Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
I would like to begin with a list.
This list includes Afghanistan, Argentina, China, Germany, Grenada, Haiti, India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Somalia, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
What do these countries have in common? They are all nations from which members of the House hail. Forty-one members of the chamber, spanning four different parties, are citizens of Canada who were born outside of this country. I am one of that group of 41 members. I was born in Uganda and arrived here as a young refugee in 1972.
Bill C-6 says to me and 40 of my fellow MPs that our citizenship is no different than that of our Canadian-born colleagues. In fact, Bill C-6 says to millions of Canadians who naturalized here after arriving from overseas that their citizenship has the same value and is accorded the same respect as the citizenship of those born in this country. It tells them that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Allow me to explain.
Bill C-6 would reverse the divisive legacy of legislation enacted by the previous government. Under what was then Bill C-24, the previous government enacted legislation that allowed persons born abroad to be stripped of their citizenship on the basis of acts against the national interest—treason, spying, terrorism—but this applied only to those born abroad. Therefore, if someone was born in Canada and committed the exact same criminal act against the national interest, their citizenship could not be stripped. Canadian-born individuals would be dealt with by the criminal justice system alone, whereas foreign-born Canadians were subject to a double penalty: punishment under the criminal justice system, together with revocation of their citizenship under the Citizenship Act.
The old legislation, enacted by the previous government, was wrong for two reasons. The first is that it was unfair and unequal. We heard about the unfairness of the old Conservative legislation from strong immigration advocates, such as Legal Aid Ontario's refugee law office and Romero House in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. The inequality of the old legislation was laid bare by the litigation it caused. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers brought a charter challenge to Bill C-24 contending it created two tiers of citizenship.
The second and more important reason is that the old Bill C-24 was flawed because it sent the wrong message to newcomers. People like me, who fled their homelands to make a fresh start in Canada, are thankful for the opportunity to be here, but ultimately, we all seek the same thing: full and final integration. The previous government's Bill C-24 failed such Canadians, precisely because it rendered them more vulnerable. It told them that they are citizens, but citizens with an asterisk. By retracting the odious legislation the previous government passed, I and millions of Canadians who came here from other countries are being told that the politics of division are over and that they do, indeed, belong.
That is enough talk about the old legislation. I now want to talk about the merits of Bill C-6.
Bill C-6 meets what we like to call the triple-E test. It is evidence-based, it makes economic sense, and the bill is ethically sound. Allow me to address each of these points in turn.
The first point is that Bill C-6 is evidence-based. Our government campaigned on a commitment to return to evidence-based policy, and that is precisely what Bill C-6 represents. Studies demonstrate that facilitating a path to not only obtaining but maintaining citizenship promotes a better integration of newcomers and their sense of belonging. This point has been reinforced to me time and time again by settlement and community groups doing important work in Parkdale—High Park, such as Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, the Four Villages Community Health Centre, the Canadian Ukrainian Immigrant Aid Society, and the Canadian Polish Congress.
The second point is that Bill C-6 is good economics. These very same studies show that the bill would have clear economic benefits for Canada. Immigrants who are given a path to permanence through citizenship have higher educational and economic outcomes. This point has also been communicated to me in my riding by terrific organizations on the front lines of settling newcomers in Toronto, like the Parkdale Intercultural Association, the Parkdale Community Recreation Centre, CultureLink, the Parkdale Community Health Centre, and Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services.
Bill C-6 is also ethically sound. Until the previous government's decision to enact the old Bill C-24, we never had two tiers of citizenship in this country. It is not morally justifiable to divide citizens among those fortunate enough to be born here versus those who naturalize after arriving from overseas.
Our new bill does a lot more than just eliminate the two classes of citizenship created by the Conservatives. As I said, Bill C-6 also makes it easier to obtain citizenship in several important ways, which I will now address.
The barriers to citizenship that would be removed by this bill are many. I propose to address four.
The first relates to the length of time required to qualify for citizenship. Our legislation will require an applicant to be present in Canada for three years over a five-year time span, rather than the current four-year requirement over a six-year time span. Therefore, the bill would expand the pool of potential citizens and allow them to apply earlier.
More specifically, Bill C-6 is more flexible. It does not require a person to be in Canada for at least 183 days per year over each eligible year. Instead, one needs simply to be here for 1,095 days over a five-year period. What does that mean? It means flexibility. If one's job takes one overseas for an extended period, this would not make one automatically ineligible for citizenship.
