House of Commons Hansard #199 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminal.

Topics

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

January 29th, 2013 / 6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

moved that Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in this House for the second reading of my first private member's bill, Bill C-425, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian armed forces).

I would like to start by thanking my family for putting up with the crazy hours and travel schedule of a member of Parliament who is also a husband and a father. I thank my wife, Neetu, my children Jatin, Chetan and Arisha, and also my dearly missed parents, Bindra Ban Shory and Maya Shory, who have already gone before me but whose love and blessing on my life I still feel every day.

I also thank the staff and volunteers who have helped me work on this legislation, men and women whose creativity, insight and hard work have helped make the second reading of this legislation possible today. They are: Laura Koch, a member of the Canadian Forces and my legislative assistant who helped with the formulation of this bill in its infancy; Wala Azimi, a proud Canadian who was born in Afghanistan and who nevertheless is understanding my Punjabi more and more each day; Kenton Dueck, my former executive assistant in Calgary Northeast, a man who has been as passionate about this as I am; Patrick Tuns from my Ottawa office and Daniel Boucher from my constituency office, both of whom have demonstrated their support for this bill from their first day; and, my constituency assistants, Sukhi Dhaliwal and Raman Brar, who eagerly help my constituents of Calgary Northeast each and every day.

I would be remiss if I did not thank the hard-working ministerial staff, Chris Champion and Leigh Johnston, as well as Madame Marie-Andrée Roy from the House of Commons legal team who helped put these thoughts into bill form.

I would also like to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have offered their support for this bill.

In this legislation, my goals are to promote integration, to better recognize permanent residents who serve Canada, to honour our Canadian troops and to underscore the immense value of Canadian citizenship.

To some who see the colour of my skin or hear my accent, the word “immigrant” probably immediately jumps into their minds. I may have been born, raised and educated in Barnala, Punjab, India, but the fact is that I have lived in Canada for more than 23 years and Canada is now my home. Like millions of others, whether they were born here, flew here or drove here, I believe that our wonderful democracy, Canada, is the best in the world and worth protecting with every resource at our disposal. In that spirit, I tabled this legislation and encourage the support from all sides of the House.

Canadians not only expect but have also told us again and again that they want us to restore the value of Canadian citizenship.

I want to thank the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for introducing a new citizenship guide to inform newcomers of their rights and responsibilities when they come to Canada. The minister not only introduced a citizenship fraud tip line, but also recently announced efforts to crack down on citizenship fraud, which are paying off.

My Bill C-425 adds to our government's efforts to strengthen Canadian citizenship and would also reward those who are willing to put their lives on the line. It provides citizenship more quickly to those who take on the responsibility honourably serving our country. At the same time, it takes the privilege of Canadian citizenship away from those who betray Canada and everything it stands for.

I urge all members to support this bill going to committee for a thorough review. I am open to looking at any amendments from that review that respect the spirit of this bill and strengthen Canadian values.

It would be safe for me to assume that we all are committed to strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship. We also recognize the importance of the Canadian Forces and its commitment to serving Canada in defending its values, interests and sovereignty.

Along those lines, the House is a place where tough determinations are made on behalf of Canadian men, women and children and our brave men and women in uniform. The House is the place where we debate military budgets and deployments.

Unfortunately, these debates can sometimes become politicized and doing the right thing for our country and our troops can become obscured by the spin and rhetoric. Nevertheless, we all share a duty to support our troops and to do so with our very best judgment on behalf of our constituents.

We parliamentarians from all sides are entrusted to make the kinds of decisions that affect not only Canada, but also the brave souls into whose hands we place our security. I felt it was crucial for me to experience first-hand a glimpse of a day in the life of our courageous Canadian forces. That is why I spent several days in a uniform alongside our Canadian army during a reserve training exercise in Wainwright, Alberta in August 2009, along with colleagues from both sides of the House, as well as my “brother from a different mother”, the member for Medicine Hat. It is also why I spent time at sea off the east coast aboard the HMCS Fredericton in the summer of 2010.

I also want to thank the Minister of National Defence for ensuring that the Canadian Forces have the people, equipment, infrastructure and readiness required to defend Canada and Canadian interests now and well into the future.

