An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Sponsor

John McCallum  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, 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,

(a) remove the grounds for the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security;

(b) remove the requirement that an applicant intend, if granted citizenship, to continue to reside in Canada;

(c) reduce the number of days during which a person must have been physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship and provide that, in the calculation of the length of physical presence, the number of days during which the person was physically present in Canada before becoming a permanent resident may be taken into account;

(d) limit the requirement to demonstrate knowledge of Canada and of one of its official languages to applicants between the ages of 18 and 54;

(e) authorize the Minister to seize any document that he or she has reasonable grounds to believe was fraudulently or improperly obtained or used or could be fraudulently or improperly used;

(f) change the process for the revocation of Canadian citizenship on the grounds of false representation, fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances; and

(g) remove the requirement that an applicant be 18 years of age or over for citizenship to be granted under subsection 5(1) of that Act.

It also makes consequential amendments to 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 13, 2017 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act
May 17, 2016 Passed That Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
March 21, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen LiberalMinister of Immigration

moved:

That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, the House:

agrees with amendments 1(a), 1(c), 4 and 5 made by the Senate;

proposes that amendments 1(b)(i) and (ii) be amended by replacing the number “60” with the number “55”;

proposes that amendment 1(b)(iii) be amended by replacing the words in paragraph 5(1.04)(a) with the following words “made by a person who has custody of the minor or who is empowered to act on their behalf by virtue of a court order or written agreement or by operation of law, unless otherwise ordered by a court; and”;

proposes that with respect to amendment 2:

the portion of subsection 10(3) before paragraph (a) be amended by deleting the word “revoking” and adding the words “may be revoked” after the words “renunciation of citizenship”;

paragraph 10(3)(d) be amended by replacing all the words after the words “advises the person” to the word “Court.” with the following words “that the case will be referred to the Court unless the person requests that the case be decided by the Minister.”;

the portion of subsection 10(3.1) before paragraph (a) be amended by replacing the word “received,” with the words “sent, or within any extended time that the Minister may allow for special reasons,”;

paragraph 10(3.1)(a) be amended by deleting the words “humanitarian and compassionate” and adding after the words “including any considerations” the words “respecting his or her personal circumstances” and by adding the words “of the case” after the words “all of the circumstances” and by deleting the word “Minister’s” before the words “decision will render the person”;

paragraph 10(3.1)(b) be amended by replacing the words “referred to the Court” with the words “decided by the Minister”;

subsection 10(4.1) be amended by replacing that subsection with the following “(4.1) The Minister shall refer the case to the Court under subsection 10.1(1) unless (a) the person has made written representations under paragraph (3.1)(a) and the Minister is satisfied (i) on a balance of probabilities that the person has not obtained, retained, renounced or resumed his or her citizenship by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances, or (ii) that considerations respecting the person’s personal circumstances warrant special relief in light of all the circumstances of the case; or (b) the person has made a request under paragraph (3.1)(b).”;

subclause 3(4) be amended by deleting all the words beginning with “(4) The Act is amended by adding the following” to the words “under this Act or the Federal Court Act.”;

proposes that amendment 3(a) be amended in subsection 10.1(1) by replacing the words “If a person” with the words “Unless a person”;

proposes that with respect to amendment 3(b):

subsection 10.1(4) be amended by replacing all the words beginning with “If the Minister seeks a declaration” and ending with the words “knowingly concealing material circumstances.” with the words “For the purposes of subsection (1), if the Minister seeks a declaration that the person has obtained, retained, renounced or resumed his or her citizenship by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances, with respect to a fact described in section 34, 35 or 37 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Minister need prove only that the person has obtained, retained, renounced or resumed his or her citizenship by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances.”;

by deleting subsection 10.1(5);

proposes that amendment 6(a) be amended by replacing clause 19.1 with the following “19.1(1) Any decision that is made under subsection 10(1) of the Citizenship Act as it read immediately before the day on which subsection 3(2) comes into force and that is set aside by the Federal Court and sent back for a redetermination on or after that day is to be determined in accordance with that Act as it reads on that day. (2) A proceeding that is pending before the Federal Court before the day on which subsection 3(2) comes into force as a result of an action commenced under subsection 10.1(1) of the Citizenship Act is to be dealt with and disposed of in accordance with that Act as it read immediately before that day.”;

proposes that amendment 6(b) be amended by replacing clause 20.1 with the following “20.1 If, before the day on which subsection 3(2) comes into force, a notice has been given to a person under subsection 10(3) of the Citizenship Act and a decision has not been made by the Minister before that day, the person may, within 30 days after that day, request to have the matter dealt with and disposed of as if the notice had been given under subsection 10(3) of that Act as it reads on that day.”;

respectfully disagrees with amendment 7 because it would give permanent resident status to those who acquired that status fraudulently;

proposes that amendment 8 be amended by replacing all the words after “(3.1) Subsections” with the following words “3(2) and (3) and 4(1) and (3) and section 5.1 come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council.”.

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on the amendments to Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the senators for all of the work they put into Bill C-6 and the amendments that we are considering today. Our government feels that the collaborative work of the senators has made Bill C-6 stronger. In that spirit, our government agrees with the principles behind two of the amendments. I will now detail in my remarks how we also propose some further adjustments.

I would like to emphasize that Bill C-6 reflects the government's commitment to fostering a diverse, fair, and inclusive country. We know from decades of experience that immigrants who become Canadian citizens are more likely to achieve greater economic success in this country, and to make greater contributions to Canadian society, thereby contributing to our common prosperity.

Furthermore, we know that a significant predictor of successful integration outcomes is the attainment of Canadian citizenship. Historically, a very high proportion of newcomers to Canada have become Canadian citizens. It goes without saying that this integration not only benefits the lives of those newcomers who end up becoming new Canadians but makes our country more diverse, inclusive, and fair.

I am sure that all of my colleagues would agree that Canada is strong because of the diversity of Canadians, and that we are diverse because of our country's long-standing embrace, and kind and welcoming nature for newcomers. It is in that spirit that Bill C-6 proposes changes that will remove barriers to citizenship for eligible immigrants. This will encourage their sense of belonging and attachment to this country. We want to ensure that the citizenship process is fair, robust, and flexible, because we place the highest value on Canadian citizenship.

Following third reading of Bill C-6, the Senate has returned three amendments to the House of Commons. These include changing the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements to 59 years; allowing minors to obtain citizenship, as of right, without having a Canadian parent, and without the necessity of applying to the minister for a waiver; and changing the citizenship revocation model so that the Federal Court will be the decision-maker in most cases where citizenship was acquired fraudulently.

I will use the remainder of my time to discuss the government's response to these Senate amendments.

The government does not support raising the upper age limit for language and knowledge requirements to 59. This amendment is not in line with the intent of Bill C-6 to facilitate citizenship to eligible immigrants. Reducing the age range for language and knowledge requirements to 18 to 54 years of age does not weaken Canadian citizenship and its value. In fact, the acquisition of Canadian citizenship contributes to a greater sense of belonging and attachment to our great country. We believe in the importance of having adequate knowledge of Canada's official languages, and a knowledge and understanding of the privileges and responsibilities associated with Canadian citizenship. That is why adults aged 18 to 54 years of age will still be required to show evidence of proficiency in English or French, to demonstrate knowledge of Canada, and to pass a citizenship test.

