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 / 6:30 p.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved that Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to open debate on third reading on what members across the room and Canadians across the country have concluded is a long overdue updating of a great Canadian institution: citizenship. It is a good bill with a huge number of positive provisions that are going to give better service to permanent residents on their way to citizenship, to citizens themselves, and literally lift up to an even higher level the sense of pride that we all take in our citizenship as Canadians.

I would like to begin by thanking many of my colleagues who have laboured long and hard on this bill. That work began long before I occupied this portfolio. I would like to salute my colleague, the Minister of Employment and Social Development, who really brought this bill, in most respects, to its current stage, along with the parliamentary secretary, who has done fantastic work in committee and in the House, as well as many members of Parliament. The member of Parliament for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country did very important work on the issue of lost Canadians and on citizenship generally. The member for Calgary Northeast tapped in to a particular facet of that pride that Canadians take in their citizenship in introducing measures in this bill that would make sure that gross crimes of disloyalty, when committed by dual nationals, result in the revocation of citizenship.

In the time available to me, I would like to cover four items. I would first like to respond to the critics, those who have misunderstood the bill or disagreed with the bill in one way or another. We are listening. Second, I would like to talk about where this bill takes our citizenship in the 21st century, about what is at the core of the value of Canadian citizenship that is reinforced by this act. Then I would like to remind the House of the main aspects of the bill before concluding with some forward-looking comments about the impact that this renewed pride in citizenship can have on all of us across the country, but above all on young Canadians.

First, I will discuss the questions that have arisen in the media, in the House, and elsewhere about the bill. There have been a few lawyers and a few voices in the House questioning the need to require those applying for citizenship to declare their intent to reside. Subparagraph 3(1)(c)(i) of the bill asks that the applicant be required to intend, if granted, to continue to reside in Canada. Some have misunderstood this provision to mean that anyone applying for citizenship or seeking to meet the requirements of citizenship, which would be four years of residency out of six, must declare an intention to reside in Canada for the rest of their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth and those who have perpetrated this misunderstanding have simply not read the further paragraph, which is (2)(1.1), on page 12 of the bill as I have it printed. It states:

For the purposes of paragraphs (1)(c.1) and 11(1)(d.1), the person’s intention must be continuous from the date of his or her application until they have taken the oath of citizenship.

The intention to reside that we are requiring, which we wish had been required in the flawed 1977 version of this bill, relates to the period of physical presence in Canada, residency in Canada, required to become a citizen. That has always been a requirement to become a citizen for 100 years. It was in June 1914 when a five-year residency requirement was formally put in place. That was watered down by the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau in 1977. We think it merits an increase to four out of six years, but with a declaration of intent to fulfill this requirement.

Why is it important that we secure that declaration of intent? It is because, not just in Canada but around the world, many consultants and lawyers have sought to misrepresent this requirement and to argue that residency in Canada did not require a physical presence here, did not require the intent to actually be here. Hence, we have this large backlog of abuse that the RCMP is investigating, which may lead to revocation of citizenship. We need to send a clear message.

Henceforth, with the passage of this bill, residency will mean a physical presence in this country for four years out of six. We will require applicants to declare it over the period from the submission of their application to the day when they take the oath of citizenship.

Let me remind this House, nothing in those provisions constrains the mobility rights of either a permanent resident or a citizen. Someone can have the intent to reside, but then their plans change and they move elsewhere, not fulfilling the residency requirements for citizenship. They do not become a citizen, perhaps until later in their life. After they obtain citizenship, of course Canadians are free to do whatever they want as citizens.

Second, on revocation, it is extraordinary to us on this side, and I think it is extraordinary to Canadians, that so many opposition members would have expended so much breath opposing the revocation of a citizen, only of dual nationals, for crimes like terrorism, treason, taking up arms against the Canadian Forces, or espionage when we already revoke citizenship for much lesser crimes, such as the crime of having concealed a criminal record or having obtained citizenship fraudulently.

We take our responsibilities with regard to revocation extremely seriously. Every one of these cases of revocation involves judicial oversight, recourse to a court. There is judicial review available explicitly in the bill to every aspect of this bill. If citizenship is to be revoked based on a conviction for terrorism, a file would be prepared for the minister. The minister would review it. The person would be given notice and invited to make written submissions. There is provision for a hearing.

This review does not begin until a court has convicted the person of this crime. I do not need to remind members in this place of how few convictions, fortunately, happily, there are in Canada or of Canadians for these very serious crimes. These additional revocation provisions in this act are well understood by Canadians and well accepted.

With regard to membership in an armed group fighting the Canadian Forces, the minister would not be able to take any action without going to the Federal Court at the very outset, bringing facts and evidence that the Canadian citizen in question had been engaged in armed conflict, and satisfying the court that that was the case. That is the only way to even start this process. If the rules of evidence, or the case, is not strong enough, then it will not make it through the Federal Court and revocation will not take place.

These measures are being undertaken within the framework of our very robust judicial institutions, the rule of law in this country. Everyone should celebrate the fact that they will constitute a very profound deterrent, not just to younger generations, but to all Canadians, and a reminder that allegiance and loyalty to this country require that these grave crimes be avoided at all costs. When they are committed, they will be punished.

These were the two grave weaknesses of the 1977 act: the failure to obtain a declaration of intent to reside from applicants, and the neglect of issues of loyalty and allegiance.

Liberals did not make this mistake in their 1947 Citizenship Act that actually provided for these measures. Conservatives did not make these mistakes in our 1914 Naturalization Act, 100 years ago, which set us on the course toward the strong citizenship we have today.

Certainly our NATO allies, our closest partners in war and peacetime, the other leading democracies of this planet, have not at any time made this mistake. I remind this House there is only one NATO country, according to our analysis, that does not have revocation provisions equal to or more severe than the ones we are proposing in this bill.

Second, where is citizenship today in Canada? What would this bill give us, what would it strengthen for us that perhaps was not there before?

Here the key provision relates to residency, relates to the attachment, the connection, the experience of Canada that we are promoting with this bill, which heretofore newcomers to Canada have actually told us in large numbers was not strong enough. The knowledge test and the language test are part of that, but there is no substitute. All of us have heard from immigrants, newcomers, those looking for jobs, and those who started careers here, and those looking back on what their forebears went through that there is no substitute for direct experience of this country and that four years is a legitimate minimum for what that experience should be.

What happens to permanent residents and future Canadian citizens over those four years? They discover this country. They discover 10 million square kilometres. They discover its diversity. They discover how the rule of law works here. They discover our institutions. They discover why our economy is prosperous, why our agricultural sector is the third-largest in the world and why we have manufacturing and technology burgeoning in all parts of this country. And they find their path into that workforce, which need not just involve natural resources, manufacturing, or agriculture; it could be cultural industries, one of our fastest-growing sectors in this country.

There are old adages about the Trudeau-era standards of citizenship, that citizenship was of convenience, as a former member of this House called it, and that Canada was just a hotel where people checked in and checked out, passport in hand. Richard Gwyn spoke about The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian. People could come and live here and benefit from citizenship, but they were not asked to do much more. We have been reminded at every stage of our eight years in government that new Canadians, new citizens, and new immigrants want more. They want to understand the history of this country. They want to understand where the success comes from. They want to belong in that deeper sense, and the value of Canadian citizenship as reinforced by this act would help them to do exactly that.

Third, what are the improvements that we would deliver in this bill?

The first is about service. Because of high immigration of almost 260,000 per year over our eight years in government, the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, and because of our high rate of naturalization, because people who become immigrants want to become citizens and want to make the extra sacrifice of improving their language skills and mastering the “Discover Canada” guide and taking the test and literally discovering Canada by living here, we do have a backlog. The backlog is a bit larger because of the abuse and the residency fraud that took place that slowed down applications. We had to come to terms with which were legitimate applications and which unfortunately were not. With the measures in this bill and measures undertaken in previous budgets, we have the resources and we would have the decision-making framework to move through that backlog quickly, to take a processing time of two to three years for new applications today down to below two years in the course of next year, 2015, and to under one year by the beginning of 2016.

Second, we are reinforcing the value of citizenship, as I mentioned that the residency requirement would get longer.

Third, we are giving ourselves new tools to ensure that fraud is a thing of the past, if we can possibly make it that in our citizenship programs. We would be much less vulnerable to residency fraud. We would regulate citizenship consultants to ensure they could not lead applicants astray, as we have done with immigration consultants and increasingly with immigration lawyers. We would also raise the potential penalties from $1,000 to $100,000, and from one year to five years imprisonment, for the forms of fraud and misrepresentation that unfortunately have been all too common in our citizenship program.

Finally, we would deliver on our commitment across all of our programs to honour those who serve, who wear the uniform of the RCMP and military abroad, and those who work in embassies, as I had the privilege of doing. They would be able to pass on this citizenship beyond the first generation, even if their children were born outside of Canada. New Canadians, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Forces, would have a slightly faster pathway to citizenship of three years instead of four.

What does our citizenship look like in the 21st century?

There would be less fraud. There would be more penalties. It would be a much more prized citizenship. Because of all these things, we would be properly able to say that Canadians were in a position to promote our citizenship and use it as never before. It would be something that those outside of Canada would seek to acquire with more determination than ever. It would be something that those of us in Canada who have it would seek to use as never before in the world, to do good in our country and in places not so fortunate.

It is our citizenship that lets us undertake the kinds of initiatives our Prime Minister has been undertaking for maternal, child, and newborn health. It is our citizenship that allows us to take action on child, early, and forced marriage. It is our citizenship that lets us be the second most prominent country in the world for refugee resettlement, accepting roughly one is ten refugees resettled every year in co-operation with UNHCR, including those now coming to us in ever greater numbers from Syria.

Our citizenship also lets us work toward building the economy of the 21st century. It was interesting that the OECD report released this week on Canada gave a prominent place to immigration reforms, to the naturalization rate in Canada and the citizenship program, which we consider part and parcel of our immigration programs. Without these kinds of programs, modernized to meet the needs of the 21st century, it would not be possible to match more specialized skills than ever to the needs of a changing economy. It is because of our prosperity that the Canadian economy is changing faster than almost any other.

It was interesting to read that the OECD saw immigration policy as an economic driver and spoke of Canada in relatively glowing terms because of the extent of our immigration reforms over the past year and as a pioneer and innovator in this field.

We have been citizens of our country from day one, from the day we arrived here, and from the day we met the requirements. It is vital for new generations of citizens to see this great institution of citizenship protected and to see where it comes from. It is important to understand what it was in the time of Nouvelle France, or at the time the War of 1812, or for those who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day, or what it was in 1914 on the eve of the Great War.

We will have many occasions to celebrate our citizenship in the next few years in the run up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation. I know all of us on our side look forward to celebrating with all Canadians.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech. Of course, the proposed bill contains some acceptable provisions. However, many others are simply not acceptable.

Let me come back to one of the minister's last comments: that we have been citizens of this country from day one, from the day we arrived here, and from the day we met the requirements. Not too long ago, the minister said in The Star that “citizenship is not an inalienable birthright”.

I find it very surprising that the minister believes that the right to citizenship can be taken away from a person born here in Canada and that he is putting this idea forward.

In addition, this bill also allows the minister to take away the right to citizenship as he pleases. There are very few criteria. Ministerial discretion comes into play both when citizenship is revoked and when it is granted.

Under what specific circumstances could the minister grant Canadian citizenship unilaterally and in secret? Will he disclose the list of people to whom he has granted citizenship? How will he disclose that information? Why does the minister think it is acceptable for a minister to grant citizenship in secret?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the special conditions for granting citizenship are very clear. The person must have a very hard time acquiring citizenship through the normal process, and there must be a national interest at stake. The conditions are clear and they are in the bill.

Citizenship has never been inalienable. Canadian citizenship was legislated in the House. Canadians born in Canada who have only one citizenship, like myself, have the right to renounce their Canadian citizenship if that is what they wish. It is therefore not inalienable.

Individuals born in Canada who have only one citizenship, not dual citizenship, cannot have their citizenship revoked under the criteria in our bill. However, a person who received citizenship illegitimately by hiding crimes can have it revoked, even before this bill is passed.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when the minister first talked about making changes to the Citizenship Act, he made a point of emphasizing that it was going to be a legislative format and that there were going to be some other changes. One of those changes was a fairly significant jump in the cost of acquiring citizenship, not only in the application fee itself but also in the fees for the requirement of language testing results, IELTS. There would be substantially increased fees for individuals who want to acquire citizenship.

Could the minister explain why those changes were implemented, along with the idea of the knowledge tests? Does he have an opinion on whether a citizen should be expected to know more than someone has been born in Canada and has gone through all of his or her education from nursery school to high school? Should a new citizen have a better understanding of Canada than an individual such as that? I am interested in the minister's thoughts on those three issues.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope the member opposite is not implying that our school systems in the various provinces and territories are teaching less over the course of primary and secondary education than the “Discover Canada” guide teaches newcomers to Canada.

Those who have the benefit of going through that school system, whether they are immigrants or not, have great knowledge of Canada. It is equivalent to or greater than what the “Discover Canada” guide represents. The “Discover Canada” guide is a key for those who are new to the country to essential knowledge about Canada that will help them be citizens. It is as simple as that. The success of new Canadians in mastering that material is there for all to see. It is popular, and they are doing well.

On the question of cost, it would go to $300. We have a responsibility to recover the full cost. We have not been doing that up until now. It would be $100 for minors. Here is the good news. It is less than half of the U.S. cost. It is less than a fifth of the cost in the U.K., and that cost, under certain conditions, has to be paid annually. Even the cost in New Zealand is 50% more than it is in Canada. In that sense, Canadian citizenship would continue to be an extraordinary bargain.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. minister for bringing this bill before the House. These will be the first comprehensive changes to the Citizenship Act in almost 40 years, and they are much needed.

One thing in the legislation which is of particular importance with the changing dynamic throughout Canada, given the record numbers of immigration at 1.4 million new Canadian citizens since we took government in 2006, is that some have decided to perpetrate fraud on those who seek Canadian citizenship. They are doing so under the guise of being citizenship consultants.

Could the minister elaborate on how, in the legislation, we would go after those who would prey on new Canadians seeking their citizenship?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration for his hard work on this bill.

We will force them to be regulated, as we have done very successfully with immigration consultants. We will also prosecute any and all cases of fraud that lead us to unscrupulous citizenship consultants who may still be out there, with the help of the RCMP and the CBSA if necessary.

This is a smaller citizenship issue than it has been in our much larger and more complicated immigration programs. However, the need for integrity and to enforce the very high standards of behaviour is as strong here on the citizenship side as it is on the immigration side. Citizenship is a privilege that involves immeasurable benefits for Canadians, but it also brings with it responsibilities.

That is why we are absolutely determined to address abuse and fraud. That is why we do not think that terrorism, espionage, treason, and taking up arms against the Canadian Forces are compatible with Canadian citizenship, and we will revoke it for those who have dual nationality. They will have, in effect, withdrawn their allegiance to Canada by these very acts. The principle of allegiance has been an elementary principle behind citizenship. Those who show these gross forms of disloyalty have clearly forfeited their allegiance, and if they are dual nationals, they will forfeit their citizenship as well.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister once again for his speech. Unfortunately, the NDP will not be supporting this bill.

Some parts of the bill are sure to be challenged in court. Unfortunately, I expect that the Supreme Court will once again be called upon to strike down a bill that the Conservative government is forcing Canadians to accept. It is forcing Canadians to use up valuable resources to strike down bills that do not deserve the support of the House.

I just cannot understand why the government always expects the Supreme Court to fix its mistakes. The government is abusing the legal system, and I find it very discouraging that the minister has introduced a bill as badly written as Bill C-24.

There are some very good parts to this bill. For example, it finally addresses the problem of stateless Canadians, lost Canadians. Many of them are people who were involved in the Second World War. In 2007, the Conservatives came up with a bill to fix the problem, but they messed up again because they just do not take the time to draft their bills properly. They had to introduce this bill to fix the mistake they made in 2007.

Fortunately, it seems that the lost Canadians problem will finally be fixed. I should at least thank the minister for that, but the government should have taken its time in 2007 to fix the problem once and for all.

The Conservatives keep talking about how this is the first time in 25 years that there have been major changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Actually, the government has changed immigration laws and regulations several times, without ever solving the problems. What about the 320,000 people who are still waiting for their applications to be processed so they can become Canadian citizens? That is because of the Conservatives' cuts.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration does not have sufficient resources to process the applications. The Conservatives are saying that they will speed up the process, but they are the ones who created major delays. It is simply their fault. I would like this government to start learning from its mistakes, to admit them and be accountable for them, instead of always saying that everything is better. We keep going backwards. Every time we take one step forward, we take 12 steps back. According to the Conservatives, we should be celebrating this step forward and hiding the 12 steps back.

The government should admit that it is unable to manage the immigration file. The temporary foreign workers file very clearly shows that the department is out of control, and the minister is responsible for that. He missed his chance to solve the problems. Instead, he is hiding behind blacklists. More and more people are waiting to be admitted to Canada, while the Conservatives keep trying to make us believe that they are solving the problem. Unfortunately, Bill C-24 is their only proposal.

Let us get into the details of Bill C-24. The Conservatives keep saying that they are going to take away the citizenship of individuals who commit immigration fraud, the idea being to deport them from Canada. Are there so many people in Canada who have defrauded the system that we do not have the tools to fix the situation? We already have the Criminal Code, regulations and police forces that are fully capable of going and finding people who defraud Canada's immigration system. With the tools we have, we can crack down on people who commit crimes in Canada, and we can decide whether to deport them from the country. That is already set out. We do not need this bill to solve the problem that the government keeps on raising.

One of the alarming aspects of this bill is the fact that it is a mirage. The Conservatives would have us believe that they are going to solve a problem, when the problem stems from their inability to manage the file. In order to try to solve the problem, the government decided to give the minister additional discretionary powers.

The minister can now decide, based on a balance of probabilities, to revoke the citizenship of a Canadian, without that person having the right to appeal, the right to natural justice or the right to present evidence to a judge. Only the minister, in his little office, with documents in front of him, on a mere balance of probabilities, can revoke an individual's citizenship. It is beyond comprehension why the minister would want such a responsibility, because in our legal system people have the right to be respected. In this case, there is a risk of abusing that right. Once again, why create a situation where rights can be abused?

This bill will probably be challenged in court because it threatens the fundamental right of citizenship. There is nothing more fundamental in a free and democratic society than citizenship. How can the minister sleep at night? Quite frankly, I do not know.

The bill creates new residency criteria. The residency requirement will increase from three to four years. The person must remain and intend to remain in Canada for this entire period.

I would like to point out that the intent to reside is a vague principle that is difficult to prove. I invite the minister to go and see the people at the Canada Revenue Agency and ask them how successful they have been with respect to proof of residency in Canada. It is a very difficult thing to prove.

Under the bill, an individual must show proof of residency for four years. The individual bears the burden of proof. It is up to the applicant to prove this. How do you prove intent to reside? If a person encounters a problem and must return to their country of birth because a family member is ill and needs their help, does he still intend to reside in Canada? How can he prove this intent when he is abroad?

I would not want to see such discretionary items on the minister's table so that he can make decisions based just on a preponderance. We are well aware that the preponderance is in the minister's head and nowhere else. It is up to him to determine whether there is sufficient preponderance of evidence to revoke an individual's citizenship. That is completely unacceptable.

In terms of the bill, frankly, it is high time the government fixed the problem of lost Canadians. I agree with that and I am very pleased that the minister will be able to fix the problem of lost Canadians.

However, as for the other citizens whose citizenship the minister plans to revoke, there may be individuals who have always lived in Canada, who are deported and who find themselves in a country that they are simply not familiar with. I do not think that is very charitable on our part, regardless of the reasons why the minister thinks the person should leave the country.

Once again, if the minister is convinced, on a simple preponderance of evidence, that the person committed fraud to enter Canada, it is not enough.

Since 2008, 25 changes have been made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including a moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents, fewer family reunifications, punishments for vulnerable refugees and an increase in the number of temporary foreign workers. The Conservatives have made changes to the immigration system that fail to improve the efficiency and fairness of the system.

On the contrary, they created a system that is so rigid that penalties are being imposed that should not be.

Before the Conservatives, Canada was a country that was very welcoming to immigrants. Our country is basically built on immigration. My family is an immigrant family. My ancestors came from England and France. My great-grandparents, who came to Canada from France, would have come here today as refugees. They were Huguenots. That religion was frowned upon in France and they had to flee the country. They came to Canada, a safe haven.

Huguenots were considered terrorists in France at the time, and any who wanted to come to Canada would have been deported. They never would have been granted citizenship based on this government's way of thinking. At the time, we were a welcoming country. We would have let them come settle here. In fact, we did welcome them, and since then, they have built a good family life here in Canada. However, with the criteria set out in the bill before me, these people would never have been accepted. They would have been deported. That is not very welcoming.

The first time I realized that people living outside Canada do not have the same advantages as we do—advantages that we basically take for granted—was during the Prague Spring.

In 1967, Russia overthrew the government of the former Czechoslovakia by means of a military invasion. My family welcomed refugees from that country. Under the rules set out in this bill, those refugees would have been considered terrorists. They would have never been granted Canadian citizenship and they would have been deported.

We are supposed to be a welcoming country that abides by international law. Unfortunately, the bill before us transforms us into exactly the opposite.

The minister also stated, “In cases where citizenship was fraudulently obtained, it can already be revoked.”

Let us come back to the matter of people who would never have been found guilty elsewhere. Such individuals would not be considered terrorists in a country where there was a revolution, such as Czechoslovakia or France in the time of the Huguenots. These are simply people who came to Canada in good faith with good will, but who are found guilty because fraud occurred somewhere along the line. This fraud, which was perhaps unintentional, was committed in good faith or bad faith, but regardless, fraud occurred.

The minister himself said that we already have tools to deport people from Canada and strip them of their citizenship. If those tools already exist, I do not know why the government is forcing the House and Canadians to accept Bill C-24.

It would be nice if the government stopped wasting our time and resources, when we could simply be using the existing tools.

In my opinion, the Conservatives just like to play political games. They are not proposing these things because they think there is a need for them, but because they want to talk about their policies and ideology. It gives them the opportunity to be ideological and waste Parliament's and Canadians' resources for purely partisan reasons.

The Conservatives are trying to win more votes in certain ridings; that much is clear. They do not want to improve Canada's immigration system. If they wanted to improve it, 300,000 people would not be waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. The Conservatives would have taken care of that. In addition, they would not have fired 28,000 federal public servants. Instead, they would have hired more people to process the applications.

The Conservative government keeps doing things backwards. It starts by creating problems and then it finds poorly designed solutions for the problems it created.

I am very discouraged by the fact that this bill was introduced in the House. It was discussed in committee. Some witnesses appeared before the committee. It is worth noting that the BC Civil Liberties Association sent a letter after it testified. On May 23, 2014, the association said the following:

In my view Bill C-24 will change a core principle of Canadian citizenship—that all Canadians have equal rights.

As was said during question period today, we are creating a two-tier citizenship system in Canada. This bill is creating another class of citizenship, and people could lose their Canadian citizenship, once again, on the mere preponderance of evidence and the minister's say-so. That is not enough, and it is not at all satisfactory that the minister should have such excessive power.

I want to go back to the intent to reside provision. I would like to talk about it again. In her testimony, the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic stated that:

…not only is the new intent to reside provision unfair, as it only applies to people who are naturalized citizens, not people who are born in Canada, but it could lead to revocation of citizenship from Canadians who are deemed to have obtained their citizenship status by misrepresenting their intent to reside, even when they may have legitimate reasons to leave Canada, such as for employment reasons or family obligations. As well, this provision is potentially in breach of section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the mobility rights to all Canadian citizens, both native born and naturalized alike, as well as section 15 of the charter, the equality rights provision.

The file of someone who has to leave Canada unexpectedly could end up on the minister's desk with the apparently preponderant evidence that the person no longer has the intention to reside in Canada. Not only do we need to know whether or not this discretionary power should be given to the minister, we also need to know why we want to open the door to what would clearly be a legal challenge based on the charter.

There also used to be a fund so that people could make charter challenges, but the Conservatives cut off access to that program. Now there will be an additional difficulty: not only will people targeted by this legislation have to go to court to mount a charter challenge, but, if they are not well-off, they will not have enough money to hire a lawyer and make their case in court. Once again, we have two-tiered citizenship. There is one kind of citizenship for those who have money and another kind for those who do not. This is wholly unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

I would like to end by quoting Amnesty International on the subject of revoking citizenship:

...the Supreme Court of Canada said... “The social compact requires the citizen to obey the laws created by the democratic process. But it does not follow that failure to do so nullifies the citizen’s continued membership in the self-governing polity. Indeed, the remedy of imprisonment for a term rather than permanent exile implies our acceptance of continued membership in the social order.” In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada stated quite clearly that punishing somebody by depriving them of their constitutional rights, indeed, by denying them all constitutional rights and casting them out in the name of the social contract, is not constitutional.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Conservative

Bernard Trottier ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech. He said that the minister already had the tools to revoke citizenship from dual citizens if they commit fraud. I hope he realizes that the minister is able to do that now.

Is the member defending the status quo and saying that it is acceptable to be able to revoke citizenship from dual citizens if they commit fraud, but not if they commit more serious offences such as terrorism, spying or treason?

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his good question.

I want to point out that when I said that the minister had tools at his disposal, I was talking about natural justice. We have a legal process for revoking citizenship from someone in the case of fraud or other types of crimes. My problem with this bill is that there is no process of natural justice. It is a discretionary process. The minister has that discretion and can make decisions as he sees fit. It is up to him to determine whether he is satisfied on a balance of probabilities. This decision should be left to jurists, after all of the interested parties have had a chance to submit evidence. We need a system based on equality, not on inequality.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, since January this has been a two-part phase. One is the legislative part, which we are debating now. Another is the implementation of a policy that landed residents now have to have English testing.

