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 / 9 p.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal colleague, who is one of my favourite members, at least on the Liberal side. She does excellent work on every issue she is involved in.

She is absolutely right. Like me, she is passionate about children and their well-being. The work we do in the House of Commons is for the future of the next generation of Canadians, which includes young newcomers.

Although I agree that adult newcomers must show that they are able to speak one of Canada's two official languages—if for no other reason than to improve their integration into Canadian society—I am somewhat bothered by the fact that 14-year-olds will now be required to know one of the official languages when they arrive in Canada.

If their parents are able to speak one of the official languages, but for various reasons, the child has not yet learned to speak French or English, the age of 14 is much too young to require them to do so. If these young people are able to successfully integrate into a Canadian school, I am convinced that they will learn not just one official language, but both and become bilingual.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9 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 both pleased and proud to rise in the House tonight to once again speak in support of Bill C-24, the strengthening Canadian citizenship act.

The Citizenship Act in its current form has not been updated or reviewed since 1977. It is now almost a generation later, and while changes have been made to many other pieces of legislation, the Citizenship Act has yet to be addressed. We must ensure that it is relevant and will meet the needs and challenges our citizens and prospective citizens in today's Canada have.

One of the current requirements that I am sure all of us can agree should be enforced is that citizenship should promote attachment to Canada and Canadian values. It should also promote and mandate a responsibility to participate in the life of our communities and our institutions. However, under the current and outdated act, lengthy processing times mean qualified applicants are waiting too long for their citizenship, and the citizenship fees associated do not reflect the full costs.

As I have been saying since this legislation was introduced earlier this year, the measures in the bill represent the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation. They would ensure that the process reflects the great importance Canadians place on their citizenship, improve the efficiency of the process by which newcomers become Canadian citizens, and deter citizens of convenience.

If implemented, these measures would fulfill a commitment made by our government in the most recent Speech from the Throne and would protect and strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship in four specific ways: by improving processing efficiency in the citizenship program, by reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship, by strengthening integrity and combatting fraud, and by protecting and promoting Canada's interests and values.

I would like to go into some specifics in each of these areas. As I do so, I will address and try to bring clarity to a number of misconceptions about the bill that have arisen since it was introduced in February.

The measures in Bill C-24 would improve the efficiency of the citizenship program and are the foundation of the initiative we have called the blueprint for citizenship improvements.

Before I go on, I want to quote one of the many witnesses we heard at the citizenship and immigration committee, Ms. Salma Siddiqui, from the Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslims. This is what Ms. Siddiqui said:

I have heard concerns that Bill C-24 represents a knee-jerk reaction or that it serves a—quote—political process. I disagree. Bill C-24 represents an assertion of the pride we hold in our values of an open, liberal democracy, where our freedoms are applied to all. Ladies and gentlemen, we must be reasonable.

She said this at the meeting on May 14 of this year.

Since 2006, Canada has welcomed an average of more than 250,000 newcomers a year, the highest sustained level of immigration in our country's history. As a result, the demand for citizenship has increased by more than 30%.

The measures in the blueprint for citizenship improvements in Bill C-24 include a streamlined decision-making model, an improved ability to determine what constitutes a complete application, and a strengthened authority to abandon applications where applicants would not take the steps requested to provide information or appear for a hearing. These measures would improve the process, support ongoing efforts to speed up citizenship processing, and ensure that resources are focused on processing qualified applicants.

In addressing backlogs, there are two quotations I would like to bring to the House's attention. Mr. Warren Creates is an immigration lawyer, and this is what he said:

There'll be a one-step process. It's going to take a year. This is what people want. They want clarity. They want certainty and they want efficiency, and the Canadian taxpayer wants that too.

This was said on Ottawa Morning on CBC Radio One on February 10.

Richard Kurland, who is a renowned immigration lawyer in our country, said on Global TV's Global National, on February 6, 2014:

The guesswork is taken out of this new system and your processing time will be, relatively speaking, lightning fast.

