Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To all three of the witnesses, thank you for your presentations. I think it's very important for us to consider, as was just mentioned, long-term economic growth in terms of the context of sustainable immigration.
The TFW issue, I think, is one that's very pertinent and relevant. Frankly, I think it's probably worthy of another study at some point in terms of reform and certainly in terms of the tourism industry. That's one of the potential bright spots for long-term economic growth.
The unfortunate thing with parliamentary committees, however, is we have limited time to review certain issues. There has been an issue that has arisen in the House of Commons very recently that I think actually begs our committee's attention.
With that, I move:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship to appear on the subject of the Federal Court ruling regarding citizenship revocation appeals, to obtain information on whether the government intends to appeal the ruling, and associated rationale, and that this meeting take place on an urgent basis given the 30-day time limit on appeals.
For my colleagues who are here today who aren't familiar with what I'm talking about, on May 10, Justice Gagné issued a ruling that materially impacts some legislation that, in my understanding based on media reports, will be before the House in a very short period of time, and those are Senate amendments to Bill C-6.
What's happened here is the judge has made a ruling that would have substantive changes to our immigration system process. I will actually note at this point in time that my colleague, Jenny Kwan, from the NDP, moved an amendment at the House of Commons committee when we were originally studying Bill C-6. I believe the amendment was rejected, but I'm not sure. I can't remember. My understanding is this is something that is going to be of material import.
My concern and my desire to have the minister appear in front of the committee stems from the fact that a few weeks ago, I asked in the House of Commons whether or not the government had the intention to appeal the ruling, because if the government was going to appeal the ruling or not, either way depending on how you feel about it, that would actually materially impact a few things, first of all, the committee's and the House's deliberations on Bill C-6.
If these amendments are to be read in the House of Commons before we rise for the summer, all of our parties and members will want to develop their positions on that particular issue, but if we don't have the minister here giving the rationale or in the House.... The response I received in the House was wholly inadequate. It was, “Don't worry; we'll get back to you in due course.”
By my count, if this ruling was issued on May 10, and there's a 30-day appeal period, that time period would be up on June 9. Then after such time, we really only have a few days to debate Bill C-6. I'm not certain what the government's agenda is to get it through committee or not, but this is a confluence of information and activity whereby I feel parliamentarians need to have the minister before committee on an urgent basis in order to proceed with the appropriate amount of diligence on the bill.
In terms of the rationale one way or the other for the minister to actually appeal this ruling, and the reason why I believe he should come to committee, is that the amendment in Bill C-6 says the court hearing is given to people facing citizenship revocation on the ground of false representation or fraud. The immigration minister would be required to inform them of their right to appeal that decision in the Federal Court. The circumstances under which this amendment was introduced raised a lot of questions regarding whether the amendment was pushed by the PMO, although supposedly independent senators moved it.
I think that's something that's valid. It's a question I would like to ask the minister prior to debating this bill in the House and certainly have the public and Canadians have a better understanding of prior to the minister announcing or letting the clock run out on the appeals process for this particular ruling.
In the same vein, the Federal Court ruling argues that everyone has the right to appeal citizenship revocation. In the 62-page ruling, Justice Gagné found the new provisions violate the Canadian Bill of Rights, which some have characterized as a quasi-constitutional document.
The decision affects more than 200 individuals who have lost their Canadian citizenship since May 2015 under the shortened administrative process, and many will now be entitled to full hearings and may be able to get back their revoked citizenship.
This decision addresses eight test cases that challenge the constitutionality of the changes made in May 2015 over the alleged lies on their residency or citizenship applications. The changes also barred them from reapplying for Canadian citizenship for 10 years after revocation. Again, the government has 30 days to appeal these rulings.
I've asked the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship questions in the House in this regard. To further convince my colleagues that this is something we should do, there are several areas of unanswered questions that I believe the minister should explain before the committee.
First, in regard to the existing backlogs, I would like to know if the minister is going to appeal the ruling one way or the other on the issue of judicial backlogs. An argument could be made that, if this ruling was not appealed and came into force, there would be an immediate burden on the court system. Unfortunately, this is a problem, given where the government has been in its appointment of judges.
