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.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 10:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the member for Willowdale says the government is open to certain additional changes, but I agree with my friend from Vancouver East. We had every reason to hope that there would be more in Bill C-6 to undo the damage of Bill C-24.

I certainly will support the bill. I am grateful the amendments were made by the Senate. It improved the bill over what left this place to go to the other place.

As we continue to try to repair the damage done by the previous government, can we do more to address the issue for refugees, particularly those who are facing deportation? I asked the hon. minister this question and he said that there were adequate means for people to protest and to appeal. I have not found them adequate. People who pose no threat to Canada are being deported and do not have an adequate opportunity to defend themselves or stay in our country.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 9:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would advise the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam.

It brings me great joy to rise again before the House to discuss Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act. Bill C-6 represents not only the realization of a fundamental Liberal campaign promise and a signature achievement of our government, but also serves as a powerful articulation of Canadian identity and a reaffirmation of the various benefits of diversity.

Before I continue, I would be remiss if I did not thank both the former minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, the Hon. and, I might add, tireless John McCallum, for his hard work on this file, as well as the steady leadership of his successor as minister, my hon. friend and colleague from York South—Weston.

I would also like to commence by thanking my former colleagues on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for their work on the legislation, as well as the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for providing sober second thought to the bill. Having had the honour of being involved in the committee study of the bill as it was originally conceived in the House before it was sent to the Senate in June last year, I am deeply aware of how important the bill is to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

In fact, since being elected in October of 2015, few, if any, issues have resonated with my constituents in Willowdale as powerfully as the need to modernize our immigration system and to repeal and repudiate the most odious changes to our immigration system brought in by the previous government. Whether knocking on doors or in ongoing conversations with constituents, my staff and I have consistently heard the same refrain. Bill C-6 represents a welcome change in policy and tone for Canadians and their families. If any concerns have been expressed, it is the delay that people have experienced in seeing the enactment of Bill C-6.

As an immigrant to this country, I am profoundly sympathetic to this inclination. I understand what Canadian citizenship means, both here and abroad, to generations of families who have come to this great country seeking a better future. As someone who had the great privilege to arrive in this country in my teens, I certainly fully appreciate and would never take for granted the significance of immigration as a lifeline to our future well-being and prosperity.

I can also confidently say that the love of country one has for a place where we were not born but which has nonetheless given us all the opportunities in the world is very different than the affinity one feels for the nation of one's birth. Naturalization occupies a cherished place in one's heart that is neither blinded by history nor blood, but instead by one of deep gratitude. I have both admired Canada from afar and also lived to enjoy its greatest blessings: its educational system, its esteemed place in the world, its deep respect for all persons, its quiet dignity, and of course our spirited people. I recognize the noble value in Canadian citizenship and I am proud of our government's assiduous efforts to restore and reaffirm the bedrock values upon which Canadian citizenship is based.

In its original form, Bill C-6 aimed to accomplish four key objectives: first, to remove the grounds for the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security; second, to remove the requirement that an applicant intend, if granted citizenship, to continue to reside in Canada; third, to reduce the number of days during which a person must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship; and fourth, to return the requirement to demonstrate knowledge of Canada and of one of its official languages to applicants between the ages of 18 and 54.

In doing so, Bill C-6 repeals or amends the most misguided elements of the Conservative Party's Bill C-24 and establishes a more effective, robust, modern, and just pathway to citizenship. This is not, in other words, a radical departure from established laws and customs, but rather a return to sensible policies following the excesses of Bill C-24.

I would like to briefly examine these four key objectives before examining the amendments before us. First is that it removes the grounds for the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security.

The most crucial element of Bill C-6, I believe, is that it revokes the unprecedented ability, granted through Bill C-24, of the Canadian government to strip its own citizens of fundamental rights, namely the rights to inalienable citizenship and equal protection under the law.

In rejecting a two-tiered approach to Canadian citizenship, Bill C-6 would bring government policy in line with the recommendations of a litany of stakeholders who condemned the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and undue nature of Bill C-24. This includes the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Layers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and many leading academics, journalists, and civic leaders.

The second question relates to removing the requirement that an applicant intend, if granted citizenship, to continue to reside in Canada.

Further among its many ill-conceived statutes, Bill C-24 also stated that adult applicants had to declare on their citizenship applications that they intended to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. The provisions created concern among new Canadians, who feared their citizenship could be revoked in the future if they moved outside of Canada.

By way of example, Canadians whose work required them to live abroad for extended periods felt that their declaration of an intent to reside could negatively affect their international mobility and, by extension, their ability to work abroad.

Within the current context of our open and global economy, this would place Canada at a serious competitive disadvantage. Rather than disincentivizing engaged global citizens from seeking Canadian citizenship, Bill C-6 instead supports the government's goal of making it easier for immigrants to build successful lives within Canada, reunite with their families, and contribute to the economic success and well-being of our country.

I will now move to the various amendments that were suggested. The legislation before us today has, of course, been further modified by several amendments put forth at the Senate committee stage. I would like to use my remaining time to briefly address these amendments.

There are three proposed amendments before us today. One is an amendment to change the citizenship revocation model. The second is an amendment allowing minors to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent. The third would change the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements to 59 years.

After careful assessment and consideration, our government agrees with two of the three amendments adopted in the Senate, as they support our commitment to remove unnecessary barriers to citizenship, make citizenship more accessible to the more vulnerable, and enhance procedural fairness in the citizenship revocation process.

With respect to the proposed model to have the federal court act as a decision-maker on most citizenship revocation cases in which citizenship was acquired fraudulently, allow me to reiterate that ever since the current decision-making model came into effect in 2015, the minister has been the decision-maker on most cases involving fraud and misrepresentation, while the Federal Court has been the decision-maker on more serious cases involving fraud related to security, human or international rights violations, and organized criminality.

Under the Senate's proposed model, all individuals facing revocation of citizenship would have the right to request that their case be referred to the Federal Court for a decision regarding revocation on grounds of fraud or misrepresentation.

In cases in which an individual refers their case to the court, the minister's role would be to bring an action in the court to seek a declaration that the person obtained citizenship by false representation, by fraud, or by knowingly concealing material circumstances. It would then be up to the court to make the final decision.

The government has considered this amendment carefully and is supporting this new decision-making model, but with some key changes. The government believes that the minister's authority should be limited to revocation cases that the individual does not wish to have referred to the Federal Court.

Our government also supports, with modifications, the Senate amendment allowing minors to apply for citizenship without a Canadian parent.

Our government must respectfully disagree with the proposed Senate amendment to change the upper limit for language and knowledge requirements.

As mentioned previously, the language and knowledge requirements brought about via Bill C-24 were seemingly imposed at random, and this side has yet to see a compelling argument for this amendment.

The government has considered these proposed amendments very seriously and has accepted some key proposals regarding a new decision-making process for the revocation of citizenship.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 9:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, these amendments should have been in Bill C-6 to begin with. They were not.

These amendments were amendments that I brought to committee. Then they failed at committee. Then I had to go and lobby the senators to make these changes. I am glad that worked, and that they brought these changes back. I am glad that the government is going to accept what the senators are bringing forward.

I support Senator Omidvar and her work, because I met with her about it and urged her to take action. She did, and I am delighted to know that. I am delighted that Senator Oh took up my amendment on the issue around minors.

I wish there were senators who would have taken up more of the amendments I tabled at committee that failed. I know they did not, but given that this is where it is, I will accept what is here before us and will support the bill. This has been our position right from the beginning, that we needed to repeal Bill C-24. I wish the government had done that. If the government had done that, we would not even be here having this debate right now.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak in this important debate.

It has been almost a year and half since Bill C-6 was introduced in the House of Commons. The bill was sent to the Senate on June 17, 2016, and it has now finally made its way back to the House from the Senate, where it was held up for more than a year. Many people in our communities have been waiting anxiously for this legislation to be passed and to come into effect.