Since 2006, under the solid leadership of the Minister of National Defence, the defence budget has grown by over $6 billion and key acquisitions have been made. Our men and women in uniform not only deserve the best equipment to get the job done, but also the best, the brightest and the bravest to be fighting alongside them and to have them at their back.

When Canadian permanent residents who are not yet Canadian citizens answer the call to serve under the red and white banner of this great nation, they are not just performing a duty. They are not simply working nine to five. They are putting their lives on the line for their new home for millions of Canadian men, women and children in the greatest country in the world.

For their demonstrated honour and courage to stand in the gap when least expected, but when most required, a one-year credit toward Canadian citizenship is the least we can do. Under the proposed change, a permanent resident who is a member of the Canadian Forces and has completed basic training and has signed a minimum three-year contract to serve the forces will be given a one-year credit toward his or her residence requirement for acquiring Canadian citizenship.

Also, under the proposed change Canadian citizens with dual citizenship and permanent residents applying for citizenship would lose their citizenship or become ineligible to become citizens if they commit an act of war against our troops.

I remember once seeing a bumper sticker that said “Stand behind our troops...otherwise, please feel free to stand in front of them”. Of course, the humour was dark, but the underlying truth about our parliamentary responsibility still rings true.

Canadian citizenship is extremely valuable. Members of the Canadian Fores risk their lives to defend it, so it makes sense that those individuals who choose to attack our Canadian Forces should not have the privilege of calling themselves Canadian citizens.

In referring to another key aspect of the second half of this legislation, I would like to make a very simple and direct point about safeguards. Most of us have sprinkler systems in our homes and hope they will never have to be used. Most of us have airbags in our cars and hope they will never have to be deployed. However, safeguards stand in place to protect our homes and protect our lives.

I pray that, like the fire sprinkler in our homes and the airbag in our cars, the second half of my legislation will never have to be used.

I firmly believe this is an excellent bill for Canadians from all walks of life. It is good for longstanding Canadians and good for new Canadians. It is another pathway to promote integration by encouraging new Canadians to serve alongside our armed forces. It supports our troops. It also underscores the immense value of Canadian citizenship.

Therefore, it is with deep Canadian pride and gratitude for our men and women in uniform, the new Canadians who bravely join them in the air, on land and sea, and it is with a profound respect for the Canadian citizenship you and I share, Mr. Speaker, that I proudly stand today on behalf of the men and women of Calgary Northeast in seeking support for my first private member's bill, Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces). I look forward to receiving the support of all members so that it can be sent to committee for a detailed review.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the member could provide some comment in terms of the reserves. Many individuals see the reserves as a wonderful opportunity to serve our country. Has any consideration been given to Canada's reserves?

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the bill would apply to people who sign the minimum three-year contract and complete basic training. Although we do not have specific numbers at this time, we do know that it would affect a number of skilled members of our Canadian armed forces. It would also serve as an added incentive for new talented immigrants to join our military.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am a person who supports the idea that our provincial, municipal and federal institutions should reflect the full diversity of our population. Our young children need to see themselves when they look at those who govern us and those who serve us.

We all honour the service of those who are in the armed forces and we support that. Did my colleague consider other important contributions to our country made by doctors, firemen, police officers, nurses, teachers, et cetera?

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the bill was inspired by my belief that our troops deserve the highest respect. Service in Canada's military is unique because it calls on its members to lay down their lives for their fellow countrymen and women. It is for this reason that I believe we should reward their demonstration of patriotism by shortening the amount of time they must wait to become Canadian citizens. Furthermore, this is another pathway to integration.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for his speech.

Given that the term “legal resident” is not defined, this bill is at risk of rendering citizens stateless, which is in contravention of international law.

Could the member please explain how this term might be interpreted?

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague should know that my bill would apply to those who have dual citizenship. This bill would strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship by rewarding those who bravely serve our country.

However, those who commit an act of war against our Canadian armed forces would forfeit the right of Canadian citizenship. Of course, due process would be available and would be followed. Individuals would have the right to make their case before a judge. It would go before a judge and then the Federal Court and on and on. That due process would be done. Of course we would always comply with the Convention on the Reduction Statelessness. This bill would make no exception to that.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take part in this important debate on my hon. colleague's private member's bill.

