Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to the motion to concur in the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, with regard to expanding the scope of Bill S-245, which seeks to address lost Canadians.
While the bill is well intended in its aim to address the remaining lost Canadians, as drafted, it falls short of correcting what I see as the key challenges on this file. As a matter of fact, it is something that I spoke to in our first debate on this bill when it came to the House.
Before outlining the concerns that I have with Bill S-245 as written, I will briefly touch on the circumstances that led to the emergence of lost Canadians. The requirements and complexities of the first Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947, and former provisions of the current Citizenship Act, created cohorts of people who lost or never had citizenship status. They are referred to as “lost Canadians”.
To address this issue, changes to citizenship laws that came into force in 2009 and 2015 restored status or gave citizenship for the first time to the majority of lost Canadians. Before the 2009 amendments, people born abroad beyond the first generation, that is, born abroad to a Canadian parent who was also born abroad, were considered Canadian citizens at birth, but only until they turned 28 years old. This is sometimes referred to, as my colleague mentioned previously, as the “28-year rule”. If these individuals did not apply to retain their citizenship before they turned 28, they would automatically lose it. Some people were not even aware they had to meet these requirements and lost their citizenship unknowingly. These people who lost their citizenship because of this rule are often referred to as “the last cohort of the lost Canadians”. Since we began this debate in the chamber, many of them have written to me and other members of the immigration committee.
To prevent future losses, the age 28 rule was repealed in 2009. At the same time, the law was changed to establish a clear first-generation limit to the right of automatic citizenship by descent. This means that, today, children born outside Canada to a Canadian parent are Canadian citizens from birth if they have a parent who is either born in Canada or naturalized as a Canadian citizen. Unlike the former retention provisions of the Citizenship Act, those children do not need to do anything to keep their Canadian citizenship. Those born in the second or subsequent generations abroad do not automatically become Canadians at birth. This first-generation limit is firm on who does or does not have a claim to citizenship by descent.
I would like to lean into this with a personal experience I have had with this, with my own two daughters. As is well known, I am a citizen of two countries, born Canadian but raised in Israel. At a certain point in my early adulthood, I chose to return to Israel to be with my family there. I got married and had my eldest daughter. She was born there, and upon her birth I applied for Canadian citizenship for her. Subsequently, we returned to Canada, in approximately 2008, and my second daughter was born here in Toronto, where we live today, in York Centre. She also obviously has Canadian citizenship, having been born here. However, if my eldest daughter chooses for some reason to live elsewhere in the world, such as in Israel, where she is currently living this year, and if she has children, my grandchildren will not be Canadian, even though she has lived here the majority of her life. Although her core ties to Canada are clear and well committed to, she has lost the ability to confer that citizenship onto her children as a result of the Bill C-37 change that was made under the Harper government in 2009. Ironically, if my younger daughter, who was born here, were to have children abroad, they would automatically be Canadian, as she would be able to bestow upon them what I was able to bestow upon her. Herein lie some of the problems we have been discussing as colleagues in this House.
I can appreciate the work of Senator Martin in wanting to narrow it down to a specific group of individuals, but, frankly, as my colleague from the Bloc said, this is about dignity, compassion, and a sense of heritage and connection that is being stripped away from many, so I will continue to talk about this. There are many people who are born abroad or adopted from abroad to a Canadian parent beyond the first generation. These individuals are not citizens, but still feel they have a very close tie to Canada, just like my daughter does, and also see themselves as lost Canadians.
Currently, these individuals can only become Canadian citizens by going through the immigration process. That is to say, they must first qualify and then apply to become permanent residents. Then after the required time, they must apply to become citizens. In some specialized cases, people born abroad in the second generation are eligible to apply for a grant of citizenship, but only in exceptional circumstances.
Turning back to Bill S-245, though it is well-intentioned as written, it does not address some of the remaining lost Canadians. Bill S-245 is targeting only the lost Canadians who lost citizenship because of the age 28 rule for those who were born abroad after the first generation and had already turned 28 years old and lost their citizenship before the law changed in 2009.
The bill as written excludes people who applied to retain citizenship but were refused. This is an issue because those who never applies to keep their citizenship would have their citizenship restored by the bill as written, while those who took steps to retain their citizenship but were refused would not benefit from this bill. Recognizing that the age 28 rule was problematic for all, it is my hope that the committee will consider amendments to restore the citizenship status of all those impacted by the former age 28 rule, which has since been repealed.
The committee heard compelling testimony from witnesses that precisely highlighted the problem with excluding one of the cohorts impacted by the age 28 rule. As I understand it, the committee for immigration also received dozens of written submissions from stakeholders both inside and outside of Canada. As a matter of fact, some of those stakeholders have also written to me in light of my previous interventions in the chamber on this matter. It would seem that there were many people watching Bill S-245 closely, like me, as parents. What is interesting is that almost all of the written submissions point out the challenges that exist for people born abroad in the second generation or beyond.
Given the call from stakeholders, I feel strongly that the committee should be empowered to at least consider solutions for some of the other people who consider themselves to be lost Canadians. This is the subject of today's debate. Does the House support the request from committee to expand the scope of the bill to see what could be done for the other lost Canadians? I think we must support this.