I urge the members opposite to support the passage of the bill so that it receives royal assent this summer. The passage of the strengthening Canadian citizenship act would significantly reduce the backlog and average processing time for citizenship applications. This is something the opposition has supported in the past, and the responsible thing would be to support it now.

The blueprint for citizenship improvements mandates a new single-step decision-making model, thus improving processing timelines.

However, a misconception has arisen about this efficiency measure. There is a worry that we are moving away from independent decision-makers. I want to reassure my hon. colleagues in this House that this is not the case. In fact, citizenship officers are unfettered, highly qualified decision-makers who are delegated to review and make approximately 100,000 case decisions a year on citizenship matters. Their decision to grant or deny citizenship would continue to be based on the criteria in the law, supported by objective evidence.

The second set of reforms in the strengthening Canadian citizenship act would strengthen the rules around access to Canadian citizenship, ensuring that those rules reflect the true value of Canadian citizenship and that new citizens are better prepared for full participation in Canadian life.

If implemented, Bill C-24 would lengthen the residency requirement from three years to four years in Canada to four of the previous six years before a person could apply for citizenship. It would clarify that residence means physical presence in Canada, which I think is a reasonable expectation Canadians have. It would require adult citizenship applicants to file income tax returns for four years out of the previous six, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, to be eligible for citizenship, and it would also to require them to make an upfront commitment that they intend to reside in Canada.

Several people have commented on just those provisions, and I would like to point out some of them.

Toronto Sun columnist Simon Kent said, on February 6 in Straight Talk, that he thought a lot of people would say that it is a reasonable expectation if one wants to live in Canada. If people want to enjoy living in a free and prosperous country like Canada, they should spend time here and live here and contribute to society. He said that he knows it sounds like something out of politics 101, but that people living here, enjoying the fruits of their labour, paying their taxes, showing that they are committed, and having an extended period of permanent residency from three to four years, and maybe even five, before taking up citizenship is a fair and reasonable proposition.

Gillian Smith, executive director and chief executive officer of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, said:

Our organization works extensively with Canada's newest citizens who tell us that measures taken to foster their attachment and connection to Canada have a positive effect on their successful integration. New citizens' sense of belonging comes in large measure from experiencing Canada first-hand: its people, nature, culture and heritage.

Bal Gupta, a widower, from the Air-India 182 Victims Families Association, endured a tragic experience in his life.

He said:

Well, it's not anything new. When I came to Canada in 1968, at that time the requirement was five years, except that there was a loophole for Commonwealth citizens. For them it was three years. So it is not anything unusual. Also, many countries around the world have a five-year residency requirement, so it is not unusual to have a requirement of four years. I don't think it is something that's unreasonable.

Reis Pagtakhan, an immigration lawyer, said:

First, I would like to support the proposal to change the residency requirement for citizenship from three out of four to four out of six years. I believe that the longer an individual lives, works, or studies in Canada, the greater connection that person will have to our country.

James Bissett appeared before our committee as an individual. Here is what Mr. Bissett had to say:

I'm also pleased to see that we've extended the wait time by at least one year. I argued in 1977 that we shouldn't have abandoned the five-year wait. I think three years has been too short a period for people to know enough about Canada and our cultural systems to apply for citizenship. I approve of that change, even though it doesn't go quite as far as I might have wanted.

Mr. Bissett was the deputy minister in 1977.

I would like to address the ill-informed argument against some of these measures, which states that the intention to reside provision contravenes mobility rights guaranteed under the charter. In fact, the provision simply signals that citizenship is for those who intend to make Canada their home. Citizenship applicants would be asked as part of the application process whether they intend to reside in Canada. I do not think we would find a Canadian in the country who would say that people can have citizenship even if they do not intend to reside here.

If applicants indicate that they do not intend to reside in this country, they would not be granted citizenship, as Canadian citizenship means contributing to Canadian life. These requirements are not onerous, and they are in line with those of key partner nations, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

Nothing about this provision would limit the mobility rights of new citizens. They would be able to leave and return to Canada like any other citizen. In fact, as my hon. colleagues are aware, every government bill presented in the House of Commons is to be examined by the Minister of Justice to ascertain if it is consistent with the purposes or provisions of the charter. Bill C-24, as my hon. colleagues should know, is no exception, and it would not be before the House today in its current form if any such inconsistencies had been found.

