Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-63, an act to amend the citizenship act.
Citizenship and immigration matters are extremely important to many of my constituents in Markham. It therefore gives me great pleasure to speak to this proposed legislation.
Just last month we signed up 360 new citizens. Markham has a population of 190,000. Roughly 55% are of ethnic origin.
My caucus colleagues from Saint John, New Brunswick and St. John's East have spoken very eloquently about the human side of citizenship and immigration cases. I would like to outline some of the details of Bill C-63.
This legislation amends the citizenship act by changing certain citizenship rights and conditions for citizens and applicants. This bill also revises the criteria for obtaining citizenship, the process for granting, denying and revoking citizenship to Canada.
This bill is a result of the report of the immigration legislation review advisory group which was submitted to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in December 1997. The report was entitled “Not Just Numbers: A Canadian Framework for Future Immigration”. The government had commissioned the review to determine how immigration and citizenship legislation could be reformed.
The report was met with mixed reviews from the press and the public. Concerns were raised about a number of issues, including new citizenship tests that require a physical presence in Canada, dropping reference to monarch successors from the citizenship oath and the new requirements that the person speak one of Canada's two official languages.
I hope the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration gives these and other issues due scrutiny. We need to hear from organizations representing our immigrant community. Furthermore, we need to hear from other individuals and groups concerned with the different aspects of this bill.
I would now like to review some of the substances of the legislation. Bill C-63 stipulates that a person born in Canada becomes a citizen unless the parents are diplomatic staff of a foreign government or the United Nations.
The act also allows the minister to grant citizenship to a person who is at least 18 years old, meets the residency test of being present for three of the past five years, has an adequate knowledge of English or French, and has adequate knowledge of Canada, citizenship responsibilities and can communicate that knowledge in English or French without a translator.
The residency test is changed in two significant ways. First, prospective citizens must have been residents for three of five years prior to application rather than three of the previous four. Second, the rules are changed to require that the prospective citizen be physically present in Canada during those three years. Currently it is possible to be a permanent resident of Canada while actually living abroad.
Minimum residency requirements may be waived on compassionate grounds. The minister may grant citizenship to a minor or adopted child on application. The minister may also grant citizenship to someone who was born outside Canada to a citizen parent, is less than 28 years old, has resided in Canada for at least three of the past five years and has not been convicted.
Persons may be stripped of citizenship if they were born outside Canada to Canadian citizens who was born outside Canada after February 14, 1977, respectively, at aged 28 unless they meet minimum residency requirements.
Citizenship may be renounced if persons apply to the minister because they are citizens of another country or successfully apply for another citizenship, not a minor, able to understand the significance of citizenship renunciation and not residing in Canada.
The cabinet may order the revocation of citizenship if a person obtained it by duplicity. Persons referred for citizenship by someone who loses citizenship could also lose their citizenship.
The minister may not revoke a person's citizenship if the person is not notified or if the person within 30 days of notice requests appeal to a federal court and it is determined by federal court that citizenship was not obtained by some false representation or fraud.
Bill C-63 allows the minister to restore citizenship to a person whose citizenship was not revoked under the act or prior to the legislation or was a permanent resident of Canada after loss of citizenship and has at least 365 days of residence in Canada as a permanent resident in the two years preceding application for citizenship.
If the minister or cabinet believe that it is against the public interest, any person may be disallowed from taking the citizenship oath. Such a decision would remain in effect for five years. Any person determined to be a threat to Canadian security under the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act may also be barred citizenship.
Additionally Bill C-63 specifies that persons may be denied citizenship if they are on parole, probation or imprisoned, charged with an indictable offence in or outside Canada, under investigation by the Minister of Justice, the RCMP, CSIS or are or have been charged under the Criminal Code, have not been granted legal entry to Canada or are under removal order.
Bill C-63 lets the minister monitor conformity to the act and reverse citizenship decisions.
Citizenship judges will be renamed citizenship commissioners and will be responsible for promoting Canadian values, respect of law and social harmony. While they will preside over citizenship ceremonies, they shall no longer approve citizenship applications. Instead applications shall be decided by departmental officers. The salaries and benefits of the position will remain the same.
Bill C-63 changes the oath of citizenship. Where the current oath swears or affirms allegiance to the Queen and her successors, the new oath swears allegiance only to the Queen but not her successors.
Finally, the bill makes it an offence to misuse citizenship related documents. It sets punishment standards for citizenship officers who engage in wrongful behaviour.
By and large these changes appear welcome and somewhat overdue. It seems that every year we keep getting consultation papers or reports released by the minister without any concrete action.
I do worry about the impact that Bill C-63 tougher citizenship qualifications will have for international business people and others who travel extensively outside the country. The bill would force immigrants to be physically within Canadian borders for 1,095 days, a total of three years within a five year period before applying for citizenship. We need to be careful not to unfairly restrict international commercial activities in the private sector.
The intent of Bill C-63 is positive. The devil is often in the details. However, careful study and consultation at the citizenship and immigration committee will help improve the bill and address problems highlighted by others.