Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act

An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Chris Alexander  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Citizenship Act to, among other things, update eligibility requirements for Canadian citizenship, strengthen security and fraud provisions and amend provisions governing the processing of applications and the review of decisions.

Amendments to the eligibility requirements include

(a) clarifying the meaning of being resident in Canada;

(b) modifying the period during which a permanent resident must reside in Canada before they may apply for citizenship;

(c) expediting access to citizenship for persons who are serving in, or have served in, the Canadian Armed Forces;

(d) requiring that an applicant for citizenship demonstrate, in one of Canada’s official languages, knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship;

(e) specifying the age as of which an applicant for citizenship must demonstrate the knowledge referred to in paragraph (d) and must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of one of Canada’s official languages;

(f) requiring that an applicant meet any applicable requirement under the Income Tax Act to file a return of income;

(g) conferring citizenship on certain individuals and their descendants who may not have acquired citizenship under prior legislation;

(h) extending an exception to the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent to children born to or adopted abroad by parents who were themselves born to or adopted abroad by Crown servants; and

(i) requiring, for a grant of citizenship for an adopted person, that the adoption not have circumvented international adoption law.

Amendments to the security and fraud provisions include

(a) expanding the prohibition against granting citizenship to include persons who are charged outside Canada for an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence under an Act of Parliament or who are serving a sentence outside Canada for such an offence;

(b) expanding the prohibition against granting citizenship to include persons who, while they were permanent residents, engaged in certain actions contrary to the national interest of Canada, and permanently barring those persons from acquiring citizenship;

(c) aligning the grounds related to security and organized criminality on which a person may be denied citizenship with those grounds in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and extending the period during which a person is barred from acquiring citizenship on that basis;

(d) expanding the prohibition against granting citizenship to include persons who, in the course of their application, misrepresent material facts and prohibiting new applications by those persons for a specified period;

(e) increasing the period during which a person is barred from applying for citizenship after having been convicted of certain offences;

(f) increasing the maximum penalties for offences related to citizenship, including fraud and trafficking in documents of citizenship;

(g) providing for the regulation of citizenship consultants;

(h) establishing a hybrid model for revoking a person’s citizenship in which the Minister will decide the majority of cases and the Federal Court will decide the cases related to inadmissibility based on security grounds, on grounds of violating human or international rights or on grounds of organized criminality;

(i) increasing the period during which a person is barred from applying for citizenship after their citizenship has been revoked;

(j) providing for the revocation of citizenship of dual citizens who, while they were Canadian citizens, engaged in certain actions contrary to the national interest of Canada, and permanently barring these individuals from reacquiring citizenship; and

(k) authorizing regulations to be made respecting the disclosure of information.

Amendments to the provisions governing the processing of applications and the review of decisions include

(a) requiring that an application must be complete to be accepted for processing;

(b) expanding the grounds and period for the suspension of applications and providing for the circumstances in which applications may be treated as abandoned;

(c) limiting the role of citizenship judges in the decision-making process, subject to the Minister periodically exercising his or her power to continue the period of application of that limitation;

(d) giving the Minister the power to make regulations concerning the making and processing of applications;

(e) providing for the judicial review of any matter under the Act and permitting, in certain circumstances, further appeals to the Federal Court of Appeal; and

(f) transferring to the Minister the discretionary power to grant citizenship in special cases.

Finally, the enactment makes consequential amendments to the Federal Courts Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 16, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 10, 2014 Passed That Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
June 10, 2014 Failed That Bill C-24 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
June 9, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and five hours shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and that, at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration at report stage and the five hours provided for the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the said stages of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
May 29, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
May 29, 2014 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, because it: ( a) does not provide an adequate solution for reducing citizenship application processing times, which have been steadily increasing; ( b) puts significant new powers in the hands of the Minister that will allow this government to politicize the granting of Canadian citizenship; ( c) gives the Minister the power to revoke citizenship, which will deny some Canadians access to a fair trial in Canada and will raise serious questions since Canadian law already includes mechanisms to punish those who engage in unlawful acts; and ( d) includes a declaration of intent to reside provision, which in fact gives officials the power to speculate on the intent of a citizenship applicant and then potentially deny citizenship based on this conjecture.”.
May 28, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

When we change Canada's laws and regulations to standardize them with those of other countries, we must first verify whether other countries' legislation is consistent with our laws, charters and customs.