The third set of measures in Bill C-24 would help counter citizenship fraud and combat abuse of the citizenship process. Among other reforms, these measures would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the authority to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters. The measures would also substantially increase the penalty for committing citizenship fraud, which has not been increased since 1977; streamline the revocation process; and bar people whose citizenship was revoked before they obtained it fraudulently from reapplying for citizenship for 10 years.

Finally, it would provide the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are members of an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict against our country, Canada, and to deny citizenship to permanent residents involved in the same actions. Dual citizens and permanent residents convicted of terrorism, treason, high treason, or spying offences would be similarly affected, depending on the sentence received in the courts.

These last measures, although they would likely only apply to a small number of individuals, would deliver a very strong and clear message that those who betray our country or take up arms against our armed forces have, in essence, forfeited their right to Canadian citizenship. The opposition parties have criticized our government for this provision. On this side of the House, we are sending a clear message to those who commit serious crimes such as terrorism. Canada's doors are closed and will remain closed to criminals who are undeserving of the rich opportunities that exist with Canadian citizenship.

Any government's priority is the safety and security of its people. The people are who we serve.

We are proud to say these measures are fully in line with our efforts in this regard. This is what Canadians expect and this is what they deserve.

Here is what Shimon Fogel, from the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs, had to say about that very issue:

—one of the things that has been percolating is the notion of not just the rights we enjoy but the responsibilities that attach to being a Canadian.

I don't look at this so much as an issue of punishing people by revoking their citizenship as a result of particular undertakings or acts they've committed, but rather that they are so fundamentally at odds with core Canadian values that there's no rationale or way to reconcile Canadian citizenship with that kind of activity.

Sheryl Saperia, from the Foundation of Defense of Democracy, said:

Bill C-24 suggests that Canadian citizenship, whether bestowed by birthright or naturalization, is predicated on a most basic commitment to the state: that citizens abstain from committing those offences considered most contrary to the national security interests of Canada.

Maureen Basnicki, from the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, Alliance of Canadian Terror Victims Foundation, said:

—yes, terrorism is a global situation. Even though Canada has been fortunate in not having large numbers of Canadians who have been killed by terrorists, we do have them, by the way, from 9/11 and from Air India and many other acts of terror. So we can't disregard that. We do have Canadians who choose to engage in terrorist activities. So if this bill or any such legislation could help deter and help Canada with its statement of intolerance for the most heinous crimes—not to create a hierarchy but it targets innocent civilians—if this can help then I think it's a good thing.

While the package of reforms before us today has been well received by Canadians as reasonable, even overdue, changes to Canada's citizenship laws, the most vocal opponents have been telling.

We have heard the manufactured umbrage of activist immigration lawyers who never miss an opportunity to criticize our government's citizenship and immigration reforms. Their feigned outrage is generally born out of pure self-interest in our opinion and that is the case in this instance.

These activist lawyers, some of them opposition partisans, oppose this change because they are attempting to drum up business by promoting the interests of convicted terrorists and serious criminals over the safety and security of Canadians.

I see the opposition House leader smiling over there. That is a fact, Mr. Speaker. There is nothing to smile about. You should be ashamed to make those kinds of comments—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

I should be saying that through you, Mr. Speaker. The opposition House leader should be ashamed of the comments he is making while I am giving my speech. If he does not understand that Canadians do not want terrorists in their communities, around their homes, in their malls, around the schools, then I believe he is in the wrong job. I urge those people to stand with us on the side of Canadians in our great country.

Other misconceptions have arisen over these revocation provisions. For example, some have suggested that these provisions would create a two-class system of citizenship: dual citizens who can have their citizenship revoked and Canadian citizens without another citizenship who cannot. In fact, the reason that these provisions would not be applied to individuals who only have Canadian citizenship is to ensure compliance with Canada's international obligations not to render them stateless.