The Conservative sponsor of this bill seems to be trying to do two contradictory things: to fast-track citizenship for some and then to make it easier to strip it from others. I would like to address each of those issues separately.

The bill would offer a new ministerial power to shorten permanent residency requirements for members of the Canadian armed forces who are seeking citizenship.

I want to make it clear that New Democrats support efforts to honour the permanent residents who serve in the armed forces as indeed we should honour all our veterans and current service members.

We also believe strongly in a military that is reflective of Canada's diversity.

In 2006, the Canadian immigrant population rose to 6.2 million, accounting for almost 20% of the Canadian population. It is projected that by 2017 the visible minority population will represent approximately one in five Canadians. However, data from the 2008 census also shows that the Canadian Forces do not reflect the same level of ethnocultural diversity. A small proportion of Canadian Forces personnel, only 6%, were non-Caucasians compared with 17% of the regular working population.

If my hon. colleague's intention is to bring greater diversity to the military, then that is a concept I can support. However, I think it is important for the House to examine this aspect of the legislation very carefully. The reality is that circumstances under which a permanent resident would be able to enrol in the Canadian Forces appear to be extremely narrow. In fact, the Canadian Forces website and a call by my office to the Ottawa recruitment centre have made it clear that a permanent resident may not enrol in the Canadian Forces. It appears that the only way for a permanent resident to serve is if he or she is authorized by the chief of the defence staff to fill a special need or it is in the national interest.

I do become concerned that yet again we have a Conservative member proposing legislation that would affect a tiny minority while ignoring the broader concerns of the majority of newcomers. In fact, the member belongs to a government whose radical overhaul of Canada's immigration system is turning Canada into a less welcoming country. The changes the Conservatives have made limit the possibilities for newcomers to be reunited with their families and help build stronger communities. Under the Conservative government too many newcomers are not getting the fair treatment they deserve. Instead of welcoming skilled immigrants and addressing Canada's long-term needs, the Conservatives are prioritizing temporary work visas to help big businesses pay lower wages.

I want to return to the issue of honouring the armed forces by making another point. Headline-grabbing legislation is not enough. We need real action to truly honour all of those who serve.

A few months ago it was revealed that nearly 70% of applications for financial help to bury homeless or low-income veterans are rejected by the Conservative government. This latest report just adds to the many embarrassing failures of the Conservatives on the veterans affairs file, from debilitating red tape to failing to transition ill and injured personnel to civilian life due to harmful budget cuts.

It is our collective duty to care for the veterans who gave us the freedom and peace we enjoy in this country. To undermine the sacrifices they made is to take everything we have today for granted. This is not a partisan issue. Canada's veterans fought for all of us.

The second part of the bill seems to strip citizenship from those who are engaged in acts of war against a member of the Canadian armed forces. On its face, this too may seem reasonable. We certainly want to make sure that Canadian citizenship has real value and that we protect our service men and women as much as possible. However, the aspects of the bill that deal with the renunciation of Canadian citizenship raise more questions than they answer and seem ill-considered. I will explain in more detail what I mean.

The bill is not clear that due process before the law is necessary to determine whether someone has committed an act of war, nor is it clear who would make such a determination. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that the members of the government seem fond of stripping due process with very little accountability.

Additionally, some key terms are not defined. The terms “acts of war” and “legal resident” are not defined anywhere in Canadian law.

Without a definition for what would constitute a legal resident of another country, the bill would pose a serious risk of rendering Canadian citizens stateless, in contravention of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which Canada is a signatory.

The Conservative sponsor of the legislation has framed it as creating another pathway to integration for permanent residents, as well as underscoring the incredible worth of Canadian citizenship and honouring the contribution of our men and women in uniform.

On these principles, members will not hear any argument from this side of the House. Like many things from my Conservative colleagues, the devil is in the details or, in this case, the troubling lack of details.

As I have mentioned, Bill C-425 attempts to legislate the time within which certain permanent residents may apply for citizenship, but my New Democratic colleagues and I think the government ought to be working to address the exceptionally long processing times for citizenship more broadly. At the current rate, no one gets their citizenship recognized anywhere near the time they are legally entitled to it. As such, Bill C-425 is making a hollow promise to these permanent residents.