The Conservative government is not introducing this bill to improve the immigration system. This is partisan-driven. The government is looking for more voters in the next election. It would have us believe that this bill is militaristic. The government keeps talking about the First World War, the Second World War, and NATO.

The bill is about immigration in 2014. To my knowledge, we are not bringing immigrants into Canada to send them into the army and declare war elsewhere. People come to Canada first and foremost to seek refuge, then to contribute to the Canadian economy, democracy and the good life we lead. That is what immigration is about. We are welcoming here in Canada.

There is no room for partisanship in bills. Bills should be able to stand alone. Unfortunately, this bill does not stand up at all.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that clarification.

We all do our best to represent our ridings. I can guarantee that people living in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands are very concerned about this bill. Society should continue to be free and democratic. This bill, however, does not comply with the charter. It does not embody the fundamental characteristics of a free and democratic society.

I would not be surprised if the people represented by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, a name we have heard frequently of late, also want a society based on freedom and democracy. Regardless of which riding we represent, those basic values always matter.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the former minister of immigration has been waiting in great anticipation of what I might have to say, because he knows full well that when I get the opportunity to talk about immigration and citizenship, I like to reflect on not only the current minister but the past minister. I like to take a holistic approach in dealing with the issues as I see them and as many of my Liberal colleagues see them. The government often chooses to use immigration and citizenship in an inappropriate fashion, if I can put it that way, maybe putting politics ahead of what is in the best interest of good, solid, sound immigration and citizenship policy. I would not mind talking a bit about that, being afforded the opportunity to again share my thoughts.

I come to this issue because, over the last 20-plus years, I have had the opportunity of representing in a very real and tangible way a community in Winnipeg North that has allowed me to deal with immigration and citizenship issues, at one time maybe on a weekly basis. That has evolved into dealing with numerous immigration cases on a daily basis. Depending on who we might talk to and depending on the week and the time of the year, it could be anywhere from 200 to 300 or 400 cases.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in working with people and helping them on immigration files and citizenship files. I could provide the House with endless examples that will give an indication of just how off base the government of the day has been in regard to immigration policy. The government has fallen short, not in one or two areas but in a number of areas. I am hoping, by being able to provide direct input to those who are ultimately responsible, both the former minister and the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that they will recognize that they need to start working on behalf of our immigrant community. When I say immigrant community, I am talking about the wider grouping of individuals who live in Canada, call Canada their home, and do so in a very proud fashion.

I was very pleased to have been appointed immigration critic when I was first elected after the general election, and I enjoyed it immensely. When I think of immigration policy, I can say that there has not been that much change in the government's attitude in terms of policy and the direction in which the department is going. This is something that I would like to highlight.

There are so many things I could be talking about. Let me start by commenting specifically on a bill known as “425”. Bill C-425 was a private member's bill that was introduced last year by a backbench Conservative member of Parliament. What was that member of Parliament hoping to be able to do through that legislation? He came up with an idea that we should give citizenship out to individuals who have been here for three out of four years. His idea was to allow for military personnel to acquire their citizenship after two years. This is something that was proposed by a Conservative member of Parliament, and it actually received fairly good support from all members of this House. Maybe he did not have the green light from the Prime Minister's Office. The bill passed the House and went into committee, and the arguments that were brought forward at the time were that three out of four years was a good overall policy, that it would work, and that there was nothing wrong with it.

What the member and others around the table were talking about was, in fact, reducing it for certain individuals who decide to serve in the Canadian Forces. I remember the debate well, because I was the critic at the time.

Listening to the comments in this chamber, I did not hear one member—not one Conservative, not one New Democrat, and definitely not one Liberal—make the suggestion that we needed to increase the residency requirement. No one was talking about that, not even the then minister of immigration.

When it came time to provide comment on Bill C-425, what did the then minister of immigration choose to talk about? He chose to talk about the dual citizens. He chose to talk about how important it is to be able to deport or take away citizenship from individuals who commit a crime of treason, and he cited a couple of other things. That was the minister's concern. He not once mentioned that we should be increasing the residency requirement from three years to four years.

Something happened over that late fall from October to November that triggered a thought. I do not know what triggered it, but the thought was to make it more difficult, or increase the requirements, for someone to achieve citizenship. I question why the government made that decision, because it definitely was not an issue. We know that. If it had been an issue, if MPs or the government were being challenged on the issue, it would have been brought up at the immigration committee. The minister of immigration back then would have raised the issue. However, they chose not to, because it was not an issue then. It is only the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who decided this was an issue.