I am wondering if the member might want to provide some comments on that requirement.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, it is troubling that there are new language requirements in the bill. I would like to point out that the government does not believe that many in its own employ have to meet those kinds of language requirements. The government does not agree that Supreme Court justices have that kind of language requirement.

We should have some consensus. We should have language requirements in this country that are consistent for everyone. We should not expect immigrants to be held to a higher standard than people in this chamber or the people in high justice situations, such as the Supreme Court. We need to have some fundamental equality here.

If the government stopped cutting programs so that people could actually get that kind of language acquisition, maybe this element would make a little more sense. However, if the government keeps cutting back on all the programs and prospective citizens do not get the training they need, surely they could never respect the language requirements that the bill is presenting.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, QED means what had to be demonstrated. The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles clearly demonstrated that two types of Canadians were being created. There are Canadians and immigrant Canadians.

If we take the example of extreme cases of notorious terrorists or spies, those individuals can be tried in Canada if they are Canadian. However, if they are not native-born Canadians, they will be deported and their citizenship will be revoked. That is wrong. You are either Canadian or you are not. We do not have two systems. I would like to hear what the member has to say about that.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question. I would like to point out that the work she does in her riding is second to none. She is probably the best MP the region has had in quite some time. I would like to congratulate her on all the work she is doing.

As for her question, two-tier citizenship is definitely unacceptable. You are either a citizen or you are not.

Canada has constitutional guarantees that all Canadians should benefit from. According to many experts we saw, the bill has created an unacceptable situation in a free and democratic society. The Canadian Bar Association clearly stated that this bill would almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. It is almost certain that many aspects of this bill will be deemed unconstitutional. Two-tier citizenship is one of those aspects.

It is unfortunate to have to move in that direction. If the bill is challenged in court, I hope that the Supreme Court will deal with this file quickly so that there is more fairness in this country.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
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NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister often compares Canada to other NATO countries. That bothers me because I think that an independent country should do things its own way.

What does my colleague think of the fact that the government is trying to standardize our practices with those of other countries? Does he think that is the right thing to do?

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

When we change Canada's laws and regulations to standardize them with those of other countries, we must first verify whether other countries' legislation is consistent with our laws, charters and customs.

The Conservative government is not introducing this bill to improve the immigration system. This is partisan-driven. The government is looking for more voters in the next election. It would have us believe that this bill is militaristic. The government keeps talking about the First World War, the Second World War, and NATO.

The bill is about immigration in 2014. To my knowledge, we are not bringing immigrants into Canada to send them into the army and declare war elsewhere. People come to Canada first and foremost to seek refuge, then to contribute to the Canadian economy, democracy and the good life we lead. That is what immigration is about. We are welcoming here in Canada.

There is no room for partisanship in bills. Bills should be able to stand alone. Unfortunately, this bill does not stand up at all.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that clarification.

We all do our best to represent our ridings. I can guarantee that people living in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands are very concerned about this bill. Society should continue to be free and democratic. This bill, however, does not comply with the charter. It does not embody the fundamental characteristics of a free and democratic society.

I would not be surprised if the people represented by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, a name we have heard frequently of late, also want a society based on freedom and democracy. Regardless of which riding we represent, those basic values always matter.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the former minister of immigration has been waiting in great anticipation of what I might have to say, because he knows full well that when I get the opportunity to talk about immigration and citizenship, I like to reflect on not only the current minister but the past minister. I like to take a holistic approach in dealing with the issues as I see them and as many of my Liberal colleagues see them. The government often chooses to use immigration and citizenship in an inappropriate fashion, if I can put it that way, maybe putting politics ahead of what is in the best interest of good, solid, sound immigration and citizenship policy. I would not mind talking a bit about that, being afforded the opportunity to again share my thoughts.

I come to this issue because, over the last 20-plus years, I have had the opportunity of representing in a very real and tangible way a community in Winnipeg North that has allowed me to deal with immigration and citizenship issues, at one time maybe on a weekly basis. That has evolved into dealing with numerous immigration cases on a daily basis. Depending on who we might talk to and depending on the week and the time of the year, it could be anywhere from 200 to 300 or 400 cases.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in working with people and helping them on immigration files and citizenship files. I could provide the House with endless examples that will give an indication of just how off base the government of the day has been in regard to immigration policy. The government has fallen short, not in one or two areas but in a number of areas. I am hoping, by being able to provide direct input to those who are ultimately responsible, both the former minister and the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that they will recognize that they need to start working on behalf of our immigrant community. When I say immigrant community, I am talking about the wider grouping of individuals who live in Canada, call Canada their home, and do so in a very proud fashion.

I was very pleased to have been appointed immigration critic when I was first elected after the general election, and I enjoyed it immensely. When I think of immigration policy, I can say that there has not been that much change in the government's attitude in terms of policy and the direction in which the department is going. This is something that I would like to highlight.

There are so many things I could be talking about. Let me start by commenting specifically on a bill known as “425”. Bill C-425 was a private member's bill that was introduced last year by a backbench Conservative member of Parliament. What was that member of Parliament hoping to be able to do through that legislation? He came up with an idea that we should give citizenship out to individuals who have been here for three out of four years. His idea was to allow for military personnel to acquire their citizenship after two years. This is something that was proposed by a Conservative member of Parliament, and it actually received fairly good support from all members of this House. Maybe he did not have the green light from the Prime Minister's Office. The bill passed the House and went into committee, and the arguments that were brought forward at the time were that three out of four years was a good overall policy, that it would work, and that there was nothing wrong with it.

What the member and others around the table were talking about was, in fact, reducing it for certain individuals who decide to serve in the Canadian Forces. I remember the debate well, because I was the critic at the time.

Listening to the comments in this chamber, I did not hear one member—not one Conservative, not one New Democrat, and definitely not one Liberal—make the suggestion that we needed to increase the residency requirement. No one was talking about that, not even the then minister of immigration.

When it came time to provide comment on Bill C-425, what did the then minister of immigration choose to talk about? He chose to talk about the dual citizens. He chose to talk about how important it is to be able to deport or take away citizenship from individuals who commit a crime of treason, and he cited a couple of other things. That was the minister's concern. He not once mentioned that we should be increasing the residency requirement from three years to four years.

Something happened over that late fall from October to November that triggered a thought. I do not know what triggered it, but the thought was to make it more difficult, or increase the requirements, for someone to achieve citizenship. I question why the government made that decision, because it definitely was not an issue. We know that. If it had been an issue, if MPs or the government were being challenged on the issue, it would have been brought up at the immigration committee. The minister of immigration back then would have raised the issue. However, they chose not to, because it was not an issue then. It is only the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who decided this was an issue.

I will put one caveat on that. I suspect that someone within the Prime Minister's Office might have had a say on that issue. Maybe a new minister, being eager and wanting to please the leader, decided he would do that even though there was no need. There was no need. This is what I believe has actually taken place. It is a change that is being dictated from the Prime Minister's Office, which wants to make it four years as opposed to three years, even though it was not an issue. I suggest that is bad policy.

I was not surprised when the government made the decision it would double the cost of the application for citizenship, because it hinted about that in the immigration committee. We could tell by some of the questions Conservatives were asking. We anticipated that the government was considering an increase. That was not a surprise. The surprise was the fact that it wanted to increase the residency period.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 7:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

If the member does not like my volume, he is welcome to leave the chamber.

At the end of the day, we believe that the government has made a bad decision, and the vast majority of the Conservative caucus recognize that. However, of course, there will not be any free vote on this legislation.

What have the Conservatives done in citizenship? They have created a crisis. When they took office, they increased the processing time for a person to acquire the eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship. They rapidly increased the processing time.

When the Conservatives took office, it took roughly a year for a person to acquire the necessary paperwork when applying for his or her citizenship. What is it today? When I say 28 months, I am being very generous. It is likely closer to 30 months. That is for the majority of individuals who put in their applications; I will give the government that much. What does that mean in a very real way? It means, Mr. Speaker, that if you had put in your application today, under the Paul Martin or Jean Chrétien governments you would have had it a year from today. Now we are talking about at least three years, and heaven forbid that a residential background check is required. If that has to be done, we are talking about five years, six years, and even beyond that.

This is the government that created the crisis with processing times. Now what does it say about this legislation? It says it is going to fix the problem. It has a new process and it is going to fix the processing times. It did not require legislation to fix the processing times. It required the political will, and that is what has been lacking with the government. It does not have the political will to improve the processing time; and that does not only apply to citizenship. It has no qualms about processing times for other immigration types of programs. What does it do? It always blames the other government. It constantly does that, and it is just not true.

The minister who had the most significant increase in backlog in the skilled worker program was, in fact, the former minister, the individual sitting across from me right now. When he issued ministerial instructions, he increased the backlog by more than 130,000—I believe that was the number—over a period of weeks. How did the government deal with backlogs? It froze the program of sponsoring parents and grandparents for over three years. It hit the delete button. Imagine deleting 300,000 people who were waiting for years.

The point is that the government has been playing politics when it comes to immigration and citizenship, and it has done a miserable job. It has failed, and I would ultimately argue that it has intentionally failed, because it could have been doing more. The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration says, “Look at how wonderful we are. We have this legislation and we are developing a new process. Our target is to reduce the processing times from three years to one year, and we will do it by 2016.” This is the government that created the crisis that built it up to three years, and it does not require legislation to get down under a year. That could have been done without legislation.

What will be the real impact on people in our communities—outstanding, wonderful, contributing individuals? What will the real, tangible impact be? Let me tell a couple of stories.

Someone met up with me at my local McDonald's on a Saturday and told me his passport had expired. I will use the example of the Philippines, because this is what in fact happened. The problem is that he has applied for his citizenship, which means he does not have the ability to go to the Philippines after a death in the family. He has now been waiting for well over a year for his citizenship. He asked me if there is anything I can do.

Maybe if there is a two- or three-week period of time and it looks very close to being finalized, a member of Parliament might be able to assist to a certain degree, depending on the situation. However, when there is a waiting period of two and half years, and a person is one year in, and the homeland passport is no longer valid, there is very little one can do when the person needs to get the documents quickly so that they can be there for a funeral or something of that nature.

How many permanent residents do we have in Canada today who have been waiting for their citizenship well beyond a year? We are not talking about a few thousand. We are talking about well over 200,000 people who have been waiting for over a year.

One of the privileges of having Canadian citizenship is having a passport. I do not know if the government is sensitive to that fact, because it is denying Canadian passports, due to its incompetence or its decision to frustrate the system, to tens of thousands of people who should be Canadians today.

Imagine wanting to be a long-distance truck driver obligated to cross the Canada-U.S. border. What do they want? They want valid passports.

What if one wanted to travel to the United States to see friends or travel anywhere outside of Canada? What about getting on a plane? One of the most common pieces of identification asked for is one's Canadian passport.

Why are we making people wait three years? Do not tell me it is because we needed this legislation, because that is a bogus argument. It is not necessary.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.

There is an election taking place today in the province of Ontario. Imagine the tens of thousands of people who should be able to vote today, but because of the Conservative government's incompetence in dealing with the issue, because of the three-year-plus waiting period to get citizenship, they are being denied the opportunity to vote. I speak first-hand about the great sense of pride new Canadians have when it comes time to be able to express themselves by going to the polls and voting, yet what sort of response do we get from the government? It is most unfortunate.

There are many aspects of the legislation the Liberal Party is uncomfortable with. The Liberal Party critic has enunciated a number of flaws. Our expectations are far greater.

I must conclude my remarks by saying that the comments by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration about millions of second-class citizens during the 1970s and 1980s because of a change in government policy backed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau was really a disservice. I suggest that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration apologize for those comments.

However, I am thankful for this opportunity to share a few thoughts.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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Willowdale Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be a Canadian citizen, and it is a privilege for me to rise in this House to address this point.

Women in this country were given their citizenship and the right to vote about 100 years ago. The Chinese did not get their right to vote until 1947. The South Asians did not get their right to citizenship until 1948. Although many Japanese during the internment period were born in Canada, they did not have the right to vote in the 1950s. This was all under the rules of the former Liberal government.

If we had let the Chinese write their laws when we first came to this country in 1421, if I remember properly, we probably would have written them in such a way that one would have to live here a lifetime before being permitted to be a citizen. Under Chinese law, if one parent was from Switzerland and the other from Japan, the children would have to be either Japanese, Swiss, or Chinese and they would have to change their name before they could be citizens.

It is a privilege to be a Canadian citizen. As we define that privilege, I think this current act does a good job. What are we looking for? We are looking for the intent to stay, a commitment to this country, to be grounded in this environment, to pay taxes, and to learn the language so that people can communicate as Canadian citizens. Those are the elements that are necessary.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up an interesting point. I suspect that many of those issues would have been resolved when Mr. Trudeau, as prime minister, would have brought in the legislation. I think the Conservatives need to recognize a good thing. We had a better thing in terms of three out of four years versus what is being proposed in this legislation. My gut feeling is that the member who posed the question knows that, because he sat on the immigration committee with me. He will recall that not one member of Parliament, not one presenter, made the suggestion that three out of four years was not good enough. Why did the government make the decision to change it to four years?

I am sure the member has posed that question to himself, because it was a surprise. A tip probably came from the Prime Minister's office.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, since my colleague spoke at length about this in his speech, I would like to go back to expedited access to citizenship for persons who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Of course we support this measure. It makes sense that someone who has served in the armed forces should have faster access to citizenship. That being said, the problem with this measure is that it applies to almost nobody. The simple fact is that to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, one must be a Canadian citizen. If one is not a citizen, one cannot join the forces. I did not even know that, but I looked into it and I found out that in some cases, the Chief of the Defence Staff can authorize an individual with the necessary training to serve in a position where there is a skills shortage.

When I asked how many people this would affect, I was told that it was fewer than 10. Currently, fewer than 10 people serving in the armed forces will be able to benefit from this measure.

I would like to know what the member thinks about that. Did the government try to include a measure that looks good on the surface but that really applies to almost nobody as a way of making the rest of it, which is pretty bad, look better?

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question.

If we go to the Canadian Forces website, it says that one has to be a Canadian to apply. The question is why we would allow the residency requirement to be reduced for someone to become a Canadian. There are very few this would actually apply to.

The member is quite right. Generally speaking, there may be individuals outside of Canada who might be recruited by the hierarchy within the military, brought to Canada, and offered something of this nature. There are very few. I had the opportunity to question the military directly on the issue, and I can confirm that it is a very low number.

This goes back to Bill C-425, if that is what the member was trying to get across. It is only meant as a gesture of symbolism to try to give an impression. It is not as if there is going to be a Canadian Forces recruitment banner at the airport as new immigrants come walking in.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member from Winnipeg North talked about the government creating its own crisis relative to this bill. It would be nice if the member could tell us what he really thinks. He is not being very direct.

The member mentioned truck drivers and the need to have a passport. That is a big issue in my own province of Prince Edward Island. Several trucking firms have approached me. They need drivers. We do a lot of international business across the U.S. border. The addition of one year really impacts those individuals.

As well, I wonder if the member could tell me the impact on the economy. The government talks about the economy, but really undermines it in many ways. This is just another way. We do not have the drivers to do the business that drives the economy.

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June 12th, 2014 / 7:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a high demand for long-haul truck drivers. Does it have an impact?

It is closer to three years in terms of the waiting period to get citizenship. A truck driver could be waiting a long time to acquire Canadian citizenship and a passport. It is purely processing time.

I want to pick up on it being a crisis. This is not unique to citizenship. One of the most controversial issues in the House of Commons over the last few months has been the temporary foreign worker program. It is the Conservative government that created the crisis. The Conservatives say that the Liberals did not deal with the issue. The simple answer is that there was no crisis back then. It is the Conservatives that created the crisis. Now they are in a position to try to fix it.

It is no different with the citizenship process or dealing with economic immigrants. The Conservatives come up with weird ways to resolve a crisis. Let us remember what they did with the skilled workers. There were over 300,000 applications, and the previous minister of immigration hit the delete button. He deleted 300,000 applications.

There are court actions and all sorts of problems with it. The Conservative government creates the crisis and then it tries to blame it on someone else. Then it tries to take credit for hopefully fixing it. I do not think there is enough time left in its mandate to rectify the serious problems in the immigration and citizenship file.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-24 and the major changes it makes to the Citizenship Act.

I am pleased to take part in the debate on this bill, which makes significant changes to our Citizenship Act. I am proud to be with the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who introduced this bill. As the former minister of citizenship and immigration, I worked hard with the public servants at Citizenship and Immigration Canada and with new Canadians to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship, which is one of the most important things we possess as parliamentarians and citizens. Citizenship unites us and defines us. It is the basis of our values and our shared identity as members of the Canadian family.

When I became the minister of citizenship and immigration in 2008, I quickly learned from new Canadians of all backgrounds because I listened to them. Those new Canadians, from more than 180 countries around the world, came to Canada to start a new life and become Canadians. They were chasing the Canadian dream, freedom and opportunity. As economic immigrants from the four corners of the world, they wanted to benefit from freedom and the rule of law, traditions enshrined in our constitutional and parliamentary system.

The vast majority of those new Canadians shared a sense of Canadian identity and a sense of duty towards this country. They wanted to strengthen that identity. They did not want to pursue diversity for the sake of diversity. They appreciated our country's diversity, yes, but they appreciated the unity of that diversity even more. That is what I learned and heard from new Canadians of all backgrounds.

I also learned that new Canadians are clearly the strongest defenders of the importance of the integrity and value of Canadian citizenship. New Canadians were the ones who brought to my attention some of the terrible situations and fraud networks that seek to abuse our immigration and citizenship system. New Canadians were the ones who informed me of unscrupulous consultants who manufactured evidence of residency in Canada for obtaining citizenship.

New Canadians were the ones who complained to me about new citizens who cannot speak one of our official languages and therefore cannot really be active members of our society. New Canadians were the ones who told me, with regard to our shared citizenship, that not enough value is placed on the knowledge of our country, its history, its identity and its values.

When I became Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 2008, by listening with some humility, I hope, to new Canadians from all origins, I learned that their view was that successive Canadians governments had not invested enough importance in protecting the integrity of our shared citizenship.

I learned from these new Canadians about fraud networks organizing fake proof of residency to obtain citizenship and people becoming citizens who did not speak either of our common languages, even at a basic level. They also knew little or nothing about our country's identity, history, and values.

That is why, in 2009, we launched the citizenship action plan to re-establish the value of Canadian citizenship and restore integrity to the process of its acquisition. It was to say that Canada is an open and generous country, but that it will not tolerate those who seek to abuse its generosity. We went systematically through all of the different aspects of the program. We began with combatting citizenship fraud.

I insisted that our officials at CIC focus not just on the quantity of applications processed, but also take seriously the quality of those applications, meaning that they ensure that people actually meet the real legislative requirements contemplated by this Parliament in its adoption of the 1977 Citizenship Act. Specifically, applicants for citizenship first have to demonstrate that they are resident in Canada for at least three out of four years. Second, except for those with severe learning disabilities or those who are older or very young, they have to demonstrate that they can communicate in one of the two official languages. Third, applicants have to demonstrate a basic knowledge of Canada.

What did we find? First of all, in terms of residency, we found that there were consultants out there brazenly selling, as a service to foreign nationals, the fabrication of false evidence of their residency. If members do not believe me, they can go and google it and see online that there are consultants in certain parts of the world who brazenly advertise the value of Canadian citizenship.

To give one regional example, in the Gulf states, a foreign national from a developing country who gets a Canadian passport finds that their salary suddenly increases. There is a commercial value attached to the acquisition of a Canadian passport, but some people do not want to come here and actually live here in order to obtain it. They would rather stay in a tax haven, making a good living while a consultant fabricates fake receipts for rent, financial transactions, and the like. These consultants are handsomely paid.

I would like to thank and commend members of the Canadian Lebanese community for having brought this issue to my attention. When I learned about it, I insisted that our officials, the Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigate these allegations of fraud, which they did. As a result, to date more than 10,000 cases have been identified of individuals either obtaining citizenship fraudulently or being in the process of doing so. We know that there are many thousands more.

To put this into perspective, it is a relatively small fraction of the overall number of people who obtain citizenship. However, to protect the value of the passport for bona fide citizens, we have to clearly demonstrate serious sanctions and rigour for mala fide applicants of citizenship. They would be the applicants who do not actually live here or who have no connection to Canada.

Similarly, I was disturbed in my early tenure at immigration to encounter a significant number of people who had obtained Canadian citizenship in their adult years, whether they were middle-aged or in young adulthood, but who could not communicate in either English or French. The notion that citizens should be able to speak one of our two languages is not an invention of the government. It is not unique to Canada. It has always been a feature of our citizenship law, ever since the first one was adopted in 1947 by the government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

Why? It is because citizenship represents full membership in our political community. It implies participation in our shared civic life. It grants the right of self-government through voting to select one's own government or, indeed, of participating in it by running for public office. One cannot do those things fully if one does not have the ability to communicate with one's fellow citizens.

This is not to denigrate or make a pejorative judgment about those among us in Canada who have limited or no English or French language proficiency, many of whom are wonderful, hard-working people and well intentioned. We honour them and we hope that they will become full members of our civic community. We invest hundreds of millions of dollars to this end. This government has tripled the public spending on settlement services, including free language classes to assist those people in becoming proficient.

By the way, the opposition members always say we should have evidence-based policy. I agree, and that is what this bill is based on. The evidence tells us that language proficiency in English or French is the single most important factor in the economic and social success of newcomers to Canada, bar none. That is not an opinion; that is the cumulative result of virtually every study done in this respect in Canada and around the world.

Language proficiency in English or French in this country is the key that unlocks opportunity. It is the bridge into our full participation in our political and civic community. We do no favours to tell new Canadians that we will ignore it if they do not have even basic competency in English or French. That is analogous to telling high school students that even though they do not pass the grades, even though they are not numerate or literate, we will give them social passes through to grade 12. We all know that does not do them any favour when they get out into the real world; similarly, it does not do newcomers any favour to tell them that they can become members of a community with which they cannot yet communicate.

It is no coincidence that these words come from the same root. Citizenship is entrance and participation, full membership, in a community, which is obviously implicitly predicated on the ability to communicate. That is why, as part of the citizenship action plan, we defined clear, objective benchmarks for proficiency in English or French for the first time and began testing people. In the past they just had to come in and do a two-minute interview with CIC officials. They would frequently be coached by their immigration consultants on the standard questions. That is how people with no language proficiency in English or French ended up fraudulently, I would say, obtaining our citizenship. It was wrong and it no longer happens.

Then we went about revising our program on knowledge of Canada. That is the third requirement. In the 1977 act and the 1947 act, it is required that people must have a basic knowledge of Canada's values, history, laws, and political system. It is what is called civic literacy.

Again, this is not a reflection of this government or of me alone, but of people across the political spectrum, including many social democrats, many small-l liberals, and many academics and intellectuals. They include people like Jack Granatstein, a prominent Liberal and Canadian historian; people like Andrew Cohen, a prominent small-l liberal professor at Carleton University and author of a book on this subject; people like Rudyard Griffiths, who wrote another book on Canadian identity. All of them, and others, have identified a real challenge in this country with respect to civic literacy, including understanding our political institutions and how they took shape and what our obligations are—not just what our rights are, but also what our responsibilities are as citizens. These things are essential, especially in a country of such diversity, especially in a country that is maintaining one of the highest levels of immigration in the developed world, especially in a country that welcomes a quarter of a million permanent residents every year.

We must be intentional about ensuring that those newcomers who become members of our community through the citizenship process know the country they are joining and understand its laws and its customs. This is why, for example, we were very blunt in the new citizenship guide, Discover Canada, which leads to the new and admittedly more rigorous test, in saying that Canada's tolerance and generosity do not extend to certain barbaric cultural practices, including so-called honour crimes, female genital mutilation, spousal violence, et cetera, and that such crimes are condemned and severely punished in Canada”.

In Canada, we are generous, we are pluralist, but we believe in certain objective values, such as the equality of men and women, values that are rooted in our history and our identity. That is why we brought in the new test and why we brought in the new study guide. In the old test, which was 20 multiple choice questions, one standard set of questions, unethical ghost immigration consultants got the answer key and actually sold it to applicants for citizenship. Consequently, 98% of those who wrote the citizenship knowledge test were passing, because they just memorized the answer key and because, frankly, the information was so insipid.

Under the citizenship guide called “A Look at Canada”, published by the previous government, there were nearly two pages of information on recycling, but there was not one sentence on Canadian military history. This building was reconstructed in the 1920s partly as a monument to our war dead from the Great War. The Peace Tower houses the names of over 114,000 Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for our democratic rights. Our citizenship is predicated on those rights, yet new citizens could write the test and become Canadians without ever having heard or read a word about our war dead, about the greatest Canadians.

This government took the position that it was more important for new Canadians to know the meaning of the red poppy than the blue box, more important to know about our military history than such prosaic mundane matters as recycling.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, indeed, we even know the role of aboriginals, francophones, and English Canadian militia together defending this country against the American invaders in 1812. Yes, we are proud of those who made sacrifices to create this wonderful experiment in ordered liberty in the northern half of North America. We do not ridicule their role in Canadian history. It is interesting that back in the day, the War of 1812 was considered a Liberal touchstone of Canadian nationalism, but now it is ridiculed by members of the Liberal Party.

We believe in civic literacy. This is not to say that every new citizen should be fluent in English or French or have a Ph.D. in Canadian history, but they should have some basic grasp of knowledge of the country of which they are becoming members. The culmination of all of this is the act that is before us. It is the first major legislative effort to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship. I know from empirical public opinion research and from my endless anecdotal experience that the vast majority of new Canadians, both citizens and permanent residents, support the strengthening of our citizenship, such as the provision to allow for the deemed revocation of citizenship from convicted terrorists and traitors. Let me say a word about that because it has been a subject of contention here.