Our citizenship application processing backlogs only seem to be increasing. The data make it clear that even though CIC has been receiving more citizenship applications year after year, the department has been processing fewer and fewer, and there are far longer wait times.

Instead of supporting the immigration department with more resources to reduce the backlog, the government is cutting its budget and closing down its regional offices.

Last week we learned there has been a 73% drop in the number of permanent residents receiving Canadian citizenship under the Conservative government. The minister even acknowledged it is because there are fewer people to process more applications. That is not good enough and it is a failure of the ministry for which he is ultimately responsible.

We know the department is cutting almost $200 million over the next two years and has closed 19 regional offices. These cuts are affecting front-line services and causing backlogs to grow.

A perfect example of this is that nearly two years after paying the required fees and sending their permanent residence applications to Buffalo, thousands still have not received a response from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

To make matters worse, their files still have not been assigned to agents, and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism will not even bother to answer their questions.

This Conservative boondoggle transformed the Canadian dream of thousands of people into a total nightmare. I only wish my hon. colleague were spending more time pressuring his government to make the immigration system more fair and accountable to newcomers and Canadians alike.

In closing, I want to reiterate my very strong support for our men and women in the armed forces. We should honour their tremendous sacrifice and do all we can to keep them safe.

However, I would urge members to take a close look at what is in the bill and, more important, what is not.

The bill would do nothing to fix some of the tremendous problems we see in our immigration system. It would do nothing to speed up processing times for hard-working newcomers who want to become citizens. It would do very little to truly honour and support veterans who have served this country with honour.

Let us take a serious look at this proposal, but let us look at the bigger picture.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address Bill C-425. I also acknowledge the efforts of the member.

I listened to the member's opening remarks in the introduction of the bill, and a number of thoughts came to mind. One of them is that we do have a citizenship and immigration committee and it would be wonderful for us to have some sort of discussion about the benefits of citizenship and how it can be used to promote and encourage what we think is important not only to select groups but to all Canadians.

It was not that long ago that I had an interesting discussion with someone who was talking about volunteers. Many immigrants who come to Canada spend endless hours volunteering for many worthwhile organizations, charitable groups and so forth. We were discussing whether there would be an opportunity for us to be able to do something with regard to that.

More specific to the topic we have at hand, I approach this particular bill with an open mind. I have had the opportunity to check the website that the Canadian Forces provides on the Internet. If one hits the Apply link, for example, one will find there are certain restrictions. One has to be a Canadian citizen in order to apply to become a member of the Canadian Forces. I suspect that is something that needs to be looked at.

The minister responsible for the Canadian Forces will find that the Liberal Party is open to good ideas. Maybe we need to relax the way in which we recruit members of the Canadian Forces from our country. Should only Canadians be allowed to apply? Why not encourage landed immigrants to become members of the Canadian Forces? If we agree that should be done, then let us look to the minister responsible for the Canadian Forces and allow that to take place. All day today I have been talking about 1.5 million landed immigrants in our society. That is a very conservative number to which I have been referring. It is actually a lot greater than that. According to the Canadian Forces website, these people would not be eligible to apply to become members.

We do need to have a debate. That is what I like about Bill C-425. The member has brought forward a piece of legislation that could ultimately pass to committee stage. There is some value in having the citizenship and immigration committee look at the bill. I would like us to possibly go further, however. As much as I believe there could be opportunities in granting citizenship to those who would serve in the Canadian Forces, I am more interested in how more landed individuals could participate in our Canadian Forces.

Members of the forces get an immense sense of pride serving our country. I was a member of the Canadian Forces. I remember going to the recruitment office and signing up. I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege and the honour of being a member. I would not want to deny that opportunity to others, whether they are Canadians or permanent residents who really want to become members of the forces. There would be some benefit to having that dialogue in committee. I recognize that the government does have a majority, but given that this is a private member's bill, there is a very good chance it will pass and go to committee.

Therefore, the challenge I would put to the Conservative Party is to do what I am going to be recommending my Liberal caucus do. That is to approach the committee in a very open fashion. Given the importance of our Canadian Forces, given the importance of our citizenship, there is great value in allowing for that debate to occur.

The member will not receive any opposition from me in trying to encourage that debate to occur. In fact, what I would like to do is to have a page provide a copy of the Canadian Forces website that I am referring to, where it states one has to be a Canadian citizen. That is one of the things we should be talking about.