Members may recall that when he was on the campaign trail, the Prime Minister promised Canadians, particularly those in the ethnic community, that he would repeal the Conservatives' Bill C-24. Like so many Liberal promises, that did not happen. Instead, the government introduced Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.

On February 25, 2016, Bill C-6 was first introduced in the House. About a month later, on March 21, 2016, it passed second reading and was referred to committee. Bill C-6 was then sent back to the House for third reading. It passed third reading and was sent to the Senate on June 17, 2016.

I should note that no amendments were made during second reading or at committee stage at the Senate, but three amendments were made during third reading.

The first amendment included providing a pathway to citizenship for minors. This was similar to the amendment that I proposed at committee, and I am glad to hear that the Conservative member and the government members now support it. At committee, though, government members certainly did not support it.

Another amendment proposed providing judicial appeal for citizenship revocation for fraud and misrepresentation. This amendment is similar in principle to my amendment to provide due process for these cases, but differs in the procedure. I support this amendment. Due process being restored has been a long time coming for those who face citizenship revocation.

The third amendment has to do with increasing the age of individuals who must pass a language test to 60. This Senate amendment I do not support.

In reviewing the process that we have embarked on with Bill C-6 to arrive at where we are today, let me point out that at committee I tabled 24 amendments on a range of topics. Two out of those 24 amendments were passed at committee. They included changes in two areas.

First, a statelessness provision would provide the minister with the authority to intervene in cases that would cause a person to become stateless and provide him or her with status based on humanitarian and compassionate factors. I was pleased that amendment passed.

The second amendment that also passed was with respect to disability rights. My amendment would ensure that the Citizenship Act adhered to Canadian human rights laws and regulations around reasonable accommodation for those with disabilities. I am pleased that this amendment also passed.

While I am happy that these amendments were supported at committee, there were many that were not. One set of amendments that I had hoped would be adopted at committee would have ensured that there would be judicial fairness and due process again for those faced with citizenship revocation. As members may be aware, the Conservatives' Bill C-24 fundamentally altered the process for revoking citizenship.

The process in place before Bill C-24 involved three steps. The first was a report under Section 10 of the Citizenship Act that the minister was satisfied a person obtained citizenship fraudulently. Second, once notified of the report, the person could request that the matter be referred to the Federal Court for a hearing. Third, if the Federal Court made the finding requested by the minister, citizenship could be revoked by the Governor in Council, which could consider equitable factors.

The Conservatives' Bill C-24 eliminated the Federal Court hearing process. The minister now decides on revocation with no requirement for a hearing, and this is wrong.

As pointed out by the Canadian Bar Association:

Bill C-24 also eliminated consideration of equitable factors that could prevent a legal, but unjust, outcome. Before then, the Governor in Council could consider equitable factors when deciding whether to revoke citizenship. This is no longer possible.

The BC Civil Liberties Association also challenged this, and stated:

In our submission, the government should repeal the procedural changes made to the Citizenship Act by Bill C-24 and restore individuals’ right to a fair hearing before an independent judicial decision-maker who can take humanitarian and compassionate considerations into account in making their decision.

There is no question that this needs to be rectified.

Perhaps the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers put it best when it said:

A permanent resident subject to deportation for misrepresentation has a right to both a hearing and an equitable appeal. Yet a Canadian citizen whose citizenship is to be revoked has no such rights. These provisions are currently being subject to a legal challenge—

I will diverge from the quote to say that a decision has been made by the courts, and the BC Civil Liberties Association, which took this matter to court, won.

These provisions are currently being subject to a legal challenge in the Federal Court as being inconsistent with the Charter of Rights. There is no reason why the new government should support these reforms which deny citizens a fair hearing. Indeed, while in opposition Liberal Members of Parliament opposed these very provisions.

The amendments that I proposed at committee were based on a system put forward by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, known as the CARL system, supported by experts and stakeholders that use the IRB. Prior to Bill C-24, individuals could appeal to the Federal Court. Because of the cost, duration, and lack of availability of the courts, this has been called an inefficient system by some experts.

The Immigration Appeal Division currently undertakes similar appeals and reviews of decisions for statuses such as permanent residence. For that reason, this board is adequately situated to handle citizenship cases as well, and can handle them more efficiently than the Federal Court system. My amendments would have instituted this policy as well, which is what I proposed. The aim was to restore the consideration of humanitarian and compassionate grounds as well as put forward a system of appeal that is more efficient and cheaper for taxpayers. Sadly, these amendments were not supported at committee, as they were deemed to be out of scope.

Former minister of immigration John McCallum acknowledged that this needed to be fixed. Many of us in the community were led to believe that this would be done. However, no action was taken. When the government failed to address the issue, the BC Civil Liberties Association challenged the government in court on this fundamental violation of people's right to due process and won. There is no question that this needs to be fixed, and finally, here we are.

The matter was then pushed over to the Senate. That is exactly what happened. The government did not introduce a bill in the House to fix the problem, so it was pushed over to the Senate for the Senate to deal with. I lobbied a number of different senators on the need to address this issue and I am glad to see that Senator Omidvar agreed to champion the cause. Now, after more than a year, I am happy to see that the Senate has attempted to rectify this huge gap in our Citizenship Act with its amendment, and today the government motion before us indicates that this amendment will essentially be accepted.

With this Senate amendment, individuals will have the right to a judicial hearing, and humanitarian and compassionate considerations related to the person, particularly in situations where the best interests of a child are directly affected, will be considered, although the government's motion uses different terminology. Instead of humanitarian and compassionate considerations, the government's motion uses “any consideration respecting his or her personal circumstances”. At the end, the effect, I believe, is the same. Therefore, the NDP supports this amendment.

I would like to point out that there seems to be some suggestion from my friends on the Conservative side that having an appeal process in place would incite people to somehow defraud the system and misrepresent their applications. I will take a moment to respond to that, because that is simply absurd. People do not think that because there is an appeal process, they will think about how to defraud the system or misrepresent their cases. That is absolutely not how people operate.

We need to have due process in place to ensure we do not presume people are guilty before they make a final decision. By the way, there are situations where a case could well have gone awry from the officials, that they might have received misinformation about a particular application. It is absolutely essential in a democratic society for an individual to be able to challenge the alleged misrepresentation against them. Allowing the appeal process to be restored will do exactly that.

In addition, the government motion also added the provision whereby an individual could request that his or her case be heard by the minister. That is to say that an individual would have the option of having the matter referred to federal court or be heard by the minister.

As the government motion allows for this to be a choice, the NDP will support this change as well. If it said that it would be up to the minister to make that decision, we would not have supported it. People should have the right to choose an independent judiciary to make that decision. However, since this is not what the government has proposed, I will support the option to allow for the individual to make that choice.

The truth is that the Harper government should never have taken away someone's rights to a judicial hearing in cases of citizenship revocation.

Tied to the process of citizenship revocation, another issue I hope the government will rectify is the notion of indefinite suspension. As it stands right now, the minister has the right to suspend the citizenship process indefinitely. Instead of putting in a system of accountable and extendable deadlines, the government is continuing the indefinite suspension provisions. This is wrong.

Under this system, a person could be under investigation indefinitely without ever knowing when it might come to an end. Imagine what that would be like. In criminal cases there is a statutory limitation, but not in immigration. Does the government not think it is wrong to indefinitely investigate someone? Do the Liberals really think it is an appropriate thing to do in the case of citizenship and immigration? While I moved an amendment on this during committee, unfortunately the committee did not accept it, and that is too bad.

Let me turn to another amendment before us today. The Senate proposed an amendment to provide unaccompanied youth or those under state care pathways to citizenship. I called for this at committee. At issue, as explained by justice for children and youth, is:

Section 5(3)(b)(i) allows for an applicant to make a request to the minister on humanitarian grounds for a waiver of the age requirement...this humanitarian exemption poses a generally insurmountable barrier for children wishing to access citizenship and is not a reasonable limitation or a satisfactory solution to issues raised by the age requirement provision.

