Evidence of meeting #54 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cases.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mark Davidson  Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Clark Goodman  Acting Director, Citizenship and Immigration Program Delivery, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Rose Anne Poirier  Manager, Program Support, Case Processing Centre - Sydney, Nova Scotia, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Rosemarie Redden  Manager, Citizenship Case Review, Case Management Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Eric Stevens  Legal Counsel, Legal Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Good day, and welcome to our committee as we continue our study on the loss of Canadian citizenship for the years 1947, 1977, and 2007.

I want to welcome officials from CIC and thank them for their presence here today.

I don't know who the spokesman is, but first on my list would be Mr. Mark Davidson, director.

Maybe I'll pass it over to you, Mark, to introduce the people you've brought along here today.

3:25 p.m.

Mark Davidson Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll have opening statements and my colleague Clark Goodman will also have a short opening statement, and then we'll get to questions.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Okay.

3:25 p.m.

Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Mark Davidson

Mr. Chair, honourable members, my name is Mark Davidson and I am the director of legislation and program policy in CIC's citizenship branch.

As you can imagine, I have followed the work of this committee closely over the past several months as you have been exploring issues of citizenship loss. So, I am pleased to be here, along with my colleagues, to help to answer questions you might have.

With me, as I mentioned, is Clark Goodman, who is the registrar of Canadian citizenship. We also have Rose Ann Poirier, from our case processing centre in Sydney; Rosemarie Redden and John Warner, from our case management branch; Margaret Dritsas, who is the nationality law adviser in my group; and Eric Stevens, from our legal services unit.

Mr. Chair, you heard from a number of witnesses who have testified about discovering they are not Canadian citizens. Some of them, like Mrs. Barbara Porteous, were born outside Canada but have lived most of their lives here. Witnesses such as Mrs. Porteous have told you their stories and of their shock at discovering they do not have the citizenship they believed they had.

Mr. Chair, I can certainly empathize with them. They have lived in Canada most of their lives, worked, paid taxes and participated in the lives of their community.

Their emotions upon discovering they are not actually citizens are perfectly understandable. l'm sure I'd feel the exactly the same way if I were in their shoes. You have heard from other witnesses whose lack of citizenship was not a surprise, but who nevertheless feel they have a legitimate claim to Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Chair, the testimony you've heard speaks volumes to the value that people do place on Canadian citizenship. It also highlights the fact that every case is different, that every person's story is unique.

The dilemma we as public servants face is that while every story is unique, the rules and the law are constant. As public servants, the decisions we make are, for the most part, framed by legislation approved by Parliament.

As you well know, there are two key pieces of legislation governing citizenship: the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 and the Citizenship Act of 1977, which replaced it.

Our job as public servants is to apply these pieces of legislation to the circumstances of individual cases to the best of our abilities.

Some of the laws passed by Parliament, particularly with regard to the 1947 act, might seem a bit archaic by today's standards. Provisions that limited the ability to pass on citizenship to a child born outside of Canada, depending on whether the father or the mother was Canadian, or whether the parents were married at the time of the child's birth, strike me as a very good example of that. But it is not our role, as civil servants, to stand in judgment of why the laws of the day were enacted. They were the laws of the day, and the role of civil servants is to evaluate cases on the basis of the applicable law.

When Parliament approved the 1977 Citizenship Act, it recognized that despite efforts to make the rules fair, there would be situations where the impact on certain individuals would not seem fair at all, so the act gives the minister discretionary authority under subsection 5.(4) to grant Canadian citizenship upon the approval of the Governor in Council, also known as the GIC.

When the minister appeared here in February, she made it clear that she was making it a priority to review the cases of people who did not have the citizenship they thought they had or felt they merited. She stated that she was prepared to use the authority the legislation provides her to grant citizenship where it is merited.

The minister has instructed us to bring forward cases where these individuals have demonstrated they have a significant attachment to Canada, have lived here most of their lives, and thus merit consideration for this special grant of citizenship.

We're here today to assist this committee in its work and to answer your questions as fully as possible, while of course respecting our role as civil servants.

I'll ask my colleague Clark Goodman to provide a few details on what has been done since the minister's appearance before this committee in February.

Clark is responsible for program delivery and so is better placed to given you an update on our activities.

3:30 p.m.

Clark Goodman Acting Director, Citizenship and Immigration Program Delivery, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Thank you, Mark.

As Mark indicated, my name is Clark Goodman. I am the acting director of citizenship and immigration program delivery, and also the registrar of Canadian citizenship. My responsibilities including overseeing the operational activities related to Canadian citizenship.

As I mentioned, I also carry another title, that of registrar of Canadian citizenship. This authority is delegated to me by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. As registrar, I have the authority to determine who may function as a citizenship officer to grant citizenship on behalf of the minister and to approve citizenship applications in the case of a proof of citizenship. As well, I delegate people to administer the oath of Canadian citizenship. Furthermore, I am responsible for approving any forms used within the citizenship program.

I have been following your discussions on the issue of citizenship with interest. The issue has also received a fair amount of attention in the media in recent months.

As Mark suggested, I would like to give you a brief update of our department's response to this issue and an update on the volume of calls we have received and the number of confirmed cases of people who have learned that they do not have citizenship status.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

I believe we have a translation problem here.

Okay, everything is squared away. Sorry, about that, Mr. Goodman.

3:30 p.m.

Acting Director, Citizenship and Immigration Program Delivery, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Clark Goodman

No worries.

As of May 1, we are managing an inventory of approximately 400 cases where people do not have citizenship. These cases are under review to see how they might be resolved and whether they merit a special grant of citizenship.

