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.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill in our view and those of the government's lawyers is constitutional. The risk of a constitutional challenge to any of its provisions is low. We on this side simply do not think that the small group of lawyers, which expressed itself in radical terms on the bill, speak for the hundreds of thousands of lawyers across the country. We do not think most of those lawyers are aware of what was said in their name.

We also think it is the right of Parliament to legislate on citizenship to circumscribe the conditions under which revocation can take place. We think the provisions of the bill with regard to revocation are legitimate.

Does the Liberal Party agree with these provisions? Because in 1947, when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King brought the first citizenship bill forward, there were revocation provisions for treason, for other serious acts of disloyalty to Canada. What has happened to the Liberal Party of Canada on these and so many other issues?

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I again speak to this bill as a member of the citizenship and immigration committee who sat there every day for at least six hours a week during the pre-study of the content and subject matter of the bill. Witness after witness, including expert testimony, said time and again that the clauses in the bill were either in contravention of the charter, un-Canadian, in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, treated different types of Canadians unfairly, such as naturalized Canadians verses born-in-Canada Canadians, and did not value their pre-PR time spent in our country. During our committee study, I polled every witness with whom I had a chance to speak. Every one of them said that the clauses about not valuing the pre-PR time people had spent in Canada should be removed and amended.

In the minister's answer to my previous question with respect to his speech, he made it clear that he did not value what any of the opposition members had to say or any of the amendments that the opposition had put forward. He also did not value the people who were putting time into our country and spending time learning what it was to be a Canadian and living the life of a Canadian.

For example, international students who live in Canada for four years, who go to school with our children, who become their best friends, who party with them, who build strong relationships with our Canadian students and who volunteer in our communities learn what life is like as a Canadian.

However, Bill C-24 states that those people and the time they have spent in our country have no value, that they are not learning what it is to be Canadian. It is easier for those who come to our country as landed immigrants and get their PR the day they arrive than it is for international students who spend four years learning what it is to be a Canadian and living like a Canadian. According to the bill, the time those students have spent in our country has absolutely zero value toward being a Canadian.

I want to talk about some of the amendments the NDP put forward, which the minister said made no sense and were of no value. I forgot the exact adjective he used, but he basically said that they had no value to add. I will not talk about all of the amendments. I want to go through some of the ones we put forward at the committee stage and we were unable to speak to any witnesses.

First was with respect to counting the value of PRs working abroad toward their citizenship application. That was with respect to permanent residents who were temporarily outside of the country for professional reasons. It could be somebody working on a United Nations project in any country around the world. We know that local businesses have operations outside of the country and their employees may have to travel for work. The government has said that even though those people might be living, working and paying taxes in our country, those days they spend working outside of Canada and bringing economic value and thrust to our country has no value. That is what the government said when it refused to accept one of the NDP's amendments.

Another amendment we put forward was to reverse the age changes the government made for language and knowledge requirements. Currently, the law states that 18 to 54 year olds need to pass the language and knowledge requirement tests. What the government members put forward was to increase the maximum age to 65 and lower the minimum age to 14. That means that children who are 14 to 18 are now being treated the same as the adults. I spoke earlier about UNICEF Canada submitting a brief to the committee. It spoke to how that was in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I will read a small portion from the actual brief UNICEF Canada sent to committee. It states:

In relation to the acquisition of citizenship, a number of Convention articles are engaged, including: definition of the child (including age) (article 1); equality and non-discrimination (article 2); the best interests of the child (article 3); family integrity (article 5); survival and development (article 6); birth registration, nationality and protection from statelessness (article 7); family relations (article 8); protection from arbitrary separation from parents (article 9); and, family reunification (article 10).

For those members in the Conservative Party who do not understand what I am saying, I have just finished saying that I am reading, from the brief from UNICEF Canada, which articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child would be breached by the bill.

UNICEF Canada made it very clear that a child-rights-based approach to citizenship requires that we continue ensuring that we are not in contravention of the rights of the child.The language and knowledge requirements testing would be, actually. To quote UNICEF again:

Bill C-24 proposes to amend subsection 5(2) of the Citizenship Act to expand the age requirements of applicants to 14 to 64 (currently 18 to 54) to successfully complete both the language and knowledge requirements. The proposed amendments would effectively put the onus on children aged 14 to 18 to successfully pass both language and knowledge requirements, without additional supports, in order to become a Canadian citizen.

