moved that Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to open debate on third reading on what members across the room and Canadians across the country have concluded is a long overdue updating of a great Canadian institution: citizenship. It is a good bill with a huge number of positive provisions that are going to give better service to permanent residents on their way to citizenship, to citizens themselves, and literally lift up to an even higher level the sense of pride that we all take in our citizenship as Canadians.
I would like to begin by thanking many of my colleagues who have laboured long and hard on this bill. That work began long before I occupied this portfolio. I would like to salute my colleague, the Minister of Employment and Social Development, who really brought this bill, in most respects, to its current stage, along with the parliamentary secretary, who has done fantastic work in committee and in the House, as well as many members of Parliament. The member of Parliament for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country did very important work on the issue of lost Canadians and on citizenship generally. The member for Calgary Northeast tapped in to a particular facet of that pride that Canadians take in their citizenship in introducing measures in this bill that would make sure that gross crimes of disloyalty, when committed by dual nationals, result in the revocation of citizenship.
In the time available to me, I would like to cover four items. I would first like to respond to the critics, those who have misunderstood the bill or disagreed with the bill in one way or another. We are listening. Second, I would like to talk about where this bill takes our citizenship in the 21st century, about what is at the core of the value of Canadian citizenship that is reinforced by this act. Then I would like to remind the House of the main aspects of the bill before concluding with some forward-looking comments about the impact that this renewed pride in citizenship can have on all of us across the country, but above all on young Canadians.
First, I will discuss the questions that have arisen in the media, in the House, and elsewhere about the bill. There have been a few lawyers and a few voices in the House questioning the need to require those applying for citizenship to declare their intent to reside. Subparagraph 3(1)(c)(i) of the bill asks that the applicant be required to intend, if granted, to continue to reside in Canada. Some have misunderstood this provision to mean that anyone applying for citizenship or seeking to meet the requirements of citizenship, which would be four years of residency out of six, must declare an intention to reside in Canada for the rest of their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth and those who have perpetrated this misunderstanding have simply not read the further paragraph, which is (2)(1.1), on page 12 of the bill as I have it printed. It states:
For the purposes of paragraphs (1)(c.1) and 11(1)(d.1), the person’s intention must be continuous from the date of his or her application until they have taken the oath of citizenship.
The intention to reside that we are requiring, which we wish had been required in the flawed 1977 version of this bill, relates to the period of physical presence in Canada, residency in Canada, required to become a citizen. That has always been a requirement to become a citizen for 100 years. It was in June 1914 when a five-year residency requirement was formally put in place. That was watered down by the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau in 1977. We think it merits an increase to four out of six years, but with a declaration of intent to fulfill this requirement.
Why is it important that we secure that declaration of intent? It is because, not just in Canada but around the world, many consultants and lawyers have sought to misrepresent this requirement and to argue that residency in Canada did not require a physical presence here, did not require the intent to actually be here. Hence, we have this large backlog of abuse that the RCMP is investigating, which may lead to revocation of citizenship. We need to send a clear message.
Henceforth, with the passage of this bill, residency will mean a physical presence in this country for four years out of six. We will require applicants to declare it over the period from the submission of their application to the day when they take the oath of citizenship.
Let me remind this House, nothing in those provisions constrains the mobility rights of either a permanent resident or a citizen. Someone can have the intent to reside, but then their plans change and they move elsewhere, not fulfilling the residency requirements for citizenship. They do not become a citizen, perhaps until later in their life. After they obtain citizenship, of course Canadians are free to do whatever they want as citizens.
Second, on revocation, it is extraordinary to us on this side, and I think it is extraordinary to Canadians, that so many opposition members would have expended so much breath opposing the revocation of a citizen, only of dual nationals, for crimes like terrorism, treason, taking up arms against the Canadian Forces, or espionage when we already revoke citizenship for much lesser crimes, such as the crime of having concealed a criminal record or having obtained citizenship fraudulently.
We take our responsibilities with regard to revocation extremely seriously. Every one of these cases of revocation involves judicial oversight, recourse to a court. There is judicial review available explicitly in the bill to every aspect of this bill. If citizenship is to be revoked based on a conviction for terrorism, a file would be prepared for the minister. The minister would review it. The person would be given notice and invited to make written submissions. There is provision for a hearing.
This review does not begin until a court has convicted the person of this crime. I do not need to remind members in this place of how few convictions, fortunately, happily, there are in Canada or of Canadians for these very serious crimes. These additional revocation provisions in this act are well understood by Canadians and well accepted.
With regard to membership in an armed group fighting the Canadian Forces, the minister would not be able to take any action without going to the Federal Court at the very outset, bringing facts and evidence that the Canadian citizen in question had been engaged in armed conflict, and satisfying the court that that was the case. That is the only way to even start this process. If the rules of evidence, or the case, is not strong enough, then it will not make it through the Federal Court and revocation will not take place.
These measures are being undertaken within the framework of our very robust judicial institutions, the rule of law in this country. Everyone should celebrate the fact that they will constitute a very profound deterrent, not just to younger generations, but to all Canadians, and a reminder that allegiance and loyalty to this country require that these grave crimes be avoided at all costs. When they are committed, they will be punished.
These were the two grave weaknesses of the 1977 act: the failure to obtain a declaration of intent to reside from applicants, and the neglect of issues of loyalty and allegiance.
Liberals did not make this mistake in their 1947 Citizenship Act that actually provided for these measures. Conservatives did not make these mistakes in our 1914 Naturalization Act, 100 years ago, which set us on the course toward the strong citizenship we have today.