However, the government understands that for younger and older applicants, this can be a barrier to citizenship. Therefore, Bill C-6 returns the age for language and knowledge requirements back to 18 to 54 years of age. By doing so, Bill C-6 will reduce barriers to citizenship by allowing applicants to achieve citizenship faster and contribute to Canada's economic, social, and cultural growth. Older applicants aged 55 years or older will still be able to access services that will enable them to become more integrated into Canadian society.

The second Senate amendment would make it easier for minors to obtain citizenship, as of right, without a Canadian parent. Overall, we support this amendment. This is consistent with the government's intent to facilitate citizenship for eligible immigrants and with our commitment to remove barriers to citizenship, especially for the most vulnerable.

The government supports this amendment with a technical modification to ensure greater clarity around who can apply and of this concept. The concept of a de facto guardian is unclear in the Senate amendment. Therefore, the government is proposing alternative language to clarify and provide greater clarity to this. This amendment would come into force upon royal assent.

The government also supports, with amendment, the third Senate amendment to enhance the citizenship revocation model. The Senate's amendment provides that all individuals would have the option to request that their case be referred to the Federal Court for a decision. The minister would only decide on revocation cases if individuals do not request that their case be referred to the Federal Court or if the individuals do not respond.

The government's amendments include, first, further narrowing the minister's authority to revoke citizenship to only those cases in which the individual expressly requests a decision by the minister; second, ensuring individuals are able to seek leave to the Federal Court for judicial review of the minister's decision; third, rejecting the part of the amendment that would allow individuals to retain permanent resident status despite having acquired citizenship fraudulently; and fourth, rejecting the part of the amendment that would allow actions taking place after the obtainment of citizenship to be considered in revocation decisions.

For context, since the current revocation decision-making model was introduced in 2015, the minister has been the decision-maker on most cases involving fraud or misrepresentation, especially involving residence, criminality, and identity issues. The Federal Court has been the decision-maker on more serious cases involving fraud or misrepresentation involving human rights violations and organized criminality. Prior to the current model, the Governor in Council made all the decisions in these kinds of cases.

I would also like to point out that individuals who had their citizenship revoked due to fraud or misrepresentation will revert back to permanent resident status if the fraud or misrepresentation occurred during the citizenship process, and will revert to being a foreign national if the fraud or misrepresentation occurred during the immigration process. For those who revert to permanent resident status, which is more than 70% of cases, these people would still be eligible to reapply for Canadian citizenship after 10 years, provided that they continue to meet the requirements.

The amendment to the decision-making model would ensure that there is still judicial oversight of revocation decisions as well as enhancing greater procedural protections. Our government has said in the past that we were open to considering how we can further enhance the citizenship revocation process. My hon. colleagues in the Senate have proposed a model that, with some modifications, will achieve just that.

In terms of timelines, the amendments to the citizenship revocation model would come into force at a later date to be determined by the Governor in Council. This will allow time for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as well as the Federal Court to put in place the necessary procedures.

To reiterate, the government is committed to building a Canada that is both diverse and inclusive. The story of immigration and the story of citizenship is the story of Canada and we want to continue to make sure that those two stories remain intertwined. Whether newcomers arrive as refugees, family members, or economic immigrants, the contributions that they make to this country, and the generations that follow them, will be important.

We want to encourage our diversity and take steps to ensure that the path to citizenship remains flexible and fair, but also robust, because we want to encourage all Canadians to take pride in being Canadian. That is the guiding principle behind the government's position with respect to the Senate's amendments. We firmly believe that by removing barriers to citizenship and helping newcomers achieve citizenship, our government is contributing to such a future, and by doing that we will be fostering a greater attachment to Canada.

Canadians are proud of our country and of our tradition of welcoming immigrants. We help them settle, integrate, and succeed in Canada. This has been our past, our present, and our future. The importance of diversity can sometimes be taken for granted, but there is no doubt that we are a better country because of it. Our government is committed to building on that success.

We are committed to encouraging all immigrants to take the path to full membership in Canadian society. One of the strongest pillars, one of the strongest indicators of the successful integration outcome is obtaining Canadian citizenship. Bill C-6 would help us ensure that Canada remains the strong, inclusive, and diverse country that it is.

In closing, the government's position is as follows. We do not support changing the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements to 59 years of age. We support, with modification, the amendment that would make it easier for children to apply, as of right, for citizenship without a Canadian parent, and we support, with modification, the amendment to change the citizenship revocation model so that the Federal Court becomes the decision-maker in most revocation cases related to fraud or misrepresentation.

We remain committed to the timely passage of Bill C-6, and as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, I encourage all members of the House to support the government's position with respect to the Senate's amendments.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the Senate amendments today.

A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

In the words of our Prime Minister, our government firmly believes that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Madam Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the minister on his excellent speech and the wonderful job he has been doing since he was appointed Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Every day I am impressed by how hard he works and, as parliamentary secretary, I am learning a lot from him. I also congratulate him on taking the time to learn a few sentences in French to open and close his speech.

The minister talked about our collaboration with the Senate on Bill C-6, which was very important to our party during the election campaign. Could the minister expand on that?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has been very helpful as we have worked on this issue. I really appreciate his work on the file.

With respect to the collaboration with the Senate on this issue, as a government, we value the work that senators have put into Bill C-6. They have collaborated with us in making the bill stronger with the amendments they have proposed. The conversations we have had about the bill have resulted in a much better and stronger bill. The proposed bill will enable us to continue to remove barriers to citizenship for eligible immigrants. We will continue to have more permanent residents than ever become Canadian citizens and become more attached to our great country, to contribute greatly to our economy, our common prosperity, and to the social cultural mosaic of Canada. I am proud of the work the Senate has done on this file.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise tonight to debate the amendments to Bill C-6.

I think a lot of Canadians in the last year have realized how important the issue of immigration is to the country, not so much as an if immigration is important conversation but how we do it well. Bill C-6 is the Liberal government's first legislation to deal with immigration. In the ensuing time since Bill C-6 was originally put in front of the House, many issues related to how we do immigration in Canada have come up which the government has not addressed.

To provide context for the Senate amendments, it is first important to paint a picture of how we got here.

There are several components to Bill C-6, including issues which I will speak to at length, issues such as language proficiency for people who seek to become citizens, at what age they become exempt from those requirements and why, the situations and circumstances under which people can have their citizenship revoked and why, and how they are addressed in the bill.

There are other very important components to Bill C-6, but I want to start with restating the position I and my party have on the components of Bill C-6 in its original form.

New Canadians enrich and strengthen our country. Their experiences and perspectives make us stronger. Immigration is an important part of who we are as a nation and the strength of our nation's future. We want newcomers to Canada to have every opportunity to succeed, opportunities for economic success, the experience of our many freedoms, and the experience of safe communities.

We are concerned that the Liberals' first priority, when it came to tabling legislation and public safety legislation, was to effectively give back the citizenship and protect the rights of a committed member of the Toronto 18, Zakaria Amara.

Under the bill, a dual national citizenship cannot be revoked for committing a terrorist act, but can be for fraud. Revocation for obtaining citizenship under fraudulent circumstances is still allowed under the bill, but the amendments would materially impact this component.

