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

February 27th, 2014 / 4:25 p.m.
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Independent

Maria Mourani Independent Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague on her speech.

I am wondering if she shares my concern. It seems to me that there is an underlying philosophy or vision of citizenship to this bill that creates two categories of Canadians. Earlier, the minister spoke about terrorism. What do we do with a young person who is born in Quebec—who is not of French-Canadian or English-Canadian heritage but may be of Italian heritage, for example—who decides to get involved with a terrorist group? In comparison, what do we do with another young person who was not born in Canada—who arrived from Morocco, for example—who also has Canadian citizenship and joins a terrorist group? What do we do with them?

What concerns me the most is that in the citizenship philosophy put forward by the minister—with whom I have shared many experiences—there are good Canadians and bad Canadians, real citizens and fake citizens. For example, the minister would deny a Canadian child who was born in Quebec entry into Quebec or Canada if one of the child's parents is not Canadian. Children are dying in Syria because the minister seems to think that the parents are coming here just to give birth. It is clear that the minister feels there are different types of Canadians.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on that.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question, which covered many aspects of the bill.

Unfortunately, I will not have enough time to address all of them. I know that my colleague is very familiar with the legal systems in Quebec and Canada. Experts have talked about cases where a child born in Canada to one Canadian parent can have another citizenship, because some countries will grant citizenship to a child when one parents is a citizen. If that child, who was born and raised here, is accused of one of the crimes listed in the bill, he or she might not have the option of receiving a sentence here in Canada, one that is delivered by our criminal justice system and considered fair in relation to the crime. That is troubling. We have a legal system in place.

I am not saying that fraudsters and criminals should not be punished. On the contrary, I agree with the principle whereby people who commit fraud or other crimes should be punished. They must be sentenced, but the question is, how and by whom? Should it be by this minister or by Canada's fair and equitable legal system?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. It is also gives me great pleasure to say that the Liberals will be opposing this bill because we believe that it is not good for Canada. It is bad for Canada. We are therefore pleased to vote against it. We are opposing this bill mainly because it will make it increasingly difficult to become a Canadian citizen.

The government has already put up barriers in terms of rising waiting times. Under this law there are more and more barriers to becoming a citizen, as I will describe in a few minutes in more detail, and we do not think this is good for Canada.

As is often the case with a large and complex bill, it is not that we dislike everything in the bill. In particular, we like the legislation for lost Canadians, whereby citizenship will be restored to lost Canadians born before 1947 and to first generations born abroad. We are very much in favour of this measure. If the government were to produce stand-alone legislation on this topic, we would vote for it. However, given that it is surrounded by other pollutants that we cannot support, we cannot support the bill in its entirety. We would like it if we could support a separate bill on lost Canadians. We would certainly be happy to support that.

There is a second item on which we are in agreement with the government in spirit. We do favour measures to enhance the loyalty of citizens to Canada and to combat the issue of citizens of convenience. However, we are not convinced that the measures the government has proposed in this area are terribly effective, and we would have alternative measures. We might favour those. We do not think the government's measures in this area will be effective. We think that more harm is done by the barriers it is raising for well-behaved people, who are not citizens of convenience but hard-working, loyal, potential Canadians who are barred by various artificial means set up by the government from becoming citizens of this country.

The way I would like to put it, to frame it in more general terms, is that immigration policy has to be a balance between welcome and vigilance. One has to be vigilant because there are always some bad apples. There will always be some citizens of convenience with phony marriages. There will be people who want to play the system and people who are fraudulent. There are a very small number of people in that category, and for that category, one requires vigilance.

The vast numbers of people who come to Canada, whether as immigrants, visitors, or citizenship applicants, are good people. They are law-abiding people and should be welcomed. Yes, we require vigilance for the small number of bad apples, but we must also welcome the vast majority who are good.

It is my contention that Canadian governments, from John Diefenbaker to Paul Martin, have put the main focus on welcoming. The primary task was to welcome people to Canada, to welcome them to become landed immigrants and citizens and visitors. There was some focus on the bad apples, but the primary emphasis and priority was to welcome the large numbers of good people who wanted to come here.

All of that has changed under the current government. There is very little welcome. It is almost all vigilance. What we hear government members talking about day after day is people cheating the system, people with phony marriages, people who are citizens of convenience, as if that is the whole universe of people coming to this country. We agree that there are some of that type. However, the government spends all of its time talking about the bad side and the vigilance and at no time about welcoming people, which is the broader and more important task. I think it has tilted the priorities away from the traditional Canadian approach that we saw all the way from John Diefenbaker to Paul Martin.