Certainly our NATO allies, our closest partners in war and peacetime, the other leading democracies of this planet, have not at any time made this mistake. I remind this House there is only one NATO country, according to our analysis, that does not have revocation provisions equal to or more severe than the ones we are proposing in this bill.
Second, where is citizenship today in Canada? What would this bill give us, what would it strengthen for us that perhaps was not there before?
Here the key provision relates to residency, relates to the attachment, the connection, the experience of Canada that we are promoting with this bill, which heretofore newcomers to Canada have actually told us in large numbers was not strong enough. The knowledge test and the language test are part of that, but there is no substitute. All of us have heard from immigrants, newcomers, those looking for jobs, and those who started careers here, and those looking back on what their forebears went through that there is no substitute for direct experience of this country and that four years is a legitimate minimum for what that experience should be.
What happens to permanent residents and future Canadian citizens over those four years? They discover this country. They discover 10 million square kilometres. They discover its diversity. They discover how the rule of law works here. They discover our institutions. They discover why our economy is prosperous, why our agricultural sector is the third-largest in the world and why we have manufacturing and technology burgeoning in all parts of this country. And they find their path into that workforce, which need not just involve natural resources, manufacturing, or agriculture; it could be cultural industries, one of our fastest-growing sectors in this country.
There are old adages about the Trudeau-era standards of citizenship, that citizenship was of convenience, as a former member of this House called it, and that Canada was just a hotel where people checked in and checked out, passport in hand. Richard Gwyn spoke about The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian. People could come and live here and benefit from citizenship, but they were not asked to do much more. We have been reminded at every stage of our eight years in government that new Canadians, new citizens, and new immigrants want more. They want to understand the history of this country. They want to understand where the success comes from. They want to belong in that deeper sense, and the value of Canadian citizenship as reinforced by this act would help them to do exactly that.
Third, what are the improvements that we would deliver in this bill?
The first is about service. Because of high immigration of almost 260,000 per year over our eight years in government, the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, and because of our high rate of naturalization, because people who become immigrants want to become citizens and want to make the extra sacrifice of improving their language skills and mastering the “Discover Canada” guide and taking the test and literally discovering Canada by living here, we do have a backlog. The backlog is a bit larger because of the abuse and the residency fraud that took place that slowed down applications. We had to come to terms with which were legitimate applications and which unfortunately were not. With the measures in this bill and measures undertaken in previous budgets, we have the resources and we would have the decision-making framework to move through that backlog quickly, to take a processing time of two to three years for new applications today down to below two years in the course of next year, 2015, and to under one year by the beginning of 2016.
Second, we are reinforcing the value of citizenship, as I mentioned that the residency requirement would get longer.
Third, we are giving ourselves new tools to ensure that fraud is a thing of the past, if we can possibly make it that in our citizenship programs. We would be much less vulnerable to residency fraud. We would regulate citizenship consultants to ensure they could not lead applicants astray, as we have done with immigration consultants and increasingly with immigration lawyers. We would also raise the potential penalties from $1,000 to $100,000, and from one year to five years imprisonment, for the forms of fraud and misrepresentation that unfortunately have been all too common in our citizenship program.
Finally, we would deliver on our commitment across all of our programs to honour those who serve, who wear the uniform of the RCMP and military abroad, and those who work in embassies, as I had the privilege of doing. They would be able to pass on this citizenship beyond the first generation, even if their children were born outside of Canada. New Canadians, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Forces, would have a slightly faster pathway to citizenship of three years instead of four.
What does our citizenship look like in the 21st century?
There would be less fraud. There would be more penalties. It would be a much more prized citizenship. Because of all these things, we would be properly able to say that Canadians were in a position to promote our citizenship and use it as never before. It would be something that those outside of Canada would seek to acquire with more determination than ever. It would be something that those of us in Canada who have it would seek to use as never before in the world, to do good in our country and in places not so fortunate.
It is our citizenship that lets us undertake the kinds of initiatives our Prime Minister has been undertaking for maternal, child, and newborn health. It is our citizenship that allows us to take action on child, early, and forced marriage. It is our citizenship that lets us be the second most prominent country in the world for refugee resettlement, accepting roughly one is ten refugees resettled every year in co-operation with UNHCR, including those now coming to us in ever greater numbers from Syria.
Our citizenship also lets us work toward building the economy of the 21st century. It was interesting that the OECD report released this week on Canada gave a prominent place to immigration reforms, to the naturalization rate in Canada and the citizenship program, which we consider part and parcel of our immigration programs. Without these kinds of programs, modernized to meet the needs of the 21st century, it would not be possible to match more specialized skills than ever to the needs of a changing economy. It is because of our prosperity that the Canadian economy is changing faster than almost any other.
It was interesting to read that the OECD saw immigration policy as an economic driver and spoke of Canada in relatively glowing terms because of the extent of our immigration reforms over the past year and as a pioneer and innovator in this field.
We have been citizens of our country from day one, from the day we arrived here, and from the day we met the requirements. It is vital for new generations of citizens to see this great institution of citizenship protected and to see where it comes from. It is important to understand what it was in the time of Nouvelle France, or at the time the War of 1812, or for those who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day, or what it was in 1914 on the eve of the Great War.
We will have many occasions to celebrate our citizenship in the next few years in the run up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. I know all of us on our side look forward to celebrating with all Canadians.