Citizenship is predicated on reciprocal loyalty: the loyalty of Canada to the citizen and the loyalty of citizen to the country. Our laws have always permitted a renunciation of that citizenship. American Texas Senator Cruz just renounced his citizenship this week, as an example. Therefore, one can renounce one's citizenship and it can be revoked if it was obtained fraudulently. Every other Liberal democracy in the world—save one, Portugal—including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden say that if someone commits a violent act of disloyalty against his or her country, it constitutes a repudiation of his or her citizenship.

We should not wait for someone to commit an act of violent treason or terrorism against this country to sign a form renouncing his or her citizenship, because he or she has renounced it in his or her violent action. That is what this bill says. By the way, 83% of Canadians polled support the deemed renunciation of citizenship from convicted terrorists or traitors, and a larger majority of those born abroad support it than those born in Canada. This bill is being proposed precisely to support new Canadians and the value of their Canadian passports and to reinvigorate their pride in their shared citizenship. We support them and we invite the opposition to do the same.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister. He brought up the issue of terrorists. We know that the definition of terrorist may vary from country to country.

Imagine that someone who opposes the dictatorship regime in China, a country with which we signed a free trade agreement, is accused of being a terrorist and seeks refuge here. Would we let that person come to Canada? I would like the minister to answer that question.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, fortunately, we do not have a free trade agreement with China. Second, clearly we would allow that person to come to Canada and, after the bill is passed, we will allow bona fide refugees from China who are unfairly persecuted by the Chinese system to come here.

Under the existing Immigration Act, a foreign national who is found guilty of a crime, such as terrorist activity or other serious offences that would also be considered crimes in our country, is not eligible to come to Canada. The same standard exists in the citizenship bill. The existing Citizenship Act clearly states that anyone who commits an offence overseas, such as an act of terrorism, that would also be considered an offence in Canada is inadmissible as a permanent resident or citizen. The key is figuring out whether the crime is actually a crime under Canadian law and not just under Chinese law.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently, as I often do to my colleague the minister. I have said, to enough people that it probably has made its way back to him at some point, that I actually believe him to be the most rigorous and hard-working minister in the cabinet. In the land of the blind, notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with much of what he says, he is eloquent and very articulate and rigorous in his arguments.

I know the minister has spent a significant amount of time with Canada's multicultural communities and has worked hard within those communities. I have spent a fair bit of time with those communities as well. When they speak of Pierre Trudeau, Canada's citizenship laws, Canada's identity and multiculturalism, and these policies that have defined a modern Canada, they speak in a very positive way.

Does the minister agree with his successor, the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that the changes made to Canada's Citizenship Act in the 1970s cheapened our citizenship?

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kings—Hants for his very kind words. He and I were both elected to this place 17 years ago last week, I believe. We are becoming old veterans of this place. Hard to believe, we were both elected in our twenties. I thank him for those comments. I hope that the comparative remark was not being damned by faint praise.

Objectively speaking, the 1977 Citizenship Act did lower the bar to obtain citizenship quite significantly. At the time, I am sure that it was well intended. However, I honestly believe the consequence of it has been that some people, thankfully a small minority, have consequently taken our citizenship for granted. I refer to that not insignificant number of people who I know obtained or sought to obtain citizenship without living here, as I said before, and without really speaking one of our languages or knowing much about our country.

The bill before us is not radical, is not a change by orders of magnitude. It is more in the order of a change of degree or modification, raising citizenship for residence requirements from three years to four years, for example. It would still be easier to obtain citizenship under the scheme proposed in the bill than in virtually any other country in the world.

We are saying that we should re-establish the value of citizenship. Maybe we went too far in lowering the standard that allowed, regrettably, some small minority to take our citizenship for granted in 1977. Hopefully we can find a consensus on this issue.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:25 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 very unfortunate issues that we deal with in constituency offices, and it happens in my constituency office in Newmarket—Aurora, is that people who have been misled by immigration consultants come into the office. It is unfortunate that in many cases they have spent enormous amounts of money attempting to get their citizenship, yet they have been led down the garden path, as it were, and have not had the proper instruction.

My colleague has spent a fair bit of time working on issues related to this problem. Could he comment on how we would regulate immigration consultants?

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, one of the things I became aware of as Minister of Immigration was the terrible stories about exploitation by “ghost” or unscrupulous immigration consultants. We brought in a new law that makes it a crime to operate as an unlicensed immigration consultant at any stage during the process of an application. If individuals facilitate an immigration application for consideration, they now must be licensed consultants.

We put in a new regulatory body with much more integrity and much more of a focus on enforcement called the Immigration Consultants Regulatory Council of Canada.

The bill before us seeks to add citizenship consultants to that regulatory framework. Those who sell advice or facilitate applications for citizenship for a fee, for consideration, would now have to be licensed consultants in good standing of a regulatory body designated by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to make sure that there is follow-up. If people are cheated, robbed, or given bad advice, they can make a complaint. Sanctions could be laid and the consultant could lose his ability to pursue that business.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:25 p.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister just talked about people who renounce their citizenship and the possibility to do so. He talked about Google. I have been wondering for some time about the case of a Canadian citizen who committed fraud, was sentenced and spent years in a U.S. prison. He gave up his citizenship to get a British title. My question is very short: what is happening with Conrad Black?

What can the minister tell us about his case?

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, clearly, under the Privacy Act, the minister cannot comment on a particular case. That being said, a foreign national who applies for permanent residence is ineligible if he has committed a serious crime. However, there is a review process.

The process is called restoration.

This means that a foreign national who was sentenced for a serious crime cannot acquire Canadian citizenship, but the legal procedures for reviewing that sort of decision still apply.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:30 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

I am very pleased with the tone of the debate this evening. I think that this is an important issue. Evidently, everyone here thinks so and sees the importance of our efforts as parliamentarians.

My colleague's question about an exceptional case was quite pertinent because, after all, the minister—we have to recognize this—is speaking with a great deal of experience, and will only point out the positive aspects of this bill, which is not his bill but that of his colleague. His reply to my colleague's question revealed precisely the element of discretion in a decision about a private case, and that is what bothers me the most about this bill.

I am not an immigration expert, but like all MPs, many cases are brought to my attention and my staff does a good job of handling them. I am the MP for the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher. Many people choose to settle in this riding when they come to Canada. On many occasions we have to deal with the problem of people who apply for citizenship and then are confronted with a very unwieldy system.

I find it reassuring that the government has decided to address the state of the immigration system and that it has chosen to move forward with legislative reforms because the immigration mechanism seems to be broken and unwieldy today.

In my riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, I see some very serious problems, which have particularly serious consequences for the human beings who come to our offices because they are caught in a process that is literally frozen. These are individuals, families and people who have come from elsewhere to earn a living, to work on a project and quite often to contribute to their adoptive country.

The people who come here have not seen their families in sometimes two, three or four years. They hope that by filling out the right forms and being patient, they may perhaps bring their loved ones closer to them. However, the crisis in the system that handles immigration applications is more serious than ever.

Every day in Longueuil, I hear about men and women who have been waiting for months or years to see their spouses. This situation is the result of the decisions and the policies of our friends opposite, our Conservative friends. It is also the result of budgets that have been reduced while needs have grown. Those decisions have tremendous repercussions on people's lives.

Actually, the processing times beggar belief. In June 2014, to sponsor a spouse or a dependent child, the processing time was 23 months at the Canadian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. To sponsor a spouse living and waiting in Kenya or South Africa, the wait is 21 months. At our embassy in Senegal, you have to wait 25 months before getting a call back; in New York, it is more than 30 months. More than two years, that is ridiculous!

These are figures, but for the people on the waiting lists, they are not just figures. For the people that I met in Longueuil and those my team met in our offices, these are not just figures. These are real lives. They spend months and years of distress, helplessness, sleepless nights and loneliness worrying about their loved ones. It is their host country that is imposing this on them.

These are the consequences of poor decisions made in Ottawa relating to money invested far from where the needs are the greatest. That is the real problem. However, there is nothing tangible before us today that addresses this specific emergency.

We have seen demonstrations here on Parliament Hill. Take for example the 10,000 people who had filed their applications at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office in Buffalo, in the US, shortly before the government closed that office. Every one of those applications were redirected, sent from one office to another and lost for more than a year, leaving the applicants worried and apprehensive.

The minister of immigration at the time reacted by calling this huge blunder an effectiveness measure for taxpayers. I kid you not. When a government proves itself unable to run a visa office, it is certainly not a measure of effectiveness for our international reputation.

We know that the challenges are enormous. However, we regret that the government has not been up to the challenges of the immigration file. The resulting chaos has reached proportions that are, frankly, embarrassing and unworthy of a G7 government and a country that would impose quality standards in the provision of services to citizens.

When the cries of those caught up in the mess were heard loudly enough to have a bearing on the Conservatives’ electoral prospects, then we finally saw money being thrown at the problem in the 2013 budget. We are talking about $44 million over two years. Since the money will not go any further, we are in the last year of that spur-of-the-moment cash grab.

In view of the crisis, the government resolved more than once to resolve the problem, but we saw that the situation got worse, not better. We see today that the processing times and the backlog of applications have doubled since the Conservatives came to power. That is really something!

Despite this disastrous situation that has particularly affected many residents of Longueuil, we see that Bill C-24 contains no effective solutions for reducing the bottlenecks in the immigration system, which really seems to have broken down completely.

I would like to focus on what is probably the most appalling and the most worrying aspect of Bill C-24, and that is the across-the-board attribution of powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. This is a trend we have seen frequently and in many different forms. The Conservatives prefer to put powers in the hands of ministers and their staff, because it allows them to act without accountability and behind closed doors.

Bill C-24 proposes giving the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to revoke citizenship in certain specific cases. For example, a person who has been convicted on certain grounds, in Canada or abroad, may have his Canadian citizenship revoked, not in a fair and equitable trial in the courts, but by the minister's office. This means that the minister will be asked to make such decisions by himself.

This is also the case when the minister, or his staff, is convinced that a person obtained Canadian citizenship through fraud. While previously these issues were decided by cabinet or the courts, now it is the minister's office that will have the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship on the basis of suspicions. In other words, this is a power that will not be exercised in a fair environment.

We are being asked to trust the Conservatives. Really? We are being asked to close our eyes to the exercise of this discretionary power. I do not think so.

We are right to ask questions about this procedure. When someone commits a crime, there are consequences and penalties that are applicable to everyone, regardless of ethnic, national or social origin. This is how things happen in Canada, as they do in countries that respect fundamental rights. Our courts are the tools we use to judge illegal acts and impose punitive or dissuasive measures.

The powers that would be granted to the person holding the office of minister of citizenship and Immigration under Bill C-24 are also dangerous because they would allow the minister to base his decision to revoke citizenship on a judicial decision handed down in another country.

For example, let us look at the power of the minister to consider a conviction handed down in another country carrying a prison sentence of five years or more for an offence which, if it had been committed in Canada, would have been classified as a terrorist offence under the Criminal Code. This means that decisions made by Canada would be based on judicial rulings handed down even in a non-democratic country, or in autocratic or totalitarian regimes, or even in states where the justice system is corrupt.

What Bill C-24 proposes is that while most citizens would receive a criminal sentence, others could lose their Canadian citizenship. We are talking about a two-tier citizenship: some fully benefit from the rights associated with being a Canadian citizen, while others have conditional or temporary rights.

This very problematic way of doing things is also reflected in the government's proposal to now require that a citizenship applicant confirm his intention to reside in Canada. That is an unreasonably vague condition, and it puts a heavier burden on applicants. In other words, by obtaining his citizenship under this condition, a new Canadian may have doubts about rights that are usually taken for granted by other Canadians. He can legitimately wonder whether he has the right to travel over long periods of time and whether he can work abroad without getting his citizenship revoked by the government because he did not demonstrate an intent to reside in Canada.

Freedom of movement should be a prerogative of all Canadian citizens, not just those who were born here. The president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers talked about an “implicit threat” that will generate a sense of insecurity and worry among people, given that the government may decide to arbitrarily revoke their citizenship if they leave Canada too soon, or if they stay abroad too long.

Since I only have one minute left, I will now talk about our strong feeling that this bill gives too much power to the minister and his office.

We have reasons to find it sad to see a party that keeps boasting about its love for multiculturalism, and whose ministers tour immigrant communities during election campaigns, suddenly turn around and make family reunification harder and Canadian citizenship less accessible.

We, on this side, are convinced that a more humane approach to immigration is needed. We know that immigrants contribute tirelessly not only to our economy, but also to the common good. We know that when family members are allowed to live together, their lives and health are better, and we make sure they have an integration and support network to better connect with their host community in Canada.

I sincerely hope the Conservatives will take note of our concerns and will acknowledge them, not only in the context of this bill but also in their actions over the year and a half left to the 41st Parliament.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:40 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the focus he has put on Bill C-24, the strengthening Canadian citizenship act, by being present this evening to speak to it and ask questions.

However, the member made reference to the fact that there was not much in the bill to deal with the backlogs. I am sure it was probably an oversight on his part.

I would like to focus his attention on a specific part of the bill that would change the decision-making process for granting citizenship from a three-step process to a one-step process. In effect, this would give officials in the citizenship and immigration stream, who are familiar with cases, the right to grant citizenship, rather than go through the three steps they go through now.

Experts in the field and officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration have done the analysis. We estimate that going from a three-step process to a one-step process will reduce the processing time from as high as 30 months to under a year.

Is the member familiar with that, and could he comment on the three-step to one-step process?

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:40 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I really appreciate the tone of the questions, and I thank the hon. member for the work he does and for his question.

Of course, I realize that the government wants to speed things up, but the problem is that everyone here represents his or her riding and has the trust of his or her constituents and party leader. This means that every point of view expressed here is relevant, valid and democratic. Incidentally, there are very different ways of doing things, depending on the school of thought. To us, the problem is that while it is much easier to make quick decisions if only a small group is involved in the process, this is of course contrary to the public interest. In the context of the last parliamentary session, it is easy to understand why we do not trust the government.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-24 proposes to amend the Citizenship Act by expanding the age requirements of applicants to 14 to 64 from 18 to 54 for knowledge and language requirements. This shift in age requirement will be problematic for immigrant and refugee children.

UNICEF has expressed concern in that testing could lead to challenges with reuniting children with their families and could therefore lead to the deprivation of the child's right to family reunification under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It also does not take into account the stress that testing may cause or a child's ability to perform successfully in a test environment. These children may also be dealing with a fear of authority or trauma from their home country.

What does my hon. colleague think about this?

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:40 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that that is an excellent question.

I am going to answer by saying that I had one family that came to my office many times to explain their problems. The members of that family had been ordered to leave the country. They tried to find arguments, to reach another stage and to present new arguments in an attempt to get out of this situation. It was a child who had the responsibility of presenting the arguments. These people had a problem understanding the language and they had a 12-year-old girl at the time. The matter was not settled and they had to leave the country. That young girl was heartbroken because she had this deep feeling of not having succeeded in defending her family.

I thank the hon. member for emphasizing the human aspect of this issue. I certainly agree about the value of Canadian citizenship. It is only natural to want to protect it, but there are lives involved and young people who are affected.

Again, I thank the hon. member for raising this issue.

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June 12th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate all my NDP colleagues who have spoken to this bill. We are proving that the NDP is reasonable and carefully studies all the issues put before us in order to find ways to improve these bills. Some make their way to committee where, again, our NDP team proposes good amendments. Essentially, these amendments are based on expert opinion and cases that we come across.

A number of my colleagues live in regions with a large population of newcomers or people who are applying to live in Canada and become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens.

The teams at their offices deal with a lot of immigration cases. I live in the riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, which is in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. It is in northeastern Quebec, two hours from Quebec City. This region is considered remote. However, even in my beautiful region we are very open to others. This did not happen overnight. It took years, even decades to achieve this open-mindedness and it took some special people in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean to make that happen. I am really proud of my region today. This month, the first African grocery store opened in Saguenay. I think that is great. It shows an openness to the world. More and more people are even coming to Saguenay to start their new life. My riding assistants and I see all the administrative and bureaucratic problems that newcomers to Canada have to deal with. It saddens me a bit.

Nonetheless, I am proud to be able to speak to Bill C-24 today and share my view on all this, even though the 10 minutes I have been given will not be enough to cover everything.

Fundamentally, everyone recognizes that Canadian citizenship is of considerable value, but we do not want a politicized approach to this issue. This is unfortunately what the Conservatives are trying to do right now. As I mentioned, we have seen this kind of situation all too often since the Conservative government came to power.

Other parts of the bill also raise concerns. I will try to cover as many of them as I can. For instance, revoking citizenship has given rise to significant legal concerns. We are still worried about the proposals designed to concentrate powers in the hands of the minister. I am disappointed in all the Conservative ministers when they use their power to undermine democracy and give preferential treatment to their own friends.

We would hope that the minister would commit to working in cooperation with us to make real improvements to our immigration legislation, but unfortunately the minister has chosen to put forward a bill that is probably unconstitutional, while the Conservatives on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration turned down all of the amendments put forward in committee. This is not reasonable. The Conservative government thinks that all its bills are perfect and that they cannot benefit from amendments coming from the opposition. Members of the opposition do, however, represent a very large percentage of Canadians, who voted for them, and they represent their respective parts of the country.

I expect the government to show some openness, but unfortunately we see its prejudice instead. This can also be seen in the way it looks at new immigrants and even refugees.

I have my own personal opinion about this. It may perhaps bother some people, but I find that the Conservative government uses new immigrants and cultural communities to broaden its electoral base by promising them heaven and earth. Unfortunately, the government drops them when they are no longer needed, when these voters are not in one of their demographic groups of voters or are not rich enough for them.

We have also seen this in terms of tighter immigration regulations. The new Canadian citizens must have a good chunk of change to be able to settle in Canada, or else they are not the kind of people that the Conservatives want to have in Canada.

I can say that the New Democratic Party supports families and this also includes family reunification. We understand that everywhere in Canada, everywhere in the provinces and even everywhere in the world, not all families are as privileged as the Conservatives opposite and their rich friends. The citizens at home may be sure that the members of the NDP will continue to be fair toward everyone and to show they sincerely care.

I will begin with the first measure that raises concerns. Bill C-24 concentrates new powers in the hands of the minister, including the power to grant or revoke the citizenship to those holding dual citizenship.

The government has a strong tendency to create laws that concentrate power in the hands of its ministers. The NDP condemns this practice. We cannot trust the Conservatives. By granting new powers to a minister, we are exposing ourselves to the real possibility that they will make arbitrary decisions based on political motives. The revocation of citizenship is problematic, since even the idea of giving the minister the power to revoke citizenship raises serious questions. Canadian law already comprises mechanisms to punish people who commit illegal acts. It should not be up to the minister of citizenship and immigration to make these decisions.

Another problem with revoking the citizenship of dual citizens has to do with creating a two-tier citizenship system in which some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked, while others who committed the same offence would be punished through the criminal justice system. The Conservative government is quite good at double standards, and I find that shameful.

Under the provisions of this bill, the minister can revoke citizenship based on certain criteria. The first criterion is whether the minister or an authorized employee is satisfied on a balance of probabilities that the person obtained citizenship by fraud. Up until now, these cases were generally referred to the courts and to cabinet. That will no longer be the case.

This poses some serious problems in that the minister would have the power to revoke an individual's citizenship on the basis of suspicions alone, and no independent tribunal would rule on whether the accusations were true. Unfortunately, some people seeking refugee status in Canada have experienced some degrading and downright shocking interrogations at the hands of officials or other people in positions of authority.

Some people say that if they were to return to their country, their life could be in danger, but the Conservative government and its henchmen insist that their home country is perfectly safe, even though the international media say that this is not the case. Sometimes we hear that the sexual orientation of refugees from extremely homophobic countries is questioned. I have heard some horror stories. I find it very worrisome that the minister could revoke citizenship on the basis of suspicions.

In the United States, for example, the government can file a lawsuit to revoke an individual's naturalization if it was obtained illegally and the individual concealed or falsified relevant facts in the naturalization application process. In such situations, the individual has the right to take the case to court, which I think is reasonable. Any decision can be appealed, and the individual is guaranteed due process.

The second criterion applies to a person convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to imprisonment for life for treason, high treason or espionage, or a person who was 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.

The problem is that this measure makes absolutely no distinction between a terrorism conviction handed down in a democratic country with a credible and reliable justice system and a conviction in an undemocratic regime where the justice system could very well be corrupt or beholden to political interests. This revocation process can be used without the Federal Court ever seeing the file. The measure is retroactive and very problematic.

The third criterion applies to an individual who served as a member of an armed force or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada. This revocation process has to go through the Federal Court, which must confirm that the person suspected of these actions really did serve in one of the organizations mentioned while a Canadian citizen. This measure is retroactive.

I would like to talk about the minister's power to grant citizenship, which is also problematic.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:55 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech and, contrary to the other speakers who have spoken tonight, he has decided to take a more partisan view of the bill and has made some derogatory remarks about members of cabinet and members of the government. He made comments to the effect that they use their power to undermine democracy and give favours to their friends.

Surely this is not the time for any member of the NDP to talk about giving favours to friends, this week in particular, when the Board of Internal Economy has found that the NDP has given a $1.17 million favour to its friends. I would ask that the member refrain from using that kind of language when debating a bill of this nature. I know that he is a member of Parliament, as we all are here, and he has a role to play in defending his party, but the language he is using is certainly very aggressive.

I would ask the member the same question I asked the previous member. Would going from a three-step process to a one-step process for granting citizenship benefit him and the constituents in his riding?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:55 p.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, my Conservative colleague asked a number of question. I will start by answering the first one.

The NDP is pleased to use the parliamentary resources of the House of Commons to inform Canadians about what is happening here in Ottawa, unlike the Conservatives, who prefer to use the resources available to the government, such as the Prime Minister's plane, to send their rich friends and party fundraisers all over Canada at the taxpayers' expense.

Basically, my colleague opposite is saying that my speech is partisan. It is true in the sense that we are having an ideological debate in the House of Commons. It is particularly true with regard to the NDP's vision of immigration and newcomers to Canada.

We believe that our beautiful, multicultural country should open its doors and welcome good candidates for Canadian citizenship with open arms. We should not revoke their rights for arbitrary reasons, which is what the Conservative government wants to do by putting the power in the hands of the minister.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 8:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. We have worked together often on health issues.

The interest in promoting the integration of older children into Canada seems to motivate the proposed language amendment. Some research shows that older children who lack capacity in one official language may have difficulty in acquiring one at an older age. This is not a sufficient reason to compromise the convention rights of children. The testing process is not a reliable indicator of a child's ability to become a productive citizen.

Does the member think that the requirement for children ages 14 to 18 to successfully complete both language and knowledge testing should be removed?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:45 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, increasing the residency requirement in no way changes the value of Canadian citizenship.

I believe that people are capable of proving that they belong and that they have a desire to become Canadian citizens after a reasonable period of time. If we have not been able to establish that a person would contribute greatly to Canadian society by becoming a Canadian citizen in four years, I do not know how increasing the residency requirement would change anything.

What is important is that we process these applications within a reasonable amount of time to allow people to build their lives. It is unreal to see how complicated it can be to get Canadian citizenship and to build a life. Many people who earned university degrees in Canada are turned down for jobs because the employer is very concerned that something could happen and the individual would not be able to stay in the country.

It is essential for people to be able to build their lives and become full citizens by exercising their right to vote, among others, and actively participating in their communities. For example, someone could become a municipal councillor in their town to truly get involved.

For this to happen, we need to process applications within a reasonable amount of time and exercise due diligence. If we had an adequate organizational capacity, I am certain that we would be able to assess an individual's case in four years. That seems reasonable to me.

The current residency requirement is reasonable, so I do not see why the government wants so badly to increase it. The system already has massive delays.

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June 12th, 2014 / 9:45 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

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.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 9:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I stated earlier tonight, Canada is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The primary responsibility to ensure that the rights articulated in the convention are implemented in Canada rests with government, both federal and provincial. In 2012, the UN committee on the rights of the child recommended that Canada:

“...ensure the principles of the best interests of the child is appropriately integrated and consistently applied in all legislative, administrative, and judicial proceedings.... one approach to ensure children's best interests are given priority consideration...is through the use of...Child Rights Impact Assessments.”

Could the hon. member tell us if the government undertook one, or should the government have undertaken such an assessment with respect to this legislation?

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June 12th, 2014 / 9:55 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member's arguments are absolutely justified, and we have been hearing them all evening.

I can give an example of something that happened in my riding. Parents were asked to leave and their children had to stay because they were born in Quebec. Families are being separated and it is extremely difficult. Sometimes, the child's rights are not taken into consideration. A parent is deported because their country has become safer than it was, but the child can stay. The father is Canadian, the mother was born elsewhere, and families end up separated.

The interests of the child are not always considered fairly.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for yet another excellent speech that is representative of the extraordinary work she does in her riding.

In her speech, she suggested that the Conservatives are trying to get the Supreme Court to put them in their place. During their speeches today, the Conservatives repeatedly claimed to be making science-based decisions and listening to the people, yet they accepted not one single amendment.

I get the impression that they are trying to make work for lawyers because they know that so many of their bills end up before the Supreme Court only to be torn to pieces.