That is telling us that the current government wants to treat children as it does adults, as equivalent to adults.

The NDP proposed two amendments to ensure that these children would not be treated as adults. Another amendment we put forward was to not increase the age from 55 to 65 at the top end of the bracket, because we know that many studies have shown that for older people in the community, it is actually harder to acquire a new language and to pass these knowledge tests in this new language they may be acquiring.

The government members opposed both of those amendments and did not pass them.

Another amendment the NDP put forward would have allowed an opportunity for the applicant to make a submission before a citizenship judge. This is about the minister increasing discretion for himself or herself and future ministers. There would be increased discretion for a minister, yet the applicant would not even have an opportunity to make a submission before a citizenship judge. The NDP put forward an amendment to try to make it more of a fair process so that applicants would actually have an opportunity to appear before a citizenship judge and make a submission themselves.

Another amendment was actually recommended by the Canadian Bar Association. We know how the minister feels about that association and its validity, but I value what the Canadian Bar Association had to say. It specified that this amendment would specify that law students must be articling and offering advice while actually supervised by a member of the law society. The current law does not actually require that. We tried to make it so that law students who were helping out would actually be supervised by a member of the law society. This is another thing that apparently the government members do not seem to value.

One last piece is about the revocation of citizenship, which the current minister likes, and how it would create two tiers of Canadian citizenship for those born here and those naturalized here. This is basically saying that the government, or the minister, would have the opportunity to deport people and strip them of their Canadian citizenship just because they are dual nationals. This would also mean that Canadian-born citizens who have Chinese, U.S., British, or Italian parents, for example, would have their citizenship revoked--

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the last point the member opposite touched upon, dual citizenship, there are not two tiers of citizenship. There is one Canadian citizenship. Dual citizenship is the choice of the person. If a child is born here and the parents choose two citizenships for that child, they have to be ready to accept the implications that come with it. There are not two citizenships. People do not have to have two citizenships. Whether they are naturalized or they are born here, they can have one. They could choose Canadian only, and they would not have any problems.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it funny that the member does not realize that there are many countries in the world where one cannot deny one's citizenship. For example, Canadians who may have been born in Canada or are naturalized Canadians and are of the Jewish faith have the right to return to Israel and claim their Israeli citizenship.

Bill C-24 says that for those who are dual nationals, or if the minister has reason to believe that they have a claim to another nationality, hence the example of a Jewish Canadian who potentially could have a claim to another nationality, the minister could, on his own volition, choose to revoke their citizenship. That is creating two tiers citizenship.

Those who do not have that option could not have their citizenship revoked because it would create a situation of statelessness. However, those who could be dual nationals or potentially have a claim to another citizenship could have their citizenship revoked. That would mean that there would be those who are full citizens and those who are kind of citizens. That is two tiers of citizenship.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when Jean Chrétien was the prime minister of Canada, we had citizenship processed in under a year. Under the current government, we have seen the processing of citizenship for those who qualify and meet the criteria taking 28 months, or almost two and a half years. Now the Conservatives are bringing in legislation to reduce the waiting period for citizenship by changing the process itself.

Does the member not believe, as the Liberal Party believes, that if the government made it a higher priority to process citizenship, it should have been able to do that without the proposed legislation and that there is no reason to have people in Canada waiting in excess of 12 months to qualify for citizenship? It is about making sure that the proper resources are in place.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely, the Conservative government could have come up with many other avenues to reduce the backlog that exists in the citizenship queue right now. It is choosing, rather, to make it far more difficult for people to qualify to become citizens of this country. For example, there are proposed changes to the intent-to-reside provision. It would double fees for an application of citizenship from $200 to $400, and it would make it more difficult with the age requirements.

I could keep going, but I want to quote from a brief we received from the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which said:

What Bill C-24 really does, however, is as follows: It reduces backlogs by turning down more applications and making sure fewer and fewer permanent residents will become citizens. It diminishes the value of Canadian citizenship both by making immigrants wait much longer to become citizens, and by creating a two-tier citizenship—by distinguishing between people who have dual citizenship...

This is something I have already talked about. It continues with:

It violates Canadian values of democracy and the principle of the Rule of Law by giving new and sweeping power to the Minister to revoke citizenship while simultaneously reducing judicial oversight of the Minister's exercise of power.