Let me just give the House two examples, taken from the time of John Diefenbaker. John Diefenbaker, as the House may recall, was a Progressive Conservative Prime Minister. The members on that side should approve of some of the things he did. I certainly do. I will mention two examples.

The first of these is the Hungarian revolution of 1956-57. Under John Diefenbaker, there was a huge blip in immigration because his government allowed in some 38,000 refugees from Hungary. That is a huge number, and I applaud it. I am glad that the minister is applauding too. The country in those days was half the size it is today, so that would be the equivalent of some 80,000 people today.

I am glad that the minister is applauding, because we were talking earlier about Sweden letting in 14,000 refugees from Syria permanently. He claimed they were temporary, but they were not. Canada has a miserable number of 1,300 Syrian refugees, and they are not even here yet, partly because he has not given the authorization to the community groups who want to bring in refugees. He applauds 38,000, which is very good, but he is struggling with 1,300 some 50 years later. However, that is a different topic.

The point I am making is this. Did those 38,000 immigrants, refugees from Hungary, all pass difficult language tests? I doubt it. They came pretty quickly. Did they have to wait years? Did they have to go through this barrier, that barrier, and the next barrier to come to this country? No, they got onto those ships pretty quickly and all 38,000 of them were here pretty quickly. They were also welcomed warmly when they came to this country.

We welcomed them under Mr. Diefenbaker, and that is good. There were probably a few bad apples in that 38,000, just as there are in the Canadian population at large. The current government would focus all its time on the few bad apples of those 38,000 Hungarian refugees, whereas the government of the day and our party would focus on the great good that all of those people and their children would do and have done for this country.

The second reason I would praise Mr. Diefenbaker is that there was a member of Parliament who was convicted of spying on Canada for the Soviet Union. He was not a Conservative or a Liberal. I think he was a communist, but he was a member of Parliament. In the process of that happening, his citizenship was taken away. Mr. Diefenbaker thought that was really bad. He thought that even a Canadian convicted of treason should not have his citizenship taken away, so he brought in a law that would not allow governments to take away individual citizenship.

That was Mr. Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative. He was a small-l liberal on these matters, and he was focusing on the welcome rather than on vigilance. The same story goes through to Pierre Trudeau, who invented the modern system of immigration and multiculturalism. I would praise Brian Mulroney as well, who was also open to immigration. He was welcoming and he did not spend all of his time talking about the bad apples. The same goes for Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

When we come to the current government, all of a sudden, the scales shift. Instead of welcoming people to this country, we spend all of our time talking about the small number of people who are not obeying the rules.

It works much better if we welcome newcomers with a smile, which we did, starting with Diefenbaker up until Martin, instead of welcoming them with a scowl, as the current government does. It is better to have “sunny ways”, as Wilfrid Laurier put it and as our leader recently quoted, rather than angry ways.

We welcomed people with a smile, from Diefenbaker to Trudeau, from Mulroney to Chrétien and Martin. With a smile, we had sunny ways. We had a smile for the newcomers. Now, under the Conservatives all they focus on is the negative side. So it is no longer sunny ways, but angry ways. That is not good for our country.

Why is it not good for the country to act in such a hostile manner? One reason is that we are trying to build Canada and, in order to do so, we have to welcome those who come here to live with us.

In one way or another, we are all descendants of immigrants and thus we must extend a warm welcome. It is not necessary to always be angry.

The economic aspect is another consideration. We are competing for immigrants with countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. We all have an aging population. We all need these immigrants. Consequently, if we give them a warm welcome, they will come to Canada instead of going to Australia or other countries. There are sound economic reasons for attracting these immigrants to our country.

My final point concerns the public's attitude. If the only thing the government says is that there are dishonest people who enter into fake marriages and do all these bad things, the public will start believing that these immigrants are bad and that they are criminals.

What the government is doing is sowing division, because it is always putting the emphasis on the bad side of immigrants, the cases where they do not obey the rules, and saying nothing about the much larger positive side. That gives ideas to Canadian people who hear the government talking about these immigrants, these visitors, as not to be trusted, that they might be really bad people. I think it sows division in this country.

My view is to let sunny ways rather than angry ways prevail. Greet the people with a smile instead of a scowl and do not put up these new barriers all the time.