None of this is based on science. It is all about partisanship and opportunism. That is why I do not think they are listening to anyone. I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to move the following motion:

That the House do now adjourn.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, a motion to adjourn the House was just moved. There was unanimous consent to move the motion. As we can see, the motion was not agreed to, so there has to be a vote because there was unanimous consent to move the motion in the House. That changes things. There were two motions. The first motion was for unanimous consent. Some Conservative members said no to the second motion, but the motion was moved in the House, so we have to vote.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I would ask for the advice of the Chair. My understanding is that a request to adjourn was made in the hope of receiving unanimous consent. Then you canvassed the House to see if there was unanimous consent and there was never any canvassing of the House to ask the question. If the answer to the initial request had been yes then you would have had to put the question to the House. I understand that you did not put the question to the House, so that is something that still would need to be done. Based on that, I would suggest to you that we have not actually adjourned as of right now.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, you actually put the question twice. The minister and the member for Newmarket—Aurora are quite right to say that the second motion to actually adjourn the House was denied consent, but the first motion was accepted, which means the question has been put. It overrides Motion No. 10 that was adopted two weeks ago. The motion has been put.

Mr. Speaker, you asked if there was unanimous consent to adopt the motion, which would have adjourned the House. I agree with the member for Newmarket—Aurora that a number of Conservative members of Parliament at that point denied consent to adjourn the House, but the question was put unanimously. No one denied consent to put the question, which means the House now has to be called to vote on that question.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are multiple people on this side of the House who have been sitting here for a considerable length of time listening to the debate, being part of the questions and comments, and speaking as well. We were certainly here when there was a call for unanimous consent. There was no canvass of the House by the Speaker in terms of the request for unanimous consent, so whatever the House leader of the official opposition is suggesting in terms of unanimous consent being granted just simply did not happen in this place. The only way around this, in my opinion, is to have a canvass emanating from the Speaker. As far as I am concerned, it is a very clear ruling that you would have to make.

It only makes sense that there cannot be this many people who would find anything to this. It is astounding to me that the House leader for the opposition would find this to be a realistic situation with all of us present here.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, you quite properly put the question. At that point the House said agreed, which is why you then moved on to the second motion, which is if the House is in agreement with the terms of the motion that the House now adjourn.

It is true, and I completely agree, that a number of members of the Conservative Party have come in and said they did say no to the second motion. That is very true. We all heard that. We admit that. However, the reason you put the second motion, Mr. Speaker, is that the House agreed to the first motion, which now means that the bells need to ring and we need to call in the members to have a vote on the motion to adjourn. We had unanimous consent from the House to call the vote and unanimous consent was denied. I completely agree. Because unanimous consent was denied, we now have to have a vote.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 10:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, given the apparent confusion and ambiguity, I just want to say that I have been a member of this place for 17 years, which I think is perhaps the longest tenure of anyone in the chamber right now, with the possible exception of the government whip and the member for Vegreville—Wainwright, and I think I have learned a thing or two about how unanimous consent motions are put. I used to be deputy opposition House leader. I have probably put several dozen unanimous consent motions myself.

When a member moves for unanimous consent that a motion be heard, the formula is for the Speaker to say that the member has sought unanimous consent of the House that the following motion be put. The Speaker then seeks the consent of the House.

I was sitting here, as were several members of the government. I have no recollection of unanimous consent having been sought. The only question I heard was, “on the motion”. I, and several other members of the government, denied consent.

I would submit that unless you can get the blues, at the very least this is a question as to whether the Chair, with respect to Your Honour, properly sought unanimous consent. To be generous to the official opposition, it is at the very best a question of ambiguity, and I would submit, in the absence of clarity on this point, that we continue with the business of the House, because clearly this motion has been put in a dilatory spirit.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:15 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that both sides are agreeing that the Conservatives said no to the second motion, but the reality is that you put the second motion, Mr. Speaker, because the first motion was adopted unanimously.

That is simple. You put the question. The folks who were listening heard it. The folks who were not listening may not have heard it. I am sorry, but in this game we have to be attentive. The reality is that first motion then put the question of adjourning the House to the House and that, of course, negates Motion No. 10, which ties up a whole range of procedural tools from the opposition.

We are now in a situation in which the House needs to be called to vote. It is not a big thing. I do not think any member of the House would object to voting on it. The reality is that because the motion was put unanimously, overriding Motion No. 10, we are now at the point where the members should be called for a vote. We would like to see that vote.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, while people have been in here debating this issue, I have had the opportunity to go in and see the record in real time.

In real time, in French, you made the motion. You invited comment. There was one oui, and then you proceeded very quickly to the question itself.

In translation, the actual question of “Is there unanimous consent?” did not happen until the same time you were asking the final question for adjournment. As a result, those who were relying on translation of the question “Is there unanimous consent?” said “no” at the time you were taking into account the nays to the motion itself.

In this House, where we wish to allow full participation and reliance on translation, I think it is only fair to allow every member of the House the right to hear the question in his or her official language before being asked to make a decision on it.

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June 12th, 2014 / 10:25 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier today, the Chair gave a ruling on the comments we made, a few weeks ago, regarding section 56.1. That also happened very fast.

The suggestion that the House should consider translation time and actually wait for the translation would really change things for the government, who enjoys launching surprise procedural attacks.

In the history of this House, no caucus has ever had as many Québec members and Francophone members as the NDP caucus. Yet, there has been no translation rule of this kind over the last three years.

I am surprised that the government would want the House to wait for the translation, given its regular attempts to launch surprise procedural attacks.

This will really change the way we operate in the House. Nonetheless, we believe the situation is quite clear: the question was put and members did understand it well. A vote now needs to be taken.

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June 12th, 2014 / 11:10 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will not be easy to come down after that humourous and joyful ride. What an adventure. Tonight, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.

I was very pleased to hear that the government was going to amend the Citizenship Act. I thought that something was finally going to get done. I thought that the Conservatives were likely going to reduce processing times, which would be good for everyone—for MPs and for the people who are waiting for citizenship. We are trying to help them, but the files are not moving forward. They have stalled. However, after having read the bill, I realized that that was not the case at all.

The first time, the minister responsible for temporary foreign workers tried to reduce processing times, but he made a mistake. He deleted 280,000 people who were waiting for citizenship from the waiting list. That is how he fixed the processing times: he hit delete.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives cut $179 million from the department's budget, including $23 million from the Immigration and Refugee Board, just to reduce processing times. After that brilliant idea for speeding up processing times, we now have 320,000 people waiting. The Conservatives work hard, but they work in reverse.

Then they wondered what to do with those 320,000 files. It made no sense, and nothing was happening. Someone had the brilliant idea of giving the minister the authority to grant citizenship. They took the stack of 320,000 files to the minister's office. That way, the minister can decide who should get citizenship and who should not. Of course, it is all very hush-hush because the Conservatives like secrets. I would not be surprised if they have their own little committee with the Liberals, called “United in Deceit”. Yes, they meet in secret, musing, plotting, slinging mud. There was no lack of deceit from them this week.

I would address the issue of processing times from a different perspective. In four to five days, a Mexican family that I know will be deported after waiting four years for their file to be processed. We went down every conceivable political and legal avenue to get things moving. I personally met with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on several occasions to expedite the process, because these people were getting death threats in their country. Yet they will still be deported in three to four days. I will not say when exactly, as doing so may put them in danger.

The bill we have before us mentions the importance of citizenship and of integrating in the host country's culture. The minister spoke of the importance of Canadian values and of integrating in the host country's culture. These people lived here for four years. In that time, they learned French and found work. The wife started a business and the kids are doing great at school. It seems to me they have integrated fine and embrace our values. However, they will still be deported. Why?

I sifted through the minister's comments to try to understand the situation. Why are these people from Mexico being deported? Why are they not being given the opportunity to apply for permanent resident status? The government is aware of the situation in Mexico.

The minister says that “our immigration and asylum system reforms have already yielded very positive results for taxpayers and refugees alike”. I do not see why he has to bring taxpayers into this. Then, he says that “in 2013 alone, thanks to our reforms, asylum claims from safe countries dropped by a whopping 87%”.

During the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act reform, the government created lists. It created a list of designated countries. They are safe countries that do not produce refugees. It also created a list of countries that are not as safe that are not on the list.

The problem with the Zamudios and exiled Mexican families is that returning to their country would be dangerous because the drug war is relentless and they could be killed. Unfortunately for the Zamudios, Mexico is not on the list of dangerous countries. However, to date, the drug war has claimed 80,000 victims. Everywhere else, we would call that a civil war, but when it comes to a country with which we have an agreement called NAFTA, we cannot start talking about civil war and calling that country dangerous. No, it is our trade partner. The truth is that the Government of Mexico has lost control. It can no longer assure the safety of its citizens, not only in the north, but in all regions of Mexico.

This list should not exist and we will work to ensure that we have a receiving process for refugees and immigrats that has some compassion. That is what is missing: compassion.

In Mexico, 70% of municipalities are infiltrated by drug cartels. As I just said, there have been 80,000 deaths. The situation is so serious that in many villages citizens get together and organize into self-defence groups to fight drug traffickers. The basis of the decision in the Zamudio family case to expedite their deportation, as explained by the minister, is that the cartel who threatened—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the honourable member for a few minutes, and his remarks are not relevant to bill C-24, which is about reforming the Citizenship Act. It has nothing to do with the subject of his speech, the asylum system.

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June 12th, 2014 / 11:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue talking about deportation. What does this government have against Mexicans who want to become Canadian citizens? I have had a list of five or six families in the past four years who have been threatened by drug traffickers and who were deported.

We do nothing. We do not keep those families that want to integrate, become good citizens and work. I know that the minister prefers to bring in Mexicans to work in the fields, temporary workers, and then send them back. He is okay with this policy.

However, what help does the government provide to Mexicans who flee from difficult situations and who want to become good Canadian citizens? The Reyes Mendez family was deported in 2013, the Seguras in 2014, the Picazo family in 2011, not to mention the Pavon-Aguila family.

I will come back to the basis of the decision. Since he did not want to let me speak, I will continue on this topic. What was submitted in court by the department was that the head of the cartel, El Mas Loco, who was threatening the family in the Michoacán region, was killed in 2010. The military had announced that it had killed this leader. Oddly enough, in the March 9, 2014 edition of the Associated Press, the army said that this same leader had just been assassinated. The family was told that it was no longer in danger in Mexico because the leader had been killed based on the 2010 statement by the military. Now the Mexican police is saying that it killed him in 2014. We have reliable information. These people are leaving in four or five days. They could lose their lives. I am holding the current Minister of Employment and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration personally responsible. If something happens to these children or these people, they will be held personally responsible.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:20 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, I found the hon. member's speech strange.

First, the New Democrats are always saying that they want more time to debate bills, but they just moved a motion and forced a vote with the sole purpose of delaying proceedings and avoiding debating a bill. Then, we just heard a speech from the member that had nothing to do with the bill. He did not even mention the subject in question, which is the reform of the Citizenship Act.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which manages the asylum system, is something completely different.

I am going to ask two questions. First, does the member agree with the 63% of Canadian immigrants who indicated in an Angus Reid poll that they support the section of the bill that seeks to revoke the citizenship of people who are found guilty of terrorism or treason?

Second, does he not agree that the asylum system is the responsibility of the independent, quasi-judicial tribunal, judges and courts, not politicians?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:20 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister knows full well that, when it comes to terrorism, we have our court system and all the mechanisms needed to prosecute these people and find them guilty in Canada. We do not need to give a minister sitting in his office more powers.

What I would like to say tonight about my speech is that I also took the opportunity to plead with the Conservative ministers regarding the Zamudio family, who are going to be deported in three or four days.

Can you show some compassion and expedite this file in order to offer them refugee protection on humanitarian grounds?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will single out one aspect of the legislation that is very important to recognize, and that is the area where we have seen exceptional growth in the processing times for people who want to become citizens.

Back in the days of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, one could anticipate a wait of about 12 months. Today that waiting period is now closer to two and a half to three years. That is only as long as that individual does not have to go through the residential calculator. If that happens, then we are talking about four or five years, or more, in processing times. Now the government is saying that the legislation would do a lot in reducing the processing times.

Does the member believe, as we believe in the Liberal Party, that the processing time could have been dealt with in an earlier and more prompt fashion by providing adequate resources that would have allowed processing times to be far more reasonable, shooting for that one-year mark?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:25 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the tone of my colleague's question, which is a change. I think he heard my message tonight, and that is good.

The objective of the bill is to reduce the processing time from three years to one year. Those are good intentions. However, the government is also cutting $119 million from human resources at Citizenship and Immigration.

Maybe the minister will put in some overtime in his office to decide himself who will get citizenship, but I do not think that this will work.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:25 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise a second time to speak to this bill, and I will start by saying that this bill is yet another example of the Conservative ideology. There is no need to worry. I can back up what I am saying.

The Conservative ideology is not just the party line or the party's policies. It is also about how they act and how they view society. Since the Conservatives took power—since they got a majority—the House has passed a number of measures, and we have seen a moratorium on sponsorship for parents and grandparents and a decrease in the number of family reunifications, which appears to be a concept that the Conservatives have essentially scrapped, not to mention the punishment of vulnerable refugees.

I remember that one of the very first speeches I made in the House after I was elected was on Bill C-4, which would have enabled government officials to imprison children. The Conservative ideology is not just the party line. This bill would also put children in jail. The Conservative ideology can once again be found in this bill.

The bill does not deal at all with the issue of backlogs. Come to think of it, how did the Conservatives handle that problem? As my colleague explained, they told the 280,000 people who had been waiting to get their Canadian citizenship that they should pack up their bags and go away, then come back some other time and take their place in line.

That is how the Conservatives decided to deal with the backlog. We obviously should not expect the bill to address the problem then, since they already took care of it.

A number of people from my riding have been in my office, feeling desperate because they have been waiting for months, or even years, for their children or parents to be allowed into Canada. Some have been waiting for over two years, which, let me tell you, is very distressing for Canadians. The backlog issue is really not a priority for the Conservatives, let me assure you.

The bill would give the minister the authority to grant or revoke citizenship. A number of my colleagues have already spoken to that. In fact, the bill would create a two-tiered citizenship, something the Conservative government does not find troublesome at all.

The Conservatives spend their time driving a wedge between urban and rural Canadians or between regular and seasonal workers. We all know their style of governance. Nothing that I say will come as a surprise. Everything they do revolves around dividing people and keeping them in the dark to better govern. That is the Conservative ideology. Every time they introduce a new policy in the House they attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians.

This bill creates two classes of citizens, those who are Canadian citizens and those who are dual citizens or who may have been born abroad.

We are creating a double standard where two people guilty of the same offence may get very different sentences. One of those people could wind up in jail while the other, found guilty of having committed the same offence, would lose their Canadian citizenship and maybe even be deported. One never knows with the Conservatives.

We already have the means to punish criminals who have broken the law, means that are beyond the control of the government and the executive branch. There is no need to give the minister the power to personally decide who is guilty and who is not.

What is even more ridiculous is that they do not even abide by the courts' criteria, such as proving an accused's guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the burden of proof, or “reasonable and probable grounds to believe”. The minister gives himself the right to revoke a person's citizenship on the basis of mere suspicion, without allowing an independent court to review his decision. I must say, out of respect for people who are fighting against a dictatorship in their country, that the Conservatives' intentions are obvious. They want to give themselves all the powers and decide the fate of Canadians.

In his speech, the minister said that the Canadian citizenship was held in high regard before 1977. He even talked about World War II. He wants to bring us back to before 1977, and perhaps even to just after World War II. I knew this was a backward-thinking government, but it is beyond comprehension. They want to take us back to 1950. Now, this is another illustration of the Conservative ideology.

Things have changed since the end of World War II. This is 2014 and the government wants to take us back to before 1977, as the minister said in his speech. Revoking the Canadian citizenship is a huge step backwards on many fronts. I will talk about the constitutionality of this kind of measure, and of this kind of power, which a minister can definitely not give himself. Indeed, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, this is unconstitutional. I am aware of the Conservatives' contempt for our democratic institutions. We know how they have been treating Parliament since they got a majority. They imposed time allocation 70 times. Therefore, they may criticize our motion today, but nobody believes what they are saying.

The Supreme Court was clear about the fact that stripping a person of citizenship is unconstitutional. I would like to read an excerpt from a Supreme Court decision:

The social compact requires the citizen to obey the laws created by the democratic process. But it does not follow that failure to do so nullifies the citizen’s continued membership in the self-governing polity. Indeed, the remedy of imprisonment for a term rather than permanent exile implies our acceptance of continued membership in the social order.

Professor Macklin explained:

In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada stated quite clearly that punishing somebody by depriving them of their constitutional rights, indeed, by denying them all constitutional rights and casting them out in the name of the social contract, is not constitutional.

I clearly recall the first time I spoke in the House about this bill. The minister told me that citizenship existed long before the Supreme Court and that the court did not, in any case, have the right to contradict him. Just as an aside, I understand how disdainful the Conservatives are toward our democracy and the nation's highest institution, but it has been stated quite clearly that revoking someone's citizenship is unconstitutional.

Once again, the Conservatives are going to talk to us about the beauty of Canadian citizenship and our Canadian society, but unfortunately, they will then continue to express contempt for the highest institutions that make this country a democracy and a haven for newcomers. If the Conservatives love their society so much and are so attached to Canadian citizenship, why are they not even able to respect the human rights of Canadians and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:35 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to correct some of the misinformation we heard in that last speech.

First, the hon. member stated that there is a moratorium on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. There is no such moratorium—quite the opposite. When I was minister, the government increased the number of family reunifications, and the number of parents and grandparents who came as permanent residents went from 17,000 to 25,000, a 60% increase. She also said that the number of family reunifications went down when it actually went up. The figures are there in black and white on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

The member said that the bill before us will create two classes of citizens: those with multiple or dual citizenship and those with only Canadian citizenship. That is incorrect. The current law contains that same distinction because we clearly have the authority to revoke citizenship if it has been obtained fraudulently. However, we can only do that for people with dual citizenship because we have obligations under the Convention relating to the status of Stateless Persons.

Is the member suggesting that Canada should violate the international convention on stateless persons?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:35 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the minister. I want to point out that I never said that the NDP supported people who commit immigration fraud.

I remember hearing one of the minister's colleagues talking about someone who had made a false statement and who had forgotten to fill out some of the boxes on his application. In the end, it was discovered that he had committed fraud. These people cannot come to Canada if they do not even fill out their application properly. We agree on that. The information that the Conservatives are giving Canadians is false. They are giving Canadians false information.

On that note, I would like to add that Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers are opposed to this bill and think it is unconstitutional. What more do the Conservatives want? Does this need to be taken before the Supreme Court? It will be and they will be chastised. That is how the Conservatives work. They are trampling on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Fortunately, the highest court in this country prevents them from getting too big for their britches and brings them back down to earth.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / noon
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

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.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is another sad day in the history of our Parliament. Unfortunately, this is the 71st time the government has used time allocation to shut down debate on an issue.

A few weeks ago, the Conservatives broke the corrupt Liberals' sorry record for the number of time allocations during a single Parliament, a record that the Conservatives always used to condemn. They always used to say that this was no place for time allocation motions. Now, with their 71st, they have left the Liberals' record far behind. The Conservatives are worse than the Liberals, and that is not very impressive.

The headline this weekend in the Vancouver Sun was, “[Prime Minister's] Abuse of Power Comes Daily”. It talked about the culture of secrecy, partisanship, and contempt for due process that runs rampant in the current government. This is particularly the case with Bill C-24.

Bill C-24 is controversial. It has had opposition from across this country. The Conservatives used closure to try to ram it through, but they said in committee that they would actually consider amendments. However, the bill comes back from committee, not only without being amended, but even more appalling, this Conservative majority did not allow any witnesses to consider the bill. That is the real reason they are using closure.

It is an embarrassing bill, one that is not going to stand up in court, and it is igniting a lot of opposition across the country. Instead of having a proper parliamentary debate, instead of allowing witnesses to speak on the bill and have Canadian groups in who are actually concerned about the bill, the Conservatives have shut that process down: no amendments and not a single witness. Is that not the real reason the Conservatives are bringing in closure? Is it because they know that witnesses speaking to the bill will criticize it?

Of course, if there are amendments that could be brought in, all they could do is improve upon a bill that has a bad principle and a bad direction. However, is that not the real reason the Conservatives are bringing in closure today? They want to shut down debate before the public becomes aware of what they have done with the bill.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, this is a great day for Canadian citizens who have been calling for these changes for years—decades even. This is also a great day for future citizens.

The last time there was a massive overhaul of the Citizenship Act was in 1977, and happily, that era is in the past. The measures in our bill are popular across the country, especially with people who are looking forward to receiving the gift of citizenship and the privileges and responsibilities that go with it.

Yes, this bill is needed. It is needed by those whose applications are in process. It is needed by the record number of immigrants in this country today who are applying for citizenship once they meet the requirements and who are driving our naturalization up from where it already is, the highest in the world, to be even higher with each succeeding year.

Yes, we as a government are taking action to make sure these measures come into force sooner rather than later on the basis of a very full debate. It is just plain wrong for the opposition House leader to say that there has been no discussion in committee. On the contrary, there was 12 hours of study in committee, led by my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and with discussion led by a number of very credible and competent witnesses on all sides of the issue. However, none of that study has changed the fact that across the length and breadth of this country, these measures are popular because Canadians attach value to their citizenship as never before, and they want to see that value fully reflected in legislation.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, what the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is saying is quite surprising. I am a member of the citizenship and immigration committee. However, at committee, the bill was not studied. There were zero witnesses that the committee heard after the bill was sent from this House to the committee. Maybe the minister is confused with the pre-study on the subject matter of the bill that we did, which was also under time allocation. We were very limited as to the number of witnesses we were able to hear from.

The UNHCR and Amnesty International, to name a couple, were organizations that wanted to make a presentation and appear as witnesses before the citizenship and immigration committee, but were not allowed. It was because the government's decision was that it was not going to hear any witnesses at the citizenship and immigration committee.

My first question to the minister is: why is he misleading this House and Canadians who are watching by saying that?

Second, the minister said that the bill has support and approval from Canadians across the country. We know that is not true either, because there are many online resident-generated petitions with more than 30,000 signatures. That does not mean that there is broad support for the bill.

I want to know why the government, now for the 70th time, is moving time allocation, curtailing debate in this House, and not letting the voices of Canadians be heard in this House.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, there you have it. The government House leader says there has been no study and now the member for Scarborough—Rouge River says there was a pre-study. Once again, the New Democrats are all over the map. Once again, they are the ones confusing an otherwise attentive Canadian audience, which wants the measures in this bill enacted.

We not only studied this bill, we did it in advance of report stage and referral to committee to make sure that all those who had perspectives on this bill, and it is an important one, had the opportunity to express them, and we have heard those views. We heard them in committee, and we saw them in newspapers and media across the country and in correspondence and feedback to our offices and MPs. Let me emphasize that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

What has not been well received and what reflected a very low quality of work were the amendments proposed by the NDP and Liberals in committee. We were unable to adopt any of them because, to be perfectly honest, they were not up to spec. They did not improve the bill. They would not have made it faster for Canadians to attain citizenship, to which they have a right when they meet the requirements. They would not have reinforced the pride that Canadians take in their citizenship or reinforced the value that so many across this country are talking about. They would have watered down the penalties for disloyalty that we are absolutely adamant be in this bill, because there are limits to the forms of behaviour that are acceptable from Canadian citizens if they are going to retain citizenship when they are dual nationals.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to know where to start when we hear that kind of thing from the minister. Honestly.

Let us begin with the accelerated citizenship process. The Conservatives have performed very poorly on this issue. They have let citizenship application processing times more than double in the past few years. They are just now reacting, and they are doing a poor job of it. We are not convinced that anything in this bill will result in adequate and essential measures to reduce waiting times for those who are entitled to citizenship and get mired in an administrative morass.

Speaking of helping people who deserve it get citizenship, this morning alone, I received a number of calls from people across the country who are concerned and angry because in a few days, weeks or months, they will have met the time requirement for filing a citizenship application. They have planned their lives around that and carefully calculate every day that counts toward being able to file their citizenship application as soon as possible. Today, the minister is telling them that despite their expectations and dreams, the waiting period is being extended. That is very disrespectful. On behalf of all of them today, I just want to say how unacceptable it is to rush the debate like this. For one thing, it penalizes many people who were counting on filing their citizenship application shortly. It also flies in the face of all the normal House procedures.

This bill was first introduced on February 6. The second hour of second reading did not happen until May 29. For three months, the minister dilly-dallied instead of bringing this bill back to the House. We were not able to debate it, and at the last minute, the minister is bringing the bill back and forcing it down our throats without accepting any real debate. This is unacceptable.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my hon. colleague, she is simply wrong about what she just said. We are speeding up processing times.

It is the NDP that is against processing pending applications more quickly. If the NDP had it their way, debate on this bill, the debate would go on until the end of this session or even until fall. Maybe in 2015, or later, we might have results for those who are patiently waiting for faster processing times.

This government will never accept that kind of approach. We have accepted 1.4 million new citizens. We are proud of new Canadians' commitment to their citizenship. There are certainly some backlogs, but thanks to the measures in this bill we will be able to process files much more quickly. Backlogs will be less of a problem for those who apply for citizenship once this newly reformed legislation comes into effect, and processing times will be much quicker.

I see no reason for the people calling my hon. colleague to be concerned.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons the minister wants to close the debate on the bill is because he keeps making stuff up and does not want the scrutiny of Parliament to uncover the fantasy-based facts that he continues to underlie his reasons for the bill.

The bill would increase wait times. It would make citizenship harder to acquire for those who are waiting right now. There are already over 300,000 people waiting, their applications pending. The bill would make it harder. It would make it harder for children and seniors to acquire citizenship because they would have to undergo rigorous language tests. It would extend the wait times, which are already over eight years. It would give the minister unprecedented powers.

Are these the reasons why the current government wants to shut debate, because it does not want Canadians to really understand the fundamental ways in which the government would change the rules for citizenship, which are the cornerstone of who we are as a country?

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, make it harder to become a citizen? Waiting times of eight years?

With statements like these from the opposition benches, it is no wonder that some Canadians are confused. They are receiving false information from some in this House. That really is unfortunate, given the importance of the bill.