I will put one caveat on that. I suspect that someone within the Prime Minister's Office might have had a say on that issue. Maybe a new minister, being eager and wanting to please the leader, decided he would do that even though there was no need. There was no need. This is what I believe has actually taken place. It is a change that is being dictated from the Prime Minister's Office, which wants to make it four years as opposed to three years, even though it was not an issue. I suggest that is bad policy.

I was not surprised when the government made the decision it would double the cost of the application for citizenship, because it hinted about that in the immigration committee. We could tell by some of the questions Conservatives were asking. We anticipated that the government was considering an increase. That was not a surprise. The surprise was the fact that it wanted to increase the residency period.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

If the member does not like my volume, he is welcome to leave the chamber.

At the end of the day, we believe that the government has made a bad decision, and the vast majority of the Conservative caucus recognize that. However, of course, there will not be any free vote on this legislation.

What have the Conservatives done in citizenship? They have created a crisis. When they took office, they increased the processing time for a person to acquire the eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship. They rapidly increased the processing time.

When the Conservatives took office, it took roughly a year for a person to acquire the necessary paperwork when applying for his or her citizenship. What is it today? When I say 28 months, I am being very generous. It is likely closer to 30 months. That is for the majority of individuals who put in their applications; I will give the government that much. What does that mean in a very real way? It means, Mr. Speaker, that if you had put in your application today, under the Paul Martin or Jean Chrétien governments you would have had it a year from today. Now we are talking about at least three years, and heaven forbid that a residential background check is required. If that has to be done, we are talking about five years, six years, and even beyond that.

This is the government that created the crisis with processing times. Now what does it say about this legislation? It says it is going to fix the problem. It has a new process and it is going to fix the processing times. It did not require legislation to fix the processing times. It required the political will, and that is what has been lacking with the government. It does not have the political will to improve the processing time; and that does not only apply to citizenship. It has no qualms about processing times for other immigration types of programs. What does it do? It always blames the other government. It constantly does that, and it is just not true.

The minister who had the most significant increase in backlog in the skilled worker program was, in fact, the former minister, the individual sitting across from me right now. When he issued ministerial instructions, he increased the backlog by more than 130,000—I believe that was the number—over a period of weeks. How did the government deal with backlogs? It froze the program of sponsoring parents and grandparents for over three years. It hit the delete button. Imagine deleting 300,000 people who were waiting for years.

The point is that the government has been playing politics when it comes to immigration and citizenship, and it has done a miserable job. It has failed, and I would ultimately argue that it has intentionally failed, because it could have been doing more. The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration says, “Look at how wonderful we are. We have this legislation and we are developing a new process. Our target is to reduce the processing times from three years to one year, and we will do it by 2016.” This is the government that created the crisis that built it up to three years, and it does not require legislation to get down under a year. That could have been done without legislation.

What will be the real impact on people in our communities—outstanding, wonderful, contributing individuals? What will the real, tangible impact be? Let me tell a couple of stories.

Someone met up with me at my local McDonald's on a Saturday and told me his passport had expired. I will use the example of the Philippines, because this is what in fact happened. The problem is that he has applied for his citizenship, which means he does not have the ability to go to the Philippines after a death in the family. He has now been waiting for well over a year for his citizenship. He asked me if there is anything I can do.

Maybe if there is a two- or three-week period of time and it looks very close to being finalized, a member of Parliament might be able to assist to a certain degree, depending on the situation. However, when there is a waiting period of two and half years, and a person is one year in, and the homeland passport is no longer valid, there is very little one can do when the person needs to get the documents quickly so that they can be there for a funeral or something of that nature.

How many permanent residents do we have in Canada today who have been waiting for their citizenship well beyond a year? We are not talking about a few thousand. We are talking about well over 200,000 people who have been waiting for over a year.

One of the privileges of having Canadian citizenship is having a passport. I do not know if the government is sensitive to that fact, because it is denying Canadian passports, due to its incompetence or its decision to frustrate the system, to tens of thousands of people who should be Canadians today.

Imagine wanting to be a long-distance truck driver obligated to cross the Canada-U.S. border. What do they want? They want valid passports.

What if one wanted to travel to the United States to see friends or travel anywhere outside of Canada? What about getting on a plane? One of the most common pieces of identification asked for is one's Canadian passport.