I was somewhat touched by the member's comments. He talked about how he came from the Punjab and how Canada is his new home. It does not necessarily mean one forgets about one's old home, but one takes a great sense of pride in one's new home. We want to be able to encourage people who have chosen Canada as their home to participate in our many different national institutions. I believe there are many who would have an interest in serving our great country.

To that extent, I suggest that we allow Bill C-425 to pass second reading. I do have other concerns that I would like to address, but I believe that the issues I have and would like to see addressed will be addressed in a forum that would ultimately allow for a bill to pass that makes sense. Hopefully, we will see the minister responsible for the Canadian Forces see the merit in what we can do to encourage the Canadian Forces, as one of our national treasures, to possibly consider incorporating more landed immigrants.

With that, I look forward to the ongoing debate. I will have a page bring over the sheet, which is a printout of the Canadian Forces recruitment website.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address Bill C-425, put forward by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast. Bill C-425 proposes to fast-track citizenship for members of the Canadian Forces who are permanent residents, by reducing their residence requirement for citizenship by one year. This would be for the Canadian Forces members who have signed a minimum three-year contract and have completed basic training. It also proposes to take citizenship away from, or deny citizenship to, those who engage in an act of war against the Canadian Forces. Such individuals would permanently be barred from reapplying for citizenship.

I applaud the hon. member for Calgary Northeast for introducing this important and worthwhile bill. Indeed, Bill C-425 is consistent with the government's commitment in the 2010 and 2011 speeches from the throne to support Canada's armed forces and to protect the safety of our citizens and defend against threats to our national security. Bill C-425 is also consistent with key objectives of Canada's immigration system, such as ensuring that newcomers and citizens participate to their full potential in fostering an integrated society. For all those reasons, we support Bill C-425 moving forward to committee stage for a thorough review and study to determine if it could be effectively implemented and that Canada's international obligations would be respected.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of the Canadian Forces and our commitment to serve Canada in defending its values, interests and sovereignty. We are committed to ensuring that those who serve Canada are recognized for their service.

Generally speaking, Canadian citizenship is a requirement for enrollment in the Canadian Forces, but permanent residents may also be employed in exceptional circumstances. The problem is that their lack of citizenship and challenges related to security clearance and passport arrangements can make it difficult to deploy them for service abroad. Introducing a fast-track to citizenship for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces, as proposed in Bill C-425, is a win-win situation as it would honour their services to Canada and make their deployment abroad much easier.

In fact, last fall our Conservative government announced that members of the Order of Military Merit at the colonel level and above are now eligible to preside in citizenship ceremonies. The Order of Military Merit, established in 1972, recognizes distinctive merit and exceptional service deployed by the men and women of the Canadian armed forces. Many of these individuals demonstrated dedication and devotion beyond the call of duty, and the order honours them for their commitment. It is therefore fitting that recipients of this award can preside at citizenship ceremonies, an occasion at which we reflect on the value of Canadian citizenship and the responsibilities we carry as Canadians, a value that the members of our armed forces so courageously defend.

In regard to the proposal to take citizenship away from, or deny it to, those who engage in acts of war against the Canadian Forces, I was interested to learn that some of the provisions to take away or bar citizenship already exist in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Canadian citizenship is extremely valuable. Members of the Canadian Forces risk their lives on a daily basis to defend it. So, it is definitely worthwhile to further study the proposal that those who would attack our Canadian Forces should not themselves have Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is about far more than the right to carry a passport or to vote. Citizenship defines who we are as Canadians, including our mutual responsibility to one another. This is why we launched a citizenship action plan three years ago, to strengthen the value and meaning of citizenship.

As part of the action plan, we produced a new citizenship study guide entitled “Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship”. The guide provides essential information for anyone preparing to become a Canadian citizen. This helps ensure that all newcomers have more knowledge of the country they are joining. “Discover Canada” provides a much better overview of Canada's tradition, value and history, including our immigration history, than its predecessor. The old guide contains no reference to the Remembrance Day poppy, for example, and little mention of the stories and symbols that make us who we are today.