The provision in effect restricts access to Canadian citizenship for children—solely on the basis of age—who otherwise meet all the requirements.

It restricts access to citizenship for the most marginalized children, i.e. unaccompanied minors, children without parents or lawful guardians, and children with parents who do not have the capacity to meet the citizenship requirements or do not wish to apply.

Unfortunately, my amendment was rejected by the committee. I am so glad now that the Senate, particularly Senator Oh, picked up this amendment, advanced it and has now referred it back to the House.

The NDP will wholeheartedly support this amendment. I had wanted to see this adopted at the committee stage.

Let me turn to the last amendment before us.

The Senate saw fit to bring forward an amendment to increase the upper age requirement for passing a language test from 54 to 60. This is where I diverge from the Senate. The NDP does not support this change and I am pleased to see the government also disagrees with it. The government motion has changed the upper age requirement for passing a language test from 60 back to 55.

It is my view that we should go further than this. I moved an amendment at committee to reinstate the allowance for an interpreter to be used during the knowledge test in the citizenship process. The current system amounts to a second language test, which is harder than the actual language test, due to non-standard terms and events contained in the knowledge test for those who do not speak English or French as their first language. I was saddened that my amendment did not pass at committee.

I learned English as a second language. I immigrated here when I was young, and I did not speak a word of English. I spoke Cantonese. I have my Cantonese language. I speak the Cantonese language fairly fluently. I can understand, communicate, and I can do interviews in that language without any trouble. However, when technical terms come up, it is very difficult to know what the technical term is and how to articulate it well. This is the same thing for those who are subject to this citizenship test. The issue around technical terms is that they differ in the first language, and often it is difficult for the person to pass the knowledge test if they do not have the technical language. That does not mean that they do not speak English well enough—they speak it very well—but some technical terms are very difficult to master.

There was a time, prior to Bill C-24, that the interpreters would be allowed to attend these tests so that those technical terms could be explained in the person's first language. However, that has now been done away with, and I am saddened by that.

There are other amendments that I wish were before us. At committee I called for the expansion of the definition of “statelessness”, to better capture how people can fall through the cracks. In particular, I called for the provision to prevent any official from being able to engage in a decision that would contravene any international or human rights agreements that Canada is a signatory to, especially those on statelessness. Unfortunately, those amendments were not supported, as they were deemed to be out of scope.

On a related matter, I would like to see changes made to address the issue of lost Canadians. For decades, Canadians have found themselves to be stateless due to a number of arcane laws. We heard from a number of people who lost their citizenship out of the blue one day because of these arcane laws. There are situations of second-generation Canadians who had been born abroad not being recognized as Canadians.

This year we are heading into the 150th anniversary of this country. When we celebrate this nation's 150th birthday, would it not be something to know that there are Canadians who have been Canadians all their lives, have somehow become lost in the system, and we have done nothing to fix that? That was something I wanted to advance at committee, yet once again the committee did not accept my amendments. I am concerned that the government did not bring legislation to address this issue before July 1 of this year. That should have been done.

The other issue I want to raise is with respect to cessation provisions. We talked about this issue with respect to refugees. These are people who, unbeknownst to them, find their status affected for no other reason than that they travelled back to their country of origin at a time when the cessation provisions were not in place and when the threat that had forced them to flee their country no longer existed. Even then, the status of these people had been affected by cessation provisions. In most cases, cessation proceedings are brought against them when they apply for their citizenship. That is outrageous. I hope that all members of this House would agree with me that those provisions need to be done away with. We need to bring in legislation to repeal the cessation provisions that were brought forward by the Harper government.

With that, I know my time is running out. I am glad to see that this bill is finally before us. I hope to see a speedy passage of it, so Canadians can ensure that their rights are protected. I hope that those who have been waiting for this bill to pass will finally see it go through all stages of the House and come into force and effect.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 9:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I went through the steps we took at length, including the measures in Bill C-24, which are effectively being revoked by the current government, to prevent citizenship fraud. One of the measures we put in place was the streamlining of the process for revocation in cases of fraud, as a way to make sure that people are not incenting that. I read quote after quote, actually a quote from a news article, that said we were taking steps in the right direction.

Here is the thing for my colleague. The Liberals have been in government for nearly two years. The Auditor General's report came out under their government. They are the ones who are saying welcome to Canada. They are the ones who are moving this amendment. I have made a very compelling business argument tonight, but it is their responsibility to act. In 2019, the current government cannot come forward and conjure up the ghost of Stephen Harper. The Liberals have to take responsibility for their own actions. If they are not doing that tonight, and if they are simply supporting this amendment because they do not have the wherewithal or the plan to address some of these issues, they are failing Canadians in their mandate.

I cannot stand here and accept the politicized argument my colleague just made that somehow this is Stephen Harper's fault. Our former minister, Jason Kenney, spent a great majority of his career trying to correct the mistakes that had compiled over decades of Liberal governments. At some point, the current government has to take responsibility for the fact that it has materially changed the immigration process, our levels in Canada, and it is now setting the tone for how these processes work.

My colleague could have asked me any number of questions about how we could study this or what our party is willing to do in terms of further study or support, but he instead chose to make a partisan dig at the former prime minister. I would answer his question with one to him: When is he going to take responsibility for the failures of the Liberal government?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 7:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention. I also want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service as vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I have greatly benefited from his long experience as chair of that committee in previous Parliaments, and I have learned a lot from him.

Continuing on the issue of the legislation's silence on how Canada is supporting LGBTQ refugees, I firmly believe that many positive recommendations were put forward by members of civil society who appeared in front of our committee that could have been adopted into some sort of program. It is shame that this omnibus legislation that the government has tabled does not address the needs of that particular group. It is something that I hope the government will address. We will continue to put pressure on the government to see the pilot program that was established under our government become a regular program, and that it be done with the help and advice of members of the community in Canada who have been doing excellent work.

Another good point is that we have not addressed the issue of how best to support private sponsorship groups. Some of the testimony that we heard during the study on Syrian refugees earlier this year, or late last year, indicated that many improvements could be made to harness the generosity of Canadian philanthropists and people who choose to bring refugees into their homes through private sponsorship.

One frustration facing many of my colleagues across political lines is the wait times for applications to be processed to bring these refugees to Canada. There are many reports of people losing their deposits on apartments that they secured, or not being able to connect the refugee family they have identified with the support here in Canada because of processing times. This continues to be an issue.

It always behooves us to be thankful, as well, in this place. On behalf of all parliamentarians, I want to thank the many Canadian private sponsorship groups who have worked not only through the Syrian refugee initiative, but who have helped to bring persecuted ethnic and religious minorities to Canada as well. I am speaking of groups such as Rainbow Railroad, and groups related to and working within the LGBTQ community. They have assisted in bringing persecuted people from those communities into Canada through the private sponsorship program. Again, the recommendations relating to those improvements are nowhere in these amendments.

I do not understand what priorities are in the bill, as opposed to some of the most urgent issues we have seen come before our country with regard to immigration.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about the bill's silence on one particular issue of great interest to all parliamentarians and many Canadians, and that is the issue of those coming across our land borders illegally, irregularly, whatever words one wants to use. A great tragedy that has not been acknowledged in this place adequately was the recent news that we received last week of a woman who tried to cross into Canada from the United States to presumably seek asylum, which is my understanding from media reports, and perished in her journey. That is deeply tragic, and yet the government has been silent on it. This is a problem.

The government has been silent on the problem of border crossers. We have seen a sharp rise in the number of people who are making the journey across the border to seek asylum. Community resources are strained. The resources of CBSA, the RCMP, and local municipal governments have all been greatly strained, and yet the Liberal government has not come out and said anything. It took the government months to even allude to the fact that this is not a safe activity.