The number is down somewhat from when the minister appeared, as we were resolving cases more quickly than new ones were coming to our attention. On the minister's instructions, we created a dedicated unit in our call centre to deal with calls related to the loss of citizenship. That happened on January 26 of this year.

To understand the scope of the issue, we have received approximately 1,900 calls linked to questions of loss, and in the vast majority of cases the people are in fact Canadian citizens. Some simply needed to apply for a new card or to continue to use their birth certificate as proof of citizenship.

To put this in perspective, our call centre has received close to 800,000 calls overall in the same time period. So calls related to the loss of citizenship represent less than 0.5% of all calls in that period.

Of the approximately 1,900 calls, all but 75 received confirmation that they were indeed Canadian citizens. Some of these 75 have been identified as permanent residents and invited to apply for a regular grant of citizenship. Some were counselled to apply as permanent residents, others were invited to apply for the discretionary grant of citizenship, and of course some cases are still under review.

These cases are being treated as priorities. Case officers have been assigned to all of the cases that we have identified with potential citizenship issues. Each one is unique, and the individuals are being dealt with on a personal basis.

We are working with the Canada Border Services Agency and other partners to understand that no one is removed from Canada while the case is under review and that government benefits such as health care and old age security are continued.

Of the cases that have already been reviewed, 46 individuals have been approved for a grant of citizenship, and as Mark mentioned, the criteria we are using for recommending cases to the minister to approve grants of citizenship are those cases where the individuals have a significant attachment to Canada and have lived here most of their lives.

Some of them have already attended citizenship ceremonies and received their Canadian citizenship. One of those is now a bona fide citizen, Barbara Porteous, who herself made known the fact that she received her citizenship on April 19.

We are also remitting fees that we would normally charge for citizenship applications for those who have come forward since the minister's first statement on this issue and who are now receiving a special grant of Canadian citizenship.

There have also been discussions about how many people might be affected by some of the provisions in our Citizenship Act. From an operations perspective, my colleagues and I are very much focused on those confirmed cases where people have come forward.

Despite the widespread attention the issue has received, the number of people who have come forward with legitimate cases is, as you can see, relatively small.

Nonetheless, the department is committed to reaching out and allaying any concerns individuals may have about their citizenship status. To that end, the department is also coming forward with a targeted advertising campaign in an additional effort to try to reach people who may be affected.

For those cases that we receive, you have my assurance that Citizenship and Immigration Canada is working to resolve as many cases as possible, as quickly as possible, using the discretionary authority available to the Minister.

Thank you.

We will be happy to answer any questions.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Thank you, Mr. Goodman. Thank you, Mr. Davidson.

Mr. Telegdi is next.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Chairman, prior to starting the questioning, I would like to have all the witnesses sworn in.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

You want to have the witnesses sworn in?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Yes, that is correct.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Okay.

May 2nd, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

I would like to speak to that, Mr. Chair.

I too would like to do that, because I've heard some comments right now that need to be addressed.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Okay. We can direct the clerk to have witnesses sworn in.

3:35 p.m.

Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Mark Davidson

Mr. Chair, may I make a brief statement?

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Sure. Go ahead, Mr. Davidson.

3:35 p.m.

Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Mark Davidson

Mr. Chair, we would certainly be prepared to be sworn in. I'd just point out that to have witnesses sworn in is not a regular event, and indeed this committee has not previously sworn in witnesses on this matter.

I think it's also important to remind members that our role as civil servants—

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

I don't think it's for the witness to tell us or not to tell us. It's up to the committee to decide if we want to swear them in. You decide that you want them sworn in. Let's move on it and have the clerk do that.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

Order, please.

I'm going to hear Mr. Davidson, and then I'll have a comment to make on it, if you don't mind.

Go ahead, Mr. Davidson.

3:40 p.m.

Director, Legislation and Program Policy, Citizenship Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Mark Davidson

As I indicated, Mr. Chair, if it's the will of this committee, we will of course be sworn in, but it's important to understand that as civil servants, we are responsible to the minister and we have also sworn oaths as civil servants. If the committee understands that situation, we'd be quite happy to be sworn in.

Again, this is not a regular type of event and it has never happened with this particular study.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

I appreciate your comments, but I don't believe it's unusual that witnesses be sworn in.

I think it's the will of the committee. Is that what I see from committee members? Is that the will?

Mr. Batters, please go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Chair, I am new to this committee. Just for my clarification, what is the difference between witnesses just coming before a parliamentary committee and giving testimony or providing information to parliamentarians, versus being sworn in when they're answering questions from parliamentarians? What are the ramifications, and what's the difference?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

You're asking me a question I can't answer. I don't know what the difference is. I'll hear from members who want to speak to this. I don't know what the difference would be, so—

Order, please. I'm going to recognize people. You don't have to go jumping at this so quickly. I'm going to recognize everyone in turn.

Mr. Batters has asked a legitimate question, which I'm trying to deal with here. I'm simply responding to him and telling him that I don't know what the ramifications are.

I know it's not an unusual procedure for people to be sworn in, and that's as much as I can say on the issue, Mr. Batters.

Other people wish to make a comment on it. I would ask you to be patient. I'll get around to you.

Go ahead, Mr. Telegdi, please.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

I'm just going to point out to you that we have Mr. Tardi here from the legal branch. If anybody wants to ask him any questions, he's right over here. In case you don't know the answer, our expert on it is over here.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Norman Doyle

The clerk has pointed out to me that any person examined under this part who wilfully gives false evidence is liable to such punishment as may be imposed for perjury. That certainly doesn't answer Mr. Batters' question, but I will say that it's not totally unusual that witnesses are sworn in. I've seen it happen at many committees, and I don't believe there's any point in pursuing this much further, except to direct the clerk to take the necessary action to have it done.