The bill would also lower the language requirements for citizenship, but we believe adequate knowledge of either French or English is a key factor in successful integration into our communities and the labour force. Canadian citizenship bestows rights and protections that many foreign nationals do not have. As Canadians, they can vote and seek an elected office. Proficiency in our official languages helps enrich both their experience and our country's future. This again speaks to the residency requirement that has been changed in Bill C-6. These are material changes that Bill C-6 would make to how we would allow immigration in Canada.

The parliamentary committee review on Bill C-6, after it progressed from second reading, gives me cause for alarm on a few things. When we asked for quantitative justification on why some of these changes were made, both the minister and the officials were not able to answer. That is concerning. I do not think we should provide arbitrary justification for changing things such as the age of the language requirement. There should be some justification or rationale given that language is a unifier, for example.

The same thing goes for the residency requirement that has been changed in Bill C-6. I do not know why no justification was given by the minister, officials, etc., on how this would impact the ability of newcomers to Canada to spend time to connect with our country, promoting successful integration, both for the newcomers of Canada, as well as Canadian society as a whole. A lot of testimony was lacking on Bill C-6.

I have followed the progress of this bill through the Senate. I think that the Senate was wise to look through the form and substance and make some changes to it, some that I accept and some that I do not. I also notice that the Liberal government has made changes to some of the amendments that have come forward, and I want to speak to those as well.

Again, the bill was tabled well over a year ago now. In the ensuing time, a lot of things have happened in Canada with regard to immigration. The migrant crisis in the Middle East has escalated. It is now, I would say, a top policy concern, not just for European nations that are being impacted by it but as a humanitarian crisis that impacts every country around the world.

We are having very serious conversations about how many people we allow into the country and under what circumstances. I just feel that as a country, we have not completed the sentence that started with “We are bringing 30,000 Syrian refugees to Canada”, or whatever the number was.

We, in our parliamentary committee, had a very in-depth study on the Syrian refugee initiative, and one of the most moving moments for me in the last year of my parliamentary career was listening to a Syrian refugee talk about not being able to access language training services because of issues such as child care and lack of funding for some of these programs. I was very disheartened when the Calgary Board of Education appeared before that same committee in that same study to talk about how the Calgary Board of Education gladly and with open hearts welcomed several hundred Syrian refugee students—the equivalent, as they said, of an entire new elementary school in the Calgary school system—yet had had no conversation with the minister or with the provincial government on how to address the funding needs that were precipitated by having to address the unique and worthy needs of these students coming into the school system.

We have to understand that many of these children that we welcome into Canada have had very difficult lives. They have grown up in refugee camps. They have fled from their homes. Their education has been interrupted.

I notice that the government's talking points have changed since the campaign, just recently. Until now it has always been about numbers. There is a flip side to that coin, which is how to support these people into success.

The result of that committee study was some very damning testimony on the state of our government's plan to provide support for these refugees. The minister has only appeared before our committee once since he has been appointed. I find that very odd, but when he did appear, we asked a very pointed question about how many government-sponsored Syrian refugees had found employment, and he was not able or willing to answer the question until he was repeatedly put under the gun. It was to the point of my frustration and everyone else's to admit that the government does not have a plan to help refugees integrate with employment or to have an honest conversation to ask, “Should we as a country be expecting Syrian refugees who have lived through this situation to find employment, and if so, what is the cost of that to the Canadian public and how will we pay for it?”

That is not a sexy conversation. It is not one that will sell a campaign slogan very well, but it is one that is worthy. As a legislator I feel a level of responsibility to the people we brought to this country. If their success is not guaranteed or seen through, not only have we failed them, but we have also failed to develop social licence within the Canadian public, writ large, for sustained high levels of refugee admissions, and that is my concern.

When I look at the rhetoric that happened around Brexit, the rhetoric that happened in the American election, I am greatly concerned that unless we have a very difficult and worthy conversation on how we deal with the issues of integration of newcomers to Canada, we will continue to see this type of us-versus-them rhetoric, when in fact there is no “them” anymore. We are a globally integrated community.

We need to have government policy, with honesty in that policy, in order to see success in the long term, and I am not seeing it there.

To go back to Bill C-6, this bill was introduced in the House of Commons and has gone through successive stages of passage without dealing with some of the most pressing issues of our time. Speaking further to the Syrian refugee initiative, I found it very disheartening to spend nearly six months working with members of my caucus to raise attention on the Yazidi genocide. While I realize there are many people in need in the Middle East, surely when a genocide occurs, there are people who require immediate and out-of-the-box-thinking help. The fact that it took us so long to acknowledge the genocide and then to include Yazidi genocide victims as part of our commitment to bringing high levels of refugees to Canada was very disheartening.

I am going to be very blunt. I strongly feel that our process for selecting and prioritizing refugees and internally displaced people for resettlement is flawed. I met with one of the representatives from the United Nations who deals with referrals to Canada through the government-assisted refugee program, and I asked very bluntly, “Why were there zero Yazidi genocide victims referred to Canada as part of the government-assisted refugee program?” I had my staffer in the office, so there were two people there who witnessed this. The answer that came back was essentially that they were under a very severe time crunch from the government to fulfill a quota, and it was easier to refer the people they did. In that moment I wondered, “Are we seeking to do what is easy, or are we seeking to do what is right?”

A process that cannot refer genocide victims to our country for resettlement is flawed. I am not saying it is necessarily the government's fault. It becomes the government's fault when we fail to discuss these issues in a way that seeks justice and beauty in our immigration processes, and there is none of this in any of the government's approach or forward motion on the immigration file.

Since that discussion, it has been interesting to watch the international reaction, because I think that there has been some acknowledgement that the process by which Canada selects refugees to come to our country deserves the scrutiny of Parliament. That has not happened at all, but internationally people are starting to realize that it is a topic worthy of debate.

Right now, we know that there are gay men in Chechnya who have been rounded up and are being placed in concentration camps simply because of their sexual orientation and who they are, and they are being persecuted and tortured. That is wrong. That is a place for Canada to use our refugee resettlement policy as a way to send a strong diplomatic message to states that sanction this activity, yet we have a failure to be able to act. Every single time a situation of urgency like this happens, we should have some sort of mechanism as parliamentarians or within the government to respond to these crises without having to spend opposition day motions and go through political chicanery for months in order to do what is right.

I do not think there is a single person in this place who would disagree with me that we need to be bringing Yazidi genocide victims to Canada under resettlement or that we need to be addressing the issue of gay men being tortured and persecuted in Chechnya or that we need to be addressing the issue of the South Sudanese, which I am sure will be declared a genocide in very short order.

The point is that we do not have a mechanism to deal with this situation. The government comes forward with talking points, saying it relies on the UN to provide lists of refugees to come to Canada. In that case, we should be able to audit those processes. None of that has been discussed in any of the amendments or this bill. It is a glaring gap for me.

I realize we cannot change the bureaucracy of Canada overnight, like the United Nations, so the trick becomes how Canada can exert pressure. There are many worthy things the UN does, but on this issue, it cannot respond quickly enough. The United Nations does not have a nimble way of dealing with the resettlement of internally displaced persons. It does not have a nimble way of referring genocide survivors or people living with the situation in Chechnya to us. That is something we should be asking the United Nations to change.