What I just read were from the briefs of three different organizations sent in to the committee on how the bill would increase the minister's discretion and ability to revoke citizenship. The bill would change the value of Canadian citizenship and make it so much harder for people to actually become Canadian citizens, when so many want to.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to speak to Bill C-24. It is of vital interest to the people in my community of Davenport, in fact to people right across the greater Toronto area, because over half the people in the GTA were born outside of Canada, so any changes to our citizenship and immigration rules, laws, or structures are of vital interest to the people I represent.

What we have here is a gross failure on the part of the government to address the fundamental issue facing so many of our immigrant families in Canada, and that is the failure of the government, in this legislation and in other pieces of legislation it has brought forward, to deal with the growing wait times, not just for citizenship but for family reunification. The bill does not address those issues. In fact, it makes those issues worse.

Right now we have about 360,000 people waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. What we would have liked to have seen is the government expedite this, bring this issue forward, in a way that would actually get some resolution for so many families who are in sort of suspended animation. They are doing the work. In every other way they are Canadian citizens, except that they have not had their applications processed. They are waiting and waiting.

The bill also underlines a strategy the government employs time and time again, and that is to pick the outlier problem and use it as the justification for massive changes that would maybe appease some of its base but that would not address the fundamental issues immigrants in Canada face today.

I would like to bring the attention of the House to the issue of fraud in the system. We have over 300,000 applicants for citizenship right now. The other day the minister admitted that only 3,000 of those over 300,000 are being investigated by the RCMP for potential fraud. Fewer than 1% are being investigated, and we do not know what those investigations will glean. Of that fewer than 1%, they may find some fraud. I am not saying that there is not some, but the government and the minister are using this fraction of abuse in the system as a rationale for sweeping changes, changes that would, as they do so often on the government side, amass more power in the hands of the minister, power that would allow the minister to retroactively change someone's citizenship status.

If the Conservatives had listened to stakeholder groups, they would have heard quite resoundingly the deep concern of Canadians, immigrants, and the organizations that support and advocate on behalf of both refugees and newcomers to Canada.

I would like to also underline the fact that the government has changed the language test requirements. It has made it now the rule that anyone between the ages of 14 and 64 needs to undergo a rigorous language test. The minister has never once revealed any data that would back up any reasons for the changes he has made. He says that young people would score great on this test, and it would be great. We know that.

However, he has never brought forward any study that shows that this is indeed the case. The minister has never answered the question regarding what would happen if the child does not pass the language test, but the adult does. What happens then? I believe that one of the reasons that the government moved time allocation on the debate is because it does not want to answer the tough questions that are being raised on this bill. The questions just keep coming.

Today, there are families in my riding who have been waiting eight to nine years for grandparents and parents to come to Canada, and for the government to fulfill the promises that it made to newcomers when they first came that they could bring their parents or grandparents with them. What we have now is a government that says it going to fix the wait times for citizenship by making it much harder. In other words, the government would make the process and the system longer.

Some of it seems to make absolutely no sense. It the government wanted to ensure that those who were seeking Canadian citizenship would forge a real attachment to Canada, why on Earth would it then disqualify all of the time that a person has spent here as a non-permanent resident from their application?

That makes no sense. It sends a huge message to people. It tells them not to attach to us because we are not going to attach to them right now. That is fundamentally the wrong way to go, and it was not the case here in Canada until now, when the government politicized this debate.

The extended times required to stay in Canada are also an issue for many immigrants. In case the government has not realized, Canadians travel abroad for work all the time. We are in a globalized economy. We have Canadians working in the United States and we have Canadians working all across Europe and Asia, looking for opportunities. When they arise, Canadian citizens can take those opportunities, but the changes that are in this bill would make it more difficult for permanent residents who are waiting for citizenship. Indeed, after they are granted citizenship, it would make it harder for them to take the opportunities that are there in the global economy.

This seems incredibly unfair, and it brings up the point that my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River made earlier about the creation of two-tiered citizenship. Making it more difficult for new citizens to take those opportunities elsewhere in the economy is also a way of creating a two-tiered system of citizenship in this country.

People should not be surprised that this is the direction that the government has gone in. After all, when we are giving a message to immigrant families that their grandparents and parents are not as important to Canadians as Canadian-born grandparents and parents, of course, we have a two-tiered system.

We have always had families at the basis of our immigration system. The government, through its policies, whether on refugees or immigration, has moved Canada away from family values. It has seen families being torn apart. Quite frankly, we have to build an immigration that has, at its core and as its central function, the goal of keeping families together and a part of the Canadian community. The New Democrats on this side are committed to that.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill and to announce that the Liberals will be voting against it.