I grew up in southern Manitoba, and I know what a -30° winter evening looks like. It is not a safe activity to cross the border in this regard. When the Prime Minister tweeted a welcome to Canada in that context, I was just so dismayed. I was not dismayed to share the sentiment that Canada is an open and welcoming place. That is not in political dispute. The dispute is that the manner in which people enter our country should be done through proper procedures. Where there are gaps that enable the activity that is happening here, that is why we have the opportunity to debate legislation such as Bill C-6. Bill C-6 has been completely silent, in the amendment process and everything, given that it is an omnibus bill, on the issue of the safe third country agreement and the process by which people can seek asylum in Canada if they have already entered the United States.

For those who are listening who might not be aware of this issue, Canada has an agreement with the United States. It essentially functions such that if somebody makes an asylum claim, we acknowledge that our asylum systems are both very robust, arm's length, operate on principles of generosity and compassion and due process. If someone makes an asylum claim in the United States, they cannot automatically also claim asylum in Canada. The safe third country agreement essentially was designed, among other things, to ensure that our asylum system is open and transparent and fluid for the most vulnerable people in the world, and that it is not being gummed up by people making claims in both of our countries. The safe third country agreement speaks very specifically that if individuals cross the border through proper border channels, they are not allowed to make asylum claims. However, it is silent on the issue of individuals who cross a land border or a border that is not controlled. This allows people to cross the border illegally into the country and then make an asylum claim.

I do not think that this is sustainable. My colleague from the NDP, whose riding name I cannot think of, has been very eloquent in raising the concerns of the legal community, in saying that maybe the safe third country agreement should not exist and we should abandon it. I feel that this is a loophole that we perhaps should close. That is my position. There are other people saying well, what about those positions in the context of treaties that Canada has signed onto with regard to refugees? The point is that we have not had a debate on this issue at all. The government has not even acknowledged that this has been an issue. It is absolutely absent from this bill, and that is a huge problem.

As we go into the summer season, experts are anticipating a very high number of people who will be coming to Canada in this fashion. I visited communities in my former province of Manitoba which have been experiencing this. There have been some members of the Canadian community who have been trying to paint the raising of concerns such as this as a xenophobic activity. I remember having a conversation with three women on the street in Gretna, in front of a facility that was designed to house senior citizens and had been used to house and process people who were crossing the border illegally. Members of this community are saying that their community is very small, and they are now seeing the equivalent of roughly a third of their population being processed through the centre on a daily basis. That is not sustainable, not only for the community, but for the people who are crossing into this country. I have had conversations with the provincial government in Manitoba, and it is saying that the province needs more financial support from the federal government. My question and my push-back to them is on whether we need more financial support, or does the government need to make a call on how it is managing these asylum seekers writ large?

I have great concern that without the government providing some direction or some notice to the international community on where it stands on this issue, we are never going to come to a resolution on either a process fix or a legislative fix, or even on an awareness or education campaign, that is going to prevent trafficking groups from ramping up activities. These are all legitimate policy concerns the government has been entirely silent on in the context of Bill C-6.

The problems along the Manitoba border show a failure of our ability as parliamentarians to address a critical issue. We had a tragic and insightful moment during the federal election campaign of 2015 when we saw the body of a small child washed up on a beach because his family was trying to migrate away from an area of crisis. We should be equally outraged about the fact that a woman died under the processes we have in place for trying to seek asylum in Canada. We need to have a hard conversation about how many refugees we allow into the country and under what circumstances. That includes the components I raised earlier in my speech with respect to long-term support.

There is a cost. We need to have a plan. The government needs to be transparent to Canadians about that and not just say it is the responsibility of the provincial governments. My colleagues in the Manitoba legislature have a point in saying that we are abdicating responsibility to the provincial government in not addressing this issue.

The Minister of Public Safety has said in the House that they are monitoring the situation, etc., etc. However, monitoring the situation is not cutting it, because someone has died, and we cannot continue to allow that to happen. The bill is silent on this issue, and the Minister of Immigration has also been silent on this issue.

My colleague from Vancouver who sits on the immigration committee with me has raised a salient motion at the committee to study this issue, yet every time she has brought it forward and made impassioned arguments to have the study completed, she has had the issue curtailed and debate cut off. We have not even voted on the motion.

We are here today looking at Bill C-6, one of the most pertinent public policy issues of our time, and the bill is completely silent on the topic of the safe third country agreement or long-term support for refugees. I find that atrocious.

How can government members continue to get up and say that Canada is a place where we welcome refugees, or go to international forums and say that Canada is the best model for how to deal with refugees, and realize that we are not exceptional? Canada is exceptional in our naïveté and our arrogance to think that our process cannot be fixed.

I look at the failures of our country when the going got tough in dealing with the question of refugee admissions, such as the MS St. Louis, when the federal government had a policy of none is too many. When we say never again, we have to mean it, but we also need to ensure that there are adequate processes in place to ensure that never again does not happen and that we have long-term support and social licence for Canada to continue to be a welcoming country.

Where are we in this? We are at talking points. That is all the government has offered. I have colleagues in the Liberal caucus who feel strongly about this and want to be compassionate, but we cannot be compassionate without having a conversation about how. I might not have all the answers, and they might not have all the answers, but surely we can use our time for debate and our time for bill study for issues like this. The government has tabled a piece of legislation, and the Senate has sent back amendments, that are silent on these most pertinent issues. That is an abdication of responsibility.

I would like to know how the government plans to deal with fixing the issue of the long-term prioritization of refugees. I would like to know how it plans to support them, but there is nothing in the bill.

I will transition to the bill's requirement for language proficiency. I do not even know where to start, because we have seen so many iterations of this. To become a citizen, there is a language proficiency requirement. At present, I believe the age is 65. Someone under the age of 65 has to be proficient in one of our official languages, either French or English. I remember in the first debate I gave a lot of evidence and testimony that language proficiency is a unifier. People coming to our country need to have proficiency in one of our official languages to obtain employment and participate in the economic fabric of our country but also to ensure that they are not isolated.

I worry, especially in the context of a Syrian refugee study done by the parliamentary committee, that many women come to Canada and do not have the opportunity to obtain language-training services and then become isolated in ghettoized communities because they have not been able to learn English. The whole rationale behind the age requirement of 65 is that many people are expected to work, and do work, well into their sixties. People in this place are in their sixties and work very hard, but to participate in Canadian society and in the workplace, they need to be proficient in one of our languages. The bill originally purported to reduce the age at which refugees needed to demonstrate proficiency in one of our official languages before they could obtain citizenship.

Some of the points I have been emphasizing is that language proficiency binds us together in Canadian pluralism for the long term and that rather than reducing the age limit we should talk about how to ensure that new Canadians integrate into Canada. If age is a barrier to learning the language, how do we overcome the barrier? These were the questions I asked the minister at committee. I asked what evidence the minister had to show that this was somehow going to be beneficial, rather than talking about access to language training services. This is material to the Senate amendments, because the Senate amendments are directly pertinent to the age by which language proficiency training happens.

Mr. Paul Attia, a spokesperson for Immigrants for Canada, stated:

...we at Immigrants for Canada view citizenship like being a member of a team. Everyone has the opportunity and the chance to try out for that team, but you have to meet certain requirements. You have to show up to practice—that's residency. You have to be able to communicate with your teammates—that's the language issue.

Former Minister McCallum stated:

I think it's a question of balance. I accept totally the evidence suggesting that mastery of one of the two official languages is a good thing, that it promotes and enhances an individual's ability to do well in Canada, to get good jobs, to integrate. On the one hand, we do favour language requirements. On the other hand, I think for older newcomers it's less important.

I think one has to take into account cultural issues....