Where is the government on this issue? It is silent. For a government that purports to be compassionate on refugee resettlement, not using its leadership position to ask these questions, which are not partisan but humanitarian, is a glaring gap. I do not know why we do not have a subcommittee to our parliamentary committee to deal with the issue of internally displaced persons in emergent situations, such as ones in Chechnya or South Sudan.

I have to give credit to the chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration across the aisle, who I felt put partisanship aside and went to bat in his caucus to have a hearing on the Yazidi genocide, which led to action going forward. We should not have to argue over whether we will study something and then study it to death while people are dying when we could have intervened. It is a great frustration and sadness for me. Members of the government have privately talked to me and said it is a frustration for them too, yet the government has refused to act.

My request to the government on this issue is that it put partisanship and the rhetoric of the United Nations aside and say that this needs to change, that we cannot act this way anymore.

The second thing I would like the government to do with regard to refugee resettlement is be honest about the fact that what was said in the campaign was not the reality. I remember television talk show panels and debates on the question of the Syrian refugee crisis, and two things came up. The first was a game of one-upmanship on who was going to bring more people here, which I found deplorable.

I remember being on a panel with former minister McCallum and listening to some of the things he said. He said the initiative was going to cost no more than $250 million within the context of a fully costed platform, and he also made a very clear statement that refugees add to the Canadian economy. They might, but we have seen that many government-assisted refugees who came to Canada under this initiative—I believe the minister said 90%—have not found jobs 13 months after they came to Canada. That number is important because that is when their refugee resettlement funds run out.

The fact that the numbers are so high is at odds with what the then minister said during the campaign. We should have a conversation on whether we expect government-assisted refugees to become employed. Many Canadians would say yes, some Canadians would say no, but regardless of what the government chooses or feels on that question, it needs to be honest with the Canadian public about the cost of integration and support over the long term, and it has not done that. It has not done that to date.

I asked the minister in committee about there being no planning for the cost of social assistance payments for refugees who do not find jobs. That might seem very callous, but the government made a statement during the campaign about the economic impact of refugees. It should have said it was going to be charitable and would support refugees, told us how much it was going to cost, and asked Canada to give it a mandate to do that, but it chose not to.

In doing so, the Liberals off-loaded the cost to provincial governments, including my provincial government, which is having some very tough times right now. Who is left in the lurch on all of this? It is the refugees themselves.

We heard testimony from one Syrian refugee at our committee who said that they were living in a bug-infested apartment. This is not the experience that Canada should be offering to newcomers. We should be talking about things like the cost of affordable housing, the cost of social assistance, and special education for children who have had their education disrupted, yet we are not. This allows the rhetoric of not helping: What about me? What about us?

To be honest, it is the right of Canadian taxpayers to ask how much this is going to cost and why we are doing this. However, we have not had a space to have a public debate on this topic in this place, which is why I am very pleased to stand tonight to finally be able to put this on the record in the House of Commons.

It is very, very frustrating. As the years go by and we follow Syrian refugees, my prayer and hope is that they are going to be successful. However, when I hear numbers like 90% not finding employment after one year, what is the plan? What is the government doing to move them to a place of employment? What about the lack of language training services? What about the fact that there might not be the best alignment in terms of educational systems? The government has not completed the sentence on this project. Moreover, the Liberals have not completed the sentence on this project where they are failing some of the world's most vulnerable, like genocide survivors, or LGBTQ who have been persecuted.

We just underwent a study in committee on how Canada can support LGBTQ refugees. However, there is nothing in the bill or any of the amendments that have dealt with this. The reality is that LGBTQ members of this community are some of the world's most vulnerable and persecuted people. We know there are countries that have state-sanctioned persecution of members of this community.

Our former government started a pilot project that provided assistance to an NGO to prioritize and assist in bringing persecuted members of the LGBTQ community to Canada through our refugee program. However, the current government has not committed to making that an ongoing program to date. Where is that in how we do immigration in Canada? It is nowhere in the bill or in the amendments. Again, the testimony we heard in committee on that issue was heart wrenching. It is one thing to stand and march in a Pride parade in Canada and to acknowledge that we still have work to do at home, but it is another thing entirely to be silent on how Canada is assisting members of this community through formal government policy, including refugee resettlement.

It is not just about refugee resettlement. Whenever we look at international policy related to displaced persons or migrant crises, there is more than just the resettlement component of the policy stool. There is also the question of military intervention, and long-term aid and development, to build civil society and processes by which people can stay in their indigenous homelands, which is certainly something that is a question around genocides. Is resettlement the only option? The government, especially on this issue, has been largely silent. As we said—

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

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

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 / 8:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your extraordinarily adequate intervention in the House.

This quote is just so earth shattering, I want to put it on the record. The revocation notice is essentially how people are notified that their citizenship is going to be revoked for fraud. The minister said the following:

In fact, the whole point of sending the revocation notice to the affected party is to allow the party to gather information and provide any personal circumstances to the decision maker so that the decision maker takes those personal circumstances into consideration, which would include humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

When asked about whether the person has the right to counsel, the minister noted, “Absolute right to counsel. The written submissions and the case, you’re allowed to use counsel. There’s no prohibition against having counsel.” He further stated, “You have a right to a judicial review with leave.”

At the same Senate committee meeting, Ms. Hubers, the director for citizenship program delivery at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, explained the process. This is the process by which this happens, so I want to put this on the record for my colleagues. She said the following:

First, one division in the department initially investigates cases to see if there is sufficient evidence that may warrant consideration of revocation. Where there is belief that there is sufficient evidence, the file then gets transferred to a different division that will then make the decision whether to proceed with a notice of intent to revoke. The notice of intent provides all of the evidence upon which the decision maker would be relying at that point in time to make their decision and invites individuals to submit all factors related to that which they should take into account when making the decision, including personal circumstances, such as the length of their time in Canada, the age they were when they acquired citizenship, their ties to Canada and those sorts of things. At that point, when that material comes in, the decision maker will decide whether to proceed with the decision.

What the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the department official I just quoted laid out at the Senate committee is that there is in fact a process. This is not just done arbitrarily. It is very wrong to present the fact that people who are undergoing this have no due process. That is not the case. It is also important to note that there is a difference between what the Federal Court ruling said with regard to this issue and what the Senate amendment that has been proposed suggests. They interact with each other, but they are not exactly alike, as the amendment specifically lists the Federal Court as the appropriate appeals body. Further study needs to be done to assess whether this would even be the most appropriate body. For instance, the Canadian Bar Association has stated that the immigration appeals division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada would be more appropriate.

Therefore, here is what I suggest. Given the Federal Court ruling, given the Auditor General's findings on the lack of ability for our government to detect citizenship fraud, and given the acknowledgement that citizenship fraud is an issue, my understanding is that the government and the minister have put forward a very wordy and convoluted amendment into the record. However, rather than deal with that, because the minister has been silent on this, because we have not had any study in committee on this issue, we have not had any debate on this, we have not heard from expert witnesses on how to reconcile all of these issues with regard to the Auditor General's findings, and because the government has not talked about what the Auditor General's findings were or how to address that, first we should not entertain the Senate amendment. Rather than trying to amend it with words here, we should reject the amendment, have further study, and then the government should come back to Parliament, be it to a parliamentary committee, or with some sort of announcement stating what it is going to do to address the Auditor General's findings, and how it is going to educate people that lying on their citizenship application is a bad thing to do. I also believe that the minister has an onus and a responsibility to tell Canadians why he chose not to appeal that ruling.