We do not like this bill at all, except for the part that deals with lost Canadians. We think that all of the other aspects of this bill are bad for Canada, so we will be voting against it.

There are two main aspects that we do not like at all. First, the Conservatives believe that the more difficult it is to get Canadian citizenship, the more valuable it is to be a Canadian. We do not think that makes sense. On the contrary, if we make it difficult for people to become citizens, they will go elsewhere, such as to Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States.

Otherwise, we in Canada are competing for people around the world with countries like Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. When the Conservatives erect barrier after barrier to make it harder for people to become citizens of this country, as they do in this bill, in no way does that increase the value of citizenship. Rather, what it does is turn people off of becoming citizens of Canada and induce them to become citizens elsewhere. Indeed, I would say this bill devalues Canadian citizenship, because while it makes it harder for newcomers to become citizens, it makes it easier for the minister to arbitrarily remove someone's Canadian citizenship. In that sense, it devalues our citizenship and makes it less durable against attack from a minister of the crown. The individual Canadian would have limited right to appeal to the courts.

We in the Liberal Party believe that we should reduce the barriers to citizenship and welcome people to this country, whereas the Conservatives would erect more barriers. Instead of welcoming newcomers with a smile, they welcome newcomers with a scowl and force them to climb all of these hurdles to achieve citizenship.

If we look at the hurdles, we see that most of them make very little sense. I would like to name a few.

First of all, until now international students have been able to claim 50% of their time as students as credit toward becoming citizens. Under this bill, the Conservatives would make that amount zero. This is foolish in the extreme. We are encouraging international students to go elsewhere. Who are better candidates to be citizens of Canada than students, who by definition are educated, have experience in this country, and presumably speak English or French? They are giving students a kick in the pants when instead we should be welcoming them to our country.

Second, they impose language tests on older newcomers. Up until now, beyond age 54, one did not have to pass a difficult language test. Now one does if one is between the ages of 54 and 65. We believe this is unnecessary. We believe many loyal Canadians who have come here and become citizens speak less than perfect English as older citizens, but I have no doubt their children and grandchildren will speak perfect English or French. We do not think that the imperfect French of the older generation has been any impediment to becoming good citizens and contributors to this country.

The third barrier, also inappropriate, is that the Conservatives have increased the length of time that people have to be residents. They have tightened the definition of “resident” so as not to allow any more time spent abroad if, for example, the person is working for a Canadian company.

In all these ways, the government has increased the barriers or the difficulties in becoming a citizen. We believe this is bad for this country, particularly in the world of 2014, when we have an aging population and are competing with many different countries around the world for new citizens.

Finally, as if that were not enough, they have increased the wait time for becoming a citizen from 16 months to 31 months, which is double, and for many people it is even longer than that.

None of these aspects of the bill are positive for this country.

For that reason, we in the Liberal Party are very pleased to vote against this bill.

The second component of our objection is, in one sense, even more serious. What I have just said is serious enough: we compete for immigrants, we need immigrants, we want to welcome immigrants. However, the second part has to do with infringing upon the Constitution by passing laws that many lawyers agree would be unconstitutional and would not be able to stand a test in the Supreme Court.

I have a letter here. I might not have too much time, but I will read a bit of it:

...removal may occur despite the fact that they have not, do not, nor wish to apply for dual nationality. A Canadian-born citizen may be removed and wake up to landing in a country which may not recognize the dual nationality and thus become stateless.

The letter, from lawyers Messrs. Galati, Slansky, and Azevedo, representing the Constitutional Rights Centre, goes on to say:

...the Federal Parliament has absolutely no constitutional authority over the citizenship of persons born in Canada, but only over “Aliens and Naturalization”.

It adds:

This aspect of C-24, in its seismic shift from the historical and constitutional understanding of the citizenship of those born in Canada, should be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada...and not simply passed through Parliament....

It concludes that:

The Constitutional Rights Centre Inc. intends to take every judicial proceeding possible against Bill C-24.

In the good old days, governments assured themselves that a bill was constitutional before passing it through Parliament. Under the current government, bill after bill seems to go through Parliament with no assurance that it is constitutional, and indeed with assurances from well-reputed lawyers that it is not.