I don't regard 55 to 64 as super-old, but those above the average age will not necessarily be required to do this, even though as a general principle we believe that the mastery of English or French is important for the success of newcomers.

In his statement, the minister did not provide any evidence or rationale as to why the reduction of the language proficiency requirement at a certain age was a good thing.

I remember asking both the IRCC officials and the minister about whether there was an economic analysis of the impact on the Canadian economy this language proficiency requirement would have. Ms. Catrina Tapley, an IRCC official, said, “to continue on with the previous questions, a full economic analysis of changes on language is not something the department has undertaken”. That is important. She pointed to other countries in terms of the language proficiency age for citizenship, but there was no justification for why this was happening in the Canadian context, especially given that Canada is a pluralistic country.

We welcome people from around the world under different streams of immigration processing. If we are going to lower the age of language proficiency to obtain citizenship, what will that mean for the Canadian economy? We are going to have people who likely self-deselect from the economy, because they are not able to communicate in one of our official languages in the employment sector. That would have been an opportunity to prove me wrong.

A witness from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Sheryl Saperia, said,

I would just add, though, that language is the key to success in a new country, so I would never want to impose unduly high standards, but you do want to encourage new citizens to learn so they can succeed and make the best possible life here.

I introduced on the front end of my speech evidence and commentary on the Syrian refugee initiative. One of the things we heard over and over again in witness testimony was that to see success for people who entered Canada through the Syrian refugee initiative, language training and language proficiency would have to be top of mind in government planning. This is a quote from Sandy Berman, from the Or Shalom Syrian Refugee Initiative, said:

We are very frustrated. We are ready to support, but we are also trying to be innovative. We have approached people who would donate apartments in the interim as a way of addressing the housing issue. All our refugees who are privately sponsored, even the family of six, are not going to get their housing needs met, because we cannot afford to support them in the apartments they need to be living in, which are three- or four-bedroom apartments. We recognize that they are going to have to make a compromise about where they live.

In terms of English language training access, I really support your concern. Getting access to English or French is of critical importance in getting employment. There are refugees, for example, who are working for Arabic-speaking construction companies here, but many people do not and cannot rely on Arabic-speaking people within an employment situation to help them through the process. Access to English and French is of critical importance.

It is very clear that at the heart of any policy or legislative change we make, we need to ensure that language training is an issue. When the former minister, Minister McCallum, was in front of committee, I remember asking him point blank about this. Why are we focusing on lowering the age of proficiency when we are not focusing on having a stronger, more robust national framework for language-training services for newcomers to Canada and also seeking a mandate from Canadians to spend money on it? Again, going back to the campaign platform, the government said the Syrian refugee initiative would cost $250 million. We all know that this is very low. I want to make sure that the government acknowledges that by waving its magic wand with this bill, it cannot erase the need to have language-training services.

Ms. Leslie Emory, the board director for the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, said:

The Syrian refugee resettlement initiative highlighted the need for affordable and appropriate child care, more language classes for different levels of learners, and different service times outside of the usual daytime classes in many more locations.

Ms. Leslie Emory also said:

I can't speak to the costing that is happening on the government side.

None of us can. That is very clear. She continued:

I can certainly say that, with the large number of refugees in the community needing language instruction, child care, and all those things, there isn't the full capacity to support them at this point in time.

She also said:

I think that in the case of Syrian refugees, women without the language and often with large families, with those factors together, tend to be isolated. What we need to do is introduce programs that work for them and work with their lifestyle to bring them into the community, and offer, for example, alternative language instruction models with child care.

That is really at the heart of why we need to oppose this particular component of Bill C-6. The point that Ms. Emory makes here is that without talking about that other side of the coin, the long-term support for integration, we actually are not getting the question of how we integrate right. Again, I do not understand why the government has provided no compelling arguments, no evidence, and no research to show that the reduction in age of language proficiency to obtain citizenship is something that is positive.

This is a very blunt quote, and it was from a Syrian refugee. This is taken from interpretation in Arabic. He said:

No, I am not working. How can I work if I don't know the English to communicate?

Again, I am trying to build an argument on the front end of my speech talking about how the government's position on Bill C-6 on the reduction of age of proficiency for language for citizenship, because it has not addressed the issue of language training, is the wrong policy approach. We should be keeping that high, and then looking at and examining the systemic barriers that people encounter to learning a language to ensure that they have long-term employment prospects. To me, that is how we continue to build the case for immigration in Canada.

Here is another quote from a refugee:

In my case, I went to a different centre, and again they told me that it was full, that I had to wait. When I told them that I am a newcomer and that I wanted to register for ESL classes, they told me: “That's good, but again, we don't have any vacancy now. We don't have any seat for you. Can you go and come back?”

Why? It's because, they tell me, there is a very big number of Syrians, the newcomers, and that's why all the classes are full. Apart from that, there are some immigrants who had been living there before the coming of the Syrian refugees, and now these immigrants also have started going back to ESL classes. This has created a different situation to ours.

To me, there is a complete lack of evidence. To all of my colleagues in this place, this is very serious. I know I am going on at length, but there is a lack of evidence to show that the reduction in the age of proficiency is the correct policy vehicle. Rather, the evidence that has been before us in committee testimony, as well as writ large, is that we should instead be looking at the systemic barriers to integration when it comes to language and addressing those.

On that, my understanding is that Senator Griffin, in the other place, proposed an amendment to Bill C-6 that would come up with, for lack of a better term, a happy medium. Rather than having, as Bill C-6 originally prescribed, the age of language proficiency for citizenship be 55, that it be 60. She has provided some excellent rationale for that.

This is my summary of it. The previous Conservative government was the first to define the age cut-off in statute at 65. Prior to that, in the early 1980s, the criteria for a routine waiver, this is the proficiency requirement, was set at 65 and over. By 1994, the waiver was lowered to 60. At some point between 1994 and 2014, the waiver was again lowered, this time to 55. My colleague in the other place argues that these were never political decisions but rather mid-level management decisions that stem from the bureaucracy.

Taking from her speech in the Senate:

According to the Library of Parliament, the age of 55 for an exemption from the requirements is a more recent trend that was not decided at either the political or the senior departmental levels.

Therefore, age 55 seems to be an arbitrary number without any evidence for this decision. Senator Griffin continued:

As well, the Library of Parliament analyst cannot find any record of age 55 being transmitted through ministerial instruction. The age of 55 appears to have been decided at a middle management level via an instrument of delegation.

She has based her argument on a June 1994 committee report and this was under the majority Liberal government of the time. The report was entitled “Canadian Citizenship: A Sense of Belonging”. To paraphrase the findings of that committee report, it argued that lowering the voting age would arbitrarily lead to misplaced compassion that could isolate new Canadians and hinder participation in Canadian society. Lowering the age for routine waivers from 65 to 60 led to a 10% to 15% drop off in attendance at language and citizenship classes, according to a judge who testified at committee. The witnesses all stressed in that report the importance of language to the integration process and to the sense of belonging that is the essence of citizenship.

I know that people might say that 1994 was a long time ago. It does not feel like a long time ago to me. It has gone quite quickly, but that said, what I find interesting is that whenever the government is talking about justification or examples of integration of previous refugee cohorts into the country, it references refugee cohorts who have come to this country in a much different context than we see today.

The reality is that language proficiency is even more important today than it was in 1994, given the fact that our modes of communication have greatly changed. We are expected to be able to use a wide variety of electronic communication devices in order to be proficient or work in many jobs. If people do not have that language proficiency, that precludes them from being able to fully participate in the workforce or to have any sense of being able to move upward in their career progression.

The report is an interesting read and I encourage my colleagues to look at the report. There were two recommendations that I want to highlight. First, it says:

The Minister should retain the discretion to waive on compassionate grounds the requirements of knowledge...and/or an official language; this discretion should, however, be exercised on a case-by-case basis and only following a genuine effort on the part of the applicant to comply.