Now I will come to the five new barriers that we do not like. We could call them the five new scowls provided by the Conservative Party to would-be citizens.

The first scowl is the fact that the Conservatives have doubled the processing times. The minister boasts that they will reduce those processing times at some point in the future, but over five long years they have doubled these processing times from 15 months to 31 months, and the reason they give is in the document. It does not talk about it being a Liberal system. They say explicitly that they did not put enough money into this system and that is why the waiting times, the processing times, have doubled.

That is the first scowl they have sent to would-be citizens: “Sorry, folks, instead of waiting 15 months like you did in 2007, you have to wait 31 months“, and sometimes it is way longer. I have constituents who wait way longer than 31 months. That is the first scowl, the first barrier.

The second one is this hostile provision about language. It was okay until now that people aged 15 to 54 did the test. Now the Conservatives are imposing a difficult language test on those aged 14 to 18 and 54 to 64. Why? It is because they want to create another barrier, another scowl. Why was it not okay for those aged 54 to 64 to speak okay English but not fantastic English and still make excellent contributions to this country, and for their children and their grandchildren to speak perfect English? It worked well before. They are loyal citizens. I know them very well, both citizens and landed immigrants.

The third point, another scowl, is regarding the people who come here as temporary foreign workers or as international students. It used to be the case that half of the time they had lived in this country as a student or a temporary foreign worker counted toward the time for citizenship. Now the government scowls at them again and grabs away that time and counts it for nothing. What is the point? Do the Conservatives want to deter these people? Do they want to send them to Australia? Do they not want them to come to Canada? There is no point, except malice, except wanting to scowl at them, instead of applying the sunny face of Liberals and perhaps even the NDP.

The fourth point is that people now have to stay here four out of six years instead of three out of four. That is another scowl. What makes one think that people will be more Canadian just because we make them stay an extra year? One more year is extra time to wait. It does not necessarily make people Canadian or deter citizens of convenience. It is just another nasty move by the Conservatives to make the barriers bigger against nice people who want to become citizens of our country.

Those are four bad things, four scowls, four angry gestures. I will mention one more, and this is one I have some sympathy with. I have perhaps been a little negative so far, but the four I have mentioned are all scowls, which I do not think add anything. There is some sense to the fifth, the idea of increased physical presence, that in four out of six years people should be here more than half the year, some 183 days. I have some sympathy with that because I have some concern with the phenomenon of citizens of convenience. I think it might be going a little far. Let us say that someone comes in as a landed immigrant, works for the Royal Bank—we can name any company—and that Canadian company then wants the person to work in the U.K., India, or wherever. That person as a Canadian could do it, but as a landed immigrant could not for more than a certain time.

I think there are some problems with the detailed specification there, but I would suggest another measure, which is more focused on the true bad behaviours and not hitting everyone. There will be many people coming to this country who are not citizens of convenience, but who, for some reason, their employers want them to work overseas and they want to spend some time there. It does not mean they are citizens of convenience. Therefore, everyone gets tarred by that brush.

Why not have strict residence requirements for health care? That would really target people who are citizens of convenience. I understand there was a court case heard by the B.C. Court of Appeal recently, which upheld the government position on that. To me, that is a more targeted approach to direct against potential citizens of convenience. We would hit them, but we would not hit everyone. A lot of the government measures are targeted at the bad people, but they hit all the good people as well and, therefore, are inefficient and unwelcoming. That is why I say they are not sunny ways but angry ways. We should welcome people with a smile and not with a scowl.

The Liberals will clearly vote against this bill. There are other problems to resolve when it comes to revoking an individual's citizenship. For example, what happens in the case of dual citizenship? I can think of at least two people with dual citizenship in the House: the Leader of the Opposition and my colleague and former leader of the Liberal Party, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. Would the minister have the power to revoke their citizenship and deport them? That is far too much power for a single person.

Someone who is born in Canada can also have dual citizenship, as is the case with the two members I mentioned. It is not limited to people who were not born in Canada.

The government's proposal does not provide for sufficient legal recourse. It gives one person far too much arbitrary power.

In summary, the main reason Liberals are opposing this bill is that we want to welcome people to our country. We want to smile when they come in and not frown. We want to make it less of a burden and have shorter waiting times for people to become a citizen, an economic immigrant, or a visitor. The whole Conservative system is drowning in increased waiting times, which typically have doubled, drowning in red tape. This bill is yet another example of adding more and more barriers against the honest people who, thank goodness for us, want to become citizens of Canada. I say we should welcome them, not frown at them.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:50 p.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is rather incredible to hear that question. The member talks of sunny ways, and then he goes on to make one of the most partisan speeches I have heard in any debate in this place.