The government is running out of time. Not only did it let the clock run out on the time in which it could appeal the ruling, as I pointed out at committee last week—and I would have to pull it from the ruling, but I am also happy to read the entire ruling—but I believe it only has another 30 days to respond before the current situation times out, and I do not think the government has addressed some of the key process issues on immigration in Canada.

In speaking to one of my Liberal colleagues today with respect to our parliamentary committee, I made the point that immigration in and of itself is a very process-heavy department and topic for the Canadian government, because when we accept immigration as something that should happen in Canada, it becomes a question of how and under what circumstances. As a result, a lot of what we are tasked with as legislators is providing direction to the department on how to do things.

One of the great frustrations I have had at parliamentary committee this year—and I kind of understand where they are coming from—was when questioning department officials on process. One of my Liberal colleagues had asked department officials what they thought we should do and how we could improve. The response was that they need parliamentary direction, that as the public service they need political direction, because they cannot just change things.

I believe we need to provide direct and clear guidance to the department on how to ensure people are not incented to lie on their applications. I do not understand what incentive people have to be truthful on their applications under this change. The government has to come up with either some sort of awareness campaign or punitive measure. I do not know what that would be and I would very much welcome an expert study that would address the issue of citizenship fraud.

The Auditor General's findings have to be addressed. To underscore this point, this is an article that was published on May 3, 2016, on the Auditor General's findings. It states:

Despite the former...government’s anti-fraud efforts, ineligible immigrants have continued to beat the system and secure Canadian citizenship, the auditor general says.

“People were granted citizenship based on incomplete information or without all of the necessary checks being done,” Michael Ferguson wrote in an audit of the citizenship program tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons. “Since revoking citizenship after it has been granted is costly, while the cost to grant it is far less, it is important to ensure that only eligible applicants receive it in the first place.”

That statement goes to the heart of it and exceptionally and adequately summarizes the point I am trying to make, which is that we do not have an adequate response from the government on this particular issue. It is extraordinarily inadequate.

It continues:

The auditor general investigated citizenship applications between July 2014 and last fall and found Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not have a systematic method of identifying and documenting fraud risks and that existing guidelines were not followed consistently by staff.

In response to the report, Immigration Minister John McCallum said he is working with the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP to improve information sharing and to put in place a new integrity system by December.

December has passed. Where is the new integrity system? What has happened? I would love to hear the response from the minister in the context of both this amendment and the Federal Court ruling.

It continues:

“We have thoroughly reviewed all cases flagged by the Office of the Auditor General to determine if citizenship fraud may have occurred. As a result, we’ve opened investigations toward possible citizenship revocation from about a dozen individuals....”

In this article the minister is talking about the fact that the government is acknowledging that this is a problem, yet we have not heard anything about what is being done in the context of this particular amendment.

It continues:

“We are continuously looking for ways to improve fraud detection and prevention processes in all of our programs.”

To become a citizen, permanent residents must have lived a minimum amount of time in Canada, pass a language and knowledge test, and obtain criminal clearances from the RCMP.

The most common fraud involves pretending to have lived in Canada to maintain permanent resident status and meet residency requirements for citizenship, the report said.

Another article from May 3, 2016, underscores this point. It was a busy day for citizenship fraud.

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will investigate dozens of new Canadians that the federal auditor general found may have obtained their citizenship through fraud, and pass new laws to catch such cheats in the future.

Where are those laws? I do not see them in Bill C-6. As well, the minister has not gone to committee.

I am going to pause reading this article for one moment. I have really tried to make this point in Parliament over the last two weeks. I spoke at great length in the parliamentary committee last week on the need for the minister come to committee to talk about what the government is doing to address this issue. Unfortunately, debate was adjourned on my motion. It was a very sad moment in time for democracy in Canada, because I believe if the minister had gone to committee, there could have been a much more constructive and productive debate on this particular bill.

The article further stated:

The promises came in response to a damning auditor general’s report released Tuesday that criticized the immigration department for failing to catch dozens if not hundreds of fraudsters and suspected criminals before they were sworn in as Canadian citizens.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson said serious holes in the immigration department’s screening failed to weed out prospective citizens who were obviously trying to cheat the system or who otherwise should have been ineligible to become Canadians.

Reviewing only a small sample of the more than 260,000 people who became citizens in 2014, Ferguson and his staff were able to find nearly 50 cases where immigration officials failed to catch what in hindsight should have been fairly obvious cases of fraud.

The terminology that is used is “obvious cases of fraud”. Why is the department incapable of catching this? As for what the minister said earlier in this article, where is the plan that was promised?

The article continued:

“The steps we took to try to identify these cases of citizenship fraud were not complicated.... It was fairly simple for us to find these 50 cases, and so I think it’s 50 cases too many.”

Because they were able to avoid detection, the citizenship cheats were sworn in and able to enjoy all the benefits of being Canadian, including access to health care and other social services as well as the right to vote and obtain a passport, without having met the government’s requirements to become citizens.

That leads me to my next argument on why the government needs to have a think. We should very strongly not support the Senate amendment. There is a term about polishing fecal matter that I could use in this case, but I believe that would be unparliamentary, so I will not. Rather than undertaking that particular process, the government should take some time, certainly the next 30 days, and be very transparent with Canadians about what it is doing in response to the Auditor General's findings.

There is something I have not made the point on yet. When people become Canadian citizens, they have access to the benefits of being Canadian, including access to health care, social services, voting, and obtaining passports. I saw a study that ranked the value of Canadian passports as very high. I think it is one of the top 10 most valuable passports in the world. We do not want to send a message to our major trading partners and allies that there are holes in the process by which people can obtain Canadian passports. A Canadian passport is one of the most treasured documents on the face of the earth, yet this Ottawa Citizen article on the Auditor General's findings clearly lays out that we might have a problem in terms of long-term benefits being given to people who are not entitled to them.

Rather than the government massaging the wording of the Senate amendment and taking some time to come up with a process, as alluded to earlier, the other reason that members in the House should not accept the Senate amendment is that the parliamentary committee has not yet produced its report on—

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 8:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Dufferin—Caledon, during your intervention, and my colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands made a comment about women's attire, and I would like to say that in the American tradition, we should all have the right to bare arms, especially at this particular juncture. That is a position I support.

The other reason I think it behooves the government to take a little extra time for a study, rather than supporting the Senate amendment, is that our parliamentary committee has been charged with reviewing the issue of how immigration consultants are governed in Canada and the impact they have on both citizenship fraud and defrauding people who might be using them.

I want to say why this is important. I am going to start by saying that there are many excellent immigration consultants to legitimately help people navigate Canada's immigration system and become citizens. They are good, hard-working people who have the best intentions and play by the rules. However, there are those who do not. Many people in this place who have had experience doing casework on immigration in their ridings have had a constituent who has suffered the consequences of an immigration consultant who has provided people with illegitimate advice, has advised them to lie on a citizenship application, or has defrauded them of money.