It continues:

The power of the Governor in Council to enable citizenship to be granted to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exception value to Canada should be continued.

The point is that even back in 1994 the case that was being made was that language is a unifier and helps people participate in the Canadian economy; ergo, we should not be lowering the age of the proficiency requirement. I do not understand why the the government is doing this here today. I would rather have my colleagues support the amendment that has come from the other place, from Senator Griffin, because it acknowledges the need to encourage people and to provide the services to have people become proficient in the language.

I understand the government is not supporting this. I took that from the minister's speech. I would urge my colleagues to think about that. It is not in our best interests. I will address some of the pushback and rationale that could be used. There were some witnesses who talked about people who did not have access to becoming citizens because they had circumstances in their lives that precluded them from learning the language. We heard many witnesses at committee talking about circumstances in which people cannot learn the language, but again, the recommendation that I just read from the 1994 report shows the minister already has discretion to be able to waive the requirement. He can do that on a case-by-case basis under situations of compassion.

To reiterate my point, we should be undertaking a study to look at why people experience barriers to learning language in Canada. Instead of seeking to change the age, we should be seeking to overcome the barriers to programming, and then relying on civil society and the communication of expectations to people coming to Canada that this is very important.

By lowering the age, we are sending a value statement to the world that at 55 years old we no longer expect people to be productive and employed members of society, and that somehow we are passing people by. Perhaps that is not the intent of the government. However, that is how it feels to me without that justification, that case the minister could have convened a committee but did not, from the quote that I read. Therefore, I really feel strongly that this particular Senate amendment should be supported.

The large amendment is with respect to the appeals process for people who are about to have their citizenship revoked because of fraud or misrepresentation. It was an amendment that was put forward by the Senate and it came up at the committee stage. Therefore, I will provide some context as well as a position on it. We have not even touched on this issue at committee or in the House at all.

All of us here maintain constituency services. We have immigration processing and casework as part of our responsibilities. This has a huge impact on the immigration system in Canada, both in terms of the integrity and the capacity of our immigration system to manage this change.

Bill C-6, in its original form, removes the requirement from Bill C-24 for people convicted of terrorism to have their citizenship revoked. As I mentioned at the outset of my speech, this would affect somebody like Zakaria Amara. However, throughout the debate on Bill C-6, in its original format, and at committee, my understanding was that the government would always retain the ability to remove citizenship from people who had obtained their citizenship through fraud.

I would argue, and I hope no one would disagree with me, that if people lie on their citizenship application or provided fraudulent information they should not be entitled to keep their citizenship because they lied to get it and were not entitled to it in the first place. It is a different argument than revocation of citizenship for terrorism or other acts. We could have an entire other debate on that, and we have had debates on that. However, in this instance, the revocation of citizenship for fraud or misrepresentation is right and just because people were never entitled to it in the first place. The decision by the government to grant them citizenship was predicated on the provision of false information. Nobody wants that to happen, yet we know that it does happen.

Citizenship fraud is a very serious issue. We started to look at citizenship fraud in the previous government. It was early in the last Parliament. I believe it was in Toronto, in 2013, that there were thousands of instances where people had been found to have cheated the system.

Citizenship fraud is a matter of great concern. This was highlighted in the Auditor General's report of 2016, in which the Auditor General found signicant instances of citizenship fraud.

This was an article written by Stephanie Levitz in early 2016, which stated:

People with serious criminal records and others using potentially phoney addresses are among those who managed to secure Canadian citizenship, thanks to a system that doesn't do enough to root out fraud, the auditor general has found.

Michael Ferguson's audit of citizenship applications between July 2014 and last fall found the Immigration Department has granted citizenships based on incomplete information or without all the necessary checks because it's not applying its own methods to combat fraud.

The issue isn't the department's alone--the auditor general found they weren't getting timely or enough information from border officials or the RCMP either to help flag suspect cases.

“This finding matters because ineligible individuals may obtain Canadian citizenship and receive benefits to which they are not entitled,” Ferguson wrote in his spring report, tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons.

“Revoking citizenship that should not have been granted takes significant time and money.”

The problems range from immigration officials not routinely checking travel documents against a database of known fake papers to a failure by officers or their computers to flag problematic addresses that could point to residency fraud.

This blew my mind when I read this.

In one instance, it took seven years for an official to realize that a single address had been used by at least 50 different applicants during overlapping time periods. Of the 50, seven became Canadian citizens.

A review of 49 cases where an individual's address had been flagged as problematic concluded that in 18 instances, citizenship officials didn't follow up to see if the applicant actually met residency requirements.

In four cases, the RCMP failed to tell the Immigration Department about criminal charges laid against people who'd already passed the criminal records check step of the citizenship process. Two eventually became citizens; a third failed the knowledge test while the fourth abandoned their application.

The auditor general also found four people who should have been ineligible because of their criminal records, but were granted citizenship even though the officers had access to the information.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether any of the red flags raised by the auditor general's office have resulted in new fraud investigations.

In response to the audit, the Immigration Department, Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP all say they are working to improve their efforts and a better system should be in place by the end of this year.

Tuesday's collection of audits also flagged problems at the start of many people's path to citizenship -- the Immigration and Refugee Board, which handles asylum claims

As part of a review of appointments to government tribunals, the auditor general found ongoing and lengthy vacancies at the IRB, as well as at the so-called specific claims tribunal, which handles decisions on First Nations claims against the Crown.

In both cases, the vacancies are contributing to delays in tribunal decisions--at the IRB, 21 positions are vacant, leading to wait times of an average of 18 months, up from the last study of the appointments process in 2009

When it comes to filling vacancies, the auditor general flagged the fact that for part-time positions, there was no evidence of a selection process or an assessment of candidates against required qualifications.

In 2016, early last year, the Auditor General, and I would love to read the whole report, but I am not quite sure if there is the appetite for that, found significant failures within departments. I do not want to make this political. There is a huge bureaucracy here. Where it becomes political is what political oversight will do to rectify the problem.

I have had some colleagues ask me if citizenship fraud really is that much of a problem. This was an article which I wanted to find. It is what precipitate us to make some changes in the citizenship, the revocation appeals process.

It is a CBC News article written September 10, 2012. It states that 3,100 citizenships were ordered revoked for immigration fraud. Then the lead was that 19 individuals were stripped so far as Jason Kenney's department investigated some 11,000 cases. The federal government had started the process of revoking the citizenship of 3,100 people suspected of lying to become Canadians. It said:

Speaking at a news conference on Ottawa Monday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government is "applying the full strength of Canadian law" to crack down on individuals suspected of obtaining citizenship fraudulently or falsifying information required for permanent residency.

Canadian citizenship is not for sale," Kenney told reporters. "We are taking action to strip citizenship and permanent residence status from people who don't play by the rules and who lie or cheat to become a Canadian citizen."

There are a few other quotes in this article I want to highlight, which state:

This crackdown on fraudulent citizenships is part of an investigation into some 11,000 people who may be lying to apply for citizenship or maintain permanent resident status....Of these, nearly 5,000 people with permanent resident status have been flagged for additional scrutiny should they attempt to enter Canada or obtain citizenship, a departmental release said Monday. The majority of these individuals suspected of residence fraud are believed to be outside the country.

Clearly, fraudulent applications and misrepresentation are not an anomaly in Canada.

There is also a famous case that theNational Post wrote about in 2014. The article is titled, “Blatant lying loses family its citizenship—but earns them a $63K bill from Canadian government” details how a Lebanese family was stripped of its Canadian citizenship, “after they were caught blatantly lying about living in Canada, part of a government crackdown on bogus citizens that could extend to thousands of cases.”

In this case, the family, a father, mother, and their two daughters, signed citizenship forms, claiming they had lived in Canada for almost all of the previous four years when they really lived in United Emirates, a fact posted online in the daughters' public resumés on LinkedIn.