We are pleased that it has been a tremendous success, popular with citizenship applicants and established Canadians alike. Furthermore, our government has taken action to crack down on citizenship fraud. We are ensuring that anyone who lies about who they are, their residency in Canada or hidden past criminal activities would have their citizenship stripped.

We have also taken action against unscrupulous immigration representatives who fraudulently establish evidence of residents in Canada while living abroad most if not all of the time. This is perpetrated so that individuals can fraudulently maintain their permanent residence status and later apply for citizenship. There are currently 11,000 fraud investigations under way, including 3,100 for citizenship fraud. We are sending a clear message that Canadian citizenship is not for sale. We are applying the full strength of the law to those who have obtained their citizenship fraudulently.

I am sure all hon. members would agree that the bill has a worthwhile objective. Its spirit is laudable. It deserves a thorough study at committee to ensure that the bill achieves what it intends to achieve, that it can be effectively implemented and that Canada's international obligations continue to be respected.

I look forward to working with the sponsor and the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in the hope that the good intentions of Bill C-425 are achieved.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces). The bill would create a new ministerial power to reduce the length of residency in Canada required for a member of the Canadian armed forces to obtain citizenship.

This bill would make it possible to renounce Canadian citizenship from a Canadian citizen who is also a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada if he engages in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.

The same goes for a permanent resident who has applied for Canadian citizenship. The application would be deemed to have been withdrawn if he engaged in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.

I will focus on the accelerated citizenship process that the minister could request for a member of the Canadian armed forces.

This bill grants the minister a new power. This power would allow him, on request and to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value, to lower the length of residency in Canada required for a member of the Canadian armed forces who wants to obtain citizenship from three years to two, provided that the member in question has signed a minimum three-year contract and has completed basic training.

I want to make it clear that since we are talking about a member who has signed a contract for at least three years, we are of course talking about a regular forces member. Members of the reserve forces do not sign three-year contracts. We are definitely talking about a regular forces member.

This bill is divided into two parts. The first part is about members of the Canadian Forces obtaining Canadian citizenship and the second part is about revoking Canadian citizenship when a CF member engages in an act of war against someone.

I would like to come back to the first part of the bill. I would point out that it is really quite rare for someone who is not already a Canadian citizen to serve in the Canadian Forces.

When I read the bill, I immediately wondered about the relevance of introducing such a bill. You cannot be a member of the Canadian Forces unless you are a Canadian citizen. I began to wonder if what I remembered was incorrect. So I went to the website, and it said repeatedly that you have to be a Canadian citizen in order to become a member of the Canadian Forces. So then I asked the Library of Parliament to do a little research, and I was shown the regulations in question, the Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, which included the following exception:

...the Chief of the Defence Staff or such officer as he may designate may authorize the enrolment of a citizen of another country if he is satisfied that a special need exists and that the national interest would not be prejudiced thereby;

Such exceptions are therefore quite rare and I must say, I doubt that most recruitment officers are even aware that this exception exists. When you go into a recruitment centre, they tell you that you have to be a Canadian citizen. If someone says they are a permanent resident, they are usually told to come back once they have obtained their citizenship. Since this is an exception, I have to wonder about the usefulness of such a measure, but I understand why it is there.

If we want to have this provision in place for highly exceptional cases, then I think we must examine this issue and determine whether the enlistment process for the Canadian armed forces needs to be reviewed. This would allow landed immigrants or even people from safe allied countries to enlist. For example, could an Australian say that he wants to serve in the Canadian Forces, since Canada is a relatively safe Commonwealth country?

An Australian has an allegiance to the same Crown and this would be reasonable, for example. Could this person with very specific training enlist in the Canadian Forces any way other than with authorization from the Chief of Defence Staff? We must think about that, but in this bill there is unfortunately no reference to the changes that could be made to the National Defence Act regarding enlisting in the Canadian Forces. I think that is the main flaw.

I will support sending the bill to committee, but I think this type of bill cannot be introduced without also introducing measures or making suggestions about the parameters of enlisting in the Canadian Forces or what reforms are necessary.

