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.
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—