Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate on Bill C-425, an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
This private member's bill, at present, makes two changes to the citizenship process. First, it reduces the time a permanent resident must wait for citizenship if he or she completes basic training and has signed a minimum three-year contract with the Canadian armed forces. I would just note here that if this were the entire bill, I think it might well be passed by unanimous consent and we would not be having this debate today. I wholeheartedly support this provision.
The second element of the legislation provides that a person is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship or is deemed to have withdrawn their application for Canadian citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.
What complicates and indeed invites today's debate are the public statements by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that he seeks to modify the bill to revoke the citizenship of those who have engaged in acts of terror. Regrettably, we do not have his legislative amendments before us in the House. We do not know the exact wording he proposes. This may make all the difference, not only from a policy standpoint but from a legal and constitutional perspective as well.
The minister has argued that the power to revoke citizenship in such cases is a necessary one. He is quoted in La Presse this morning.
The amendments that I suggested will finally make it possible for Canada to harmonize its approach with those of other liberal democracies and will strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. This will send a clear message that Canadian citizenship has real meaning and is not just a pass that violent terrorists can use with impunity.
The rhetoric in this statement certainly resonates and appears compelling on its face. Indeed, a commentator on this point, Mr. Ibbitson from the Globe and Mail, said something to the effect that if nothing else, this is good politics, and the immigration and citizenship minister is certainly a good politician.
However, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has been in this role since October 2008. He has, since then, introduced seven immigration acts, none of which have called for such a provision. Questions arise. Why now? Why this bill? Why in this way?
What Canadians may not know, though the issue is drawing more attention of late, is that a key difference between a private member's bill, such as that which is before us, and a government bill, such as would be the case if the minister were to introduce stand-alone legislation in this regard, is that government bills require the constitutional approval of the Minister of Justice pursuant to the Department of Justice Act.
In other words, by introducing such items through this private member's route, one circumvents the long-standing process by which legislative proposals are vetted for compliance with Canada's Constitution, including an assessment by the Department of Justice for litigation risk. This, of course, invites the question of whether there is an issue here of constitutional concern. As well, is there a related litigation risk?
Simply put, while we have a process allowing for the revocation of citizenship, as per section 10 of the Citizenship Act, in cases where a person obtains citizenship, for example, through false representation, fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances, we do not have other ways of revoking citizenship at present. This new proposal, by way of a private member's bill, raises serious constitutional concerns given, inter alia, the Charter's guarantees in sections 6, 7 and 15, particularly where it engages matters of national or ethnic origin, or potentially the recognized analogous ground of citizenship.
Moreover, there are concerns with respect to the Canadian Bill of Rights, which reads in part, “no law of Canada shall be construed or applied so as to...authorize or effect the arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile of any person”. The Bill of Rights also prohibits an act that would “deprive a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations”. I should note, however, that there is a notwithstanding process in that regard.
At its core Bill C-425, and this is the key point, goes to the heart of the question of citizenship in Canada, a concept that is actually quite fluid and flexible, perhaps more than most Canadians think, with attending constitutional concerns.
Indeed, it remains unclear under what circumstances the revocation of formal citizenship, as opposed to the denial of an application for citizenship by a permanent resident, would implicate charter considerations. It is for this reason that rigorous debate by the members in this place is so important with regard to the bill, as it would implicate our constitutional responsibilities as members of Parliament with respect to public oversight of the legislation, as well as trustees of the public with respect to any risk litigation.
Let me be clear. There is no question that an act of war against Canadian armed forces represents a repudiation of the values that we associate with the concept of citizenship, namely democracy, security, freedom, and equality. However, it is critical that we closely scrutinize any proposed legislation that would implicate rule of law considerations.
As I have noted, the concept of citizenship in Canada is flexible and the question of under what circumstances the government is entitled to revoke citizenship has perhaps not been fully yet determined by our courts. However, unlike questions of naturalization, the revocation of formal citizenship raises important questions pursuant to sections 6, 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Indeed, despite the repugnance of the crimes at issue, namely, the commission of an act of war or terrorism against one's own country, constitutional rights and the rule of law are not negotiable. Therefore, the fundamental questions we must ask, and it is our responsibility to address these questions, is to what extent these constitutional rights would be implicated by this legislation.
If the members in this place are to enable the revocation by the Government of Canada of Canadian citizenship in instances of criminality such as this, we must, simply put, ensure that such revocation is consistent with the rule of law, as defined by the charter and the related jurisprudence.
As I have mentioned, there are three distinct charter provisions engaging a panoply of rights that may be implicated by changes to the Citizenship Act such as proposed by this bill. These are sections 6, 7 and 15 and which together provide for a necessary starting point in discussing the constitutional contours of the legal concept of Canadian citizenship and the implications of such revocation.
Section 6(1) of the charter provides for the right of any citizen to “enter, remain in and leave Canada”. This is one of the charter rights that applies only to citizens, rather than to permanent residents, whose constitutional mobility rights are separately provided for by section 6(2). Certainly, the revocation of citizenship in a particular instance would result in the inapplicability or denial of section 6(1)'s mobility rights.
Accordingly, on this point, it is precisely for this reason that it is of critical importance to ensure that the revocation of citizenship is consistent with procedural due process requirements. Moreover, because the revocation of citizenship would result in the revocation of section 6(1)'s mobility rights, it would also raise concerns with respect to section 7 of the charter and the right to liberty. Indeed, the Supreme Court has determined that section 7 rights apply universally to anyone present in Canada, regardless of citizenship status. As well, it would implicate the rights of security of the person also in section 7. Therefore, we would have a panoply of rights here implicated. It is a central constitutional question that we cannot avoid addressing.
Finally, we must consider section 15 of the charter, which constitutionally prohibits the federal government from passing discriminatory citizenship laws. The courts have recognized that citizenship status is an analogous ground to the enumerated section 15 protected categories, thereby providing for constitutional protection against discrimination based upon citizenship.
Moreover, section 15 has been deemed to apply regardless of citizenship status. Therefore, by allowing for the revocation of citizenship, even in cases of commission of acts of terror, but only in cases where an individual is also a citizen of another country, Bill C-425 would raise section 15 equality concerns. Simply put, the bill would potentially discriminate against those Canadians who are also dual citizens of both Canada and another country.
Some may wonder why I raise the right to a fair hearing to which I referred to earlier. Since we do not know the language of the legislative amendments proposed by the minister, it could be that the proposed revocation of citizenship is automatic, thus, depriving one of a fair hearing. In the alternative, it could be that the proposal deems an application for renunciation to have been made by the person with respect to the person who has perpetrated the act of terror. The question then becomes one of whether the person could withdraw his or her deemed renunciation or make a further submission as to why the deemed renunciation should not be granted.
I raise these questions not as arcane procedural questions or trivial debating points but as serious considerations that need to be determined and debated in committee. Indeed, there is no question that the first time this revocation process is used, for whatever reason, it will be challenged in the courts, and the government will be obliged to defend it at taxpayers' expense.
Accordingly, we must have—