Mr. Speaker, thank you for the chance to speak one final time on Bill C-24, a bill respecting the strengthening of Canadian citizenship. This is a challenge that has been before the House in one way or another for well over a century, since Confederation, as we have sought to understand and reinforce the value of the rights and privileges as well as the responsibilities and duties that we have as Canadian citizens.
It is important to realize that the bill has received wide-ranging debate, both in the House and across Canada, in committee and in this Chamber. We disagree perhaps with New Democrats on the nature of that debate. They have forgotten about the pre-study of the bill in committee; we have not. Earlier today in debate they declined to acknowledge that 25 very solid witnesses appeared before committee on the bill. We listened to their testimony with attention and found it extremely valuable.
There is a more fundamental issue, and this debate has revealed the fundamental difference of opinion between the NDP and ourselves on the bill. It revolves around the issue of revocation.
The NDP is silent on the issue of revocation of citizenship when it is fraudulently obtained. That is a power that we as a government already have under the current act. It is a long-standing power that has existed in one form or another through generations in the various versions of legislation governing Canadian citizenship. It is required, because as we in the House and all Canadians know, there was a phenomenon of abuse, particularly after 1977 with the Trudeau reforms to citizenship, of this highly prized program. People received the status of permanent residency but then actually failed to be physically present in our country. Instead, they paid lawyers and consultants to pretend they were here.
We have made great strides in understanding this issue. In collaboration with the RCMP, thousands of cases are being investigated, and they have led to dozens of revocations, as is proper in the minds of Canadians, who, as we all know, rightly have a low tolerance for abuse, for short-circuiting the system, and for rule-breaking of this kind, particularly when it relates to an issue as serious as citizenship.
Then there is the issue of revocation for gross acts of disloyalty to Canada. We on this side think that dual nationals who commit an act of treason or espionage or who are members of a terrorist group serving inside or outside our country have morally forfeited the right to be Canadian citizens. We think that moral forfeiture to the right to Canadian citizenship should be reflected in legislation. We should have the power, as a government and as a country, to revoke the citizenship of those who have taken up arms against the Canadian Forces or sold state secrets.
These are not widespread phenomena in Canada, fortunately. The loyalty of the overwhelming majority of Canadians is not in question. However, that same overwhelming majority understands that citizenship brings with it the concept of allegiance to a crown, to laws, to a political system, a democracy that has rules. When someone literally sells state secrets to a foreign power, betrays our country in fundamental ways, or takes up arms in a terrorist organization or in some other organized force against Canada and against international order, in the case of terrorism there should be a power to revoke citizenship when we are not making citizens stateless. That is a responsibility we take extremely seriously.
The bill would not create new classes, in isolated cases or larger numbers, of stateless persons, but it would give us a right that every other NATO ally, with the exception of Portugal, already has, which is to revoke citizenship for gross acts of disloyalty. This is a fundamental difference we have with the NDP and the Liberals, who do not seem to acknowledge that this power is relevant and that it should be reflected in the modernization of our Citizenship Act, which Bill C-24 would bring.
Second, we have a difference of opinion with a couple of stakeholders, notably, a few in the Canadian Bar Association, who have declared the bill unconstitutional. They do not listen to lawyers from the Department of Justice. They do not listen to lawyers across the country who are specialists in citizenship and immigration and see this bill as valuable, legitimate and entirely constitutional. They think that by asking permanent residents if they have the intent to reside in Canada as they begin the process of accumulating their residence in Canada to qualify for citizenship, is an unconstitutional request. We beg to differ.
If people are resident in Canada for three out of four years under the current law and four out of six years under the new law, they clearly have had the intent to reside in Canada. People do not take up residence in a country by accident, and it is entirely legitimate not only to ensure that there is physical presence for the requisite number of years but that people who are aspiring to attain citizenship have the intent to reside. If their intentions change, so be it. They may qualify for citizenship over a longer period, or their plans may change and they may go to live in another country, take up a job opportunity or follow family circumstances to another part of the world. They will not meet the residency requirements and they will not become eligible for Canadian citizenship. However, we are going to ask, and it is absolutely reasonable to ask, those heading toward the prized goal of Canadian citizenship if they intend to reside here.
Apart from those two criticisms, we have not heard much. There are isolated pockets of opposition to the bill, many of them badly informed, unfortunately, I think often by members opposite who have mischaracterized some of its provisions. There was an online poll, as I was saying in an earlier debate. Some of those who unwittingly signed were under a complete misapprehension of what the bill actually contained. If we on this side of the House had the opportunity to meet with these people, communicate with them directly, as we do in correspondence and emails every day, those misunderstandings would not have gone as far as they did.
The bulk of the reaction we have had from across the country, from the north and south, from the east and west, and everywhere in between goes along the following lines. I will quote Nick Noorani, managing partner of Prepare for Canada, who stated:
I congratulate the government on its changes [to the] Citizenship Act that combat residency fraud and ensure new Canadians have a stronger connection to Canada. With the changes announced today, processing times will be improved and new Canadians will be ready to fully participate in Canadian life.
Martin Collacott of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, a former Canadian ambassador, stated:
The government's new citizenship legislation addresses a host of long overdue issues relating to the acquisition of citizenship. Its provisions, such as strengthening residency requirements for applicants, will increase the value and meaning of Canadian citizenship...
Gillian Smith, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, stated:
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.
There are others, such as Sheryl Saperia on the need to send that clear message of deterrence to those who might contemplate terrorist acts and Bill Janzen, a consultant in the Central Mennonite Committee, who applauded us for the work to address the long overdue issue of lost Canadians.
There is a lot here. There is real value in this bill, such as faster processing, increased value for Canadian citizenship, honouring those serve and deterring disloyalty.
One hundred years ago, debate concluded in the House on the Naturalization Act, which is one of the forebears of this bill. Mr. Diefenbaker said the following on the last day of that debate, which took only one month:
If ever there was a time when we should assert and practise what our citizenship means, it is now....It is our duty and responsibility as Canadian citizens to maintain those principles and traditions which mean so much to us and to guard against infringement of the great principles of freedom; for...the hallmarks of liberty can be erased as a result of the acts of a zealous person who is misdirected, no less than by one who destroys those principles with evil intent. We will give a great citizenship to Canadians hereafter.