We object in principle to the arbitrary removal of citizenship from individuals for reasons that are highly questionable and to the very limited opportunity for the individual to appeal to the courts against that removal of citizenship. We object to the onus of proof regarding dual citizenship being placed not upon the government to prove that the person is a dual citizen but upon the individual to prove that he or she is not. That also is wrong.

For all of these reasons, we and many legions of lawyers across this country are convinced that the bill would fail the test of the Constitution, and well should it fail that test, because it would do things that are inconsistent with not only the Constitution of Canada but also with the spirit of this country as developed over many decades of our history.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill is very long and, as the member mentioned, some measures are worse than others.

Could my colleague talk about the omnibus nature of this bill? This does not allow opposition members to fully debate this bill, which contains a number of measures that affect potential new Canadians.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of both content and procedure. I indicated that we do not like the content of this bill at all.

With regard to the procedure, I agree with my colleague. It leaves much to be desired since we have not had much time to debate the bill. Since the government is rushing Parliament, we have only a few hours to debate this bill. As a result, hundreds of legal experts who would like to share their opinions have not had much opportunity to do so.

Both the content of this bill and the procedure surrounding it are inadequate.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member is aware that there has been a significant jump in the time involved for processing an application for citizenship. I can recall when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in power the citizenship process would take roughly 12 months once a person had qualified. It now takes close to 28 months, well over two years, to process an application.

It seems to me that this legislation would change the way in which an application is processed but if the government had the political will to speed up the process, the legislation would not be required in the first place. People should not have to wait more than two years to acquire citizenship. That is being generous, especially if we look at those who meet the residency requirement where it could go well beyond four or five years.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do agree with my hon. colleague. The average processing time is now 31 months, which is two and a half years. It used to be just over one year. These are the government's own numbers.

I should add that it could add a lot more time for some individuals who have to fill out the residency questionnaire, and it is a rather arbitrary and mysterious process by which it is decided who has to fill out the questionnaire and who does not, and we do not know according to what criteria. That is another element that can impose a huge burden on individuals in terms of the time it takes.

This is a general problem across the board. We are looking at a doubling of citizenship wait times but if we look at processing time for all components of immigration, whether it is family class, parents, grandparents, children, spouses, economic immigrants, provincial nominee programs, visitors, and citizenship applicants, all have experienced dramatic, sometimes two or three times higher, processing times under the Conservative government. Perhaps departments have been starved of funds, perhaps the government does not care, perhaps it has erected new bureaucracies, we do not know all of the reasons, but across the board it is totally unacceptable. This case of doubling wait times for new citizens is terrible but it is just typical of what the government has done across the board.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7:05 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Markham—Unionville was on CBC recently. He was being skeptical about the government's promise to reduce the processing time from upward of 36 months to under one year. He went on to say that it was just in time for an election year.

Is he really that cynical?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I lack the idealism of some of my NDP colleagues, so perhaps I should simply take the government at its word.

In general, members of the NDP and the Liberals, and I dare say a good chunk of the Conservatives themselves, would be skeptical at some of the more daring promises of the Conservatives when waiting times have gone up egregiously for seven years. Are they suddenly going to plummet in the one year before the election? My colleagues can believe that if they will, but I suggest it would be dangerous to indulge in such beliefs.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising in opposition to the piece of legislation that is here before us today, an act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Just as other pieces of legislation are seen in the House, the Conservative government has a knack for taking a few things that we can really support and, instead of moving them ahead and getting consensus on them, throwing them in with aspects that we absolutely cannot support. That what is we have in the citizenship bill.

There are bits in here that I have really been pressing on the ministers and the government to change. One of the bits that I really want to acknowledge is that, at long last, the “lost Canadians” issue has been addressed. This issue was addressed previously because the NDP pushed so hard to get it addressed, but it left out those who were born before 1947, people who served on behalf of Canada in wars but were not given citizenship. That right has been addressed. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Don Chapman and others, who carried on and put in an incredible amount of hours to see this injustice righted. I am glad to see that.

I am also glad to see in this bill that tougher measures would be taken against fraudulent immigration consultants. They absolutely should be, and I am really pleased to see this. I am so proud of an ex-colleague of mine, the former member of Parliament for Trinity—Spadina, who put in a lot of work on this file and really pushed to get something done about the fraudulent consultants. Let me tell members that not all immigration consultants are fraudulent, but where we are hearing of abuse, it is quite grotesque.

There are other little bits in here about fines for fraud from the current fine of $1,000 to $100,000. We are fine with that. However, there are bits in this bill that I absolutely cannot support. One of those is the process by which this piece of legislation has landed in the House.