I can go on and on, but I would like to conclude by saying this. These are necessary improvements to ensure that Canadian citizenship continues to be the envy of the world. Should the bill not be supported by the opposition parties, they are going against measures such as demanding greater attachment to Canada, cracking down on fraud, implementing efforts to effectively deal with the backlog and, importantly, it would mean opposing the option to revoke Canadian citizenship from those who engage in terrorism, espionage, and treason.

Unlike the opposition, our Conservative government is strengthening the value of citizenship by cracking down on fraud, demanding greater attachment to Canada and speeding up processing for eligible applicants. I encourage all of my hon. colleagues to support this very important legislation.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:20 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech.

He quoted many people who support the Conservative government. I commend him for having found them. I would like to quote Mr. Fogel of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on May 5, 2014.

He said:

There doesn't appear to be any safeguard that would preclude a minister from commencing a revocation proceeding for someone who declared intent to reside, but then went abroad to study, work, or tend to an ill relative...

In our view, the problem of potential abuse could be dealt with by requiring the minister to seek a court declaration in cases of misrepresentation of intent to reside, similar to the requirement included for other cases of fraud.

We already have the tools to deal with cases of fraud. Frankly, this bill is electoral opportunism, pure and simple. The Conservative government handles immigration issues with complete incompetence, and the temporary foreign worker program is one example.

The member concluded his speech by saying that they are reducing processing times for citizenship applications. However, 320,000 people are still waiting for their file to be processed. In addition, since the government came to power, application processing times have doubled.

Is this just electioneering, or will the government actually start processing the backlog of immigration applications?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I want to thank the member for that question, because his preamble to the question was so baseless. He is speaking about election partisanship. This is the way the New Democrats think. That is their mindset. That is why they illegally spent $1.17 million of taxpayer money to do mailings in areas that they are not even elected in, to open offices in areas across the country where they do not even have elected members. He has the audacity to stand and say this is somehow electioneering.

We were given a strong mandate by the Canadian people to govern, and that is exactly what we are doing, governing. We are bringing good and important legislation before the House, legislation that Canadians have been waiting for, in this case, for a generation. If the member would read the bill, he would see the answer to the second part of his question. We are going from a three-step process to a one-step process for citizenship applications, which will reduce the backlog to under a year.

He should support the bill and stop those silly, partisan, ridiculous comments from the most benign opposition party that this place and the country have ever seen.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Could the parliamentary secretary tell me if Bill C-24 puts the best interests of children first? Has he personally reviewed the following articles of the convention, and does the bill meet the rights of the convention? They are article 1, definition of the child; article 3, best interests of the child; article 5, family integrity; article 6, survival and development; article 7, birth and registration; article 8, family relations; article 9, protection from arbitrary separation from parents; and article 10, family reunification.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, anything our government does always has all of our citizens in mind, particularly our children, our most vulnerable citizens in our country.

I am keenly aware of the convention that she has spoken about and the different articles. In this bill, we are actually looking after the best interests of the children. I do not think there is a Canadian who would deny that throwing terrorists out of the country is in the best interest of our children and communities. I do not think there is a Canadian who believes that there is a child 14 to 17 years old who has spent four years in the Canadian education system who cannot speak in one of our two official languages, English or French.

I am keenly aware of the convention and I can tell the hon. member wholeheartedly that the best interests of children are always taken into consideration by our government, as I am sure they are taken into consideration by every member in the House.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:25 p.m.
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Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that the former minister of citizenship and immigration ensured was that there were multiple welcome centres set up for newcomers to Canada to have the opportunity to get instruction in a variety of issues that would help them integrate into the community.

I am very privileged to have a welcome centre in Newmarket—Aurora, which I visit on a regular basis and interact with many newcomers to Canada.

One of the things they appreciate so much at that centre is the value of learning English as a second language. I know we do the same thing in Quebec, where people learn the French language. However, the value is having a language so they can work in the community, can learn to do their banking, and enrol their children in school.

Could the member speak a little about how that integration helps to build into the fabric of our country?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her hard work and dedication, and the attention she gives to the citizenship and immigration file. I know how important it is to her. The member is also from a very diverse greater Toronto area riding.