There was a very weighty, in-depth study at committee. We have not yet issued a report, but I want to highlight some of the testimony. We heard over and over again concerns about the ability of the current oversight body, the ICCRC, to regulate this sector. My colleagues from Dufferin—Caledon and Markham—Unionville and I all heard serious testimony from witnesses who were essentially left destitute because of this. To the relevancy of the amendment at hand, more often we heard about people who were advised to lie on their citizenship applications and hence had their applications revoked.

After going through the exercise at committee, I am of the belief that the current oversight process is inadequate and is not working. The status quo cannot be maintained. There are serious governance challenges within the ICCRC board itself, bordering on dysfunction. I am just going to put it out there. This is not just my opinion. This was highlighted in witness testimony. We have to think about the end user.

One of my colleagues from the NDP has made the point that this is about compassion. We need to have compassion for people who are being defrauded in these situations. The oversight situation we have is not adequate. The testimony was very clear and very damning in that regard. It is not working, and there needs to be change.

I know that all members of the committee are going to be considering this testimony and considering recommendations for the government. I would like the government to consider those recommendations in the context of how we deal with both the Federal Court ruling and the response to the Senate amendment. I do not understand why the government has not appealed the Federal Court ruling.

If we are indeed risking sending a message to the international community to not worry, because there is a lengthy appeals process if people lie on their citizenship applications, that is congruent with some of the issues we have been dealing with in terms of how to reform the system for immigration consultant governance.

There was an article, published in January 2016, that spoke to the issue of ghost consultants. This was something we heard about in the course of the study I just mentioned. Ghost consultants are people who are essentially not regulated by our current oversight board, and often that is where many of the instances of fraud occur. The article said:

On the federal government’s website, in no fewer than 21 languages ranging from Arabic to Vietnamese, people looking to immigrate to Canada are warned to be on the lookout for fraud and to stay away from unauthorized consultants.

Don’t be the victim of a scam, the site warns.

And don’t be tempted into using false documents.

Despite the government’s efforts to regulate the industry, however, large numbers of unlicensed consultants continue to operate under the radar, sometimes going to great lengths to dupe the system—or their clients—and making loads of money doing it.

Last fall, Xun Wang, an unlicensed consultant in Richmond, B.C., was handed a stiff seven-year sentence for carrying out one of the biggest immigration frauds authorities say they’d ever seen involving doctored passports and other forged documents.

While that prosecution was successful, critics say so-called “ghost consultants” continue to operate largely in an enforcement vacuum.

This article continues:

Internal records show the border agency fielded more than 400 complaints about alleged unauthorized immigration consultants from June 2011 through September 2015. It opened 71 cases and laid 12 charges.

“Little attention is given to rogue agents, the ghost agents. The public is being taken for a ride,” said Cobus Kriek, a licensed immigration consultant in Calgary, who obtained the CBSA records through an access-to-information request.

A CBSA spokeswoman said the agency reviews all complaints and tips. Investigations are opened if officers believe consultants have misrepresented themselves or the information they’ve put in applications, or if they have counselled others to do so....

If anyone dialed the Halifax phone number Mohd Morelley wrote in his application for citizenship as proof he was integrating in Canada, it would ring out in an office on the outskirts of Halifax. Someone might answer, but it wouldn’t be Morelley or his wife or three children, who all wanted to be Canadians.

They were all living in Kuwait.

Along with the bogus phone number, Morelley and his family bought a full-service bogus citizenship package from an immigration consultant, including a Halifax address for a home he never lived in, tax returns and employment records for a job he never held, payment of utility bills he never used, ATM withdrawals to show local transactions he didn’t make and a letter from a local Islamic society saying he was deeply involved in the activities at a mosque he didn’t attend.... Morelley’s phantom phone—and fake life—were far from unique: more than 140 cell phones, labeled with the number and name of a client, were organized in the Bedford Highway office of the Canadian Commercial Group, run by immigration consultant Hassan Al-Awaid....

“The CBSA sets priorities and focuses criminal investigations on cases that are likely to have the greatest impact, for example large-scale fraudulent operations,” the statement said. As of late November, the agency said 16 investigations had closed, resulting in 15 convictions.

Critics say it’s not enough, that unsuspecting customers are falling victim to crooked consultants who lack qualifications, fail to file paperwork, or simply take their money and run.

This is what is important:

....not all clients are victims. Some clients are willing participants in the fraud, paying consultants to create documents that make it seem like they’re living in Canada when they’re not.

I do not want to politicize the issue, because this has been an issue that has crossed different governments, but something needs to be done.

We are sending a message to people. I can just imagine how a conversation would go in a situation like this if someone had any qualms about perhaps not being truthful on the application. What I do not want to happen is a ghost consultant or someone who is not regulated saying, “Don't worry. You can appeal the decision. You would have a long period of time. If you are found out, the penalty has been reduced.”

What is the government doing to ensure this situation does not happen?

I will continue, because there are some other excellent points. It says:

Before foreign nationals can apply for Canadian citizenship, they must spend 1,095 days in Canada in a four-year period.

Bill C-6 would change that. It continues:

The Federal Court of Canada has said this residency requirement protects “precious Canadian citizenship,” and ensures would-be citizens have “the everyday opportunity to become ‘Canadianized.’”

“This happens by ‘rubbing elbows’ with Canadians in shopping malls, corner stores, libraries, concert halls,...”

Many, however, are paying to skirt these rules.

“We do not have to be Pollyannas here,” Phil Mooney, past president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants told a parliamentary committee in 2011.

Again, this issue has been ongoing for a while. This is the second time, and probably more, that the citizenship and immigration committee has looked at this issue. It goes on:

“A large number of individuals participate willingly in attempts to defraud the system … and there are hundreds of thousands of people who will do anything, sign anything, pay anything to come here.”

That said, many prospective immigrants are falling victim to ghost consultants, who also “take money away from legitimate consultants who follow the rules and pay a high price to be regulated,” Mooney said.

“Further, we suffer added indignities because the public cannot easily distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.”

The problem is the CBSA doesn’t have enough resources to investigate the bad ones, said Dory Jade, current president of the industry group.

The public cannot easily distinguish between the good guys and the bad guy.

We heard at length over numerous meetings that preventing ghost consultants from defrauding people was a problem. However, what we hear in this article, and what we heard in testimony, is that some people choose to defraud the system and willingly put false information on their citizenship applications. How is the government going to address this problem given what is proposed in the Senate amendment? It is a huge mess and we should reject it outright.

There is one recommendation that I support, and I want to speak to it. It was made out of a spirit of compassion and would improve the immigration system in Canada. I will at least provide the House with some positive things. This was an amendment supported by Senator Victor Oh. I will read a statement that was put out by Senator Oh on June 12. It states:

Senator Victor Oh commends the government for its decision to support an amendment to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and make consequential amendments to another Act, which would provide equitable access to citizenship to children and youth under the age of 18 who meet all the requirements.

Bill C-6 is a government bill that seeks to make changes to the legislative provisions regarding grants of citizenship by naturalization, grounds for citizenship revocation, and the authority of the Minister with regard to fraudulent documents. However, it did not address barriers that prevented certain minors, including children in the care of child welfare authorities, from obtaining citizenship in Canada.