I know that members are going to be shocked at this. Did they know that this piece of legislation, after it came through second reading and was sent to the committee stage, never heard any witnesses? The committee never heard any expert testimony. Instead, the Conservatives used their majority at committee to move straight into clause-by-clause.

This, once again, goes to a trend that I have seen in the House. There is an allergy to data, an allergy to science, and an allergy to expert opinion. The Conservatives had already made up their mind. They did not need to be informed by experts of the dangers of some aspects of the bill, and maybe even be enlightened and accept some of the amendments that the opposition put forward. Why would they do that? Despite this, I have heard the minister stand in the House and say that they heard lots of testimony. They did a study in general, without having the legislation in front of them. No report of that study has been tabled in the House on this legislation, which has seven key components, and where we heard no expert witnesses. There are probably more components, but I have identified seven.

This is a bill that should cause every Canadian living in this country or overseas to be worried, because what we have in this bill, for the first time since Canadian citizenship was established, is a two-tiered citizenship for some. By the way, when people talk to me, they say “oh yes, it must only be two-tiered for people who were born in other countries”. Oh no, this bill would actually create two-tiered citizenship for those who were born in this country and those who became citizens through naturalization.

One of the things that has been truly amazing about Canadians and Canada's history is that we accepted a long time ago that a citizen is a citizen. If a citizen does something wrong, we have a penal system and there are consequences that the citizen has to bear.

Under this legislation, some people will be more citizen than others. I am talking about those who end up with dual citizenship.

By the way, I was shocked after I became an MP, when there was that income tax fiasco for many of my Canadian constituents who then found out that they were still American. They had thought they had let that go a long time ago, but apparently it is very difficult to let go of American citizenship. They found they had dual citizenship. I would say that there will be all kinds of people who do not even know they have dual citizenship, and yet they do through birth, through their parents. For example, my children have the right to dual citizenship from England. There are people who come from different countries. Historically, when we have accepted them into this country, we have said, “Yes, we accept dual citizenship”. Then, when they have their children, their children have that right to that dual citizenship.

We are not really debating dual citizenship or the pros and cons of that. What we are really looking at is what it means to have Canadian citizenship. What we are saying, as I said previously, for the first time in our history is that some citizens will have different rights than others.

I am not a lawyer and have never tried to pretend I am, but I could see that there could be some legitimate legal constitutional challenges with this. How could two Canadians who were born here or two Canadians who came here to this country be treated differently, just because one happens to have a dual nationality?

This bill takes components of the bill that the government tried to rush through this House under the guise of a private member's bill. When it did not get that, it brought it back here and threw in quite a few other components. It should really concern us.

As I said, I am still shaking my head that, here we are, a country that has been a country built through immigration, and the only people who can really say they were here long before the rest of us, first, second, third, fourth, fifth generation, are the aboriginal communities.

What we are seeing once again from the government that likes to spend a lot of money and resources wooing the immigrant community is it is sending a very different message through the legislation. It can be an attack on family reunification. We have a government that is always talking about the importance of family. At the same time, we say we want the young and the brightest from other countries. Of course we do.

However, the young and the brightest do not fall out of the sky. In many cases, they are coming from families where they may be the only child. Then we are saying to them that family reunification, the chance of their families ever coming to join them, has now been turned into a lottery system, and they just have to keep trying.

I do not think that is the way to build a country. I do not think that is the way we want to build our communities.

We also tried to address the long wait lists. We shredded applications for people who waited legitimately. We have shut the door on immigration in so many ways, and yet under the government, the floodgates have been opened for the temporary foreign worker program that has kept wages down at entry-level jobs and in the low-skilled sector. I would say there are abuses throughout that program that we are hearing about over and over again.

The government says it is going to address the lengthy wait lists for citizenship. I could more than pack this chamber with people who have been waiting and waiting. After they have qualified for citizenship, they could wait another 32 to 36 months to get their actual citizenship papers.

There is a little throw-in here for men and women who served in the armed forces. They are going to get to apply for their citizenship one year early. That sounds good on paper, and we support it. On the other hand, when a citizenship system is so backed up and people are waiting for years and years, it seems like a gift that is not really a gift, or a reward that is not really a reward.

As I was saying, once again, the government has tried to pull a sleight of hand by throwing in a few good things in this bill, and quite a bit that is not acceptable to the opposition.