or are refugees seeking protection. We want a proactive strategy to promote positive race and ethnic relations to strengthen respect for diversity in tandem with a clear and immediate response to any racially or religiously motivated hatred, and we know from recent events that is more important than ever.

Both the minister and the Prime Minister have stated that the future of Canada's prosperity depends on our success in attracting immigrants. Last July the Prime Minister, in a prelude to the dredging job done in the throne speech on resurrecting broken Liberal promises, reaffirmed the government's 1993 commitment to a 1% immigration target.

We just got the annual report for immigration for 2002. Where are we? We are not close to the 1% target established by the government as a desirable goal for immigration. It is certainly below the levels anticipated for this year. What happened to that dream? What happened to the vision?

We have some significant concerns with the legislation, in the context of the issues that I addressed, with respect to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to our traditions as a nation that assures due process is always in play. We acknowledge the work by the government to move the matter of revocation of citizenship from ministerial and cabinet decision making and discretion to the Federal Court of Canada. However we also note that many discretionary powers still remain with the minister, and vague wording applies in terms of criteria to be applied.

I want to reference, as many others have and will continue to do, the discretion to annul citizenship for false representation or to refuse citizenship based on the following words, “flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society”. As parliamentarians we deserve clarification of those words. We deserve to push as hard as we can for the government to recognize the need always for due process including the right to appeal and the right to have information to defend oneself in the face of accusations.

I also want to note for parliamentarians our concerns with respect to the abolishment of citizenship judges. One would assume that we would favour objective set criteria for determining citizenship, as we are, but we also know that we lose a great deal when it comes to the role of citizenship judges in showing some flexibility and understanding of extenuating human conditions. We know that by moving the process from judges to bureaucrats we may have a more clearly defined set of rules but we will possibly lose some humanitarian approaches in terms of extenuating circumstances that cannot be ignored and must be addressed. Our concern is to hear from the government how those considerations will be met and how people in real life circumstances will have their needs addressed.

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11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, you have been so kind to me that I just have to rise and see how kind you can get. The sky is the limit as far as your kindness goes.

First, I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre. I have had the privilege of sitting with her on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. As a humanist, she is extremely concerned about justice and always tries to stand up for the most vulnerable members of our society. I want to thank her for her speech today, which was a true reflection of her character.

I have a specific question for her. As we know, a number of young Haitians have been living in Quebec for many years and since they came here as youngsters, they did not apply for Canadian citizenship. They thought they already were Canadian citizens, that it was implicit. Now, these young people are facing deportation after committing crimes--which is unfortunate--but I do not think that the crimes they committed warrant their deportation to a country where they no longer have any roots.

I would like to know what the member thinks about this, because the citizenship bill now before us should in fact be exemplary legislation. When Quebec becomes a country, I hope that we can base our own citizenship act on all the features of this one. That is my question to the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre.

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11:55 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

I thank my colleague for her question. I would like to congratulate her first of all for her contributions to our committee and her vigilance as far as immigration and other issues affecting citizens are concerned.

I want to address the member's question in the context of fundamental rights and freedoms. I will not go down the path of putting this in the context of Quebec as a nation within Canada. We obviously will agree to disagree on that matter, but the member raises a very important point.

We tried to deal with this matter when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was before Parliament. That is where the issue ought to have been dealt with. This is the issue. An individual may come to this country as a very young child, perhaps even as a baby, with landed immigrant status, grow up to be an adult, may get in trouble with the law. If suddenly found to be in violation of Canadian law, he or she is deported to a country that is not at all familiar to that person.

The issue we raised in the immigration committee, and that needs to be addressed again with respect to the citizenship act, was what made reasonable sense, in terms of the issues we were dealing with, and what was consistent with our charter. Our view, which I believe is the same as that of the member from the Bloc, is that one should apply the Canadian law to those individuals and ensure that appropriate consequences for those actions are taken and that appropriate punishments for crimes are carried out. That should be done within Canada and that should be done consistently on the basis of landed immigrants, as well as people who are born in this land.

The member raises a very important point that the government has failed to address over the last year or so, as we have debated all of these issues. I hope that it is not too late for the government to recognize the significance of this matter.

Citizenship of Canada Act
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are all aware of the great importance of immigration and the fact there have been a number of attempts in recent years to change the current act, which dates back to 1977.

We have seen three ministers of immigration come and go. We have heard two throne speeches since we were re-elected in the fall of 2000. It would appear that today we are being presented with a bill that does not meet the public's expectations.

I would also like to find out from my colleague whether she does not feel that the government's approach to a policy as important as immigration is not somewhat irresponsible? What, in her opinion, are the main improvements that should be made to the bill we are debating in the House at this time?