Is this the new Liberal Party, a party of ogres, a party of scaremongers, a party that talks down the Canadian economy, that talks about doom and gloom when we have had the top job creation record in the G7 and are the only country in the G7 to have an AAA credit rating from all agencies and a positive outlook?

The Liberals will not acknowledge these simple facts. It is terrifying to think of how newcomers to Canada would choose to understand this stream of consciousness presentation.

Is the member opposite aware of some simple facts? Is he aware of the fact that this government has admitted to Canada, on average, over 40,000 more permanent residents than his government ever did? Is he aware that, under our government, we have had 1.4 million new Canadians become Canadian citizens?

Is the member aware that his government slashed immigration to its lowest levels in the late-20th century, in 1983-84 and then again in 1998-99? Is he aware that it was his government that brought in these language requirements and made the residency requirement, during the vast majority of their time in government in the 20th century, five years, which is actually more than is proposed in this bill?

Is the member aware of those simple facts? Is he aware of his utter hypocrisy?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually find it quite amusing that he should accuse me of being partisan, and you accuse him of being partisan, and then the second part of his speech goes into a partisan rant.

Let me just respond, instead of being partisan, with a few statistics that come from the member's own government's statistics.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Would he listen for just a second.

Since 2007, and I believe his government was in power then, waiting times have increased by 200% for family reunification immigrants, by 65% for live-in caregivers, by 55% for provincial nominees, by up to 113% for federal skilled workers, by 150% for visitor visas, and by 107% for citizen applications, and he says he is doing a good job.

Does the minister not know that time is of the essence when it comes to processing times for immigrants, for visitors, for citizens? His government has absolutely bungled it for eight long years.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague if he could comment on the new intent-to-reside test for citizenship, the whole idea that when people apply to become citizens, the government can assess whether they intend to reside in Canada.

Lorne Waldman is the current president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. He is very respected. He is one of my former students. He talks about how arbitrary that will be and how difficult that will be to assess. Then he asks if this will become the basis on which the minister can exercise his power to revoke citizenship if a person happens to leave the country too early for the liking of the minister.

I am wondering about the insecurity that would create for average citizens, not knowing whether they can leave five months from now, six months from now, or 18 months from now without being at risk of having their citizenship revoked, because somehow or other, retroactively, a minister might say that it showed that they did not intend to reside in Canada in the first place.

Does the member have any concerns?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also met the gentleman, and I read the article in which he said that. I can see the basis for concern. It speaks to the question of citizens of convenience. We want measures in place to deter that. I sympathize with that goal, in principle. However, with this specific measure, I agree that the minister could, in theory, take someone's citizenship away because he went to work overseas for a length of time, when he had previously stated his intent not to.

I do not always agree with the Conservatives, but I do not think it likely that a minister, even a Conservative minister, would do that. I do not take this risk that the professor raised too seriously.

However, there are a plethora of other reasons to oppose this bill, and we are opposing it without necessarily putting that point at the front and centre of our reasoning.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Markham—Unionville spoke a bit about the waiting times for people to get their citizenship. Being from the Montreal area, I know that the wait times there are easily four and sometimes up to five years. If person is not able to make the first appointment because of illness or some imprévu, as we say in French, it could go on and on. Some of these people have come here to become citizens.

I am wondering if my colleague has had any personal experience, being an MP from the Toronto area, where there are probably more immigrants waiting for their citizenship.

Second, what is my colleague's feeling about the fee, which is going to be increased. These are people who probably cannot afford to pay the fee. Sometimes they put off getting their citizenship, because they cannot afford the fee. How does the member feel about having an increase in the fee while having a decrease in services?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, beginning with the fee, as I said to the minister, when the government has just bungled the job and doubled the waiting time, it is not the time to double the fee. That is totally unfair. Maybe if the minister halved the waiting time, as he has promised to do in some future period after the next election, that would be the time to raise the fee, but he should wait until he does it. He should not do it in advance on the basis of some promise that may or may not be realized. I agree that some of these people have a hard time paying the fee.

On the first question about people waiting for citizenship, it is a horror story. According to Statistics Canada, Markham happens to be the most multicultural community in the country, so 90% of my business is immigration related. We hear horror stories about people wanting to be reunited with their spouses, or grandparents wanting to come to the weddings of their grandchildren and being denied. Grandparent A is in exactly the same situation as grandparent B, yet one gets in and one does not, and nobody knows why.