I also want to pay tribute to the former minister of citizenship and immigration, current Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, for his leadership on the matters of citizenship and immigration for a great many years now.

In my riding of Richmond Hill, I also have a welcome centre. It is a wonderful facility. It is a great place for new Canadians to go and learn some of the skills they need to better integrate into Canadian society.

The answer to my hon. colleague is that I believe the services provided there are outstanding. I have visited the welcome centre on a number of occasions, as have both ministers, current and former. New Canadians of all ages are getting the skills they need to better integrate into Canadian society, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes for them as they contribute to Canada.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:30 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary has told us tonight that we can trust that Bill C-24 is compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it would not be before the House if it had not gone through justice department lawyers, and the fact that it is before us means it is charter compliant.

Could he explain how so many bills passed in the last little while have gone before the courts and been struck down? Is it only a recent practice that the Conservatives are letting justice department lawyers look at the legislation? Will the government please table before us any justice department opinion that is prepared to disagree with a large number of lawyers who have looked at this bill, me included, and looked at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are finding the bill, on its face, non-compliant?

The fact that it is before us and the tautology that because it came through the Department of Justice it must be okay is absolutely proven false by the fact that so many bills are being struck down, bills that were passed in this place in a hurry, like Bill C-24.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, although the premise of the member's question is way off, her mathematics are off as well. She said “so many bills”.

I wonder if the member could look back to when we formed government in 2006, look at the large number of pieces of legislation that have gone through the House, and then look at the very few, not many, that have had an issue. We are happy to respect what the courts say.

The member is making it sound as if this is an overwhelmingly huge problem. I have every confidence in the Minister of Justice and in the legal professionals who have advised us on this bill prior to bringing it to the House. I am confident that it is charter compliant. I am sure we will see that in fairly short order.

I urge her and everybody else in the House to pass this legislation swiftly. It is good for Canada and it is good for Canadians. Over 83% of Canadians are supportive of the important measures in this legislation.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:30 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24. Before I go on, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

As we know, this bill was studied in committee. Unfortunately, even though we proposed good amendments to address the major problems in the bill, the government decided to reject those amendments.

We are concerned about the constitutionality of this bill, and that is a big deal. Immigration is a significant part of our government system, and when the government brings in a bill, the least it can do is ensure that it is constitutional and will not be struck down. Nonetheless, there are some good measures in this bill and we encourage those. Unfortunately, there are also some very worrisome measures as well.

First, during the speech by my colleague from Winnipeg North, I talked about the fact that part of Bill C-425, a private member's bill, was added to this bill. The part that was added has to do with shortening the time requirement for becoming a Canadian citizen for members of the armed forces who are permanent residents.

That is a good measure and we support it. When someone provides a service to society, like a member of the Canadian Armed Forces does, then we can only encourage that. Unfortunately, this good measure probably applies to fewer than three people a year. To become a member of the Canadian Armed Forces you have to be a Canadian citizen unless you have permission from the Chief of the Defence Staff. That only happens when there is truly a shortage in a trade and someone has a specific skill. Then that person can be recruited. It happens very rarely.

When I was preparing my private member's bill, I was told it would affect only 5% of all volunteer firefighters, that that was not enough and that it did not apply to enough people. In this case, the government is bringing in a legislative measure that will apply to three people. I am glad that the government is supporting the Canadian Armed Forces, but it is still troubling to see that the government is implementing good measures that will apply to almost no one.

Now that I have talked about a good measure that applies to few people, I would like to talk about other specific aspects of the bill. What worries me the most is the possibility that the minister can revoke a person's Canadian citizenship in a rather arbitrary manner. There is no court or process, and he decides whether to revoke someone's citizenship. It could be someone who has dual citizenship, because of family ties, for example, and who has actually never set foot in the country where they hold the second citizenship.

It seems to me that this makes no sense and also does not comply with practices. When some other countries apply a similar measure, it is done in accordance with a very comprehensive process. That looks much more like a process where there are detailed explanations of the reasons why it can be done.