Why are we making people wait three years? Do not tell me it is because we needed this legislation, because that is a bogus argument. It is not necessary.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.

There is an election taking place today in the province of Ontario. Imagine the tens of thousands of people who should be able to vote today, but because of the Conservative government's incompetence in dealing with the issue, because of the three-year-plus waiting period to get citizenship, they are being denied the opportunity to vote. I speak first-hand about the great sense of pride new Canadians have when it comes time to be able to express themselves by going to the polls and voting, yet what sort of response do we get from the government? It is most unfortunate.

There are many aspects of the legislation the Liberal Party is uncomfortable with. The Liberal Party critic has enunciated a number of flaws. Our expectations are far greater.

I must conclude my remarks by saying that the comments by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration about millions of second-class citizens during the 1970s and 1980s because of a change in government policy backed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau was really a disservice. I suggest that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration apologize for those comments.

However, I am thankful for this opportunity to share a few thoughts.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
See context

Willowdale Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be a Canadian citizen, and it is a privilege for me to rise in this House to address this point.

Women in this country were given their citizenship and the right to vote about 100 years ago. The Chinese did not get their right to vote until 1947. The South Asians did not get their right to citizenship until 1948. Although many Japanese during the internment period were born in Canada, they did not have the right to vote in the 1950s. This was all under the rules of the former Liberal government.

If we had let the Chinese write their laws when we first came to this country in 1421, if I remember properly, we probably would have written them in such a way that one would have to live here a lifetime before being permitted to be a citizen. Under Chinese law, if one parent was from Switzerland and the other from Japan, the children would have to be either Japanese, Swiss, or Chinese and they would have to change their name before they could be citizens.

It is a privilege to be a Canadian citizen. As we define that privilege, I think this current act does a good job. What are we looking for? We are looking for the intent to stay, a commitment to this country, to be grounded in this environment, to pay taxes, and to learn the language so that people can communicate as Canadian citizens. Those are the elements that are necessary.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up an interesting point. I suspect that many of those issues would have been resolved when Mr. Trudeau, as prime minister, would have brought in the legislation. I think the Conservatives need to recognize a good thing. We had a better thing in terms of three out of four years versus what is being proposed in this legislation. My gut feeling is that the member who posed the question knows that, because he sat on the immigration committee with me. He will recall that not one member of Parliament, not one presenter, made the suggestion that three out of four years was not good enough. Why did the government make the decision to change it to four years?

I am sure the member has posed that question to himself, because it was a surprise. A tip probably came from the Prime Minister's office.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, since my colleague spoke at length about this in his speech, I would like to go back to expedited access to citizenship for persons who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Of course we support this measure. It makes sense that someone who has served in the armed forces should have faster access to citizenship. That being said, the problem with this measure is that it applies to almost nobody. The simple fact is that to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, one must be a Canadian citizen. If one is not a citizen, one cannot join the forces. I did not even know that, but I looked into it and I found out that in some cases, the Chief of the Defence Staff can authorize an individual with the necessary training to serve in a position where there is a skills shortage.

When I asked how many people this would affect, I was told that it was fewer than 10. Currently, fewer than 10 people serving in the armed forces will be able to benefit from this measure.

I would like to know what the member thinks about that. Did the government try to include a measure that looks good on the surface but that really applies to almost nobody as a way of making the rest of it, which is pretty bad, look better?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question.

If we go to the Canadian Forces website, it says that one has to be a Canadian to apply. The question is why we would allow the residency requirement to be reduced for someone to become a Canadian. There are very few this would actually apply to.

The member is quite right. Generally speaking, there may be individuals outside of Canada who might be recruited by the hierarchy within the military, brought to Canada, and offered something of this nature. There are very few. I had the opportunity to question the military directly on the issue, and I can confirm that it is a very low number.

This goes back to Bill C-425, if that is what the member was trying to get across. It is only meant as a gesture of symbolism to try to give an impression. It is not as if there is going to be a Canadian Forces recruitment banner at the airport as new immigrants come walking in.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member from Winnipeg North talked about the government creating its own crisis relative to this bill. It would be nice if the member could tell us what he really thinks. He is not being very direct.

The member mentioned truck drivers and the need to have a passport. That is a big issue in my own province of Prince Edward Island. Several trucking firms have approached me. They need drivers. We do a lot of international business across the U.S. border. The addition of one year really impacts those individuals.