For citizenship, some people have to fill out a form that adds two years to the wait time. The average is two and a half years, but it can be up to five years.

As I said in my speech, if the philosophy of the Conservatives is to scowl at newcomers, they do not care. If the Conservatives cared, they would have put money in between 2007 and 2012. The government would have put money in to prevent waiting times going from 16 months to 32 months, but it failed to do that. The government knew that it was causing waiting times to go up, and it neglected to put the required resources in. The government is utterly guilty of neglect.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 5 p.m.
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Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on this scowl-smile argument. Imagine, when we came into government, what expression was on the faces of more than 840,000 immigration candidates. It was a reflection of the backlog and the abject failure of the Liberal government, as it was then, on citizenship and immigration. It bottomed out when one of the last Liberal ministers of immigration on record appeared to have made decisions from the House of Lancaster, an entertainment bar in her riding.

It is funny that the same people, the members of the opposition, and particularly that member, are now accusing our smiling minister of wanting too much power. They are the same ones who asked the minister to exercise his power by stopping deportations, issuing visas, granting citizenships, and keeping criminals in Canada, and the list goes on.

Is the member saying that he wants to prevent giving citizenship to those who qualify for discretion?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Everything is always our fault, Mr. Speaker. We gave the Conservatives a $13-billion surplus, they spent so much money that they frittered away that surplus. Before the recession even started, they were running a deficit. It is no wonder they had a smile on their faces when they saw that great big surplus.

In terms of immigration waiting times, the department, in its wisdom, does not give us numbers before 2007. That is the earliest we can go. That is the very beginning of the Conservative period. As I quoted, with all of those numbers, back to the minister, family classification went up by 200%. Others went up 100%. That had nothing to do with the Liberals. That increase in waiting times by 100% was under the Conservative watch. So I think--

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 5 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to join this lively debate. However, before I do that, let me just say that I will be splitting my time with the hard-working member for Calgary Centre.

I am pleased to rise to discuss how our government plans to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship.

Canadian citizenship is about far more than the right to carry a passport, as some might think, or to vote. Canadian citizenship is a commitment and forever a connection to our great country, Canada.

Citizenship defines who we are as Canadians, including our mutual responsibilities to one another, responsibilities such as respect for the rule of law, contributing to the well-being of the Canadian community, and protecting our heritage and our traditions. Citizenship means that we share a commitment to the values rooted in our history, values such as freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

As a government, we believe that Canadian citizenship is truly something special and should be valued. We believe that is what Canadians want. However, there are those who attempt to attach a monetary cost to Canadian citizenship.

The strengthening Canadian citizen act, Bill C-24, would send a clear message to those who attempt to take advantage of our generous system.

Canadian citizenship never was, is not now, and never will be for sale. A Canadian passport is highly valued around the world. However, we will not stand by as people treat our passport as a commodity that can be traded or sold to the highest bidder.

Our government takes citizenship fraud very seriously. We are taking action to ensure that those who are convicted of citizenship fraud face the full force of the law. This is very important.

There are those who, for their financial advantage, prey on people who are legitimately wanting to become Canadian citizens. They fraudulently approach them with schemes. We would like to crack down on those people. We believe it is incumbent on our government, on any government, to do that to protect law-abiding residents, permanent residents, and citizens in our country.

As of October 2013, the RCMP was conducting fraud investigations involving more than 3,000 citizens and more than 5,000 permanent residents, a majority of them related to residence fraud.

This a serious issue, which is why we are bringing forward these changes to the Citizenship Act. These are individuals who create fake addresses, purchase fake phone lines, open ghost bank accounts, and draft false letters of employment in an attempt to show that they live in Canada. In reality, many of these individuals may have never set foot in Canada and probably live somewhere else in the world.

These practices demean and devalue what it means to be a Canadian citizen. The strengthening Canadian citizenship act introduced by our government would ensure that we are not only protecting the value of Canadian citizenship from those who would cheapen it but that we are also improving the citizenship system.

Unfortunately, there is a global industry of unscrupulous, unethical immigration and citizenship agents posing as bona fide consultants. These unscrupulous agents typically coach people to establish fake proof of residency in Canada in order to apply for and obtain our Canadian citizenship.