There is another measure that I find particularly troubling and that is the fact that people will now have to declare their intent to reside in Canada. If they make this declaration, they will obtain their citizenship, but it could be revoked.

Citizenship could be revoked if the person does not comply with the requirement of remaining in Canada. However, there are special cases. I was thinking of students, for example. Take a young person who obtains his citizenship and who intends to remain in Canada. Then, by a stroke of luck, he is accepted at Harvard or Oxford, which are renowned universities.

It would be very tempting for someone who has an opportunity to go to one of these universities, especially if they were offered a scholarship. His intent to reside is still valid, but he has an opportunity. His intention is not to leave Canada permanently; he simply wants to take advantage of the opportunity he is being given at a certain point in his life. This could give rise to a real sense of insecurity that is truly untenable for people who would have to decide between an extraordinary opportunity and perhaps losing their citizenship.

There is also the example of professional athletes, people who are here in Canada and have dual citizenship. They may have obtained their citizenship when they were young and then become high-performance athletes. If they go abroad to train and are successful at their sport, they could ultimately lose their citizenship because they did not comply with the requirement to reside in Canada, even though they said that they wanted to. In that case, they might be presented with an opportunity that they might not be able to take.

I am also very concerned about another aspect of this bill and that is the fact that it prohibits people who are convicted abroad for crimes punishable in Canada from acquiring citizenship.

We understand that a person who is accused of homosexuality in a foreign country, for example, would not be affected because that is not a crime in Canada. However, many countries have fairly corrupt justice systems. The actual guilt of a person who was accused in a foreign country may be in question. We have to be careful.

This bill does not take into account the fact that the justice systems of many countries are often lacking. The system of evidence is lacking. We may therefore be dealing with people who have been falsely accused or who may have been persecuted at some point. That is likely why they chose to leave the country that this government would be trying to send them back to.

There are some very worrisome measures in this bill. The government is talking about changing the age for language testing. The fact that the Conservatives are increasing the upper age limit to 64 is fairly reasonable, but the fact that they are lowering the age for children and adolescents is particularly worrisome.

Our immigration system currently has an unbelievable backlog. Some people wait months or even years. They come to see me in a complete panic. They say that nothing is happening with their file. They are wondering what is going on and they ask me to call to find out.

It is completely ridiculous how many people are waiting for their immigration file to be processed. The government's priority should be dealing with these excessive wait times, which make the immigration process more complex. I have seen some unbelievable cases.

The immigration file of one of my constituents was frozen because he did not have a criminal background check for his two-month-old baby.

I believe that there is cause for concern when the immigration system requires paperwork that does not make sense. The government should address many of these problems, decrease wait times and try not to make an already flawed system even more problematic.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:40 p.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular)

Mr. Speaker, the member has missed the point of the strengthening Canadian citizenship act, which has been on debate tonight.

What she has said is, in fact, not true. It would only be revoked from dual citizens if the person served as a member of an armed force or organized armed group engaged in an armed conflict with Canada; was convicted of treason, high treason, or spying offences and sentenced to imprisonment for life; or was convicted of a terrorism offence or an equivalent foreign terrorism conviction and sentenced to five years' or more imprisonment. The member is misleading Canadians by suggesting that it is anything less than someone who has indeed compromised our safety in Canada.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:40 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I can say is that this bill contains some very worrisome measures, including the discretionary power being granted to the minister. This measure is very worrisome and the minister cannot deny that. That is what worries me.

This is why this bill should have been drafted differently and the government should have accepted the NDP's amendments to at least ensure that this bill is constitutional.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives chose to stick their heads in the sand, and that is why I am so disappointed in this bill.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, during the 1970s and the 1980s, millions of people actually received their Canadian citizenship and today they are in fact very proud Canadians. Yesterday, the member was here when the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration stated in the House that the 1977 Citizenship Act actually “cheapened Canadian citizenship”. What he was referring to was the residency requirement in part, which the government now is increasing from three of four years to four of six years.

My question for the member is this. Does she believe that increasing the residency requirement would give more value to the citizenship, or was Mr. Trudeau's change in policy back in 1977 the right direction for us to have been going, as we believe is the case today?