Under the current laws minors submitting an application with a parent or guardian or who have a parent or guardian who is a citizen face no significant barriers. However, those without parents or guardians and those whose parents or guardians are unwilling or unable to apply have virtually no option but to wait until they are 18 years of age to apply on their own. The only exception is to request a waiver for a grant of citizenship on compassionate grounds from the Minister — a highly discretionary process that is simply ineffective...

The amendment, which was passed by the Senate on April 11, 2017 with 47 votes in favour, 27 votes against, and 3 abstentions, would allow children and youth with a permanent resident status to submit an application for citizenship separately from a parent or guardian. “This change would not only ensure that these minors can have a permanent and secure status in Canada, but also provide them with increased opportunities to succeed and thrive” said Senator Victor Oh.

"It is my sincere hope that now that the bill will return for further consideration my colleagues in the House of Commons and the Senate will vote in favour of the amendment with the changes made by the government to clarify who can apply for citizenship on behalf of the child” added Senator Oh. “This would be a landmark moment in the history of advancing the rights of children and youth in Canada, and I am proud to have played a role in it.”

I actually agree with the sentiment presented here by the Senator. I actually think this is a common-sense, compassionate amendment that will give us all, regardless of political stripe, great pride in the Canadian citizenship process. I commend Senator Oh for his work. I certainly support it. It is my understanding that the government will slightly amend his amendment. This is where it gets complicated for the viewers at home, but with that, when I read what is being proposed by the government in terms of amending Senator Oh's amendment, it looks fine to me.

For once, on a very hot and muggy June day in the House of Commons we can agree between the government party and my party that this is something that is worthwhile, so we will be supporting that particular change. As it is implemented, it will certainly support better immigration processing in Canada.

Just for people who might be asking me, I often find after I give these speeches, people write to my office and say, “Why are you supporting this? What is going on?” Just to be very clear on what this amendment does, the issue is that permanent residents that apply for citizenship in Canada must be either 18 years of age or apply concurrently with a permanent resident parent or guardian. For minors whose application is attached to that of their parents or guardians or whose parents or guardians are Canadian citizens, the current process presents no serious issues. However, minors without parents or guardians, or whose parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to apply, have virtually no option but to wait until they are 18 years old, as Senator Oh said.

The objective of this amendment is to provide a direct pathway to citizenship for minors under the age of 18 that meet all the requirements, but do not have a parent or guardian to make an application on their behalf or whose parents are either unable or unwilling to apply.

Right now, subsection 2(1) of the Citizenship Act defines both “minor” and “child”. A child “includes a child adopted or legitimized in accordance with the laws of the place where the adoption or legitimation took place”. A minor “means a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years”.

The proposed amendment does not affect the processes for minors who would have entered Canada and qualified for permanent residence. Minors who make an application will still have to meet the eligibility requirements for citizenship, including the physical presence requirement.

Just to be perfectly clear, to anyone who might be watching or to my colleagues who might not have read the substance of the amendment, there is no need to worry that this amendment somehow changes the process by which a minor might be looked at for admissibility. Essentially what this does is it changes the eligibility, but it does not change the review process itself.

To remain consistent with the proposed changes under Bill C-6, the children would not need to meet the language or knowledge requirements. Under the proposed amendment, minors whose parents or guardians are submitting an application concurrently or whose parents or guardians are citizens of Canada will continue to apply under subsection 5(2) of the Citizenship Act.

In contrast, minors without a parent or guardian, or whose parents are unable or unwilling to make an application, will be able to directly apply under subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act, because it will no longer be necessary to be the age of majority. A main outcome of the proposed amendment is that the applications for citizenship of minors will no longer be dependent on their parents' citizenship and the parents' willingness or ability to apply for citizenship. However, a child will still need assistance from a legal guardian to make his or her application.

The child will also be required to countersign his application after the age of 14. This process is consistent with Citizenship Regulation No. 2, paragraphs 4(a) and (b), which apply to the applications under subsection 5(2) of the Citizenship Act. My understanding is that the reason this safeguard is in there is to ensure that children are not being abducted or forced away from a family unit against their will.

I read through the Senate testimony and I talked to Senator Oh. He has done a good job in terms of laying out the case for this. What I am not certain about is how this relates to other countries that might have best practices in this regard, but certainly going forward if we implement this and do it well, we would have some best practices to share with the world.

There is a point that I forgot to make that was very important. I am going to jump back to the amendment I was addressing prior to Senator Oh's and that is the amendment around the appeals process for citizenship revocation in cases of fraud. I would be remiss not to mention that one of the reasons the government and all members need to reject this amendment is the strain on the backlogs that we see in the Federal Court. We have had rigorous debates about the appointment of judges and the fact that the government has not been on the ball in appointing judges, as there are many vacancies. In Calgary, there are courtrooms that are empty. It is a shame and I know there are many qualified applicants in Canada. I do not understand why the delay is happening.

Prior to adopting this amendment, the government needs to deal with this issue. When we think about how many people have had their citizenships revoked that this would apply to, it is going to create delays and backlogs. In terms of the current processes in place, the Federal Court will examine appeals if the department errs in interpretation or application of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. A quote from the IRCC website, which details the current process of citizenship revocation, reads:

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (SCCA) introduces new grounds for revocation of citizenship and provides for a streamlined revocation process. Previously, the citizenship revocation process generally involved three steps: the Minister, the Federal Court, and the Governor in Council. Under the new revocation process, the Governor in Council will no longer have a role except for some transitional cases.

The new process has two decision-making streams:

the vast majority of revocation cases will be decided by the Minister;

certain complex cases will be decided by the Federal Court.

Note: The Case Management Branch handles all cases considered for revocation of citizenship. Local office staff are not involved with these types of cases, other than to alert the Case Management Branch should information come to their attention regarding a case that should be investigated for possible revocation.

As the IRCC website makes clear, under the current process, some special cases are sent to the Federal Court. The cases that currently go to the Federal Court are examined if IRCC erred in interpretation or application of IRPA. This is a particularly important caveat as it ensures that errors of the department do not lead to revocation; however, it also maintains that people are not incentivized to lie on their applications.

It is important to consider that the courts are facing serious challenges in terms of existing backlogs and hearings. These backlogs exist largely due to the fact that under the government there is a growing number of judicial vacancies, which have contributed to a large number of serious criminal cases being thrown out of court. We have not heard from the minister if he has actually worked with the Minister of Justice to figure how the volume, if the government decides to accept this amendment, is going to impact the backlog further or if she is going to somehow take action in appointing or expediting some judicial vacancies that are currently unfilled. This appeals process will likely put an excess strain on the courts, which are already strained by judicial vacancies.

To illustrate how problematic the issue of judicial vacancies are and for one to understand what the Federal Court ruling could impact, I want to read from an article in the Toronto Star, on August 11, 2016, which states:

...Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin linked the number of empty seats on federally appointed court benches across the country—44 at the moment—to unacceptable trial delays, especially in the criminal courts.

McLachlin said she has no argument with the Liberal government’s effort to overhaul judicial appointment processes across the country, but said “I hope we can find a way to bridge the gap while we’re perfecting the processes—but that’s in the government’s hands, properly, under our Constitution.”

