Mr. Speaker, we are going to take advantage of this opportunity, because the holidays are coming.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues for their excellent speeches. The end of the session is fast approaching, and I would like to take a moment to recognize all of the work my colleagues have accomplished over the year.
I would also like to share my thoughts on the bill before us this evening, namely Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. When the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration introduced the bill last winter, he said he wanted to protect the value of Canadian citizenship for those who have citizenship and create a faster, more efficient process for those who are applying for it. I think that everyone here agrees with that basic principle. As legislators, we have a duty to protect the value of our citizenship, and we all recognize that there are measures that must be taken to make the citizenship process faster and more efficient.
While we agree with the objective, I must point out that we have different opinions as to how to reach that objective. I will begin by focusing on the aspects of the bill that must be implemented in order to strengthen the value of our citizenship, while also protecting Canadian citizens.
First, there must be stricter rules for fraudulent immigration consultants. Bill C-24 would give the government the authority to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants.
The bill also recognizes that people who sell immigration consultant services are capable of committing an offence. The goal here is to punish fraudsters, not law-abiding immigrants. That is why we are pushing the government to create strict laws to crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants. I also feel that access to citizenship could be expedited for those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, since they make a commitment to represent our country and defend our values.
Another positive aspect of this bill relates to conferring citizenship on more lost Canadians. The NDP has taken an interest in this issue since at least 2007. In response to pressure from our party at the time, the government instituted measures in 2009 to confer citizenship on most lost Canadians. However, the changes did not apply to people born before 1947. Bill C-24 closes the loop.
I would also like to express my approval of the harsh penalty for fraud. Bill C-24 significantly increases the fines for fraud from $1,000 to $100,000, as well as the maximum prison terms, which will now be from 5 to 14 years depending on the circumstances. This measure will give those contemplating fraud reason to stop and think before committing a crime.
I also support the proposal to institute stricter residency requirements for those seeking citizenship. This measure specifies the number of days during which a person must have been physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship. This clarifies the process and, as immigration lawyer Richard Kurland pointed out, it will simplify things for permanent residents trying to plan their lives. Some parts of this bill will fix problems with the system.
However, other parts of Bill C-24 should be changed. There are many reasons for this. First is the fact that the bill hands too much power over to the minister, including the power to grant citizenship to or revoke it from dual nationals. This measure raises major legal concerns and makes new immigrants vulnerable to arbitrary, politically motivated decisions.
I want to make it clear that Canadian law already includes mechanisms to punish people who commit crimes. It should not be up to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and his department to make these decisions.
Another issue with the power to revoke citizenship for dual nationals is that it will result in two-tiered citizenship. Some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked, while others found guilty of the same offence would be punished under the Criminal Code. I believe that aspect of the bill could face a legal challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically under section 15.
Treating dual citizens differently and exposing them to potential loss of citizenship creates a double standard, which raises some serious constitutional questions. However, section 15 of the charter could not be more clear:
15. (1) Every individual...has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Is the government hoping to once again be scolded by the Supreme Court? How can it consider giving a single person that kind of authority without putting in place a system of checks and balances to avoid abuses? Moreover, why refuse to release the names of the people whose citizenship the minister has revoked or to whom he has secretly granted citizenship?
Until now, such cases were generally referred to the courts and cabinet. It should stay that way. Otherwise, the minister would have the power to revoke citizenship based on suspicion alone, without an independent court ruling on whether or not the accusations are true. On that point, why not follow the lead of the United States, where the government may file a civil suit to revoke an individual's naturalization if it was obtained illegally or if the individual concealed or falsified relevant facts in the naturalization application process? In that situation, the individual in question has the legal right to take the case to court. Every ruling can be appealed, and the individual is guaranteed due process.
That is what should happen in a democratic and egalitarian country like Canada. What is more, the minister can revoke the citizenship of someone who was convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to imprisonment for life for treason, high treason or espionage or convicted of a terrorism offence as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code—or an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute a terrorism offence as defined in that section—and sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment.
At first glance, this measure may seem fair, but what will happen when the person is sentenced in a country with a judicial system that is corrupt or beholden to political interests? For example, Canada cannot, on the one hand, denounce the elections of a country that it considers to have absolutely no democratic system, but, on the other hand, accept the foundations of its rule of law in order to justify revoking someone's citizenship.
The last point I find troubling is related to what I believe to be the most serious problem with our immigration system: the delays and wait times for processing files, which is completely ridiculous. Despite more than 25 major changes that were made to the methods, rules, laws and regulations concerning immigration since 2008, the Canadian immigration system is still no more efficient than it was and the wait times are getting longer.
Under Conservative rule, there has been a moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents, a decline in family reunifications, punishment of vulnerable refugees and an increase in the number of temporary foreign workers to meet the needs of big business. There are currently more than 320,000 people still waiting for their application to be processed, and the usual time it takes is approximately 31 months, compared to 15 months in 2009.
Bill C-24 does not present any real solution to reduce these ever-increasing delays. The bill simply proposes that the processing be simplified by eliminating some intermediaries in the steps towards acquiring citizenship. However, nothing proves that these administrative changes will be sufficient to significantly reduce the wait times.
In light of the concerns I just mentioned, I am opposed to Bill C-24 in its present form. I urge my colleagues to work together to give Canadians and future Canadians what they deserve: a system in which citizenship and immigration are more balanced.