Second, Bill C-6 would restore the knowledge and language testing requirement to the previous age range. The previous government passed legislation indicating that testing would be required for any applicant aged 14 to 64. We are restoring that age range back to the previous norm, which is age 18 to 54. This change would improve access to citizenship for the very young and for those 55 and over, thereby helping to speed up their formal integration.
Third, the intent to reside provision is being removed. Bill C-6 would no longer make it a requirement to declare one's intent to reside in Canada before becoming a citizen. That requirement was unmerited. All Canadians have mobility rights. More importantly, the old requirement created a great deal of confusion. Over 200 applications were returned to individuals who failed to complete the intent to reside portion of the application, because they did not understand it. They feared their citizenship could be revoked if they moved abroad. It cannot.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Bill C-6 would allow time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident to count towards one's three-year requirement to become a citizen. This provision allows for a 50% credit for time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident, up to a maximum credit of one year.
Who will this help? It would help temporary foreign workers, international students, and protected persons by speeding all of these groups on their path towards citizenship. This makes sense. These people have already spent time here. They have already worked and studied here. They have already built an attachment to Canada.
I turn now to one of the criticisms we have heard about the bill, which is safety.
Allow me to be crystal clear. Bill C-6 would not imperil the safety of Canadians. Our government's commitment to safety is unwavering. We have a place for terrorists and it is called “jail”. We have a place to prosecute terrorists and that is called the “criminal justice system”. When one commits a crime in Canada, one is prosecuted by the criminal justice system. We do not need a Citizenship Act tool to address a Criminal Code problem.
However, there is also a broader more philosophical underpinning to Bill C-6. When we boost integration and put in place mechanisms for success, we strengthen ties and loyalty to this country. This does not threaten our safety. It is part of a host of initiatives, such as our response to the Syrian refugee crisis, which demonstrates Canada's openness, our inclusivity, and our compassion. These efforts counter radicalization and reduce threats to our safety. In fact, I would say we do this better than any country in the world, and I am proud to be part of a government that is restoring this reputation both here and abroad.
It is also important to understand that Bill C-6 is not an outright rejection of all aspects of its predecessor, Bill C-24, passed by the previous government.
What, from Bill C-24, have we decided to keep? There are provisions we have kept, but there are also provisions we have actually improved.
For instance, we have kept the physical presence requirement rather than the term “residence” because physical presence is easier to verify.
Revoking citizenship based on fraud and misrepresentation has existed since 1947, and this power remains in Bill C-6. Bill C-24, passed by the previous government, facilitated fraud detection, which is very important, and we have kept provisions that make this possible, as well as provisions that permit government to strip people of citizenship quickly when they have committed fraud. More importantly, we have also enhanced some of these provisions. For example, we have added a section that allows us to seize documents used in the commission of fraud. Finally, we have also committed to implementing all of the Auditor General's recommendations regarding preventing citizenship fraud.
Another improvement relates to conditional sentence orders. If convicted, time served in the community on a conditional sentence order can no longer count toward the three-year residence requirement and if one is on a conditional sentence order, one cannot take the oath of citizenship. Again, these are improvements on the predecessor legislation.
Let us talk about the committee. The bill has just returned from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We are also a government that believes in working across the aisle. At committee when amendments were proposed that made sense, that conformed with the policy direction we are pursuing with this legislation, that improved the bill, we did not hesitate to accept those amendments. Those amendments help us create a more diverse and inclusive Canada.
One of the amendments by the NDP added the term “statelessness” as a ground on which citizenship may be granted at the discretion of the minister. Another NDP amendment requires the minister to consider reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of citizenship applicants with disabilities. Those are amendments proposed by the opposition that we accepted on their merit and we welcome them as part of this new bill.
In conclusion, I want to return in my remarks to where I began.
When I provided a list of the 22 different nations that make up the homelands of members of the House, it was simply to provide a snapshot of the diversity of this chamber. This chamber serves as a proxy for this country, a country that is made up of literally millions of individuals whose provenance extends to every corner of the globe. To that diverse group, Bill C-6 says, “Your citizenship is no less valuable, no less respected, than that of a citizen born in this country”.
I believe one of the lasting attributes of the bill is one that has been rarely discussed. In facilitating pathways to citizenship, Bill C-6 also facilitates pathways to participation. Only citizens can cast votes in this country. Only citizens can stand for election to this chamber. By breaking down barriers to citizenship and putting in their place opportunities to obtain and retain citizenship, Bill C-6 promotes the highest level of engagement possible, engagement in our democratic process.
The ultimate job of any government, regardless of its political stripe, is to promote an engaged citizenry. That is precisely what Bill C-6 would do. I am proud to endorse the bill as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same.