Do not just take it from me. Immigration lawyers like Raj Sharma also agree that this is a serious problem. He admitted:

...immigration fraud was rampant and you did see ghost consultants and unregulated consultants counsel individuals to embellish or exaggerate the time in Canada. Let's face it. The Canadian passport is an incredibly valuable commodity and individuals are willing to lie, cheat, and deceive us to obtain that benefit.

Currently, there are no tools in the toolbox to identify citizenship fraud upfront at the application stage. As a result, many applicants fall victim to crooked citizenship consultants. The strengthening Canadian citizenship act would change that. With our changes, applicants would have to declare on the citizenship application form whether they used an authorized consultant or representative. The key here is that the representative would have to be accredited and part of a regulatory body specified by the minister. This would put an end to crooked citizenship consultants.

Bill C-24 would increase the penalties for citizenship fraud to a maximum fine of $100,000 or up to five years in prison.

We are also taking action to strengthen the residence requirements for citizenship. There has been a lot of ambiguity over what it means to be physically present in Canada. Our government is taking out the guesswork and making it clear. Prospective Canadian citizens would need to be physically present in Canada in four out of the past six years. Respected lawyer Richard Kurland stated:

It makes it easier. For the very first time there is going to be a definition for “residence”. You'd think it would be in the law. It never has been. It is now 183 days in a year, four years on the previous six. So now you know in advance, using math, whether you're in or you're out.

Even Toronto Sun columnist Simon Kent agrees. As part of his comment, he said if people want to live in Canada, if they want to enjoy living in a free and prosperous country like Canada, they should spend time here, they should live here, and they should contribute to civil society. I know that sounds like something out of Politics 101, but it is basically saying to live here, enjoy the fruits of one's labour, pay one's taxes, show that one is committed. I think extending the period of permanent residency here from three to four years, or maybe even five years, before being able to take up citizenship is a fair and reasonable proposition.

This is a subject that is very close and dear to my heart; not only because I have the privilege of representing one of the most diverse communities in the country in my riding, the great riding of Richmond Hill, but also because I am very proud that my parents were immigrants to this country. They came here during John Diefenbaker's prime ministership in this House. They had to wait five years to get their citizenship. I remember because I was born and I was there. I remember how proud they were when they studied and they learned the language requirements they needed, and they went and wrote those tests and they spoke and obtained their Canadian citizenship. Let me tell members that I believe my parents are representative of the vast majority of Canadian citizens who have chosen this great country as their new home.

I heard with great attention what the critics from the opposition parties said, and I would be very happy to listen to and take any questions they might have.

In closing, I would just say this. The strengthening Canadian citizenship act demonstrates our government's commitment to ensuring new Canadians understand the value of citizenship. The changes would make it harder for those who wish to take advantage of our generous immigration system and would send a strong message. Canadian citizenship is not a right; it is a privilege for those who commit themselves to Canada, our way of life, our values, and our traditions.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

One thing worries me about today's debate, and this comes mainly from the minister. It appears that he is already jumping to conclusions by saying that we are opposed to making the citizenship system more effective or that we are against punishing people who cheat the system. He says this because in the bill, which is about 50 pages long, there are of course some measures that we agree with and some commendable intentions, but there are also other measures that are quite questionable and troubling, not only to the official opposition but also to many civil society groups and experts in the field.

When I asked the minister earlier if he would be willing to review some aspects of the bill, he said he did not see any shortcomings in the bill.

I would like to ask my colleague, who is a fellow member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, if this means that there is no room for hearing from experts and taking their recommendations into account. If the minister sees absolutely no shortcomings in his bill, when many groups have already expressed their concerns, does that mean that there will be no room for amendments in committee? We often see this, and I hope that that will not be the case when this bill is examined by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2014 / 5:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister said no such thing, nor did he allude to any such thing. The process in the House, and I think all members know, is that the bill will go to committee once it has passed second reading, and we will have an opportunity to study it at committee stage and hear experts. We cannot prejudge or preempt what the conclusions or decisions of the committee will be after it has an opportunity to study the bill at that stage.

One of the concerns the member opposite had was the fee. I do not know if she took the time actually to read the content of the bill, or at least investigate the reasons behind some of the things that are in the bill. She commented about our increasing the fee for Canadian citizenships. Had she done a little homework, she would have found out that it costs about $550 for a Canadian application today. We are taking the fee to a proportion of that. Is it not fair for Canadians to expect that the cost of that application should be borne by the person who is applying and not by taxpayers?