The point I am trying to make is that the amendment brought forward by the Senate, which was debated in the House committee, has significant implications because both the incidence of fraud is high and the Auditor General has found serious deficiencies in the government's ability to detect citizenship fraud.

We have these two issues. We know citizenship fraud happens. We know there are deficiencies in the government's ability to detect it. The government has been silent on what it is doing to address this to date. Why is this important? The amendment would ensure that a court hearing would given to people facing citizenship revocation on the grounds of false representation or fraud. That is from a Globe and Mail article on May 3, 2017.

The next is from a Nation Post article on March 9, 2017, which states, “the amendment requires the immigration minister to inform them of their right to appeal that decision in Federal Court.”

After the government's Bill C-24, revocation processes were streamlined such that people were not automatically granted a right to defend themselves if their citizenship was about to be taken away. That content is from a senate motion aims to restore due process to Liberal citizenship bill.

I will start laying out my argument on why I believe we have a problem here.

Our priority should not be to increase appeal mechanisms for those who have cheated the system to obtain citizenship. This will lead to further backlogs to the already inundated federal court and will cost Canadian taxpayers significantly in order of magnitude to both process and to maintain the benefits of people who are here under fraudulent circumstances.

Already applicants have the right to appeal an IRCC decision in federal court if the immigration department erred in the interpretation and application of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The process of stripping citizenship should be left to officials, not to an arbitrary appeal board.

This is the problem I have, and for all of us who do casework in our office. This could incent someone to lie on his or her application when the focus should be on educating people about the consequences of fraud and how to properly obtain citizenship.

All of us, regardless of party affiliation, have had casework in our offices where people have come and said that their citizenships are being revoked because they lied on their applications. Usually it is a variation on these stories, such as they have received bad information from an immigration consultant to put fraudulent information on the application. In that situation, it is very difficult for members of Parliament to intervene because they lied on their citizenship applications.

The second thing we sometimes hear is that there are extenuating circumstances. For example, people felt they were convicted of crimes in countries where they were fleeing persecution and they felt the courts were corrupt or they were unduly found guilty of crimes that they chose to hide those convictions on their application. After they have been found out about this and their citizenships are at risk of being taken away, they say that their citizenships should not be taken away because of the circumstances in their previous country. In those situations, many of us would say there is a generous and fair process to evaluate their situations, including criminal records if they are truthful on their applications to begin with.

The original amendment from the Senate and the reason why it was not brought forward by the government as an amendment during the House of Commons review at parliamentary committee was that if we put the emphasis on the appeals process and gave people who were cheating the system an additional layer of complexity around appeal, not only were we potentially gumming up our federal court system, but we were telling people not to worry, that if they lied, they had a second chance.

That should not be the message. So many people are coming to Canada. They play by the rules and will be amazing contributors to the Canadian fabric, either our economy or our social fabric. However, the finite resources we have to review applications or the finite resources we have for benefit provisions will be provided to people who have made a conscious choice to provide false information on their citizenship applications.

I understand there are going to be circumstances by which people might hesitate to put something on their applications, but the consequences of lying on their applications are their citizenships could be revoked. That is where we should be spending our time. That is where the government should be focusing its resources, in educating, promoting and saying that if people lie, there are serious consequences and citizenship will be taken away. Not that we are going to have a long appeals process. I think there is cross-party agreement on this.

It was a harrowing committee study on the issue of immigration consultants and some of the fraudulent activity. Some of the testimony was mind-blowing. Many members who listened to it were convinced they had to do something to fix this. While there are many positive, strong immigration consultants, people who give advice for a fee to navigate Canada's immigration system and citizenship process, there are also people who abuse the system. I do not want to send any sort of message to those people that it is somehow okay to provide false information on a citizenship application.

We should think about this. We now have started to say that with this amendment, we will put the focus on the appeals process on the back-end. We know there is a high degree of immigration fraud. We also know the government does not have the capacity or the processes in place to detect fraud. This is a material change to the integrity of our immigration process and the government has been completely silent. To a large extent, the media has also been silent on this. This is a fundamental change to how we operate and what values we place on the process by which we obtain citizenship in Canada.

This amendment and the government's response have unfortunately made further complex and that is because there was a federal court ruling that came out about a month ago related to this situation.

There was a Federal Court ruling that states there is a need for an appeals process in instances of citizenship revocation. However, there are a variety of problems that this ruling could pose, which includes that it could increase backlogs, as I have said, incentivize lying on one's application, and bringing into question whether fraudulent recipients have a right to Canadian citizenship.

In regard to the Federal Court ruling and what it does, the government has now allowed the period of appeal on this Federal Court ruling to expire. The ruling itself essentially said that what was in Bill C-24 was not applicable. It argued that everyone has the right to appeal citizenship revocation. In its 62-page ruling, Justice Jocelyne Gagné found that new provisions, I believe in Bill C-24, violated the Canadian Bill of Rights.

This is interesting. It is violating the Canadian Bill of Rights, not the charter, which is a quasi-constitutional document. The decision affects more than 200 individuals who have lost their Canadian citizenship since May 2015 under this shortened administrative process. Many will now be entitled to full hearings and may be able to get back their revoked citizenship.

The decision addresses eight test cases that challenged the constitutionality of the changes made in May 2015...over alleged lies on their residency or citizenship applications. The changes also barred them from reapplying for Canadian citizenship for 10 years after revocation.

The government had 30 days to appeal this ruling, and the clock ran out late last week. To date, the minister has not appeared before committee or answered in the House as to why the government let the clock run out on this. I believe there is a very strong argument that could be made to appeal this decision. Again, and I have talked to a couple of constitutional lawyers on this, it is really the definition of citizenship. I believe this ruling, and I would love to have a debate with someone on it, is predicated on the notion of the right of Canadian citizenship.

If this decision is predicated upon that understanding, an argument could be made that a citizenship that has been obtained fraudulently was not someone's right to begin with because they obtained it under false circumstances. To apply the logic and notion to making a court ruling that somehow we should be extending rights of a citizen to someone who has obtained their citizenship fraudulently and therefore is having it revoked, I think is grounds for appeal. However, the government has not actually talked about this.

Some people have said that we need to talk about this on compassionate grounds. I think there is a myth out there that there is not already a form of appeal. I am going to quote the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. He was at the Senate committee on March 1 of this year. He said, “In fact, the whole point of sending the revocation notice—

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 6:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I disagree strongly with the hon. member's contention that the bill would make dramatic changes to the immigration system. In fact, what made dramatic changes to the immigration system was Bill C-24. Bill C-24 introduced barriers to citizenship when the barriers did not exist. Bill C-24 made two-tier citizenship possible in our country, something that is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of Canadians. They feel that two-tier citizenship is the wrong thing to do. Bill C-24 created a system in which people would have to wait longer and jump through so many hoops to become citizens.

Bill C-6 would address those issues and contribute to more integrity within the citizenship system. For the first time, it would empower immigration officers to seize fraudulent documents. I encourage the member opposite to support our amendments.

March 20th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

I can't speak to the anticipated costs. What I can speak to is that Bill C-6 remains a priority for us because it removes the obstacles to citizenship that were implemented by Bill C-24.

March 20th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

On Bill C-6, we anticipate and are hopeful that the Senate will pass C-6 so that we can move very quickly on removing obstacles to citizenship brought in by Bill C-24. Whatever is in C-6 that would require changes to the regulations is something that we will also move very quickly in the—

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

November 30th, 2016 / 7 p.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for her question.

As the member is aware, our government is already moving forward with its commitments to repeal certain provisions of Bill C-24, including provisions relating to the revocation of citizenship on national interest grounds.

That said, while we want to ensure that citizenship requirements are fair and flexible, Canadians also want to protect the program from abuse. I understand the member's comments related to both citizenship revocation and cessation provisions, and I will address both of those.