If this Federal Court ruling is implemented and not appealed by the government, the Federal Court system could face challenges in resources because, in a Federal Court ruling allowing for an appeals process, there could be an increase in appeals that the Federal Court system would hear.
I would like to know from the minister how he feels this jibes with the current process in place. Right now, the Federal Court will examine appeals if IRCC erred in the interpretation and application of the IRPA, which is an act that covers our immigration processes in Canada.
From the IRCC website, the current process surrounding citizenship revocation is as follows:
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—
So the minister does, in fact, have discretion in these cases:
—certain complex cases will be decided by the Federal Court.
I'd like to know from the minister whether or not he feels that the ruling essentially jibes with his already existing ability and discretion to make decisions in these cases.
I should note that the case management branch handles all cases considered for revocation of citizenship. Local staff are not involved in 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 this 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 and application of the IRPA. This is an important caveat as it ensures that the errors of the department do not lead to revocation. It also maintains that people are not incentivized to lie on their application.
In terms of the minister's appearance before our committee, I'd again ask my colleagues to have him come here. If he chooses not to appeal this ruling, these two elements could materially affect the process in which citizenship is revoked in cases of misrepresentation or fraud.
I'll speak a little bit about why I think the minister needs to talk more—as do departmental officials—around the fact that people may or may not, under this ruling, be incentivized to provide fraudulent information on their applications.
In respect of the IRCC website, I would like to see the minister give a clearer picture of this actual process. When I read through the ruling, I found that the process has been interpreted in certain ways. The testimony was quite interesting. The website states:
A person under revocation proceedings remains entitled to all rights and privileges of Canadian citizenship until the person’s citizenship is revoked. Under the new model, the date the person’s citizenship is revoked is either the date of the Minister’s decision to revoke citizenship or the date of the declaration by the Federal Court. For transition cases that still require a decision from the Governor in Council, the person’s citizenship is revoked on the date of the Order in Council.
Returning to my point on the Federal Court ruling, which allows for an appeals process that is much broader in scope than the current mechanisms I've described, I would like to know how the minister plans to reconcile those two things should he decide not to appeal a ruling, and again what impact that would have on the Senate amendment in Bill C-6. I think it's important to consider what we already know: that the courts are facing serious challenges in existing backlogs in hearings.
Again, I would be interested to know from the minister, should we decide to bring him here, if he has had any consultation with the justice minister specifically on the issue of backlog. Many people have said the backlogs exist due to the fact that under this 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. If we do not hear from the minister at this committee as to whether he plans to appeal the Federal Court ruling, then we must also think about what this ruling will do to add to the existing backlog of cases in light of the government's inability, so far, to fill judicial vacancies. As I've alluded to, this appeal would put extra strain on the courts, which are already strained by the judicial vacancies.
So many articles have been written on the impact of this, but again, I think it's so important for the minister to come to committee. I'm going to draw on a Toronto Star article from last year with the headline “Urgent need for judicial vacancies to be filled promptly”. In it 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.
I would hope that at this point, going into our deliberations on the Senate amendments to Bill C-6 as well as the potential decision to appeal or not appeal, the minister would have reconciled the words of Chief Justice McLachlin with his action one way or the other. As well, I think many of my colleagues here would like to know how that is going.
I'm looking and can't even believe this. So many articles have been written. I'm tempted to read them all to bolster my case. I might do that. We will see. Wow, so many cases have been thrown out because of judicial appeals, really a lot.
Going through another rationale for this, I have talked to a few legal experts on the ruling, and I think one of the concerns many of us share is that if this ruling.... First of all, going back to the basis of this ruling, I think a legitimate argument could be made that perhaps contradicts Justice Gagné's ruling that citizenship that was obtained through fraud—the provisions she alluded to in terms of rights for citizenship—don't apply as that person was never entitled to citizenship in the first place.
In many cases throughout the history of Canada we've seen massive citizenship fraud, and I believe that's the rationale for why these changes were put in place to begin with. I'm looking for the actual numbers.