moved that Bill C-84, an act to amend the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this House to support what I feel to be an important and necessary piece of legislation.
Recently, it became apparent that we needed to strengthen the provisions of the Citizenship and Immigration Acts . The Federal Court identified this problem and brought it to the attention of the Government. Now we intend to fix it. That is what good government is all about: continually seeking to improve the institutions that serve the public and the legislation that governs society.
The issue addressed by Bill C-84 is a technical one which potentially affects only a very small number of people. Nevertheless, it is vital that we address it now, as it concerns two things which are of supreme importance to the people of Canada: national security and our citizenship.
It is clear to me that Canadians of all backgrounds and all parts of the country value their citizenship. This is a distinction which is very precious. Being a Canadian means belonging to a very special home. It means holding a passport which is respected and honoured around the world. And it means sharing a colourful national history and a beautiful and iverse country.
Being a Canadian citizen is a special right which we share. Every year, many immigrants come to this country with the hope of one day becoming Canadians themselves. We are happy to share our citizenship with those who want it and work hard to deserve it.
But there is always a small number of people who do not deserve this distinction. There are a few individuals whose actions threaten to tarnish and diminish the value of our citizenship. And there are those who would use Canadian citizenship as a shield for their subversive activity. Why should we allow them to become citizens, or even permanent residents? No, we should not. I am sure we are all in agreement about that.
But the reality of the situation is that we might have no choice in certain circumstances.
I know that this sounds surprising. But given the problem in the law the courts have identified, there are situations in which we might not be able to prevent men and women who are security risks from becoming permanent residents or citizens.
Citizenship would be granted under the existing legislation despite the best judgment of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Government and the people of Canada.
That is why I am standing before you today, and why I feel that the House must support this Bill. Our citizenship is precious, and we must strive to protect it.
One of the primary roles of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is to protect the national security of Canada. This is an important organization which serves this country very well. But in a democratic and free country like ours it is important to have checks and balances in place to ensure that our law enforcement agencies conduct themselves in a just and fair manner. We impose safeguards to protect the rights and freedoms of all our citizens.
One important safeguard is the Security Intelligence Review Committee. It monitors CSIS activities on behalf of Parliament and the public. Over the years its members have performed their functions professionally and admirably. Routine security checks are an important part of the approval process in the granting of both citizenship and permanent resident status. There are provisions in both the Citizenship Act and Immigration Act to deny citizenship and permanent resident status if in the opinion of both the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Solicitor General of Canada there are reasonable grounds to believe that an applicant is linked to organized crime, poses a security threat or was a senior member of a government that engaged in terrorism, flagrant human rights violations, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
In such instances they may make a report to the Security Intelligence Review Committee and ask for a review of the case. An individual can be declared a threat only if the committee agrees. This system works well. It achieves a fair balance between the rights of the individuals concerned and the need to protect the Canadian public from potential harm.
There are occasions when the committee may be unable to execute its duties. There are exceptional cases where members of the committee may find themselves in conflict of interest situations or somehow open to a perception of bias. Under the current system
there are no provisions to deal with this eventuality. The result can be very disturbing.
If, for instance, the committee is unable to render a decision in a citizenship case because of the perception of bias the minister would have no choice but to grant citizenship to a person who could compromise our country's national security. This is clearly unacceptable.
The purpose of Bill C-84 is to deal with this potential situation. While the cases we are discussing are rare, we cannot simply ignore them. When we are talking about security issues we must be vigilant and act decisively. We want to put in place an alternative solution that would serve to replace the Security Intelligence Review Committee when that body believes itself to be incapable of performing its duties.
The bill proposes to give the governor in council the power to appoint a retired judge to perform the review committee's duties when this occurs. This judge will have the same powers and obligations that are accorded to the review committee.
It is that simple. We need to have a mechanism in place to deal with relatively rare but potentially very serious situations. This will not affect the existing criteria for refusing people entry into Canada. This legislation will not diminish the powers of the CSIS or the review committee in any way.
What we are proposing to do today is simply correct potential procedural irregularities. It is a small step, but an important one.
We have found a problem and are taking steps to fix it. This bill is an efficient and necessary measure. I am told that opposition parties will be introducing amendments to improve the bill. We will be pleased to support improvements in the interest of all Canadians.