At the time, when I read the bill for the first time, I spoke briefly to the Minister of National Defence to find out whether he planned to change the laws on the requirements for joining the Canadian Forces so that permanent residents could serve. However, no changes were planned. I do not believe that he was against such changes either. I will therefore support the bill, but I think that we really have to have this discussion about whether National Defence's rules can be changed to allow people who are not Canadian citizens to join the Canadian Forces, whether those rules are still appropriate and whether they should be modernized and updated. It seems strange to me to have a bill that pertains to exceptional cases.

I served in the Canadian armed forces for three years. Many of my colleagues in the House served for a number of years. I, for one, have never met a soldier who was not a Canadian citizen. All the soldiers with whom I worked were already Canadian citizens.

Introducing a bill such as this that pertains to an exceptional case seems a bit strange to me and I am not sure that it is necessarily useful. I think that this bill should have included measures that establish who has the right to join and then it would have been useful to also refer it to the Standing Committee on National Defence. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

As I said, I will support the bill, but I think that there is really something missing. I understand the intention of the member who is introducing this bill, but I think he simply did not realize just how exceptional it is for people who are not Canadian citizens to serve in the Canadian Forces. Perhaps he did not realize that this measure is not necessarily very relevant in the context of serving in the Canadian armed forces. I understand the point of the bill and I thank my colleague for introducing it, but I really believe that he should find a way to make this discussion happen.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to add my comments to Bill C-425, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian armed forces). I would like to extend my congratulations to my hon. colleague, the member of Parliament for Calgary Northeast, who introduced this private member's bill. By doing so, the hon. member has demonstrated an admirable commitment to recognizing the exemplary service of Canada's men and women in uniform, the very worthy individuals who stand on the front lines and put their lives at risk to defend our safety and liberty.

This private member's bill proposes to fast-track citizenship for members of the Canadian armed forces who are permanent residents by reducing the residence requirements for citizenship by one year for those members. It also proposes to take citizenship away from or deny citizenship to those who engage in acts of war against the Canadian armed forces.

Canadian citizenship is extremely valuable and I commend the member for recognizing this through his private member's bill. Canadians, whether established or new, must take our responsibilities as citizens very seriously. From generation to generation, thousands upon thousands of Canadian soldiers have given their lives for this country. Countless more risk their lives and some are doing so right now.

While enrolment in the Canadian armed forces is usually limited to Canadian citizens, permanent residents who have not yet acquired citizenship are sometimes employed in exceptional circumstances. These are people who dedicate their lives to protecting Canada yet they do not possess the fundamental membership in Canadian society. Their lack of citizenship often correlates with challenges in acquiring security clearances and arranging passports. This creates problems in deploying these individuals abroad.

Introducing a fast track to citizenship for permanent residents who serve in our country's armed forces, as the bill proposes, would help mitigate these types of problems. The proposals in the bill to honour the Canadian Forces are in line with other measurements the government has taken in the past few years. This includes recognizing the distinctive merit and exceptional service displayed by recipients of the Order of Military Merit.

The Order of Military Merit established in 1972 recognizes distinctive merit and exceptional service displayed by the men and women of the Canadian armed forces. Many of these men and women have demonstrated dedication and devotion beyond the call of duty and the order honours them for their commitment to our country.

Last fall, the Government of Canada announced that members of the Order of Military Merit at the colonel level and above are now eligible to preside at citizenship ceremonies. The Order of Military Merit honours military service to Canada. It is therefore fitting that recipients of this award can preside at citizenship ceremonies, an occasion at which we reflect on the value of Canadian citizenship and the responsibility we carry as Canadians.

The Government of Canada launched the citizenship action plan three years ago in order to strengthen and preserve the value of Canadian citizenship. First we developed a new citizenship guide “Discover Canada”, which explores our history, shared values, symbols and institutions in a more in-depth way than its predecessor. In addition, we improved the knowledge requirement for Canadian citizenship with a new test. We did so to ensure that new citizens can appreciate the foundation upon which our shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law were built.

We have also taken action to address the problem of residence fraud in our citizenship program. As the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism announced in September, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is now investigating more than 11,000 individuals from more than 100 countries for attempting to cheat Canadians and Canada. In order to help detect fraud we have also introduced a citizenship fraud tip line. We are also taking action to crack down on crooked consultants who often help people maintain a Canadian address to appear as though they are living in Canada, even though in some cases they never have.