As well, I wonder if the member could tell me the impact on the economy. The government talks about the economy, but really undermines it in many ways. This is just another way. We do not have the drivers to do the business that drives the economy.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a high demand for long-haul truck drivers. Does it have an impact?

It is closer to three years in terms of the waiting period to get citizenship. A truck driver could be waiting a long time to acquire Canadian citizenship and a passport. It is purely processing time.

I want to pick up on it being a crisis. This is not unique to citizenship. One of the most controversial issues in the House of Commons over the last few months has been the temporary foreign worker program. It is the Conservative government that created the crisis. The Conservatives say that the Liberals did not deal with the issue. The simple answer is that there was no crisis back then. It is the Conservatives that created the crisis. Now they are in a position to try to fix it.

It is no different with the citizenship process or dealing with economic immigrants. The Conservatives come up with weird ways to resolve a crisis. Let us remember what they did with the skilled workers. There were over 300,000 applications, and the previous minister of immigration hit the delete button. He deleted 300,000 applications.

There are court actions and all sorts of problems with it. The Conservative government creates the crisis and then it tries to blame it on someone else. Then it tries to take credit for hopefully fixing it. I do not think there is enough time left in its mandate to rectify the serious problems in the immigration and citizenship file.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
See context

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-24 and the major changes it makes to the Citizenship Act.

I am pleased to take part in the debate on this bill, which makes significant changes to our Citizenship Act. I am proud to be with the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who introduced this bill. As the former minister of citizenship and immigration, I worked hard with the public servants at Citizenship and Immigration Canada and with new Canadians to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship, which is one of the most important things we possess as parliamentarians and citizens. Citizenship unites us and defines us. It is the basis of our values and our shared identity as members of the Canadian family.

When I became the minister of citizenship and immigration in 2008, I quickly learned from new Canadians of all backgrounds because I listened to them. Those new Canadians, from more than 180 countries around the world, came to Canada to start a new life and become Canadians. They were chasing the Canadian dream, freedom and opportunity. As economic immigrants from the four corners of the world, they wanted to benefit from freedom and the rule of law, traditions enshrined in our constitutional and parliamentary system.

The vast majority of those new Canadians shared a sense of Canadian identity and a sense of duty towards this country. They wanted to strengthen that identity. They did not want to pursue diversity for the sake of diversity. They appreciated our country's diversity, yes, but they appreciated the unity of that diversity even more. That is what I learned and heard from new Canadians of all backgrounds.

I also learned that new Canadians are clearly the strongest defenders of the importance of the integrity and value of Canadian citizenship. New Canadians were the ones who brought to my attention some of the terrible situations and fraud networks that seek to abuse our immigration and citizenship system. New Canadians were the ones who informed me of unscrupulous consultants who manufactured evidence of residency in Canada for obtaining citizenship.

New Canadians were the ones who complained to me about new citizens who cannot speak one of our official languages and therefore cannot really be active members of our society. New Canadians were the ones who told me, with regard to our shared citizenship, that not enough value is placed on the knowledge of our country, its history, its identity and its values.

When I became Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 2008, by listening with some humility, I hope, to new Canadians from all origins, I learned that their view was that successive Canadians governments had not invested enough importance in protecting the integrity of our shared citizenship.

I learned from these new Canadians about fraud networks organizing fake proof of residency to obtain citizenship and people becoming citizens who did not speak either of our common languages, even at a basic level. They also knew little or nothing about our country's identity, history, and values.

That is why, in 2009, we launched the citizenship action plan to re-establish the value of Canadian citizenship and restore integrity to the process of its acquisition. It was to say that Canada is an open and generous country, but that it will not tolerate those who seek to abuse its generosity. We went systematically through all of the different aspects of the program. We began with combatting citizenship fraud.

I insisted that our officials at CIC focus not just on the quantity of applications processed, but also take seriously the quality of those applications, meaning that they ensure that people actually meet the real legislative requirements contemplated by this Parliament in its adoption of the 1977 Citizenship Act. Specifically, applicants for citizenship first have to demonstrate that they are resident in Canada for at least three out of four years. Second, except for those with severe learning disabilities or those who are older or very young, they have to demonstrate that they can communicate in one of the two official languages. Third, applicants have to demonstrate a basic knowledge of Canada.

What did we find? First of all, in terms of residency, we found that there were consultants out there brazenly selling, as a service to foreign nationals, the fabrication of false evidence of their residency. If members do not believe me, they can go and google it and see online that there are consultants in certain parts of the world who brazenly advertise the value of Canadian citizenship.