Here are the facts.

Yes, there are over 300,000 applicants in the system. Yes, waiting times for new applications, as things stand now, are two to three years.

However, with the measures in the bill, which the NDP would see us postpone, delay, et cetera, those waiting times would come down later this year, plummet in 2015, and be under one year by the beginning of 2016.

Moreover, yes, we are extending the knowledge requirement, the language requirement, to a slightly larger age spectrum, down to high school age and up to late working age, the eve of the normal legal age of retirement in this country, 64 years.

However, every time we strengthen the requirements of citizenship, we find it becomes more popular. We find more people apply. We find the naturalization rate goes up.

And so, we would not be making it harder to become a citizen of this country. We would actually be making it more meaningful. We would be doing something that Canadians have responded to extremely positively with every form we have brought in. We expect the same positive response this time.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to listen to the minister. First, what we are doing in this half-hour period is actually talking about parliamentary process. What we are talking about is not the merits of the bill, but parliamentary process, in terms of shutting down debate around a very important matter before this House.

I have to comment on a couple of things that the minister raised. First, he accused the NDP of not wanting to deal with the significant delays in citizenship and immigration. He is well aware that our constituency offices spend a significant amount of our time dealing with the unconscionable delays with regard to citizenship and immigration. It is ludicrous to hear the minister say that we support keeping those delays in place.

We do support legislation that is thoughtful, that takes into account the concerns of Canadian citizens, and that looks at due process. The minister is saying that everybody is happy about this legislation. I should perhaps send him three documents. The Canadian Bar Association, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and a number of prominent scholars and academics, just to name a few, have done a detailed analysis of this legislation and have raised significant concerns.

I ask the minister, why is it that he supports shutting down a democratic process, a democratic debate, that would allow us to have a fulsome review of this piece of legislation in the appropriate kind of process? Why is he shutting down that opportunity?

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, why did the NDP, on February 27, in the person of my colleague, the immigration critic for the NDP, move to end debate on Bill C-24, to discontinue debate at that early stage? Was that a positive co-operative expression of faith in the democratic process? We do not think so, nor did we think so in the three days of debate allocated to second reading. We heard the same speech time and time again from the NDP, citing the same inaccurate information, often from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association or a small section of the Canadian Bar Association. They do not speak for Canadians across the board. They do not even speak for lawyers across the board. That is what we have heard from the much broader feedback that we have had, from a much broader group of people.

I spoke to people last week who signed the petition, which contains thousands of names, as many online petitions do. After a five-minute discussion, they said they would be taking their names off the petition. They had not understood what they were actually expressing their opposition to. They had not understood the benefits of the bill. They had not understood how processing would become faster. They had not understood how the value of Canadian citizenship would be strengthened by a four-year residency requirement. It would ensure that we are not moving in the direction, as Richard Gwyn regretted some years ago, of turning Canadian citizenship into “the unbearable lightness of being Canadian”.

We want people to have a substantial understanding of this country, its laws, its traditions, its system of government. That is what the “Discover Canada” guide does; that is what our reforms today have done; that is what the bill will do, and that is why it is popular with Canadians.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister is failing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When he says that all members have had the opportunity to speak to this bill, that is not exactly true. We give speeches here in the House as a way to connect with our constituents about bills. That is one way that we can let our constituents know what is going on.

The real reason for the debate that is happening right now is that once again, the Conservatives are limiting the time members have to explain things to their constituents in simple terms, so that they in turn can express their opinions on the subject.

A Togolese resident of my riding is facing deportation on June 19. The parliamentary process is not working. The minister received a letter in this regard. Perhaps there will be a question about this in the House, or perhaps not, but the process is not working. The bill in question is going to once again delay the process and drag it out.

This situation is a terrible shame. The last thing I want to say is that it is important that we be able to have a say and help the government make better laws. The Conservatives' habit of always limiting time for debate is shameful.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, fortunately, we have not yet had the opportunity to hear every member of the NDP repeat the same speech.

However, many of them have said the same thing, and it is doing them more harm than good. Canadians have heard them and are now saying to themselves that the NDP has nothing substantial to say about this bill.

If we read the debates about the Citizenship Act from 1946 or 1914, no member of the House repeated himself or said the same thing. Generally speaking, members act responsibly in the House. They try to avoid wasting the House's time and to bring forward new perspectives and add to the debate. However, that is not what the NDP is doing.

The NDP wanted to put an end to this debate and postpone the reform of our Citizenship Act until the end of February. We are moving forward because the process is working fairly well. Over 100,000 Canadians have already received their citizenship this year, and the measures set out in this bill will ensure that the number of successful citizenship applicants continues to rise.

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying “71”. That is the number of times that the government has brought in closure on debate in the House. It is a record, by the way. I am sure by the end of the day, it will be 72, and if not today, it will be tomorrow.

The minister said that the NDP is saying the same thing over and over again. The NDP has a lot to say on this legislation because it is important legislation. It is more a matter of him not liking what we have to say and that he would like to dismiss it.

He also said that the system is working very well. I can understand that. From his point of view, the system is working very well when the government controls it 100% and can basically bypass the legislative process in the House.

I do need to point out that no witnesses were heard when the bill was at committee. The government says that pre-consultation was done. The fact is that we abide by due process at committee, hearing parliamentary witnesses at committee. That is an integral part of the parliamentary process. Quite frankly, I am shocked and disturbed that the minister is not taking responsibility and does not see the error in trying to bypass a legitimate process at committee. There is no excuse for it.

Of course, it is the government's prerogative if it wants to hold pre-consultations. However so many bills, whether it is Bill C-23 or this legislation, are being rammed through the House without due process, and that negates the very reason we are here. We were elected to hold the government to account, to examine legislation, and the committee process is an important part of that.

Again, we are having another vote on a closure motion, a censure on debate, on an important bill. How can the minister defend that? How can he defend bypassing an important stage at committee?

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is wrong. There were 25 witnesses who were heard in committee on the bill. It is a bill that was absolutely made public and available to all members of the citizenship and immigration committee. It was prestudied. It was studied in clause-by-clause. It was prestudied because we considered it important to have that debate in committee as early as possible.

How can members opposite claim that no witnesses were heard? How are those 25 people who made the trip to Ottawa, who prepared for their testimony, going to react to being told by the NDP that they did not exist?

The NDP has repeated itself. Those members have gone around in circles. We have heard the same speech many times, not just on this subject, but on many subjects. That lessens the effectiveness of this place. That bothers Canadians. They want us to add value every time we stand up in the House of Commons to discuss legislation. They do not want stonewalling, by any political party . We have a strong mandate to govern, and we have a strong mandate to bring this legislation up to date. The bill has not been reformed in 37 years. The NDP would have us go years more, perhaps another decade, before any updates are made, with all of the terrible consequences we know that would bring.

The real issue, and it is passing strange that the NDP has not raised it this afternoon, is that we and the NDP have a fundamental difference of opinion about the one issue that some in the bar association and in the BC Civil Liberties Association have raised. The NDP is also of that view. Those members think that terrorists, spies, and traitors, even if they are dual nationals, should stay—

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a fact, and maybe the minister can stand up and apologize for misleading Canadians.

I have been on several committees since I have been here. When a committee is studying a project or a bill, we bring in witnesses. The Conservatives will bring in witnesses who are tilted to their way of thinking. However, they could not bring in any to discuss Bill C-24 because they could not find any Conservative witnesses who shared their way of thinking.

Will the minister now stand up and apologize to Canadians for misleading them and trying to make them believe that there were witnesses at committee when there were not?

Bill C-24—Time Allocation MotionStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very unfortunate to see the member opposite putting himself in this position. He is not a member of the committee. Obviously, his colleagues on the NDP side have mislead him about what the committee actually did.

The committee prestudied the bill. It heard 25 witnesses with views from across the spectrum, on all sides of the bill. It was a useful study. It contributed to our understanding and Canadians' understanding of the bill.

The New Democrats are the ones who should apologize. Citizenship in this country involves an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. It involves loyalty to our institutions, to our political system, and to all of the benefits that citizenship brings us.

That is one of the important points in this bill, which may be the only substantial point that the NDP has returned to time and time again. That is why we think that dual nationals who have committed acts of terrorism, espionage, or treason should no longer enjoy citizenship. They have forfeited and violated their allegiance to this country. The NDP differs with us on that, and it is offside with most Canadians in that same respect.

This bill would speed up processing. It would underline and deepen the value of Canadian citizenship, as never before. It would reward those who serve Canada at home and abroad, and it would send the clear message that gross acts of disloyalty, when they are committed by dual nationals, would lead to revocation of citizenship.

These are all measures that are hugely popular with the citizens of this country, and we look forward to celebrating them with Canadians on July 1.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:15 p.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

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.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thoroughly confused by the minister's speech. He says that Canadians are misguided. He says that the Canadian Bar Association does not know how to interpret laws and that it is a group of lawyers that is phony and does not know what it is doing.

When I listened, I did not hear him talk about UNICEF. It wrote a brief and sent it to the committee when we did the pre-study. It said that the bill was making so many changes that it was going to make Canada in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Lawyer after lawyer, committee organization after organization have said that the bill is not good completely as it is and have suggested many recommendations.

Why did the minister's parliamentary secretary, under his guidance I am assuming, not allow a single amendment to the bill that was proposed by any of the opposition parties? Why did the government did not listen to the experts who made suggestions? Why did it not propose a single amendment and did not accept a single one of the amendments that were put forward by any of the opposition parties?

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 reason that the NDP amendments were not accepted was because they were not very good. They would have watered down the provisions of the bill. They would have left us with an inferior processing model for citizenship. They would have left us with backlogs and long processing times.

Most crucially, they would have failed to address the issue of those who violated their allegiance to Canada, but somehow in the view of the NDP currently could continue along with their Canadian citizenship. We do not think that should be the case in future for dual nationals. That is why we have a fundamental difference of opinion with the NDP members who have no trouble defending these spies, traitors and terrorists and their right to continue to be Canadian citizens even after committing such gross acts of disloyalty.

There are serious improvements in the bill. They go in the same direction as that debate 100 years ago on the Naturalization Act, which happened in only one month. No one on the opposition benches repeated themselves in that debate. The quote I just gave from Mr. Diefenbaker was from the 1946 debate on the Citizenship Act. That too was a fast debate on a historic bill, with rich contributions from all sides of the House. We have not seen that from the NDP in this debate.

Report StageStrengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also want to pick up on the minister's gratuitous remarks about the Canadian Bar Association. I do not know whether that is because the minister is not a member of the Canadian Bar Association. I do not know why he would want to cast aspersions on the hundreds of thousands of lawyers.

However, I want to remind him that under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act, the Minister of Justice is compelled for every bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a minister of the crown, that would be that minister, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The minister, in conjunction with the Minister of Justice, shall report any inconsistency to the House of Commons at the first convenient opportunity. In other words, the bill has to be constitutional.

Could the minister please stand and table the legal opinions rendered by the Department of Justice lawyers, which actually prove the bill is in fact charter compliant and constitutional?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who always gives such incredible speeches that are nuanced and balanced. I congratulate her.

When the bill was studied in committee, all the amendments were rejected. The Conservatives are also not rising to discuss this bill, defend it or answer questions. I have difficulty understanding why the Conservative government takes this tack when people want to improve the bill. The government, which has probably already made up its mind, does not want to listen at all and is letting things go. It is not allowing Canadians to contribute to the debate.

Can my colleague talk more about this?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very thoughtful question. As I said earlier, what we have is a government that appears to be scared, or the Conservatives are so determined to exercise their majority that they have stopped respecting parliamentary democracy.

Once again, there was a huge number of amendments made and not one taken. The Conservatives also skipped hearing from experts during the committee stage. Even though they did a prestudy, this shocked me. While I was not there, it showed that those who were testifying, without seeing the bill, said there were about 106 amendments or things that need to be in the bill that we do not have there.

When we think about it, the current government has very little respect for democracy. If it did, it would have speakers. Those speakers would be up debating. They might even hear a thing or two and then be persuaded that they should change their minds on some things. However, we have a government whose members are so convinced that they are right, and only they are right, and that nobody else, whether experts, scientists, or citizens, can possibly share a different point of view than theirs, that they shut off debate.

Here we are sitting until midnight, night after night, which is not a problem. However, where are my colleagues across the way?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker, but we stand up and speak. We are taking up all of the speaking moments.

Mr. Speaker, in Parliament, for a debate to take place, speaking spots are allocated according to the number of MPs that a party has in the House. The Conservatives get the most speaking spots; then it is the official opposition, the NDP; then of course it is the third party, the Liberals. However, the ruling party, the Conservatives, using bullying tactics, cannot find speakers to defend a bill that they are trying to rush through Parliament without going through the committee stage and without hearing from witnesses. Right now they do not even want to hear from members of Parliament. They have wool in their ears or their fingers in their ears, and they are quite happy to be like that. They smile quite gleefully that they accept the bill as it is.

If we were to carry on with that kind of logic, and they have the majority, we would never have to debate on anything. They could just bring forward something, vote on it, and it would be done. However, that is not how parliamentary democracy was set up. Parliamentary democracy was set up with checks and balances, and the members of the current government are bludgeoning those checks and balances that defend the democracy that I am so proud of.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, when we look at legislation in the House and talk about the thoughts or ideas we have about it, there is no better way to look at legislation than through the lens of our work as members of Parliament. We have a lot of opportunities as MPs to talk to people, to hear different things, to meet with experts, people who have studied different issues and done academic work on things. We also talk to front-line workers, the people who experience the front lines of issues and have good feedback about potential impacts of legislation.

We also have the experience of talking to people in community, who will feel the impacts of potential legislation and have to live with the impacts of our legislative decisions. That is some of the work that we do as MPs that gives us a unique perspective.

As MPs, a lot of us also have caseworkers in our offices. The caseworkers help people to navigate through the federal government, get people information about files, or where someone's file is at on a particular issue. MPs having caseworkers has been long standing. Our caseworkers are doing more and more casework since the Conservatives have started whittling away at the basic services that people need to understand the federal government, whether it is applying for employment insurance, a veteran applying for services, someone asking for information about permanent residency, or even student loans. They are confronted with 1-800 numbers, voice mail, or waiting on hold forever. It is hard for them to talk to real people.

Many of us have caseworkers in our offices to help folks navigate these systems. Over the last six years, my office in Halifax has seen a growing wait list for citizenship. Phyllis Larsen does casework in my office, and she is fantastic at it. I have had a lot of assumptions made about the kind of casework that she must do. People think that because it is the east coast, there must be a lot of EI applications or working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Actually, the number one issue in my office is immigration.

Every day that Phyllis works in my community office on Gottingen Street, she sees new residents in Halifax who want to become Canadian citizens. These are people from all walks of life. There are university professors, truck drivers, families working to get the rest of their family to Canada, so family reunification, and there are families looking to adopt children from other countries. It is a whole range of different situations, and it takes a lot of courage, a lot of bravery, and sometimes even desperation to come here. However, lately it takes more skill, more tenacity, and more patience to become a citizen of this country.

Phyllis used to work for my predecessor Alexa McDonough, so she has been doing this kind of work for a long time. It was not that long ago that Phyllis saw routine citizenship applications moving through the system in about a year. Today, thanks to the government, the average processing time on a routine application is about 23 months. That is a routine application. That is not all of the strange things that can happen, like someone coming from Ethiopia whose birth certificate is in the Ethiopian calendar, and the age does not match up. We have seen all kinds of non-routine applications, I can certainly say that. Keep in mind that the option to apply only comes after three years of permanent residency.

Even worse is somebody who is give a residency questionnaire, an RQ. This is a questionnaire that will automatically increase the processing time from 23 months to 37 months. The frequency with which residency questionnaires are being given out is alarming. People who sometimes cannot afford bus fare are now being asked to supply everything, from pay stubs to tax returns to airline tickets, to prove that they meet the residency requirements. It does not make sense to do this. However, the government is continuing to add this extra layer of bureaucracy to an already lengthy process, a process that is fearful for a lot of people and uncertain for everyone.

It is no surprise that these constituents, these individuals and families, are angry, frustrated, and sometimes they feel like giving up hope. They pay their taxes, study, and work. They do all of the things that Canadian citizens are expected to do, yet they are not offered the full rights and benefits of Canadian citizenship.

New Canadians build strong communities and healthier families, and this is key to creating a strong and proud Canada. However, it is becoming harder and harder to do so. We are seeing wait times that are so long that medical and fingerprint tests are expiring. This forces people to resubmit their application, which means increased costs for them. Often it means long perilous journeys to obtain these documents.

This is not an issue addressed by the bill, but we have had reports in my riding, especially from the universities, that there is a systematic denial of visas for international students who come from eastern and southern parts of Africa. There is no accountability when it comes to those missions abroad in how they process and deny visas. Oftentimes we are hearing reports that applicants are refused before their applications are even viewed. Therefore, it is broader than the citizenship piece. It goes to a lot of different things that the immigration office is dealing with. We get these kinds of stories from our constituents.

I want to share a story from a recent case that we are working on. Unfortunately, it is a case that is not unique. It is a case where a family has gone missing.

A mother in Canada is trying to bring her children here under the one-year window program. In December 2013, she travelled to her home country, in Africa, to see her children at the address where she knew they were being cared for by friends. Upon her arrival, she discovered that the children had been taken to an orphanage in the capital city. She went to that orphanage, but she could not find her children.

CIC wait lists are so long that while this woman waited for her children's file to be processed, they went missing and she cannot find her family. Can members imagine what it would be like if their children went missing while they were waiting for paperwork to be processed?

This woman is trying to be reunited with her family, but it is our system that has resulted in her not knowing whether she is ever going to see her kids again. During her time there, someone went through her personal belongings, and the only things that were taken were pictures of her children.

I was hoping that the minister would commit to working with us to bring real improvements to citizenship laws, especially when it comes to this backlog.

I have concentrated on some issues that have not been fixed in the bill, and I do not have a lot of time left. However, I want to talk about a problem that I have with in the bill, and that is the ability to revoke citizenship. I believe that the bill would create two tiers of citizens in this country, and it is reprehensible that a government would do that.

I had hoped to read from a brief by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, or CARL. As members have heard from some of my colleagues, Bill C-24 has not been studied in committee. There was a motion tabled by the Conservatives to study the purpose of the bill, but the bill itself has not been studied. No report on the subject matter of the bill has been tabled.

I have in my hands a copy of a brief that CARL put together. These folks are the experts, and not just legal experts. They are working on the front lines and know what this immigration process is like. They have done a fantastic job of pointing out some of the key problems, especially around the ability to revoke citizenship and the fear that it creates. With the time that I have left, there is one line that I will read. CARL calls it “a way to foster a citizenship of fear”.

I highly recommend the brief to anybody who is interested in this issue. They should read the brief by CARL. The Canadian Bar Association and the BC Civil Liberties Association have done excellent work on this as well. They are giving us advice. They are telling us that the bill is not constitutional. They are telling us it is creating a citizenship of fear. They are saying that this is not the way forward when it comes to reforming our immigration law.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened, with great attention, to the presentation of my colleague opposite. I am a first generation of immigrants in our country and I defended our country in Afghanistan and so on.

Is the member opposite defending those who engage in armed conflict against our country? She was speaking about civil liberties, that they were so nice to the people, that they were so concerned about people and that this legislation was not in line with the issues giving citizenship for everybody maybe.

What does the member think about people who are engaged in conflicts against our country? Should they get citizenship or should we not revoke their citizenship?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:30 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I can tell that the member has been handed his marching orders on what question to ask me. He said that I talked about civil liberties and all these fantastic things when actually I did not. I was talking about something else entirely, but he has his cue card in front on him and he asked me a question, so I will answer it.

If someone is a citizen of Canada, he or she is a citizen of Canada. There should not be two tiers of citizenship. I am also the first generation born in Canada in my family, the child of an immigrant family, and we are Canadian. It is not conditional Canadian.

With the bill, for example, if the minister thinks that there is fraud on a balance of probabilities, he or she can revoke citizenship. That is the minister saying “yes, probably, so I'm going to take your citizenship away”. Absolutely not. The test should not be yes, probably. What it means is that citizens of our country do not have due process and that is something we need to stand up against.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments especially when she highlighted an area that has caused a great deal of frustration for me, as a local member of Parliament who deals considerably in issues like immigration and citizenship.

The processing times have increased significantly. In fact, it is just over two and a half years. That is how long it takes for people who qualify today, meet the criteria, want to have their citizenship and put in their applications. They can anticipate waiting a minimum of 28 months.

The government created this crisis and now it comes in and says that it has wonderful legislation and its purpose, in part, is to reduce the waiting times for the processing of citizenship.

Does the member believe that because of this legislation, it will cause the wait times to go down, or does she believe it is because of the government's low priority of processing citizenship that is the root of the problem of unacceptable wait times for processing citizenship?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:35 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member posed it as a question, but in there was also his point of view, and I agree with it. It was sort of implicit in the way he asked the question. I do not think this has anything to do with money. It has to do with priority. Do not forget that this is not the first time the Conservatives have promised and failed to address the backlog. The backlog of requests has doubled under their supposed leadership.

There is a strategy there. I do not know that I have the psychological training to peel back the layers of what that strategy is, but it does not seem that the Conservatives are taking seriously the citizenship system and real reforms to immigration to actually help people get through this process and deal with the backlog.

I will add to it, it is not just immigration. We see the same backlog when it comes to EI and when it comes to veterans trying to get services. When people call our office and ask for any information about their file, we could tell them to call a number for MPs, but it will not change anything. It is not going to make anything go faster. When we call, we get the news that it is being processed. That is the best we can do.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:35 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, who did incredible work on this file. She made sure that we on this side of the House understood just what a tangle we were getting into with this change to the Citizenship Act, and provided the background so we knew, absolutely, what we had to push back against, which is a bill that would not serve the people of Canada.

I would also like to thank my colleagues from Halifax and from Newton—North Delta for their arguments and for their very clear understanding of what this bill means.

I have some real concerns as does the entire NDP caucus. These concerns stem from the fact that all of the Conservative legislation we have seen, which purport to make positive change, actually do precisely the opposite.

This bill purports to improve the situation for those seeking help by becoming part of our Canadian community. It seems to me that it would actually, in many ways, hurt the very people and communities that governments are supposed to support. Governments that take their job seriously are supposed to protect them.

I will give a rundown of the process of the bill. As members know, in February of this year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tabled Bill C-24. The purpose, apparently, was to introduce sweeping changes to Canada's citizenship laws. At that time, the minister stated that the bill represented the first comprehensive reforms of the Citizenship Act since 1977. He said that it would protect the value of Canadian citizenship for those who have it, while creating a faster and more efficient process for those applying to get it.

That sounds absolutely wonderful, and we agree that Canadian citizenship has enormous value. The world recognizes the citizenship of Canada. I am sure that you go to citizenship court on a regular basis. Mr. Speaker. I certainly do. The pride, the joy and the incredible sense of happiness that we see among those new citizens tells everyone in that court just how important Canadian citizenship is. It has enormous value. This is why it is very troubling that the government would play politics with such an important issue.

Some of the changes to the Citizenship Act are quite good and they are long overdue. They address the deficiencies in the current system, and we need to applaud that. It is important to say that, because we are not just naysayers. We are very diligent, and we recognize and are willing to say that some changes are good.

For example, the implementation of stricter rules for fraudulent immigration consultants is good. There is a provision that would authorize the government to designate, by regulation, a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants and make it an offence for any person who had not been duly recognized by the regulatory body to offer immigration consultant services for a fee.

I have seen in my riding of London—Fanshawe the terrible harm that these fraudsters can cause. It is very expensive. I have had people come into my office who have said that they have been waiting two or three years and have given this person all the money they have, which might be tens of thousands of dollars. When they go to find out where they are in the process, they find out nothing has been done.

This kind of fraudulent behaviour leaves people desperate. They are people who came with great hopes and aspirations, who are left without any hope and very often without recourse. They feel very vulnerable. They are not Canadians in a country where maybe they will not believed. Maybe they will not be able to speak out against this fraudster.

I am glad that immigration fraud will no longer be condoned. We actually pushed the government to crack down on these crooked immigration consultants, so we are very supportive of the anti-fraud measures.

The provisions of expediting citizenship for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces is, again, very good. Bill C-24 would shorten the residency requirement from four years to three for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces during this period. That is a very important change to the Immigration Act. We need to understand that it applies to only a very few people.

However, it is important to show gratitude. I just wish that same level of gratitude also applied to our veterans, the veterans who gave their service and their absolute dedication to our country. They seem to have been forgotten by the government.

The provision for extending citizenship to lost Canadians is also good. The NDP was involved in this issue as far back as 2007. Therefore, in response to NDP pressure, the government introduced measures in 2009 to extend citizenship to most of these lost Canadians. Unfortunately, in the first go-around, the amendments did not apply to people born before 1947. Bill C-24 would close that loop. Unfortunately, it has taken five years. The government dragged its feet. However, at this point in time, I would say better late than never.

Bill C-24 would also significantly increase fines for fraud from the current level of $1,000 to a maximum of $100,000. Under the bill, a maximum prison sentence would also be extended from 5 years to 14 years, depending on circumstances.

As I said, I have had many people come to my office who have lost all that they had. Again, if the government is to address this kind of fraud, because it is extremely lucrative, to make it onerous on those who would commit fraud, that is very good.

It would also increase the requirement from three out of four years, to four of six, and would clarify the requirement of physical residence in Canada prior to citizenship. One of the benefits of the bill is that it specifies how long individuals must physically be present in Canada before applying for citizenship.

While I have outlined some of the things we think are very good and very positive, there is the other side. I mentioned that at the beginning of my remarks.

Bill C-24 would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. Unfortunately, the government has a strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates power in the hands of ministers.