My story with my daughters is really not unusual for many of the constituents I represent in York Centre whose children go back and forth between Israel and get married here or in the United States. The Jewish community has very close cross-border ties, and these families, like many Canadian families, sometimes have some fluidity due to faith, culture or language and have other strong connections. They are watching this closely as well.
That is why I think we should be supporting this, because those who were born to a Canadian parent abroad beyond the first generation, including those adopted from abroad, are not Canadian citizens but feel they should be because they have a strong connection to Canada, similar to my older daughter. To address these other lost Canadians, the bill could be amended by introducing a pathway to citizenship for people in this exact situation.
I was really disappointed to hear about the reaction by Conservative members when the motion to expand the scope of Bill S-245 was presented at committee. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but rather than give serious or substantive arguments about why the scope should or should not be expanded, some members took the opportunity to make threats about what they would do if the scope is expanded. This is actually very disappointing. The member for Calgary Nose Hill stated:
...do we really want to have the immigration committee all of a sudden drop into a broader review of the Citizenship Act? If we are opening up this bill beyond the scope of what is here right now, I will propose amendments that are well beyond the scope of this bill. There are a lot of things I would like to see changed in the Citizenship Act. I will come prepared with those things, and we will be debating them.
I really take issue with this approach. I am not a member of the committee so I do not know what confidential amendments the members have already put on notice for the bill, but the Conservative member for Calgary Nose Hill absolutely does not have that information. We do know that. When she made these comments, she was fully aware of what members were going to propose.
Furthermore, the member for Vancouver East was pretty clear in her comments on the motion that she was not trying to make changes to some completely unrelated section of the Citizenship Act. As a matter of fact, she said that today as well. It is quite something for a member to threaten to overwhelm committee processes by trying to propose amendments that are, in her words, “well beyond the scope”.
I am disappointed, and it is unfortunate that the Conservatives are closed off to the urging they heard from stakeholders and that all members heard at committee from witnesses. I am not alone in having been put off by that fact, and I want to read into the record a communication that I understand was sent to committee members after the motion to expand the scope was moved at committee last Monday. I think it has a lot of meaning for all of us listening to this debate today. It says:
Dear Members of the Citizenship and Immigration committee of the House of Commons,
First I would like to thank the committee for taking the time to reflect on and discuss Bill S-245. Although the current language of the bill will have no effect on my status as a Lost Canadian, I am hopeful that this bill will help to pave the way for a path to citizenship for myself and others who are lost.
My story is like that of many other Lost Canadians. I live a life unfairly exiled from the country that my mother lives in. She lives alone in Haida Gwaii, and as she grows older, I wonder how I should be able to care for her, when it is illegal for me to live in the same country as her. I will not at this time speak to the immense pain, suffering and grief I live with every day.
I am not writing to you to tell you another story of a Lost Canadian. I am here instead, asking that the language you use while discussing Canadian citizenship be more sensitive and fair to those with ancestral ties to Canada. I do not believe it is the members intention to further marginalize those Canadians who have been stripped of their ties to Canada and it is for that reason that I make this plea to you all.
Time and time again, when discussing citizenship and lost Canadians, House members use the words “immigrant” and “citizen” as if they are interchangeable. The intent of Bill S-245 has nothing to do with immigration, and everything to do with citizenship. As a Lost Canadian, when I am referred to in the same sentence as someone looking to immigrate I am astounded. I am heartbroken. Above all, I fear that if we are constantly grouped together with those individuals looking to immigrate to Canada, that we will never be seen for who we really are—individuals who have been unjustly stripped of our birthright to Canadian Citizenship.
From an outside perspective it seems that the members inability to separate these two concepts—citizenship vs. immigration—while trying to address the issue being studied in bill S-245 is creating divisiveness over expanding the bill to make it fair and just for those of us who have been unfairly stripped of, or denied our birthright to Canadian citizenship.... It is disingenuine to speak of this as if it were an immigration issue. [Such language]...continues to reinforce the emotional damage and trauma we experience daily living in exile.
It goes on:
The intent of bill S-245 is to extend Canadian citizenship. To threaten amendments to Bill S-245 such as mandating in person citizenship ceremonies, is not only ridiculously out of scope for this bill, it is insulting to the masses of Lost Canadians simply looking to return home.
I understand that the complexities surrounding this issue of Lost Canadians and second generation born abroad Canadians make the situation difficult to understand. But until the members of this committee, those with the most influence on legislation regarding citizenship can themselves make the distinction between “Citizenship” and “Immigration” there will be no clear path forward for those of us who are lost.
So I beg of you. Lost Canadians are not immigrants. We are Canadians. The language used by the members should reflect that. The words spoken in this moment have much weight for those of us who are suffering. Please see us for who we are so that you may more fully open your minds and hearts, and let us in.... If you can see us as the Canadians we are then I believe this issue can be dealt with more clearly. This cannot be an issue where members let their views, beliefs or desires regarding—