To give one regional example, in the Gulf states, a foreign national from a developing country who gets a Canadian passport finds that their salary suddenly increases. There is a commercial value attached to the acquisition of a Canadian passport, but some people do not want to come here and actually live here in order to obtain it. They would rather stay in a tax haven, making a good living while a consultant fabricates fake receipts for rent, financial transactions, and the like. These consultants are handsomely paid.

I would like to thank and commend members of the Canadian Lebanese community for having brought this issue to my attention. When I learned about it, I insisted that our officials, the Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigate these allegations of fraud, which they did. As a result, to date more than 10,000 cases have been identified of individuals either obtaining citizenship fraudulently or being in the process of doing so. We know that there are many thousands more.

To put this into perspective, it is a relatively small fraction of the overall number of people who obtain citizenship. However, to protect the value of the passport for bona fide citizens, we have to clearly demonstrate serious sanctions and rigour for mala fide applicants of citizenship. They would be the applicants who do not actually live here or who have no connection to Canada.

Similarly, I was disturbed in my early tenure at immigration to encounter a significant number of people who had obtained Canadian citizenship in their adult years, whether they were middle-aged or in young adulthood, but who could not communicate in either English or French. The notion that citizens should be able to speak one of our two languages is not an invention of the government. It is not unique to Canada. It has always been a feature of our citizenship law, ever since the first one was adopted in 1947 by the government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

Why? It is because citizenship represents full membership in our political community. It implies participation in our shared civic life. It grants the right of self-government through voting to select one's own government or, indeed, of participating in it by running for public office. One cannot do those things fully if one does not have the ability to communicate with one's fellow citizens.

This is not to denigrate or make a pejorative judgment about those among us in Canada who have limited or no English or French language proficiency, many of whom are wonderful, hard-working people and well intentioned. We honour them and we hope that they will become full members of our civic community. We invest hundreds of millions of dollars to this end. This government has tripled the public spending on settlement services, including free language classes to assist those people in becoming proficient.

By the way, the opposition members always say we should have evidence-based policy. I agree, and that is what this bill is based on. The evidence tells us that language proficiency in English or French is the single most important factor in the economic and social success of newcomers to Canada, bar none. That is not an opinion; that is the cumulative result of virtually every study done in this respect in Canada and around the world.

Language proficiency in English or French in this country is the key that unlocks opportunity. It is the bridge into our full participation in our political and civic community. We do no favours to tell new Canadians that we will ignore it if they do not have even basic competency in English or French. That is analogous to telling high school students that even though they do not pass the grades, even though they are not numerate or literate, we will give them social passes through to grade 12. We all know that does not do them any favour when they get out into the real world; similarly, it does not do newcomers any favour to tell them that they can become members of a community with which they cannot yet communicate.

It is no coincidence that these words come from the same root. Citizenship is entrance and participation, full membership, in a community, which is obviously implicitly predicated on the ability to communicate. That is why, as part of the citizenship action plan, we defined clear, objective benchmarks for proficiency in English or French for the first time and began testing people. In the past they just had to come in and do a two-minute interview with CIC officials. They would frequently be coached by their immigration consultants on the standard questions. That is how people with no language proficiency in English or French ended up fraudulently, I would say, obtaining our citizenship. It was wrong and it no longer happens.

Then we went about revising our program on knowledge of Canada. That is the third requirement. In the 1977 act and the 1947 act, it is required that people must have a basic knowledge of Canada's values, history, laws, and political system. It is what is called civic literacy.

Again, this is not a reflection of this government or of me alone, but of people across the political spectrum, including many social democrats, many small-l liberals, and many academics and intellectuals. They include people like Jack Granatstein, a prominent Liberal and Canadian historian; people like Andrew Cohen, a prominent small-l liberal professor at Carleton University and author of a book on this subject; people like Rudyard Griffiths, who wrote another book on Canadian identity. All of them, and others, have identified a real challenge in this country with respect to civic literacy, including understanding our political institutions and how they took shape and what our obligations are—not just what our rights are, but also what our responsibilities are as citizens. These things are essential, especially in a country of such diversity, especially in a country that is maintaining one of the highest levels of immigration in the developed world, especially in a country that welcomes a quarter of a million permanent residents every year.