As I said the last time I spoke to this bill, governments come and governments go, and there has to be a respect for the fact that no one individual will be in a position of power forever. To grant that individual this kind of power, even for a short period of time, frightens me.

This is a very punitive government, as members will know. It lashes out against those who criticize it. We saw that at the beginning of its mandate. Women lost equality rights because the Status of Women department lost funding. First nations and first nations women have not been given the kind of supports they deserve. We have seen the deaths of far too many first nations women being swept away and not considered.

KAIROS was an organization that criticized the government for its failure in terms of the environment and housing. Well, KAIROS was punished and was told that the funding it was expecting would not be forthcoming.

The National Association of Women and the Law is an organization that reports on women's equality to the UN and on Canada's progress. When it reported that there had not been any progress for the last 30 years, NAWL had to be disposed of.

I hope members would agree that the very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke or to allow citizenship is putting too much power in the hands of one person. We have courts of law. It is very important that we in this House and those in the government respect the authority of the courts and leave that determination to them.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:45 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech.

I would like to remind members that this bill was introduced in 2013 as a private member's bill and it contained the same provisions.

To the NDP and all members in the House, citizenship is extremely valuable. We must acknowledge the importance attributed to citizenship. We need not give further proof of that.

However, this bill would make it possible to revoke citizenship, which has given rise to major legal concerns. Furthermore, there is a real concentration of additional powers in the hands of the minister, including the power to revoke and grant citizenship.

Could my colleague elaborate on that?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:45 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the revocation or granting of citizenship should not be based on incomplete evidence or the whim of anyone. It does not matter who the minister is. That individual does not have the expertise of legal advisers or people who practise citizenship law or the courts. He or she simply does not. To allow that individual to decide the fate of someone based on speculation or incomplete information is absolutely terrifying.

We in the NDP were hoping that the minister would commit to working with us to bring some real improvements to the citizenship laws. We were hoping for wait times to be reduced, and in fact, they have increased significantly: 320,000 individuals are still waiting for their citizenship. This is not acceptable. We need to demand better.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite spent quite a bit of her time praising the bill. She discussed regulating citizenship consultants, fast-tracking the process for PRs serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, and tougher penalties for those who have obtained citizenship through fraud.

Does the member opposite believe that those who gained Canadian citizenship through fraudulent means deserve a tough punishment, or was she just talking in front of the camera?

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member did not mean to insult me and question my integrity. I will say that it is important, and I did indicate what the minister got right.

However, in the balance of things, they have to get more than just a few things right. They have to get it all right, because people's lives hang in the balance. The very fact that they have not reduced the wait times and that they have given incredible power over people, verging on the power of life and death, to a single individual or his or her department, is just not acceptable. We have courts. We have processes in this country. We should be following them.

As wonderful as this place is, it is not without its weaknesses, and it is not perfect. Mistakes are made. I would like to see the mistakes in regard to this hurried and unamended bill corrected. I would like the Conservatives to have the integrity, the honesty, and maybe even a bit of courage to say that they were not exactly right with all the provisions and could have done better. They should have and need to do better.

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June 9th, 2014 / 7:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this evening I rise to participate in the debate on a very important subject: Bill C-24.

Seventy-five months have passed since March 2008. During those 75 months, the current Conservative government has changed the citizenship processes, rules and regulations about once every three months on average.

Of course things change. Of course a government can recognize that it made a mistake. Of course the government can change its policy. However, when a government changes its mind every three months about an issue as serious as immigration, of course we are going to wonder whether it knows what it is doing.

This government is so incapable of understanding the implications of a situation, so incapable of understanding its options and looking for a lasting solution that will benefit Canadians that it frantically starts over every three months.

This government spends its time bashing the public service. That is its stock in trade. It keeps dumping on public servants' supposed inefficiency and making wholesale cuts to every budget in sight.

In his March report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whom the Conservatives continue to ignore because they cannot handle the truth, revealed that only two-fifths of the public service's goals were achieved in 2013.

How can we expect the right hand to know what the left hand is doing when the brain is AWOL? Either this government does not realize how absurd it is to change the rules every three months yet expect them to be useful, or it realizes exactly how absurd that is and is manipulating immigration rules purely to get votes.

Plainly put, the government's immigration policy is ineffective. Once the had their majority, the Conservatives imposed a moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents, they made family reunification harder, and they started punishing refugees. Then they gave us their masterpiece: they opened the floodgates to temporary foreign workers.

The result of this absurd and unjust policy was not long in coming. The Conservatives became mired in a historic scandal involving abuses of the temporary foreign worker program. Now they are fighting tooth and nail to get out of it, but they cannot find a way to solve the problem. This government could not care less about reality. It would rather make all of the issues political and attack the credibility of anyone who dares to contradict it.

How can we give such an irresponsible government the right to decide who should get citizenship and who should have it revoked at the minister's discretion? This is a clear case of feudal arbitrariness.

This bill raises some serious legal concerns. According to the bill's provisions, the minister could revoke the citizenship of someone who has supposedly committed fraud. The individual's citizenship could be revoked based on something the minister or one of his employees believes. It would be based on a balance of probabilities that the individual obtained his or her citizenship fraudulently. Simply put, it means that the minister will now have the power to strip someone of their citizenship based on a mere suspicion.

Even in a country with strict immigration laws such as the United States, any individual who is prosecuted for illegally obtaining citizenship has the right to plead his case in court. Every ruling can be appealed, and the individual is guaranteed due process.

From now on, under Bill C-24, none of that will exist in Canada. One word from the minister and someone can lose their citizenship. The decision cannot be appealed.

The icing on the cake is that the minister announced that he would not disclose the list of people to whom he will be so kind as to grant Canadian citizenship.

I want to remind the government, which cares so little about civil liberties, that in the legal system we inherited from Great Britain, such a process is labelled as being arbitrary.

I would also like to remind the government, which does not care, that prohibiting arbitrary government decisions is a fundamental principle set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It comes to us from British law, which in 1215, with the Magna Carta, and in 1679, with the principle of habeas corpus, made it clear that arbitrariness was a principle to fight against.

I want to warn the government about what it is doing. In addition to being completely immoral, the possibility that the minister can revoke or grant citizenship at his discretion goes against the underlying principles of our legal system.

Once again, the government should expect a long, bitter battle with the Supreme Court concerning one of its many unilateral decisions.

Everyone in the country recognizes the value of Canadian citizenship. There is no need to start such a battle on this subject. That is why we were hoping that this government would change its ways a little and consult the opposition in order to come to an agreement.

However, those hopes were in vain: the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration once again showed just how stubborn this government is by rejecting all of the amendments proposed in committee. We continued to hope in responsible people who believe that the government can and must change people's lives.

That is why we in the NDP strive to find a constructive solution to all of the problems confronting us, regardless of the circumstances. When it comes to immigration, this government's inadequacy has led to unacceptable delays in the processing of applications. We understand that these delays make applicants frustrated and bitter.

However, this wasted time also translates into economic losses. Economic immigrants who knock on our door to come work in Canada may very well turn to other host countries because of the long wait times for their application to be processed. They will then be helping to build economies other than ours.

When the government announced its intention to reduce backlogs, we applauded this commendable intention. However, we reminded the Conservatives that they themselves had created the conditions leading to these delays by making systematic budget cuts throughout the public service. Since 2009, the average time to process an application has more than doubled, going from 15 to 31 months. Since the NDP will have to fix the Conservatives' many mistakes when it forms the next government, we might as well start now.

In order to make processing times reasonable, this government is proposing to merely simplify the process for handling applications by getting rid of the middle man. This is another example of the Conservatives' wishful thinking and simplistic announcements. They were unable to deal with the backlog by putting $44 million on the table as part of the economic action plan, and now they think they will be able to do so by introducing administrative mini-measures. Given these circumstances, why is the government once again making amendments to Canada's immigration system?

In truth, there is only one explanation for the government turning a blind eye to the negative consequences of this legislation: it does not care about the consequences. This government is only interested in how to make itself look good. That is the foundation of its policy. This government does not care about the best interests of Canadians. It is pandering to its voter base. This government is not showing its determination. It is showing its stubbornness. This government does not take action. It acts out.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her great speech on Bill C-24. She certainly has expertise on the subject of citizenship and immigration.

Like me and a number of experts who have looked at the bill, does she have any concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, especially with regard to revoking citizenship?

Does she think that this bill might be challenged if it is passed in its current form?

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. Indeed, as far as the revocation of citizenship is concerned, this bill will definitely be challenged.

This is a classic example of two-tiered citizenship. If a person with dual citizenship has their citizenship revoked, they are at risk of becoming stateless. In other words, their country of origin might not take them back and they will be in limbo.

The revocation of citizenship, a power that will be concentrated in the hands of the minister, will constantly be appealed in court.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague just touched on something I wanted to ask a question about. She talked about the minister's discretionary powers to deny or approve immigration applications.

What concerns does my colleague have about that, since we are talking about a major overhaul of how this department works? I would like to hear my colleague's concerns about that.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. As I said in my speech, concentrating powers, such as the power to revoke or grant citizenship, in the hands of the minister, takes us back to a feudal time when seigneurs had the power of life or death over their tenants. Fortunately here we are talking about citizenship.

This raises an ethical problem. We cannot be judge and jury. Before, people had the possibility of appeal, but now they will no longer have that option once their citizenship is revoked. That is quite simply unacceptable in a country that abides by the rule of law as we do.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, could my colleague tell us more about how this bill could be subject to constitutional challenges? We know that the government does not always bother to make sure that its bills respect human rights and comply with the Canadian Constitution. Could my colleague talk about the problems with this bill and how it might not meet constitutional standards?

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June 9th, 2014 / 8 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. As some witnesses pointed out in committee, there will certainly be some constitutional challenges, and I think this will likely go to court.

We are all familiar with the universal principle that all human beings are born free and equal. Our country has the Charter to protect all citizens, and the provisions in Bill C-24 clearly interfere with those protections. There will obviously be challenges.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:05 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I should mention that the Conservatives limited time for debate on this bill. This is really problematic and it infringes on our right to express ourselves on bills that will affect the lives of Canadians and immigrants.

It is more or less an omnibus bill. In fact, it is the first major reform of the Citizenship Act since 1977. We really ought to do our homework to come up with the best legislation possible.

I oppose this bill and I will take my ten minutes to explain why.

I would like to begin by recognizing the work done by groups in my riding that welcome immigrants, such as ABL Immigration, which works in the Lower Laurentians to help immigrants better integrate into our society and country and have access to services that can help them.

My fellow Canadians are ready to welcome newcomers, to have new people come to live here, but this bill goes against Canadian values.

I would like to mention that I was a panellist at a meeting in Montreal on Bill C-24. Julius Grey, a very well-known lawyer in Montreal whose name is probably familiar to all members, and the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, which is active in Montreal, also participated in this event.

With the people who took part in the discussion, I was able to see that this bill raises a number of concerns about the Conservative government's approach. There were also concerns about the negative impact of that rather complex legislation, which includes many measures.

Since March 2008, or since the Conservatives took office, over 25 major changes have been made to immigration practices, rules, laws and regulations. We found that not all of these changes have been positive, including the moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents.

In my riding I met people affected by this measure. In fact, I meet people from across Canada who are affected by the fact that they cannot bring their parents and their grandparents here. In recent years, fewer family reunifications have taken place. This threatens the well-being of Canadians.

We saw that the government also chose to punish vulnerable refugees. On this issue, I want to note that Bill C-31 imposes a number of measures that experts deem dangerous for refugees. These provisions give the minister the power to hand-pick which countries are deemed safe, without consulting independent experts. They also give the minister the power to detain asylum seekers for one year, without reviewing that decision.

This bill also contains provisions to deny certain refugees access to the refugee appeal division. Bill C-31 also imposes a mandatory waiting period of five years before legitimate refugees can become permanent residents and be reunited with their families.

As we can see, these are very tough measures that adversely affect the safety of refugees who come to Canada after fleeing unstable situations in their country of origin.

We have also seen that under the Conservative government there has been an increase in the number of temporary foreign workers to the detriment of Canadian workers. Furthermore, and I am sure that I am not the only member to have noticed this, our riding offices are reporting that processing times, which are currently 31 months, are harming our constituents who come to our offices looking for help. Unfortunately, too many of these people want to know the status of their file. The only thing we can tell them is that they have to wait, even though the processing times are unreasonable. Instead of attacking refugees and preventing families from being reunited, this government should instead be tackling processing times. That should be the priority.

I will now focus on the measures in the bill that the NDP members are concerned about. First, we have seen that Bill C-24 concentrates many new powers in the hands of the minister, including the power to grant citizenship and to revoke it from dual citizens. This creates two tiers of citizenship and penalizes people with dual citizenship. It allows a minister to revoke the citizenship of a person who has dual citizenship and commits illegal acts, whereas someone without Canadian citizenship will be punished in the criminal justice system instead.

We believe that this is rather arbitrary. We should not have two tiers of citizenship. I am very proud of my Canadian citizenship and I know that my parents, who immigrated from China, were as well. A Canadian is a Canadian, period. We should not have two types of citizens, those who have dual citizenship and those who have single citizenship.

Under the provisions of the bill, the minister may revoke citizenship if he, or any staffer he authorizes, is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a person has obtained citizenship by fraud. That poses significant problems because this clause is based on the balance of probabilities. If the minister has reason to believe that the person has obtained citizenship fraudulently, he has the right to unilaterally revoke that citizenship. Clearly, that prevents the individual from appealing to the courts and it places more arbitrary powers in the minister's hands.

This bill is problematic for another reason, namely the provisions related to the declaration of intent to reside in Canada. The minister can arbitrarily choose to strip someone of citizenship if he believes that the individual does not intend to reside in Canada. That penalizes those who obtain citizenship and then perhaps get a job offer elsewhere but still plan on returning to Canada. It penalizes people who find themselves in rather unique situations.

The final measure in this bill that I would like to raise is the fact that the length of time someone spends in Canada as a permanent resident will no longer be taken into consideration for the granting of citizenship.

Clearly, the NDP feels it must oppose many of the measures. I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill as well, for the reasons I have just presented.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member made reference to the issue of people who leave Canada to work. I want to give a specific example of how this legislation would have a very real impact.

I can recall a case where a family from the Philippines came to Canada and the husband was not able to get his credentials recognized as an auditor. Therefore, after his family was settled here, he went to another country and was able to continue on as an accountant. Now, there are serious restrictions within this proposed legislation that would prevent that individual from being able to do that today, even though his entire family is here and the only reason he left the country was to practise that which he was trained to do with the full intention of coming back.

I wonder if the member might want to comment on the fact that, by rushing the bill through, we were not able to have that thorough discussion so that examples such as this would have had much more attention given to them.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, that is not the only example of its kind. When I talked to groups of immigrants in Montreal, they gave me this example: a person gets a scholarship to Oxford or Harvard and has to leave for a period of months or years but fully intends to return to Canada and live as a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.

These are opportunities our citizens should have. They should not be punished for wanting a chance to live or work elsewhere for a period of time. This bill goes way too far. Clearly, the Conservative government really did not do its homework on this one.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for letting me ask my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles a question. She spent a few seconds, possibly a minute, talking about wait times, which have gone up considerably in the past few years. Nowadays, it can take 31 months for a person to get citizenship. The government boasted that this bill would reduce wait times.

Does my colleague think that any of the measures in this bill will really tackle this problem effectively? Perhaps the government is saying this just for the sake of argument when ultimately, there is really nothing here that will reduce wait times. Why is it important to tackle wait times in this system? I will not answer the question; I will let my colleague answer it.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:15 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. I imagine that in his riding office he must also provide services to people who are waiting to get their citizenship.

Since the Conservatives came to power, wait times have doubled and today, 320,000 people in Canada are still waiting for their application to be processed.

Of course, humanitarian cases have to be processed as quickly as possible. My colleague from Halifax mentioned the case of a mother who was waiting to sponsor her children. For the months she had to wait, she lost track of her children who were in her home country. The wait times are unreasonable. They penalize people who live in Canada, who want to be good citizens and contribute to our country. For humanitarian reasons, we have to address the processing times problem.

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June 9th, 2014 / 8:20 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to have a few minutes to speak to Bill C-24. As an interesting coincidence, I was recently reading the latest issue of Novyi Shliakh, or the New Pathway, a Ukrainian newspaper published here in Canada. On page 6 of the May 15 edition, there was an article by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and the very fact that this article appeared in the New Pathway to me is a clear indication that there is a concern about Bill C-24 in the Ukrainian Canadian community and, I would venture to say, in many immigrant communities. Readers of the article who had concerns were asked to contact their local member of Parliament.

This article states:

This new law changes core aspects of Canadian citizenship as we know it.

If passed, Bill C-24 will make it more difficult for new immigrants to get Canadian citizenship and easier for many Canadians to lose it, especially if they have dual citizenship. Most Canadians do not understand the ways in which Bill C-24 will undermine their fundamental right to be a citizen of Canada. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has provided a summary of the most important changes to the Citizenship Act.

It goes on later in the same article to say:

In Canada, citizenship has always been secure. Whether native-born or immigrant, once you are granted Canadian citizenship, you are secure. Under the current system, you cannot lose your citizenship unless you obtained it by fraud, and even then, a Federal Court judge must make that decision after a full court hearing. Under the current system, if you do not agree with the judge, you have a right of appeal. Under the new law, there will be several ways to lose your citizenship. As well, the decision as to whether you lose your citizenship will be made by a government bureaucrat who will inform you in writing with no opportunity for a live hearing to defend yourself.

Why will citizenship be harder to get?

New immigrants will have to wait longer before they can apply for citizenship. Older and younger people will now have to pass language and knowledge tests to qualify for citizenship. The citizenship application fees have been tripled. There will be no right of appeal for those who are refused.

Everyone recognizes the considerable value of Canadian citizenship, but we do not want to politicize this issue. We have seen that approach far too often since the current government came to power.

As far as the bill is concerned, it is high time that we resolve the issue of lost Canadians. This is an unfair situation that has been going on for far too long.

Other parts of the bill raise concerns. For example, the revocation of citizenship gives cause for major legal concerns. We are always worried about proposals to concentrate power in the hands of the minister.

Since March 2008, more than 25 major changes have been made to the methods, rules, laws and regulations related to immigration. More and more changes have been made since the Conservatives formed a majority government, changes such as a moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents, fewer family reunifications, punishing vulnerable refugees and increasing the number of temporary foreign workers in order to meet the needs of corporations.

The considerable changes the Conservatives have made to Canada's immigration system have not helped improve the efficiency or fairness of the system.

That is what is troubling. All these proposed changes are not necessarily going to make the system more efficient. In a sense, we can understand why the system cannot be more efficient. If we cut people who are working, the numbers of public servants, increase their hours, and make it more difficult for them, obviously the system will not get more efficient.

I would like to argue as an aside that maybe a good way to improve our immigration system is to make it more efficient by hiring more people so we can get the job done and process all the immigrants that we have today.

However, I will return to my speaking notes. Bill C-24, as I said earlier on, gives the minister many new powers including the authority to grant or revoke the citizenship of dual citizens.

As we know, the government has a pretty strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates more power in the hands of ministers. Obviously if we have ministers who understand the situation and I would hope they do, things could work okay, but there are people who do not. We on this side condemn this practice. We cannot trust the Conservatives or any government by giving a minister new powers because we open the door to arbitrary politically motivated decisions.

I guess we all should know that there are politically motivated decisions in any government. What we as parliamentarians have to do is to ensure that we take those politically motivated decisions away from people making decisions.

Let us look at revocation of citizenship. The very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke citizenship raises serious questions and it is on this principle that we should be looking at the bill. Canadian law already has established mechanisms by which we can punish individuals who commit unlawful acts. It should not be the job of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to make these judgments.

Another problem with revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens is that it creates a two-tier citizenship where some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked, while others would be punished by the criminal system for the same offence.

As an aside, let me say a few words about dual citizens. We have already seen discrimination by the government against Canadians who are subject to U.S. tax laws. My colleague, the MP for Victoria, has raised the issue of FACTA and the problems it poses for U.S. dual citizens and family members of dual citizens. I would say that once a person is a Canadian citizen, he or she should have the full protection of our government. It does not matter if one is born here or somewhere else, once one is a Canadian citizen, we should all be on the same level playing field.

There should be no question, for example, of the U.S. government obtaining banking information or for a Canadian citizen to file unnecessary U.S. tax forms when a person already pays taxes here in Canada and fills out the forms. We have had that debate earlier on in this session.

Coming back to this bill, under the provisions of the bill the minister may revoke citizenship if he or she, or any staffer he or she authorized, is satisfied in the balance of probabilities that a person has obtained citizenship by fraud. Until now, such cases have all typically gone through the courts and cabinet, which makes sense. It will not be the case anymore. This aspect poses serious issues to the extent that the minister would have the power to revoke a person's citizenship solely on the basis of suspicion without an independent tribunal to rule on the veracity of the allegations. This is not the case in the United States where that person has the legal right to have the issue resolved in a court of law.

In closing, the bill, although it has some good provisions in it, is another slow erosion of our rights as democratic citizens and for this reason we should oppose the bill in its current form.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:30 p.m.
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Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my hon. colleague is aware, but currently many permanent residents wait for four years to make a decision. I have met many people at citizenship ceremonies for whom it was 20 or 30 years before they made that decision. Choosing to become a citizen of Canada is a very important decision and people learn to feel an attachment to the country.

Does the hon. member really believe that people with little or no connection to Canada, who have spent very little time in Canada, should really be handed Canadian citizenship? Sometimes it is through fraudulent means. Is he objecting to having some time limits around people getting to know us before they make those decisions?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is that we have a system in place that works. The overwhelming majority of people who apply for citizenship and become citizens under our current system become good Canadian citizens. My parents are immigrants. Many of us here have family members who have immigrated. The current timeline in place is a workable timeline, and I do not really see why we need to change the system. What we need is to ensure it becomes more efficient, and that implies hiring a few more people to increase the efficiency so that we can process more immigrants at a faster pace.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:30 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech on Bill C-24. He mentioned some of our concerns about this bill.

I would like to hear him talk more about the constitutional aspect of this bill, given that the government has been told three or four times to change course, if I may use that expression, or go back to the drawing board. A number of bills have already been rejected in part by the Supreme Court.

Does he think that the same thing could happen to this bill? That is obviously a hypothetical question. A number of experts have already commented on this. Does my colleague have the same concerns as the experts who appeared before the committee and said that they were concerned that the Conservative government is again passing a bill that will very likely be challenged, with good reason, before the different courts?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:30 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention to my colleague from Sherbrooke that I attended the graduation ceremony at a high school in my riding. I mentioned that he is the youngest MP to ever be elected to Parliament. I told the graduates to follow his example. My colleague was 19 years old when elected and they could become MPs as well.

I am very pleased that he has asked this question. Yes, I do have some concerns. On a number of occasions we have seen the government trying to go down a particular path too quickly without having really thought about the consequences. If people have concerns like the ones I just mentioned in my speech, that means that there are problems.

I hope that this government will nevertheless try to improve this bill. As we have already mentioned, it does have some good elements. There are some things in this bill that work well. Let us try to improve it and make it into a bill that serves all Canadians.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in this broad discussion on Bill C-24, introduced by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I want to commend my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and the official opposition's critic on this file, for her excellent work.

Unfortunately, once again, the Conservatives have failed to follow the rules and do the right thing, as serious parliamentarians should do. There was no real study of this bill in committee, even though this bill could have some potentially serious consequences. I will talk about those later on.

I do not understand why the government did not take the time to listen to the experts in committee. My guess is that it was because the Conservatives knew that the expects would probably disagree with them. That is the impression we got from the testimony during the pre-study and afterwards. People are very worried about this bill, which affects something very basic—citizenship and the minister's power to grant or revoke citizenship.

I think it is rather absurd and even shameful that the Conservatives decided to extend our evening debates in the House of Commons—which is something I am very comfortable with; I am pleased to be here tonight—but they do not show up, do not do their job and do not speak to their own bills. Since the Conservatives decided to extend our evening debates, they have missed 67 shifts. They have turned down 67 opportunities to speak, often on their own bills. That is an insult to people's intelligence. The Conservatives are flouting the rules of Parliament.

This bill is extremely serious because previously, a person's citizenship could be revoked only in cases where it could be demonstrated that fraud had occurred and the person had become a citizen through fraudulent means. Even though that was the only case where a person's citizenship could be revoked, the person could still appeal to the Federal Court so that his or her case could be heard properly. Today, that is no longer true. The government is lengthening the list of reasons why a person's citizenship can be revoked and, at the same time, concentrating a huge amount of arbitrary, discretionary power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration alone. That is very risky and hangs a sword of Damocles over the heads of millions of individuals in our country.

I want to begin this speech by quoting some people who are somehow involved in the conversation about this bill and the type of status the government wants to give Canadian citizens.

A French writer, Amin Maalouf, had this to say, not about the bill specifically, but in general:

It is first up to your country to keep a certain number of commitments to you: that you be considered a full-fledged citizen and that you suffer no oppression, discrimination or undue hardship. Your country and its leaders have the obligation to make sure that is the case. If not, you own them nothing.

Here is another quote about the bill from Thomas Walkom, a columnist for the Toronto Star. He said:

The federal government’s new citizenship bill is a Trojan horse. It is presented as an attempt to reduce fraud and rationalize the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, both of which are sensible aims.

But it would also give [the] Prime Minister['s] Conservative government unprecedented authority to strip Canadians—including thousands born in this country—of their citizenship.

The more we read about the bill that is before us this evening, the more reasons we have to be concerned. It seems we are at a point where citizenship is like the prize in a box of Cracker Jack. Citizenship can be given or taken away on a whim or based on the minister's goodwill.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend my first official citizenship ceremony in my riding, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I must say that the people who were there were deeply moved and very pleased to officially become citizens. I cannot imagine having to explain to them that now a minister can choose to take that citizenship away from them, and this is actually part of the legislation, if they have dual citizenship, meaning that they are citizens of another country as well.