Asked what options might bridge that gap, McLachlin emphasized “it’s not for me to tell the government how to appoint judges. That’s not my business. But there are names, I understand, that are in the system from the previous (judicial advisory) committees.”

She said it is the current government’s “prerogative to appoint in accordance with their processes” but added there is a pressing need for vacancies “be filled in a prompt manner.”

McLachlin made clear there is a lot at stake for the justice system, saying the vacancies are “a huge difficulty. It’s more than a challenge. It makes it very, very difficult to comply with the constitutional requirement that people be tried within a reasonable time,” she said in an interview at her office west of Parliament Hill.

McLachlin pointed to the Supreme Court’s July ruling in a case called R. vs. Jordan, a split 5-4 decision in which she dissented.

In the interview, she said the court addressed the “lamentable delays” in criminal trials. She said the decision was clear that “we have to have strict compliance with the constitutional right of people to be tried within a reasonable time,” adding that “this is going to be a challenge for the justice system in the years to come.”

The majority ruling warned past approaches to how the courts considered delays—based in part on the high court’s own rulings on issues of procedural fairness—have created a “culture of delay and complacency.”

It set out a new framework that set limits on how long the justice system should reasonably take from the laying of a criminal charge to the actual or anticipated end of a trial.

I just want to leave members with one quote from this article, which states:

[Justice] McLachlin said she first started expressing concern about empty seats on Canada’s courts in 2006 when “I think there were 35 vacancies and I said that was unacceptable at the time, and today there are—how many?—41?”

The issue of judicial vacancies is not something that is a partisan political construct. It is something coming out of a concern raised from groups such as police associations across the country and victims advocacy groups. The reason this is material to why I think the Senate amendment on the appeals process should be rejected by this place is that we have not addressed the issue of vacancies in the courts, and this will add a significant burden to the Federal Court process. We have not had the minister come in and talk about that important procedural component on how we will do this.

We have also had some discussion at committee on this. I believe my colleague moved a motion to study the issue of the resourcing of the Immigration and Refugee Board. We know that there are significant amounts of delays happening in that particular body. Why has the government not addressed this?

The point I am trying to make is that we have not had any material debate on these issues, either at parliamentary committee or in the House. The minister has not been out in the media on these issues. The ramifications of the Federal Court ruling and the Senate amendment that we are debating tonight, which I do not think the government has done a particularly adequate job of shaping, have huge impacts on the integrity of our immigration system in that it could incent people to lie on citizenship applications.

The integrity of our immigration system is currently threatened according to the findings of the Auditor General's report, for which the minister has not yet responded to the House or committee with respect to what the government is going to do to address that. There are also issues with respect to backlogs at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

There are issues with regard to resourcing in the Federal Court process. There are issues around the processing of ghost consultants. There are issues related to awareness campaigns on how people should be accessing immigration consultant support services. There are issues around the provision of benefits, and other rights and privileges afforded to Canadian citizens who may have obtained this through fraud.

The point I am trying to make is that there is so much to study here. This is not immaterial, yet the government has treated it as immaterial.

I have spoken for almost two and a half hours on this. There is more than two and a half hours' worth of study that is needed on this issue. We have not had this debate. The government cannot continue to come forward, say “Welcome to Canada”, and expect Canadians to say that everything is great when it is not putting material scrutiny or any sort of effort into addressing these challenges.

Oftentimes, one is arguing for or against immigration. I am arguing for an adequate process, with integrity. There are serious problems with it right now, as I have outlined in detail, that the government has not addressed.

What are we doing tonight? With the minister coming forward and saying that this is how he is going to alter this amendment and support it, he is saying, “I don't care about the rest of this stuff. We're just going to proceed.” I would like to tell him, let us put partisanship aside for a minute. Everyone here on this side is saying to take a bit more time. Get this right. If you do not get this right, there are serious implications not only for Canadians, but for people who are seeking to enter the country.

There are so many people who are trying to enter the country legally. We hear of spousal sponsorship, inland sponsorship, people who are waiting for years to come to this country, and they are doing it the right way. What we are debating tonight is something that incents people to do it the wrong way, without addressing some serious concerns. It is not the Conservative Party of Canada that is raising the issue—certainly we are shining a light on it tonight—but people like the Auditor General and Justice Beverley McLachlin. These are not partisan people. These are people whose job it is to raise issues. The minister has not responded to this.

Every once in a while, we have to take a bit more time in this place. That is why I had the right to speak as long as I did tonight. I feel it is very important to put on the record the fact that this particular amendment is so wholly inadequate. It has not been studied. Send this to a parliamentary committee. I would love to do a summer study on this. Let us have experts come in to talk about the implications of this ruling.

I would like to move an amendment. I believe my colleague, the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, would be amenable to this.

I thank my colleagues for their indulgence. In closing, with an impassioned plea to my colleagues—I know I have spoken for a long time tonight—from the bottom of my heart, and I know it is June, we have to get our immigration system right. We cannot just keep saying “welcome to Canada” and not deal with these process gaps. That is the form and substance of my intervention.

Based on everything I have laid out tonight, I am very happy to sit here—adequately happy—and look at my colleague who is passing me a note, and implore the House to not support this amendment around the revocation of citizenship in cases of fraud. I think we all want to incent people to come to Canada the right way. I want to, from the bottom of my heart, encourage the minister to take the time to get this right, rely on parliamentarians to help him with the scrutiny of this—it would be great if he could come to committee once in a while—and to actually care about how we process citizenship in Canada.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2017 / 9:15 p.m.
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Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary Nose Hill touched on many subjects this evening, but I would like to get to the heart of the matter, which is Bill C-6. I am going to read the questions I have prepared because I would really like some good answers from her.

Let us talk about fraud. When the Auditor General issued a report on fraud in the citizenship program in 2016, the findings were a damaging report card for the Conservative government's lack of action on this front. It turned out that while the Harper Conservatives enjoyed touting themselves as tough on fraud, their actions failed to match their words, and that was after having an entire decade to address this problem. In fact, it is our government, as members know, that has taken concrete steps to address citizenship fraud and ensure the integrity of the program. We are doing this through concrete actions to achieve that objective, unlike the member opposite's party, which put up arbitrary barriers to citizenship for newcomers. My colleague will perhaps be able to offer some comment on this regarding citizenship fraud.

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 / 9:50 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 / 9:55 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 / 10:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member is well aware, after the House adopted Bill C-6, it went to the Senate. Numerous people had an opportunity to speak to the senators who were examining the bill. As we are all well aware, they put a lot of hard work into this. The various revisions and amendments they made are reflected in the bill as it has come back to us.

Obviously we have a government that is very much concerned with ensuring our immigration system is accessible and it is not arbitrary like the previous bill brought to the House several years ago by the Conservatives. I am certain, with the energetic leadership of our minister, we would consider bringing more changes in the future.

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 / 10:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I stated previously, under both ministers of this government, we have seen energetic leadership. It would be fair to say that on a monthly basis we see concerted efforts to improve our immigration system.

As Bill C-6 was being contemplated, I recall that the question of revocation of citizenship did arise. On numerous occasions, the then minister of immigration stated that he was open to considering procedural safeguards that could be brought in to strengthen the integrity of our immigration system.

This is a government that recognizes full well the merits of immigration and how it enriches our country. Going forward, I have no doubt there will be more changes to come.