We must be intentional about ensuring that those newcomers who become members of our community through the citizenship process know the country they are joining and understand its laws and its customs. This is why, for example, we were very blunt in the new citizenship guide, Discover Canada, which leads to the new and admittedly more rigorous test, in saying that Canada's tolerance and generosity do not extend to certain barbaric cultural practices, including so-called honour crimes, female genital mutilation, spousal violence, et cetera, and that such crimes are condemned and severely punished in Canada”.

In Canada, we are generous, we are pluralist, but we believe in certain objective values, such as the equality of men and women, values that are rooted in our history and our identity. That is why we brought in the new test and why we brought in the new study guide. In the old test, which was 20 multiple choice questions, one standard set of questions, unethical ghost immigration consultants got the answer key and actually sold it to applicants for citizenship. Consequently, 98% of those who wrote the citizenship knowledge test were passing, because they just memorized the answer key and because, frankly, the information was so insipid.

Under the citizenship guide called “A Look at Canada”, published by the previous government, there were nearly two pages of information on recycling, but there was not one sentence on Canadian military history. This building was reconstructed in the 1920s partly as a monument to our war dead from the Great War. The Peace Tower houses the names of over 114,000 Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for our democratic rights. Our citizenship is predicated on those rights, yet new citizens could write the test and become Canadians without ever having heard or read a word about our war dead, about the greatest Canadians.

This government took the position that it was more important for new Canadians to know the meaning of the red poppy than the blue box, more important to know about our military history than such prosaic mundane matters as recycling.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, indeed, we even know the role of aboriginals, francophones, and English Canadian militia together defending this country against the American invaders in 1812. Yes, we are proud of those who made sacrifices to create this wonderful experiment in ordered liberty in the northern half of North America. We do not ridicule their role in Canadian history. It is interesting that back in the day, the War of 1812 was considered a Liberal touchstone of Canadian nationalism, but now it is ridiculed by members of the Liberal Party.

We believe in civic literacy. This is not to say that every new citizen should be fluent in English or French or have a Ph.D. in Canadian history, but they should have some basic grasp of knowledge of the country of which they are becoming members. The culmination of all of this is the act that is before us. It is the first major legislative effort to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship. I know from empirical public opinion research and from my endless anecdotal experience that the vast majority of new Canadians, both citizens and permanent residents, support the strengthening of our citizenship, such as the provision to allow for the deemed revocation of citizenship from convicted terrorists and traitors. Let me say a word about that because it has been a subject of contention here.

Citizenship is predicated on reciprocal loyalty: the loyalty of Canada to the citizen and the loyalty of citizen to the country. Our laws have always permitted a renunciation of that citizenship. American Texas Senator Cruz just renounced his citizenship this week, as an example. Therefore, one can renounce one's citizenship and it can be revoked if it was obtained fraudulently. Every other Liberal democracy in the world—save one, Portugal—including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden say that if someone commits a violent act of disloyalty against his or her country, it constitutes a repudiation of his or her citizenship.

We should not wait for someone to commit an act of violent treason or terrorism against this country to sign a form renouncing his or her citizenship, because he or she has renounced it in his or her violent action. That is what this bill says. By the way, 83% of Canadians polled support the deemed renunciation of citizenship from convicted terrorists or traitors, and a larger majority of those born abroad support it than those born in Canada. This bill is being proposed precisely to support new Canadians and the value of their Canadian passports and to reinvigorate their pride in their shared citizenship. We support them and we invite the opposition to do the same.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister. He brought up the issue of terrorists. We know that the definition of terrorist may vary from country to country.

Imagine that someone who opposes the dictatorship regime in China, a country with which we signed a free trade agreement, is accused of being a terrorist and seeks refuge here. Would we let that person come to Canada? I would like the minister to answer that question.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, fortunately, we do not have a free trade agreement with China. Second, clearly we would allow that person to come to Canada and, after the bill is passed, we will allow bona fide refugees from China who are unfairly persecuted by the Chinese system to come here.

Under the existing Immigration Act, a foreign national who is found guilty of a crime, such as terrorist activity or other serious offences that would also be considered crimes in our country, is not eligible to come to Canada. The same standard exists in the citizenship bill. The existing Citizenship Act clearly states that anyone who commits an offence overseas, such as an act of terrorism, that would also be considered an offence in Canada is inadmissible as a permanent resident or citizen. The key is figuring out whether the crime is actually a crime under Canadian law and not just under Chinese law.