The minister is giving himself the power to take away their Canadian citizenship in a number of situations, simply because they already have another nationality or another official citizenship. We already heard the former immigration minister say that it was too bad that Canada has to fulfill its obligations under international treaties because the government cannot create statelessness. I get the feeling that if the Conservatives had the opportunity to do so and if it did not contravene the treaties that Canada has already signed, they would not hesitate.

Barbara Jackman of the Canadian Bar Association said this in April:

Taking away citizenship from someone born in Canada because they may have dual citizenship and have committed an offence proscribed by the act is new. That's a fundamental change. For people who are born here and who have grown up here, it can result in banishment or exile. It's a step backwards, a huge step backwards—and it's a huge step being taken without any real national debate or discussion about whether Canadians want their citizenship amended in that way...

That's a fundamentally different concept of citizenship that needs to be addressed. It needs to be discussed and debated. We think that it could raise serious human rights concerns. It does raise serious human rights concerns. It may well contravene the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled in the past that we can't exile Canadians. By redefining who a Canadian is, you achieve exile. That's not right. It's against the Charter.

We have good reason to be very worried about this government's apparent desire to resurrect a situation that, for all practical purposes, has not been seen since the Middle Ages: forcing one of its citizens into exile, kicking a citizen out of the country. If a person has another nationality—be it French, Algerian or Burmese—and if that is enough to strip him of Canadian citizenship, that is very serious because that means condemning him to exile and forcing him to leave the country, banishing him. I do not think that is what Canadians and Quebeckers want or are prepared to accept, particularly not in the overall scheme of this bill, which, as we will see, gives tremendous powers to the minister.

In May of this year, Dr. Patti Tamara Lenard, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and an expert on the subject of ministerial discretionary power, which she was concerned about, had this to say:

Finally, the bill grants the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the discretion to revoke citizenship in too many cases. Currently, as written, the bill would give the minister discretion to revoke citizenship in cases of fraud, but there is no requirement—as there was in the previous bill, or as currently enacted now—for a court to evaluate if fraud in fact did occur. If the revocation provisions are kept, every such decision must be considered by, or appealable to, a court, even in cases where citizenship is revoked under suspicion of fraudulent applications. This is for at least two reasons. First, some forms of apparent misrepresentation are made for legitimate reasons—that is, to escape genuine and real harm. Second, judicial proceedings provide the only mechanism to protect against the otherwise inevitable suspicion that the minister is using fraud as a reason to revoke citizenship of people who are suspected of aiming to harm Canada where the proof doesn't exist.

Like many people, I am very concerned about the fact that we will kick people out and force them into exile. We will revoke the citizenship of those who should keep it. If someone commits a crime, there is a penal system for that. We must use that system to ensure that people pay for their crimes. There is nothing wrong with that.

I do not see why we have to do something as radical as revoke someone's citizenship, especially when these convictions could be handed down in foreign countries, including those for terrorism, which could give rise to concerns about the legitimacy of certain convictions. Just look at Burma, North Korea or Syria. I do not think we should rely on the justice systems of those countries to decide whether or not someone should keep their Canadian citizenship.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his speech.

My colleague knows what is happening, including this government's way of doing things. We see how it deals with bills. Bill after bill goes against the charter and the Constitution. We saw how the current government disregarded Quebec in the securities commission case. Then, the whole thing went to the Supreme Court. Again, taxpayers had to foot the bill. This bill is not the only example. We see this time after time.

I would like my colleague to elaborate on that and on the approach of this government, which disregards the law, the charter and everyone's opinion.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his pertinent question.

As the English would say, there is a pattern with this majority Conservative government. It is my way or no way, or the bulldozer approach, and too bad if there are judges, laws or courts in the way. All this government wants to do is impose its vision and its views and too bad if scientists contradict it. The government tells itself that it will disregard them, muzzle them and that it will thus be able to act in a very high-handed way.

This bill is unprecedented in that it creates two classes of citizens in Canada. If someone only has single citizenship, such as Canadian citizenship, it cannot be taken away no matter the circumstances. However, if this person has dual citizenship, they do not have the same rights and they could lose their Canadian citizenship. It is unprecedented. I do not believe that the Supreme Court or Parliament will permit it.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite appears to oppose stripping citizenship from convicted terrorists. We are talking about terrorists.

I believe that the member is not aware of Bill C-24's revocation process. It would start only after a terrorist had been convicted. Once a terrorist was found guilty of terrorism, that person would have the right to appeal up to the Supreme Court of Canada about the conviction, if that person believed it was a false conviction.

I would like the member opposite to tell Canadians whether he believes that under any circumstances a convicted terrorist should have his or her citizenship revoked.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if a person is accused of committing terrorist acts, they must be tried and, if found guilty, they must be imprisoned in the interest of public safety. It is as simple as that. It has nothing to do with their citizenship.

One of the problems with this bill is that it does not distinguish between democratic countries that have a reliable justice system and authoritarian countries or dictatorships that will convict their political opponents of terrorism.

Can my colleague really tell Canadians whether the people opposed to the political regime in Syria are all terrorists?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:45 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I cannot do that. I would like to take this opportunity to say that this bill does not fix some serious problems.

Wait times and processing times have doubled under the Conservatives. The average processing time of 31 months could skyrocket to six, seven or eight years. That is not a respectful or dignified way to treat people who want to become Canadian citizens.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 8:50 p.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-24 on citizenship and immigration.

It is no secret that I was born here to parents of Vietnamese origin. Immigration issues hit close to home and are often close to my heart.

This is not the first time that I have been disappointed in the government's actions, but I am particularly disappointed here. The government is not fixing the existing problem. There is a problem with wait times, and that is obvious. Since I was elected, one of the biggest files my constituency office has dealt with is immigration, whether we are talking about visas or citizenship applications.

I represent a very multicultural riding that works very well. My riding includes the city of Brossard, which is incredibly multicultural. On the weekend I watched a high school graduation ceremony. There were people from all over. It is extraordinary to see.

I would like to come back to the bill we are debating today, and I am going to start by talking about an aspect of the bill that is a bit more technical. My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who spoke before me, mentioned it. In our opinion, it is a very good example of how this government operates.

First of all, the government comes up with a bill that is unconstitutional and goes against the charter. That is not surprising coming from this government. I am talking more specifically about the fact that the government wants to be able to revoke citizenship in certain cases.

The government is giving the minister the power to revoke citizenship. Of course, we are talking about cases where the person in question has dual citizenship. The minister can revoke that individual's citizenship by saying that the person committed fraud or wrongdoing or that other situations warrant it.

The question is not whether the government can revoke citizenship or not, but the reasons for which it can do so. To be more specific, we are wondering how the government came up with the idea of revoking people's citizenship.

The fundamental problem is that the government is creating two classes of citizens: those who have dual citizenship and those who have only Canadian citizenship. For example, the government will not be able to revoke the citizenship of a person who does not have dual citizenship, but will be able to revoke the citizenship of someone who does.

In this case, what is worse is that the minister could say, based on a preponderance of evidence, that he is of the opinion that a person's citizenship should be revoked for such and such a reason. The problem is that there is no appeal process. There is no process whereby the courts can verify that decision at the federal level. The government is putting that power into the hands of the minister. This could lead to an excessive abuse of power. In fact, experts, lawyers and the Canadian Bar Association are opposed to this bill.

Earlier in the debate, the minister said that some people were opposed to this measure but that it was only a small group of lawyers. The minister dismissed the Canadian Bar Association out of hand. This clearly shows that the Conservatives believe that everyone who opposes their opinions is useless. The way the government treats the Supreme Court, among others, has become truly disgraceful.

I am going to come back to how this government operates, instead of solving a problem. There is the problem of the ever-growing wait times and the fact that the government decided to make cuts to immigration. Clearly, immigration is not a priority for this government.

I would like to remind all of my colleagues opposite, none of whom are likely to be listening, that Canada was created by immigration.

This is a personal issue for me because I am from an immigrant family. Thanks to family reunification, my family and I integrated well and now I am an MP. Family reunification is therefore very important to us. However, I heard comments from people on the other side of the House about how grandparents were a burden on society. There is a disconnect over there. They are losing sight of the human side of things. That scares me because this majority government does whatever it wants.

Even though we made recommendations and proposed amendments in committee, we do agree with some aspects of the bill. For example, we agree that some people, such as middlemen, are abusing the system and should be punished. However, in general, the Conservative government does not really want immigrants to feel welcome in Canada. It has made all kinds of promises about improving the system, but the truth is that it is bringing in temporary foreign workers. That is exactly why its management of this file has been criticized.

My family, my NDP colleagues and I all understand the importance of Canadian citizenship, and it is something that is quite obvious when we attend citizenship ceremonies. Having attended many of them, I know that the new citizens in my riding are very proud. However, the Conservatives prefer to give priority to temporary foreign workers, to the detriment of immigration and families who want to settle here and become part of society.

I would like to sincerely thank the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, our critic, and the hon. member for Saint-Lambert for their hard work on this. It shows how important we feel the human element is. The NDP is making this much effort perhaps because our caucus is made up of many nationalities and cultures, so we are very open-minded.

I know that some of my Conservative and Liberal colleagues understand because they also come from immigrant families. This is an important debate, yet those members are allowing the government to take this sort of action and push family reunification aside.

Processing times have nearly doubled. That is incredible. People are not advancing through the system. I have seen processing times increase with my own eyes since I was elected, and that was only three years ago. When we want to serve our constituents, we are sometimes faced with a system that is overloaded. The government is choosing not to find solutions or invest to integrate immigrants better and work with them better so that they settle here with their family and participate in Canada's economy as well.

When my parents came here, it really helped to have their family here, their brothers and sisters, who took care of us. It helped my parents find a job, get settled and move forward. I am disappointed that my Conservative colleagues are not on the right track.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 9 p.m.
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Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I have found it a little unusual tonight, in terms of some of the comments that members of the NDP have been making throughout their speeches. On the one hand, we often hear from them how they do not have enough time to debate. We are giving them plenty of opportunity to put up speakers to put their views forward, yet they are complaining because we are not using some of our time. I think it is very bizarre that on the one hand they complain about not having enough time to debate, and then on the other hand are saying that they should not have to speak so often.

Having said that, we heard the member talk about his parents who came here, raised a family, and stayed here. They made a very strong commitment to this country, and it sounds like they took great pride in their decision to become Canadian citizens. Does the member not believe that four years provides the opportunity for a permanent resident to come here, to understand the country and make that very important decision? Is four years a good time in terms of making those important decisions about how they are going to spend their lives and where they want their citizenship to be?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour for asking a question.

There are two parts to her question. In response to the first part, I just wanted to explain that we want a debate. The fact that my colleague asked a question is a step in the right direction. We also want answers. Why do we not hear anything about the government's vision? That is what we call having a debate. Unfortunately, that is not what we are seeing today.

In response to the second part of the question, the thing that is important to me is really the way we deal with the system. The problems I mentioned are the fact that things are delayed, the government does not invest enough, and the wait times keep getting longer. All that slows down the system. As I was explaining to my colleague, citizenship is very important to me. People here are struggling to get it, but when I ask why the system takes so long and why there are no solutions, I unfortunately do not get the answers I want.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. He reiterated, as other NDP speakers have, that we want a fair, efficient, transparent and accountable immigration system. Obviously, we completely reject the measures in Bill C-24, which will result in a restrictive immigration system based on arbitrary decisions made in secret.

Could my colleague comment on a quote from the president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Lorne Waldman? He said:

The US Supreme Court got it right over 50 years ago when it said that citizenship is not a licence that the government can revoke for misbehaviour. As Canadians, we make our citizenship feeble and fragile if we let government Ministers seize the power to extinguish it.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question that we can indeed debate. I am quite pleased, as the objective is to have another vision.

The question raised by my colleague from Saint-Lambert is very important. The bill creates two categories: citizens and citizens with dual citizenship. Citizenship can be removed and revoked for one category, but not for the other. Furthermore, this can undermine the significance of or the confidence that we might have in the system.

At present, we have a system in place that can arrive at solutions or penalties, when necessary, for people who contravene the rules and the law. With the current version of Bill C-24, the government wants to give the minister the power to actually grant or revoke citizenship in an almost haphazard way. That is very problematic. That is why lawyers have objected.

That is deplorable because the minister has simply dismissed the objections. This happens regularly with the Conservatives: they could not care less about the law or about anything coming from the Supreme Court. Then, we will have to deal with it. Who will end up paying? Taxpayers, and that is deplorable.

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

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to stand in this place to debate legislation, whether members on the other side have a contradictory view or not. That is a decision that those members will make, of course. They decided to have us stay here later because they wanted to debate legislation. However, I am more than happy to fill up the time.

Let me start by offering a few words of encouragement to my friends on the other side because there are a few decent things in Bill C-24.

Heaven knows, we have been asking the Conservatives, for years, to crack down on consultants who victimize residents living in our constituencies. Our constituents come to us, faced with the same dilemma they faced at the beginning of the process when they went to a consultant. Consultants charge individuals thousands of dollars to perhaps fill out a form, but they do not give them any decent advice. In some cases, the consultants steer them in the wrong direction after extracting a great deal of money from them. These people are quite frantic because they are trying to either reunify their family or they are trying to bring loved ones over here. Some of them are trying to expedite their own situation with respect to citizenship. They end up being faced with someone who literally takes the money from their bank accounts.

The government has probably done a decent thing here. We should crack down on illegal consultants because it is time that they be stopped. In my previous life, before I came to the House, I heard about basically the same thing happening with respect to Ontario's compensation system. Consultants would get folks, usually widows in a lot of cases, to sign over a form, giving them 15% to 20% of anything they wanted. They knew full well that the only thing they had to do was to have the individual sign the bottom of the form and send it off because a loved one had died of an occupational disease and they were entitled to some money. The consultants would take a big percentage from what the people received in compensation. Kudos to the government. Conservatives do not hear that from us too often, but I do think they would be doing a decent thing by cracking down on consultants.

My good friend Olivia Chow was a great advocate of cracking down on crooked consultants, who literally bleed immigrants of their financial resources, the limited financial resources that many of them have, in the hope that their family will arrive quickly.

This brings me to the question of why we do not bring their families over here sooner. I had the pleasure of being born somewhere else, but I also have the great pleasure of being a Canadian citizen. I am a dual citizen. People born here are Canadians by birth. Some Canadians, because one of their parents was born in another country, may have dual citizenship of which they are unaware. In some cases, this may work for them. For example, they can go back to where their parents came from and use that citizenship if they so choose. However, some individuals with dual citizenship do not do that. Some believe they are just Canadians.

If this legislation were to pass, citizens with dual citizenship could find themselves in a precarious situation, albeit the crime that is purported to be adjudicated in the bill is a heinous one, I agree. Many of my colleagues in the House are also like me. They were born elsewhere and became Canadian citizens, obviously, because one must be a Canadian citizen to be in this place. That is a requirement of the Parliament of Canada Act. We would not find too many more passionate Canadians than those of us who have acquired our citizenship after coming here from somewhere else.

Many constituents in my area are Slovak, Hungarian, and Italian. They are passionate Canadians. These individuals would be the first to condemn anyone who would dare to slight the Canadian flag or our armed forces or talk negatively about Canada. They are the first ones to defend Canada, long before natural born Canadians. Why is that? It is because they see the seriousness in it. They understand what it means to acquire Canadian citizenship, to work for it. They get that.

They also have a sense of fairness. They believe that one should be adjudicated fairly because many of them came from places where they were not.

The great disparity in my riding is that I am probably one of the few Scots who actually resides in that riding. When we have heritage week and I ask where the person is who will wear a kilt for the Scottish heritage, the executive director tells me that unless I put one on, there will not be one.

However, there will be Ukrainians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles, and Italians, and many of them came at a time when they were oppressed. They are now older, of course. Their kids were born and raised here. In fact, their grandkids are being raised here now.

They are passionate Canadians. They understand when things are taken out of a stream that looks like it is not fair and put in a place where it is not fair, even if that place is going to be fair. “I will judge it fairly”, says the government. If my constituents who came from the other side of the wall at that time were asked, they would say “Oh, not so fast. That is what they used to say too”.

Now, I am not suggesting that the government is anything like the other side of the wall. That would be reprehensible. It would not true either.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:10 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

No, not quite, Mr. Speaker.. What I said was that is why one has to make sure it is seen to be fair, and then there would not be a comparison. If it is deemed to be fair, then nobody will make the comparison.

The issue is when it is isolated, when it is put in the hands of a minister who says he is fair, but it is still in the hands of a person not a system. That is part of the problem, when it looks as if it may be in the hands of a person.

What else is good in the bill? The fact that it will expedite citizenship for those who are landed or in the armed forces is a good thing. If they are willing to serve Canada, to go abroad, to put their lives in harm's way, I think there should be a reward for that. Expedited citizenship would be fair.

Then I would ask, on the other side, what about those temporary foreign workers who have been here for 10, 12, 15 years or more? If we decide at some point to put them on a path to citizenship, should we not count the time that they have been here?

I know workers in my area. I come from Niagara where agricultural workers come in. I know employers who have had the same employees for 20-plus years. If we finally grant them the opportunity to work towards citizenship, which I believe they should get, and most of the industry in this country says they should get, whether it is the horticultural industry, the meat-packing facilities, they believe that is the direction it should go.

These workers should be allowed a path to citizenship. Why should we then restart the clock when they have been here for 20 years? They work for 10 or 11 months a year and go home for vacation. They do not work for four months anymore. In the old days, workers used to come to Niagara and pick fruit for four months and then leave. Those days are gone.

There are temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector, which is really not a temporary foreign worker program but a foreign worker program. By and large, it is a 10-month job. They live for ten months in Canada and go home for two months, wherever home happens to be. It is perhaps Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Jamaica.

If the government decides in its wisdom, as I think it should, to start that group of folks on a pathway to citizenship, why does the clock have to reset? Why can we not simply say that they have been here for 10 years? We would still have to look at some time and there would be things to work out, and the other requirements would still hold. The language provisions would be there. In most cases, the workers speak one of the two official languages in this country, especially those who have been here for 10 or 20 or more years. We actually would not see any of that.

Clearly, there are opportunities here for some things that work, but there are some things that do not work. I am a passionate Canadian. My father used to call the family five-dollar Canadians. I always used to wonder why. One day, when I was a little older, I asked him why he called us five-dollar Canadians. He said it was because he paid $5 for our cards.

He did not mean that we were only worth $5 or that our citizenship was only worth $5. When we got our citizenship cards, in the 1970s, if we wished to get one with our picture on it, which was a great ID, it cost $5. That is all it cost to get that card. I still have it, albeit I look a little younger in that picture.

Ultimately, it is and always will be about being equal under the law, being equal not only under the law but equal amongst all Canadians. For folks like me who are dual citizens, we take this seriously. It is a personal piece. It is almost a personal affront. I know that was not the intention. It is about making sure that bad folks do not do bad things.

Unfortunately in life bad folks do bad things. That is why we have jails. We lock bad folks up for doing bad things. Why should we discriminate or decide to change the rules for one group versus another group? Why do we not just simply say bad folks are bad folks? If they deserve to go to jail for doing things that are criminal and heinous, we should send them to jail.

However, there is a process for that called “the rule of law”. I know the government always talks about law and order. Let us use the rule of law, in all cases, and apply it equally to all of us, so that for those of us who have dual citizenship, it ends up being what it is.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 9:15 p.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it was a promising beginning for the member opposite. There was some praise for the bill. Then, as we suspected, he repeated the criticisms of some of his colleagues, that there should not be grounds for revoking citizenship for dual nationals when we would be unable to do that for those with only one citizenship. The member then went on to make a more serious point, which was that those tried for and convicted of acts of terrorism, espionage, or treason in our country might not actually have received due process.

I thought I heard the member say that in some countries of the old Eastern bloc these were political charges, politically inspired, ideologically applied in a court system that was never just and that in our country sometimes there had been this kind of miscarriage of justice for those very serious crimes.

Could the member cite one case where someone has been prosecuted for the crimes of terrorism, espionage or treason in our country and the conviction has been unjust, overturned or not accepted in the eyes of the Canadian people?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 9:15 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister is right. I made somewhat of a convoluted statement. However, I was not suggesting that the court systems was wrong or that there was a miscarriage of justice in that they did not follow through with the proper procedure if people were charged with crimes of treason and did not get due process. They do.

Some of my constituents are suspicious when they hear that perhaps a minister of the Crown will have the authority to do something. They feel this is not necessarily due process, that somehow this is a slippery slope.

With all fairness to the minister, I was not accusing the government. Those passionate Canadians are dual citizens. When we say to them that the rules will be changed and the minister could have a certain authority, they want to know what that means. There is always that sense around things about how one sees it versus the reality.

Yes, if people are charged with treason, they go to court., they are found guilty and they should go to jail. Quite frankly, the key should be thrown away.

In my book, you're quite right to send them to jail if they are guilty. Take the keys and I will hide them in the bottom of the Welland canal for you. How is that?

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank my colleague for his speech about citizenship. His speech was very passionate. He obtained his citizenship when he was younger. I am not saying that he is no longer young, but that is a debate for another day.

I would like to come back to the fact that we must have a fair and equitable process if we really want to move forward with revocation of citizenship. Considering the importance of Canadian citizenship to Canadians, it is important that people follow a fair and equitable process and that the decision is not made by only one person or as a result of rather secret processes, something that we find hard to swallow. In the case of this bill, why is it so important?

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

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, having an open and transparent system ensures that the rule of law is not only done but is seen to be done. That is why we have a transparent legal system and a court system. That is the essence of it. It cannot be about secret tribunals hidden behind a curtain somewhere. This leads to suspicion that perhaps it has been unfair, and I used the word “perhaps”.

The issue becomes how we ensure everyone is treated equally. Presently, people do not get their citizenship revoked. In the case of a heinous crime it should be revoked, and no one dismisses that fact, but this would allow it to happen to those who have dual citizenship.

For those of us who do hold dual citizenship, whether we choose it or not, sometimes we just end up with it. We do not get a choice to say no, but quite often cannot revoke it. It seems that those of us who have it would be treated under a separate standard than those who perhaps would not have it. However, as I said earlier, if people commit heinous crimes, they should be sent to jail if they are found guilty, full stop.

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

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to this bill, which proposes significant amendments to the Citizenship Act and, as a result, to the lives of our immigrants.

I am particularly interested in this issue because there are many immigrants in my riding. There are also a lot of refugees, who also struggle to get citizenship, and I see that this bill will not make their lives earlier, even though they in no way deserve to be treated like this.

To provide some background, on February 6, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration introduced Bill C-24, which significantly amends Canadian immigration legislation.

The minister said that Bill C-24 represented the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977.

He went on to say:

[The bill] will protect the value of Canadian citizenship for those who have it while creating a faster and more efficient process for those applying to get it.

I doubt it. I have had a chance to carefully study this bill and I do not see a single change that will make the process faster and more efficient. This remains to be seen, but there is nothing concrete there.

Since March 2008, about 25 major changes have been made to immigration procedures, rules, laws and regulations. More and more changes have been made since the Conservatives won a majority, including the moratorium on sponsoring parents and grandparents. There have also been fewer family reunifications, which is very problematic. There is no point in elaborating on this because the expression “family reunification” is self-explanatory. I believe that in life we need to be with our family.

There is also the punishment imposed on vulnerable refugees. Do these people really need to be punished for crimes they did not necessarily commit? I doubt it. Then, there was an increase in the number of temporary foreign workers to meet the needs of large businesses, at the expense of many Canadian workers.

The significant changes made by the Conservatives to the Canadian immigration system did not improve the system's efficiency or fairness. Absolutely not. Some changes to the Citizenship Act proposed in this bill are long overdue. They address some flaws in the existing system and they should be mentioned. When our opponents do good work, we recognize it. We are not stupid.

However, certain clauses are changing the rules. They are totally unacceptable and, in my opinion and in my colleagues' opinion, they must be condemned. Before explaining the provisions that we will support and those that we will not support, I want to describe the changes proposed in the bill.

The bill gives the minister some major new powers, including the power to grant or revoke citizenship. It does not provide any real solutions to reduce the ever-increasing number of delays and the citizenship application processing wait times. It eliminates the use of the length of stay in Canada during a non-permanent residency. It bars individuals who have been convicted of what would constitute an indictable offence in Canada from acquiring citizenship. It includes a clause on the intention to reside in Canada. It increases residency requirements from three years out of four to four years out of six, and it specifies the requirements on physical presence in Canada before obtaining citizenship. It includes tougher sentences for fraud. It extends the granting of citizenship to lost Canadians. It provides an accelerated process to citizenship for Canadian Armed Forces personnel. It applies stricter rules to fraudulent immigration consultants. Also, applicants aged 14 to 64—it used to be 18 to 54—will now have to pass a test assessing their knowledge of French or English.

As I said earlier, we nevertheless support some provisions of this legislation. Other aspects raise a lot of concerns and must be condemned, such as the fact that Bill C-24 concentrates many powers in the hands of the minister, including the power to grant or revoke citizenship in the case of persons with dual citizenship.

I have often told the House that I am always uncomfortable when we give discretionary powers to ministers, because they are human. We all agree that they are not gods. These are very serious issues that should be examined by a committee made up of several individuals. Such issues, including the fate of political refugees, should not be in the hands of a single individual. It is unacceptable. Under the bill, the minister or an authorized official can revoke the citizenship if he is persuaded, on the balance of probabilities, that the person obtained citizenship by fraud.

Until now, these cases were usually referred to the courts. That will no longer be the case. However, these situations lend themselves to interpretation. A person suspected of fraud still has the right to a fair trial, like everyone else. In Canada, we are still innocent until proven guilty. That principle also applies to these individuals.