Canadians should be proud that so many people around the world want to become Canadian citizens. It is a testament to what a great country we live in. We can often take our citizenship for granted though. It is easy to forget how many people do not enjoy the liberty, security and freedom that we as Canadians do.

Our government believes that citizenship is precious, that it is a privilege and we have sent a clear message to those who would lie and cheat to obtain it that Canadian citizenship is not for sale. Bill C-425 aims to protect the value of citizenship by giving citizenship sooner to members of the Canadian Forces and by taking it away from those who undermine our country by taking up arms against Canada. In principle, it makes sense that those who commit violent acts against Canada and our armed forces, who do not believe in Canadian values or the value of Canadian citizenship should no longer hold citizenship in our great country. However, this proposal requires further study.

The bill contains certainly laudable proposals. That is why I personally support the bill moving forward to committee for further review and study, and I hope all members in the House will also do the same.

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today about Bill C-425, which introduces new grounds for granting or revoking Canadian citizenship.

Under the Citizenship Act, Bill C-425 would, under certain conditions, allow the immigration minister to reduce from three years to two the required years of residence to grant citizenship to members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are permanent residents.

In addition, under this bill, an individual would be deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship if they engaged in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.

The NDP is in favour of expediting the process of granting Canadian citizenship to reward the dedication of permanent residents who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. We also want the Canadian Armed Forces to reflect Canada's diversity. However, in terms of the specifics set out in Bill C-425, there are currently very few situations in which a permanent resident would be able to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces.

If Canada wishes to recognize the extraordinary contributions of future citizens, why not offer this same advantage to new Canadians who make remarkable contributions to Canadian society in other sectors, and not just through military service?

While Bill C-425 is meant to reduce the timeframe required to obtain citizenship for certain permanent residents, the NDP believes that the government also needs to work on reducing the exceptionally long wait times for the processing of all citizenship applications. I think it is important to point out that the sweeping changes the Conservatives have made to the Canadian immigration system in recent years have not made it any more efficient or fair.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the processing time for citizenship applications is nearly two years. Furthermore, the self-described “forgotten ones of Buffalo”, whom I saw at lunch time, actually, were on Parliament Hill today to continue to pressure the government. These immigrants, many of whom live in Quebec City, are still waiting for the federal government to settle their status. So what happened?

The Canadian visa office in Buffalo, where their applications were being processed, suddenly closed up shop in the wake of the Conservative government's budget cuts. Many of them submitted their applications two or three years ago and are still waiting to hear from Citizenship and Immigration, which is giving very little information about how long it may take to process their files. The upshot is that over 10,000 immigrants are still waiting for their application for permanent residence to be processed, and meanwhile, they are left completely in limbo.

Unfortunately, it is just the tip of the iceberg: as of last June, 285,000 people were waiting for their applications to be processed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials. At the same time, the department was cut by 5.3% as a result of the last federal budget. Even though waiting periods continue to grow, 285 positions were eliminated across the country.

There is a significant backlog in more than just citizenship applications. According to an article that appeared in Le Droit in November 2012, more than one million people who want to come to Canada are still waiting for a decision on their immigration file. It seems that this backlog will not be cleared before 2017, according to a report released last winter by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

This same report recommended that Citizenship and Immigration Canada modernize several of its immigration practices as soon as possible. According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada dismissed 75 employees at its Montreal call centre, where the department's telephone services for clients across the country are centralized.

Unfortunately, according to the same information obtained by Radio-Canada, officers could only answer 9% of the 30,000 calls received daily. David Chalk, chair of the Quebec association of immigration lawyers, says he is worried about this situation.

Mr. Chalk got his lawyer colleagues in Canada to phone the call centre in Montreal. They had to wait an average of four hours to speak to an agent. Is this normal? Citizenship and Immigration Canada defended itself by saying that it was possible to file a complaint about the abnormally long wait time. However, to get in touch with the complaints department, you have to go through the call centre.

In my Quebec City riding office, I often receive calls from claimants in distress who do not understand why the process is taking so long. These immigrants contribute to Canadian society. Most of them are permanent residents and are already participating in society. They sometimes have children who are Canadian citizens. Unfortunately, on this government's watch—

Citizenship Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

Order. The hon. member will have four minutes to finish her speech when we resume consideration of the motion.

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.