On the citizenship revocation, that is available under four grounds: misrepresentation, fraud, knowingly concealing material circumstances, or where national interest grounds are at stake. As part of Bill C-6, which has been voted on and passed third reading in this House, provisions relating to citizenship revocation under national interest grounds are being repealed, which is a step in the right direction I think we would all agree.

With respect to the other grounds related to misrepresentation, fraud, and knowingly concealing material circumstances, the most serious cases are prioritized, such as those involving serious criminality or organized fraud. There have been several large-scale fraud investigations across Canada, which have led to the increase in citizenship revocations.

Canadians are proud of their citizenship, and our government is committed to upholding the integrity of that citizenship. The ability to revoke based on fraud has been in place since the inception of the act in 1947, and will continue to do so.

This tool is very important in ensuring that the program remains effective, as the Auditor General indicated in his report.

As things stand now, the minister has the authority to revoke citizenship in basic fraud cases, such as residence fraud, identity fraud, and criminality. The Federal Court has the authority to decide on more complex cases where the misrepresentation is in relation to concealing facts relating to inadmissibility for security violations, human or international rights violations, or organized crime.

With respect to the revocation process, which has been underlined here by the member opposite, under the authority of the minister, once individuals receive a notice of intent advising them that their citizenship may be revoked, along with the evidence that the notice is based on, they are given the opportunity to provide submissions and evidence relating to the case to the decision-maker, which can be taken into consideration.

These are some of the due process components that have to be emphasized to the member opposite. While we are open to suggestions on how to improve the due process protections, certain protections exist at present. In certain circumstances, for example, an oral hearing may be held. Personal circumstances of the individual, including any hardship that may be caused, can be taken into account by a decision-maker.

With respect to the cessation provisions, I know the member opposite has spoken about this. She is an advocate for this provision. We are looking at the cessation provisions, because certain aspects of those cessation provisions, including the retroactivity component and including the ability to revoke not just the refugee status but also the permanent residency of an individual, are aspects that are concerning to this government. We will, indeed, be analyzing those very provisions that have been raised by the member opposite.

I want to underscore, once again, there are due process protections in place for revocation of citizenship, including what I have outlined, but also the fact that a judicial review can be sought with leave to the Federal Court of Canada.

The minister has said publicly many times in this House, and in the Senate where Bill C-6 is currently, that we are open to considering enhancements to the current process for revocation for citizenship fraud, and that is exactly what we will do should those suggestions be made.

October 21st, 2016 / 6 p.m.
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Rana Zaman As an Individual

I'm a little nervous. I'm not as learned as the other gentleman that was here. I'm here as one of the people, one of the immigrants. I'm not a political person. I just got a wake-up call with the last government when this bill was passed. It made me jump out of my complacency and my trust in the government was just eradicated because I thought you were all very wise, caring people who looked out for the benefit of everyone and I mean everyone. You passed a law that I couldn't imagine, it was like George Orwell's1984 kind of thing coming through for me, but it affected my children directly who are born and raised here and never have been back home, which I call home. I've only been back twice myself.

The whole idea under this law gives such unlimited power to a body that doesn't really have to answer or show proof really of anything except suspicion of intent. Please correct if I'm not as versed as I should be about this law, but I just have the basics, as I've said.

I couldn't believe that. I said these kids, how are they not as Canadian as anyone else who was born and raised here, who has never been anywhere else. If they, in their youth, in their stupidity, did something as a protest or anything that was somehow defined as a terrorist act by this body, what would happen to them? They'd be sent home where they have never been. I thought that's not possible and yet someone here, who was considered old-stock Canadian, would not be considered under the same law because they were considered Canadian.

I think that's where the second-class citizen idea came from. Bill C-24 and Bill C-51 were the two ones that really made me understand. As I said, I apologize, I'm not a politician yet, so I'm learning.

My whole point is that listening to that gentleman, I learned a lot right now. Basically we're giving power—according to the first gentlemen and the second—to an entity that really is not answerable in many ways and we know that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. You just have to keep in mind that it affects you as well. I can't imagine how a government passed something that would interfere in your own personal information. I understand people are saying, "Well, I'm innocent, it doesn't matter". How many people in the past who have been innocent have been railroaded for a crime they didn't commit or for some reason they were on the wrong person's radar? We have to look at this very carefully.

Also simple things such as the fact that they can observe you at any time based on any comments that you can make. How do you know the person on the other end is absolutely of a moral fibre that they won't abuse that power for their own benefit, if they have a personal beef against somebody? “I'm going to go in and tune in on that person and see what they're doing.” How do you know that their children...? God forbid, if someone who's a pedophile or something is not zooming in using your cameras and things to just basically get information about you and your family. These people are human beings. They're connected to other human beings. The possibility of abuse of power exists at any level. So my whole thing about this whole bill is the fact that it really infringes on a person's right and their privacy. It's just too much power for one organization to have. They can go to that level and not be answerable or not have to go to a judge or somewhere to get one to say we need to look into this person because they made these comments, they've made this kind of background.

And we're really kind of monitoring now even simple comments that we're making by phone or trigger words. It's just a frightening concept in a frightening future and I think you can hear it in my voice. We look up to you as our leaders and this affects you as equally, so how are you not afraid of it?

That's all my questions.

October 17th, 2016 / 7:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

First of all, thank you very much for sharing that with us.

I just wanted to let you know that with regard to Bill C-24, the House of Commons did pass it on third reading, so it is in the Senate right now being debated. That's just a matter of clarification for you.

October 17th, 2016 / 7:25 p.m.
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Kathy Shimizu As an Individual

Hi, my name is Kathy Shimizu. I'm also not very.... I was very prepared, but I think now I'm not very prepared.

I just wanted to speak because I'm also a member of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association human rights committee. I'm a Sansei—I'm a third generation Japanese Canadian—and both my parents and their families were interned during the Second World War. So I ask you to repeal Bill C-51, which I guess is now a law, along with Bill C-24.

The rights of Canadians have been violated in the past, and this law is the same. It goes down that road, and it's dangerous to the rights of all Canadians. Bill C-51 is not needed because the Criminal Code covers all of the illegal activities that it purports to help us fight. If people are doing illegal activities in Canada, the Criminal Code covers this. You don't need this. As other people have said, this is draconian. It's about racism, and it's about fearmongering, and I ask you to learn from history. Don't make the mistakes of the past.

As a Japanese Canadian I am proud of my heritage and the Government of Canada has already acknowledged that it was a totally wrong act to imprison its own citizens. This kind of bill leads to the same kinds of things, and I ask you to stand on the right side freedom and the rights of all Canadians.

Thank you.

October 4th, 2016 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I thank the minister and his staff for coming before the committee.

First I would like to ask the minister why at this time the ministry is continuing to revoke the cases of up to some 60 individuals each month who have been found to have misrepresented their citizenship application. The minister acknowledged publicly that there isn't procedural fairness for processing these cases because they don't have that under Bill C-24 and it has not yet been fixed under Bill C-6, so an individual family could be impacted including children who may have, through no fault of their own, been caught up in the situation through the misrepresentation. Will the minister agree that a moratorium should be put in place with respect to revoking citizenship applications based on misrepresentation until such time as the process has been addressed?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipAdjournment Proceedings

September 27th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for raising the point about the litigation. However, I believe she would be aware and members of the House should be informed that the litigation was actually placed on hold pending our government's commitment to reform Bill C-24 by Bill C-6, and we have done exactly that. In its most glaring constitutional violation, Bill C-24 jeopardized people's citizenship based on their places of origin in terms of the ability to revoke, based on national security grounds, the citizenship only of people who were not born here. That change has been made and the litigation has been put into abeyance.

The submissions made by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and other members who attended at committee have been heard. We have received those documents, we are reviewing them, and we look forward to enabling better and more constructive due process provisions going forward in respect of citizenship revocation when it arises in the case of misrepresentation.