The minister may also revoke the citizenship of a person convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason, high treason or espionage; or the citizenship of a person sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment for a terrorism offence under 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.

This provision does not in any way distinguish between convictions for terrorism in a democratic country such as Canada, with a credible and reliable justice system, and convictions in undemocratic regimes whose justice systems may be corrupted. We should look at this issue. I am going to give the minister the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he did not think about it, but I doubt it. Still, it would be pertinent to review these issues.

Bill C-24 also does not provide any real solutions to reduce the ever-increasing number of delays and the citizenship application processing wait times. I have said it many times, but it is important. Except for eliminating go-betweens and granting the minister a discretionary power, nothing is done to reduce processing times.

In other words, the quality of the processing is reduced. An application can be botched or it can be properly dealt with. A person could end up not being granted citizenship because the minister is not in a good mood. That is a little far-fetched. As I said earlier, I always feel uncomfortable when discretionary powers are given to ministers.

The declaration of intent to reside in the country also poses a slight problem. The bill introduces a requirement whereby a person to whom the minister grants citizenship must intend to reside in Canada after obtaining citizenship. The government maintains that this requirement is designed to send the message that citizenship is reserved for people who want to live in Canada. The law that is currently in effect does not include a provision on the intent to reside in the country.

The president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Lorne Waldman, said that this amendment gives public servants the power to speculate on a citizenship applicant's intentions and then refuse them citizenship based on that speculation.

I would like to briefly quote what he had to say. I find it very interesting. He said:

The provision also holds out the implicit threat that if a naturalized Canadian citizen takes up a job somewhere else (as many Canadians do), or leaves Canada to study abroad (as many Canadians do), the government may move to strip the person of citizenship because they misrepresented their intention to reside in Canada when they were granted citizenship.

That is rather problematic. In the end, people are basically trapped in the country. That is not really fair. People should be given the freedom to choose where they want to live. If they are not happy in Canada but they want to keep their citizenship, they should be able to study or work abroad and have that experience. I do not see what the problem is with that, and I do not understand why the government would prevent people from having that sort of experience.

In closing, I will quote section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

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.

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

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her speech.

She mentioned a provision of Bill C-24 that concerns the declaration of intent to reside in Canada. It is quite obvious that this provision will be challenged in court. This was mentioned by one of the witnesses, who belongs to the Canadian Bar Association, because this provision is contrary to the free movement of people, which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What can our colleague tell us about potential court challenges?

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

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question.

As I mentioned in my speech, I find it very problematic that the government is depriving future citizens of experiences abroad that could be extremely interesting. That is something that could be challenged under the charter and that, in the end, could be unconstitutional.

I would like to say to the government that this is not the first time that their bills have ended up before the courts and have failed. That will be the case with the bill before us. The government should do its homework and try to introduce bills that adhere to our constitution and do not violate human rights. That would really be something.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:35 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member opposite is simple. Bill C-24 would actually allow for a lot of flexibility for people to be able to move around if they need to leave the country. They would need to have been in Canada for four of the last six years, in accordance with provisions in the bill. That would allow for up to two years for someone to be flexible and move around.

It is not the government that wants the intent to reside to be a key element in the bill; it is Canadians who are telling us to put it in there. Canadians have worked all of their lives, as have those who are naturalized and work hard here in Canada to contribute to our nation. We think that it is only reasonable to expect people who want to have the benefits of Canadian citizenship to have the intention to reside in this country.

That is what citizenship is. It is someone who wants to live in the country and be a part of Canadian society. They have the intent to live here and actually be present in this country. I do not understand why the member feels it is asking a little bit too much of people who aspire to get Canadian citizenship to abide by what Canadians themselves are doing by being citizens.

The member is a Canadian. Does she not feel that it is important for those people who have the same benefits and rights that she has in this country to live in this country or intend to live in this country before they get the privilege, not the right, of Canadian citizenship?

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:35 p.m.
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NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I totally disagree with my colleague. In fact, I was born in Canada. I am not an immigrant, however I know many immigrants and political refugees. There are a number of communities in my riding, and I do not see why we would deprive those people of some great school or work experiences by forcing them to remain in Canada if they become Canadian citizens. That makes absolutely no sense to me.

I do not see why that is so important. I do not understand that and I find it somewhat stupid.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:35 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-24, particularly in light of the fact that later this week, on Friday, I will be at a citizenship ceremony in Thunder Bay. I try to get to as many as I can. I have not been to all of them, of course, but I will be there.

A citizenship ceremony is a wondrous thing. It is filled with people who have worked long and hard and who have spent a lot of time, and in many cases a lot of money, to get to where they are at that citizenship ceremony. One thing that really stands out above all at a citizenship ceremony, as I know my colleagues will agree, is that it is clear from looking at the faces of these new Canadians that Canadian citizenship is something of enormous value. For everyone who is becoming a new Canadian on Friday, with their families, friends, and relatives in attendance, Canadian citizenship is really something that is an apex for many people in their lives at this point.

Unfortunately, with Bill C-24 and with many other things the government does, we see an approach that plays politics with the issue. We have seen that a lot with the government. I would like to take my time today to speak about the good—because there is some good that I can certainly agree with—the bad, and in some cases, the ugly in the bill. I will try to use my time wisely.

First, as a little background, we were hoping that the minister would commit to working with the NDP to bring real improvements to our citizenship laws. Instead, he opted to go on with a bill that in many cases is likely to be unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the committee rejected every one of our proposed amendments to the bill, amendments that perhaps could have made it good and good, instead of good and bad.

Canadians expect us to collaborate in this place and come up with absolutely the best bills possible for the benefit of all Canadians. However, since the 2011 election we have not seen that. We have not seen the collaboration that Canadians expect in this place.

Now, here is a bill that will likely be passed. It is a majority government. The Conservatives were not willing to listen to any amendments. On top of everything else, they do not care if it is challenged in the courts. They just want to go right ahead and do it and let someone else worry about it. That is not what Canadians expect us to do in this place.

Let me speak about some of the provisions that I just cannot agree with and some that I can. Let me start with the ones that I cannot.

Bill C-24 gives the minister many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. It should not be the job of the minister of citizenship and immigration to make these kinds of judgments. Before it was done by Governor in Council, by cabinet. It was done by a larger group of people. At one time, up until now, a judge would be involved. The judge would have to make some details known and make a determination of some kind. However, this government has a very strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates more powers into the hands of ministers.

Needless to say, we condemn this practice. We do not trust the Conservatives, and by giving a minister new powers, we open the door to arbitrary and politically motivated decisions. The very idea of giving the minister, by himself, the power to revoke citizenship raises serious concerns, and it is on this principle that we can talk about this issue.

Another problem with revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens is that it would create two-tier citizenship, where some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked while others would be punished by the criminal justice system for the same offence.

Let me talk about how the minister, under the provisions of the bill, could revoke citizenship. If he or any staffer he authorizes is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that a person has obtained citizenship by fraud, until now such cases have all typically gone through the courts and cabinet, but that will not be the case anymore.

A person could be convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code, and these are serious offences, such as treason, high treason, or spying, or of an offence outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute a terrorism offence, for example, as defined in that section, or sentenced to five years imprisonment.

We cannot rely on justice systems outside of this country. We have a justice system in Canada that we believe is fair, honest, and decent, but frankly, some countries in the world do not have the same kind of justice system we have. To base the revocation of citizenship on something that may have happened in another country, and I will go into more detail about that later, does not make any sense at all.

The minister would have the authority under the bill to grant citizenship. At present, and I think I mentioned this before, it rests with the Governor in Council, which is the cabinet. Bill C-24 would transfer this power directly to the minister. This measure was introduced by the minister as a means of improving services for applicants by simplifying and speeding up the process. Specifically, the measure raises concerns, because the minister has indicated that the list of persons to whom he would grant citizenship would not be disclosed. Once again, we see the government's lack of transparency, and that should raise red flags. It certainly does with us, and it certainly does with the third party, and it should with all Canadians.

Bill C-24 provides no real solution to reducing the growing backlog and citizenship application processing delays. There has been some money allotted in the last two budgets to help speed up the process, but the fact remains that there are 320,000 applications still waiting to be dealt with.

Let me go back very quickly to Friday when I will be at the citizenship ceremony. The people who are becoming new Canadians this Friday in Thunder Bay are very fortunate and very, very lucky, because 320,000 people are still waiting to have their applications dealt with.

I do not want to belabour this point, because some other speakers have talked about it, but it is about the declaration of the intent to reside. The bill would introduce a requirement that if granted citizenship, a person would intend to continue to reside in Canada. I do not know what the government would do if a person became a Canadian citizen and then received a job overseas and was gone for two years working in another country and was not actually resident here in Canada. It is not addressed in the bill, and it is going to be a problem.

The bill would prohibit the granting of citizenship to persons who have been charged outside of Canada with an offence that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence. Again, we would have the minister, who would be the sole arbiter now, if the bill were passed, of who could stay in Canada and who could not stay in Canada, which would depend partly on the justice systems of other countries. In other words, a person convicted of practising homosexuality in another country, and we know that there are many countries where this is illegal, would be prohibited from becoming a citizen of Canada. That just does not make any sense.

I see I have three minutes left, so I will try to be very quick here. There are some provisions we can support.

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

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I will forego some of the things we do like. I know I have a question or two from the other side. I would just ask the other side if someone is going to stand and explain to us how it is that his or her government feels that it is acceptable to bypass judicial due process in revoking citizenship. I would like someone to explain that to me.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:45 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech and congratulate him in advance for attending the citizenship ceremony in his riding this Friday. It is an emotional time for a lot of people, and it is certainly rewarding for us to see the bestowing of citizenship on new Canadians. I wish him the very best of luck with that experience on Friday.

Unfortunately, the member's speech was fraught with a lot of inaccuracies, one of which was the fact that the minister will be the ultimate decision-maker. If the member has a good read of the bill, he will see that there is provision in the bill for an appeal to the Federal Court. Of course, the Federal Court is not controlled, managed, or influenced by the minister.

My question to the member opposite, who I happen to have a lot of respect for, is simply this. He mentioned the possibility of someone convicted of an act of homosexuality in another country being able to lose their citizenship in Canada. Does he not realize that the bill speaks to an equivalent crime, something that would be a crime in Canada as well, before he or she would lose his or her citizenship? The example he stated is absolutely false and would not happen.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:50 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must apologize for wanting to take a little more time, but there is a lot to say about this bill.

The preface to the member's question was interesting. He is a member I have a lot of respect for. We work together and have had a number of chats. Why would the Conservatives introduce a bill that they know would be challenged? There is a provision to go to the appeal court and so forth. Why even introduce a bill that they know would be challenged in court? One of the things I mentioned is that there is a real possibility that this would be found unconstitutional and would go to higher courts to be appealed. It just does not make any sense.

I used that example in the question my friend had. However, there are situations in other countries where something could be considered aggravated assault but really was not. Perhaps that person was living in a country where he had to defend himself. There are so many instances, it just does not make any sense.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:50 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier today in debates we heard the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration say that he did not understand why members of the opposition parties were not prepared to accept the advice of the Department of Justice lawyers and were instead relying on advice from numerous jurists as well as the Canadian Bar Association.

The difficulty I have, as a former practising lawyer and a member of the Canadian Bar Association, is that I have not seen the advice from the Department of Justice. I do not know that the advice from the Department of Justice has not included that which any lawyer, I believe, familiar with the charter, would raise as a concern. The bill violates the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Does the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River think we can press the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Minister of Justice to have presented to this chamber the so-called advice from the Department of Justice?

Over and over, these bills passed by the Conservative majority are being defeated in the Supreme Court of Canada. I want to know what the advice is from the Department of Justice.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:50 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, not being transparent in the bill, as with just about every other bill the Conservative government puts forward, is a hallmark, a trademark, of the current government. Even in the situation where the minister grants automatic citizenship, he does not have to provide a list. He does not have to name who these people are. He does not have to provide that kind of information.

There were 29 individuals who spoke on Bill C-24 in committee, and the vast majority, to varying degrees, were opposed to the bill. It has all kinds of problems.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:55 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. I will say a couple of things at the outset.

First, with regard to the question that was just asked, that point is worth underscoring. Traditionally, laws are passed here in good faith. There is a requirement to check to make sure that they are constitutional. If advice is given that they are constitutional, then they proceed. In the rarest of cases, there are occasions when a law is challenged in the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court. It would be big news if the Supreme Court ruled against a piece of government legislation not only because it was a big deal but mostly because it happened rarely.

Now we seem to have a system where the government really does not care about the appropriateness of a bill. I believe this is true. It does not care about whether it is building the right kind of legal infrastructure that a modern democracy like Canada should have. It does its polling, focus groups, decides what the hot button issues are, and how it can turn those into some policies that it can make into laws. If it happens to be unconstitutional, so what, and besides, it will go to the Supreme Court and it will fix it, for anybody in the cabinet who has that kind of a conscientious moment.

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June 9th, 2014 / 9:55 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

That's true, Mr. Speaker. The government House leader just responded to me and said, “Nobody heckles louder than you”, and he is right. I give him that. It is the first time I have agreed with the government House leader in I cannot remember how many months. However, that is not the point.

The point is that the government sends these things to the Supreme Court. In this case, it is also hoping that it will take longer than the next election cycle so that it does not become a nuisance during any kind of election campaign. What is really interesting and is the great big question here is how the government believes that it can be consistent when it recognizes that the Supreme Court has the right to pass judgment on these laws and yet when it does, oftentimes what we hear from the government and other right wingers is, “We have an activist court again. There are the courts going beyond their mandate, there they are making laws rather than interpreting them.”

We mostly hear that in the U.S., but we hear an echo of it here in the chamber when it suits the government's purposes. It needs to be said that this is another case. There are serious issues, politics aside. I am not a lawyer, but those who are and who have a reputation that they care about when they speak publicly are saying that this has some real constitutional questions. I am underscoring from the get-go that is not unusual with the current government. It really does not care about that part of the process at all. In fact, we know how it feels about any entity that presumes to have more power than it does, or more authority. Look at what happened to the chief justice of the Supreme Court recently because the Prime Minister got into a bit of a snit over a recent decision by the Supreme Court.

For the rest of us in Canada, all we can say is thank God the court is there and thank God that so far it still is the body that Canadians have come to rely on to be their absolute final line of defence in terms of defending their rights in this country. However, make no mistake, if it had the opportunity in any way to change that and bring the Supreme Court under its thumb, where it wants everybody and everything else in Canada to be, it would do it in a blink.

I do not know how much it has been talked about, but the fact that this is retroactive is always worrisome. Also, that is a rarity. It is certainly not the regular course of events where legislation is made retroactive, and yet this one is.

The question mark at least has to be raised, what cases have the Conservatives got in mind that are not currently out there, where individuals may not even know they have a problem, but there is trouble coming. We do not know, and what is more worrisome is that some of the new powers the minister has, he or she does not have to divulge to the public. It is not necessary put in as secrets with CSIS, but the Conservatives certainly are not going out of their way in any way, shape, or form to publicize, be transparent about, and account for the power they are giving themselves.

This is all so very troublesome. Having been around here enough, when we start seeing retroactive, people who thought their legal matters were over and done with should be paying a little extra attention. The feds could be coming when individuals thought they were already through whatever system they were involved in.

I have to say that I am rather shocked, and we say this about every wrong thing the government does, but I really am shocked that there is not a greater outrage. I have heard colleagues talk about how much they enjoy speaking at the citizenship ceremonies, and I do too. They are one of the best events that we could attend, because at that very moment, happening right in front of us, ordinary people of the planet suddenly, in a blink, become Canadian citizens. Anybody who has ever attended knows the magical moment when these individuals go from being non-Canadian to Canadian.

I am sure I am not the only one who says, during all those speeches when we are given a chance to say how proud we are of our new citizens, “welcome to the family of Canadians”. They are in, they have made it, they are Canadians, and unless they have fraudulently made their way there, and there are processes and procedures as there should be to go after people who fraudulently make themselves Canadian citizens, it is fair game.

When we start going beyond that, we say to people, “You are a Canadian, mostly. You have this big bag of rights over here and the charter, but one minor little technicality, a little catch in terms of your citizenship versus my citizenship, and that is, yours can be taken away.”

This is Canada. The rest of that story does not matter. If they have done something absolutely horrible to humanity, we have laws to deal with that just the same as if it were one of us who were born here. That is the whole idea of citizenship: we are equal. We do not stand before a judge and say, “Madam Justice, I have to admit to being a dual citizen, so you have to bring out the other book of rules for Canadians, because I am not in that first tier of Canadians. I am in the second tier, the one where you can take away my citizenship”.

This is so wrong. It is so un-Canadian, and I have not even gotten to all the stuff about what the minister can and cannot do without having to be transparent. I have touched on it, but it is, I cannot think of a better word, ugly. It is ugly in terms of what it does.

I agree with my colleague, there is so much to be said about this, but of course, we will respect the rules. However, I have to say this is wrong. In my opinion it is un-Canadian. That is not what it means to be a Canadian citizen with a string attached, where we can pull the string back whenever we want if we do not like an individual's actions.

No, that is not right. We stand before the court and before our justice system as equals where nothing is supposed to taint the decision, nothing.

Yet in this case, we would have a law where people can be punished by having their citizenship taken away, but it could not be done to someone who was born here. It is wrong, it is un-Canadian, and we can only hope that, since the government will pass this, our precious Supreme Court of Canada does step in and deem that this is outside the Constitution and that this would not become the law, but if it does we will get a new government—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent speech, which was passionate as usual. This time, he spoke about Canadian citizenship, a subject that all of us are even more passionate about. He clearly explained how the system would create two classes of citizens that do not have equal standing. I do not think that I have to ask him a question that deals specifically with that issue because he already talked a lot about it.

My question deals with the false measures that the government put in this bill to deal with the wait times that have been getting longer and longer over the past decade. It now takes 31 months for an application to be processed. The government says that it wants to address the wait times, but those wait times have more than doubled since this government came to power.

Does my colleague think that it is important to worry about wait times, given how important Canadian citizenship is to all residents here in Canada? Why do we need to continue to reduce wait times, rather than continue to extend them, as this government is doing?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who, of course, is the youngest person ever elected to this place, an historic figure, very cool.

When I listened to the question, I immediately started to think about a detailed answer, but it struck me that back in the bad old days of the Mike Harris government in Ontario, the education minister was actually recorded saying that the government was looking to create a crisis in the education system so it could fix it. Create a crisis that does not exist, tell everybody, “Look at this mess, it is falling apart”, much like the length of time they are talking about, saying “Oh look how awful this is, and we are going to solve it, we will step in”.

Then the solutions they provided were much worse than the circumstance and even worse than the crisis they had generated. However, that is how they did it. They created a crisis and told everybody, “See it is not working, we have to fix it”. They call the horrible thing they do “the fix”. That is an easy storyline to follow and it is very difficult to counter that, to get people to focus long enough to understand that they have artificially created this problem and it gives them the opportunity to say, “Here is the solution”, which of course is something they could not have done if they did not have the crisis in front of them.

It is not surprising that a number of the front-line cabinet ministers are from the Mike Harris government. It is not surprising that the former chief of staff to the Prime Minister used to be the chief of staff to Mike Harris.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:05 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I too listened to that passionate speech from the member opposite, and I was quite surprised at a couple of his comments, particularly that it seems to be a continuation of the NDP attack on this bill to keep saying “two tiers of citizenship”, as if there are two tiers of citizenship somewhere inherent in this bill. What the member is referring to is those people who are dual nationals and have a benefit of being a citizen of another country as well, and that Canadians who do not have the dual nationality do not have those benefits.

However, I want to bring something to the member's attention. I am going to point him to the oath that people take when they come here from another country and they lawfully go through the process and finally get to the citizenship ceremony, and then here is what they say, “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen”.

Does the member not think that if individuals perpetrate an act of terror or treason against Canadians and Canada that it is in direct violation of the oath that they took when they came to this country and said, “I want to choose Canada as my country; I am making this oath but I am going to be unfaithful and untruthful because after I make this oath I am going to perpetrate treason and I am going to do terror against my country, Canada”, those people should lose their Canadian citizenship? That—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:10 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, you know what a challenge that is in that short period of time, so between us we will do our best, and you will win.

I want to respond by taking on the member directly and saying that it is two-tiered citizenship. That is what my whole speech was about. When we have those ceremonies, we welcome people to the family and tell them that they are Canadian. Now, if they violate any law, like anybody else they will be held to account, and if the crimes are serious enough, they are probably going to do some time. That is the same for everybody.

However, one thing that does not happen to a Canadian citizen who is born here is that their citizenship is threatened. This takes that principle and shreds it. That is wrong. It is not Canadian. It is not the way we do things. It needs to be changed back.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought there was a law that said that the hon. member for Hamilton Centre always has to speak last. With all the energy he has, there is a different atmosphere in the House after he speaks. I would like to recognize the excellent work that he does and the excellent speech that he gave just before me.

Today, I am rising to speak to Bill C-24, which was introduced at first reading on February 6. According to the minister, this bill is very important, but it was all but forgotten after February 27. The media spoke about it a little bit, but it was not debated again until May 29. The government did not put this bill back on the House's agenda for many months.

It is also important to note that the committee began studying this bill before the end of second reading. This is a 50-page citizenship reform bill that has been needed for nearly 30 years. It was touted and heralded and did not even go through normal House procedures. We debated it for one hour and then it was shelved. Then, all of a sudden, we were forced to study it in committee before second reading had even finished.

This approach will have a negative impact on experts and people in general. It will prevent them from having an opportunity to study the bill, testify before the committee and contribute to the study of this bill. Many people have talked to me about this in my riding. They wanted to know how they could contribute to the study of Bill C-24 with their analysis and their expertise. Unfortunately, we have had to tell them that it is already too late. The usual procedures went out the window. Experts and individuals were not able to contribute because the government rushed the committee's work and because we were not allowed to have a normal debate in the House.

The NDP wanted to call more witnesses but our requests were denied. The NDP put forward a number of amendments in committee. The Conservative committee members rejected our amendments. Then debate resumed in the House. A week later, it was report stage. The Conservatives rushed the committee's clause-by-clause study. Because a reasonable study was not done, we have before us today a poorly written, botched bill.

The NDP wanted to remove several clauses or at least study them in depth. Many experts and individuals are concerned about these clauses. The government rejected all of the amendments proposed by the experts who appeared and by the opposition.

One of the problematic measures is that Bill C-24 places a lot of power in the minister's hands. This is an unfortunate trend we have seen across many different bills. One of these powers is the power to grant citizenship to dual nationals or revoke it from them.

The government has a marked tendency to create laws that concentrate power in ministers' hands, which is something the NDP does not support. We cannot and will not trust it, and by giving a minister new powers, we are exposing ourselves to the possibility that the minister could make arbitrary, politically motivated decisions. It will be sad if that is how things turn out. That is what is happening in other countries, and it is bad for democracy. I truly hope it will not come to that.

The very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke citizenship raises serious questions. Canadian law already includes mechanisms to punish people who commit illegal acts, so why would the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration need to make that type of decision? The minister could revoke citizenship when he, or one of his authorized employees “is satisfied on a balance of probabilities” that the person has fraudulently obtained citizenship.

Until now, these issues were generally sent before the courts and cabinet. This element poses serious problems in that the minister would have the power to revoke citizenship based on suspicion, without an independent court ruling on whether or not the accusations are true.

In the United States, the government may file a civil suit to revoke an individual's citizenship if it was obtained illegally, if the individual concealed information that was relevant to eligibility for citizenship or if the individual made false statements. In that situation, the individual in question has the legal right to refer the matter to the courts. Every ruling can be appealed, and the individual is guaranteed due process. However, here the government wants the minister to have the right to veto.

The minister could 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 someone who was 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.

The problem is that this measure makes absolutely no distinction between a terrorism conviction handed down in a democratic country with a credible and reliable justice system and a conviction in an undemocratic regime where the justice system could very well be corrupt or beholden to political interests. This revocation process can be used without the Federal Court ever seeing the file. In addition, the measure is retroactive.

What is more, candidates between the ages of 14 and 64, instead of 18 and 54, will now have to pass the test that determines their knowledge of French or English. A 14-year-old child belongs with his parents. Denying him citizenship on the grounds that he still has not mastered either official language is questionable. In this case, family reunification is paramount and that child is young enough that he has enough time ahead of him to learn one language or even both. Again, a 14-year-old child belongs with his parents.

Last but not least, this bill could be subject to constitutional challenges. The use of revocation of citizenship as a legal consequence for dual citizens could, in some circumstances, be inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Revoking the citizenship of those found guilty of treason and terrorism by a Canadian or foreign court could be perceived as a punitive measure imposed in addition to other criminal sentences.

Among other problems, treating people with dual citizenship differently by exposing them to the possible loss of their citizenship creates a double standard and raises major constitutional questions, particularly under section 15 of the charter. This section states that everyone 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.

Section 11 of the charter could also be invoked in cases of revocation of citizenship, when the legislation is not about revocation for fraud, but rather imposes a punishment after the fact. If the revocation is perceived by the courts as an additional punishment for crimes, then it is even more likely that the accused will point to the key elements of section 11, including the presumption of innocence and the right to be heard by an independent and impartial tribunal, which are fundamental rights in our country.

Increasing the government's powers to revoke citizenship causes not only moral problems, but also constitutional problems, which might occur because of this bill.

The government is doing away with the process of passing a bill in the House at first reading, at second reading, in committee and at third reading.

Then it moves a time allocation motion to limit our debate in the House. That shows utter contempt for our parliamentary institutions. We have a duty to make excellent laws for our constituents, and I think this Conservative government should keep that in mind.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2014 / 10:20 p.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative