House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizenship.


Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

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The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed that all remaining Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers stand?

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Some hon. members


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Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if I could ask for unanimous consent to revert to motions so that we could consider a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which, as I explained, involves only a few changes in the associate membership of committees.

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The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to revert to motions for the purpose requested?

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Some hon. members


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An hon. member


Citizenship Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

February 3rd, 1999 / 3:20 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved that Bill C-63, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to address the new bill on citizenship.

This legislation is not only a framework that defines the criteria for obtaining Canadian citizenship. It is also, and above all, a reflection of the value that we want to give to one of the world's most respected citizenships.

Since the Citizenship Act was last reviewed, back in 1977, our world has undergone major changes. Now that we are in the era of globalization, we are seeing record numbers of people move from one country or continent to another.

Borders between European countries are gradually disappearing, and a number of nations are merging some of their most important institutions. We are witnessing tremendous progress in the transport and telecommunications sectors. These changes allow us to establish and maintain contact with people all over the world.

In this rapidly evolving world, it is appropriate to stop and reflect on what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

Our citizenship is the very foundation of the Canadian identity. It is the common denominator that unites us from coast to coast. It is also one of our most valuable assets. Our citizenship gives us invaluable rights and freedoms and it is recognized world-wide.

Citizenship is something we do not give much thought to in our everyday lives. As a minister of this government, I have had the privilege of presiding over many citizenship ceremonies and I have met hundreds of new Canadians for whom this ceremony was a highlight of their lives.

For many of our new fellow citizens, the certificate of citizenship represents independence, democracy, freedom from fear and oppression, a chance to give their children a promising future.

In my work, I have experienced some highly emotional moments, watching parents accept the certificate of citizenship for a child adopted abroad. For these parents, it meant more than just sharing the same citizenship, it meant sharing part of their identify and their roots.

Canadian citizenship is not only a prerequisite for being issued a passport and for voting. It is first and foremost a milestone in becoming a full-fledged member of our society with its great humanitarian tradition of fairness and equity, and it is in keeping with this tradition that we drafted the new Citizenship Act.

To this end, we conducted consultations with Canadians that have enabled us to put forward today a piece of legislation that addresses their concerns.

I would like to thank all those who were involved in this process. As many of you may have noticed in December, when I first introduced the bill, it contains major improvements and necessary updates.

Since many of my colleagues have already perused the new Citizenship Act, there is no need to get into an exhaustive presentation. I will nonetheless take a moment to outline its key elements.

This innovative act includes some important changes for the attribution of citizenship at birth. There are three ways of obtaining citizenship by birth.

Citizenship is automatically granted to all children born in Canada, to children born abroad of a Canadian parent and to children adopted abroad by a Canadian.

Granting Canadian citizenship to all children born in our country is what we call the jus soli principle. This principle, honoured by many countries, aims to prevent statelessness. It also reaffirms our adhesion to the Canadian humanitarian tradition to which I referred earlier.

Children born abroad to Canadian parents will automatically be Canadian citizens. However, the second generation of children born in a foreign country will have to reside in Canada for three years before age 28 in order to retain their Canadian citizenship. Then again, it is important for our government to make sure that our citizenship is based on the attachment we have to our country and the knowledge we have of its values.

In keeping with our tradition of justice and fairness, we propose changes to ensure greater equity between natural born and adopted children. Currently, a foreign child adopted by a Canadian citizen is treated as an immigrant and must be first admitted as a permanent resident. With the new act, a foreign child adopted by a Canadian will be granted citizenship without having to go through the entire immigration process.

As a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children, Canada is committed to ensuring that inter-country adoption respects the best interests and rights of the child. The new act represents a strong statement in support of this commitment.

Of course, the adoption must conform to the laws of the nation where the adoption takes place and to those of the province of residency of the adoptive parents since adoption falls under provincial jurisdiction.

As I said earlier, one can also choose to become Canadian. It was important that we also modernize the attribution of citizenship by naturalization.

One of the main features of the new act is the clear and precise definition of criteria for attaining citizenship by naturalization.

Our primary goal is to ensure that people who obtain Canadian citizenship have a deep commitment to the adopted country. We believe that commitment is possible only if the person is physically in the country.

Physical presence makes it possible to develop a sense of belonging and a better understanding of Canadian society, values and culture. With this in mind, we have redefined the residency criteria.

As many have noticed, the current legislation does not include the word “physical”, thus leaving too much room for interpretation of the meaning of “residence”. The new act phrases the residency conditions in more precise terms, requiring such presence in the country. Accordingly, a permanent resident must reside in Canada for a cumulative three years during the five years that precedes his or her application for citizenship.

Many people who come to Canada are involved in business and maintain links with their country of origin. Actually, over half of business immigrants create their own jobs. They bring in new capital and contribute to the development of Canada's international trade. This represents a notable contribution to our country. Other newcomers seek to maintain close social and family ties to their countries of origin.

Whatever the reason, it is vital that we provide these permanent residents with the flexibility to travel outside Canada. Therefore, we have extended the period during which they need to meet the physical residency requirement from four years to five. This offers a sufficiently flexible framework that takes into account the reality of those who need to travel for business or personal reasons.

We are also adding a new requirement that calls for adequate knowledge of our country and of one of our official languages. We want applicants to be familiar with the values of our society and to be able to demonstrate it without the help of an interpreter.

Some members might wonder why we have put so much emphasis on physical presence and knowledge of the country. To answer this question we have to ask ourselves the meaning we give to our citizenship. The answer lies in our principles and in the tradition of democracy, justice and fairness that we all share in Canada. It is of utmost importance that people who adopt Canada as their new home be prepared to accept the responsibilities that accompany the privileges of holding Canadian citizenship.

These criteria provide the necessary balance between two key principles: protecting the value of Canadian citizenship while providing flexibility for prospective new Canadians.

The new process will also address concerns expressed by Canadians across the country. It will protect the value of Canadian citizenship and promote administrative efficiencies.

With this new legislation on citizenship, we are doing what is needed to change a complex process to make it more precise, more effective and better suited to today's reality.

In establishing clear and precise criteria for citizenship, we are helping to ensure its value. It allows us as well to simplify a process that is currently long and time consuming. Most applications for citizenship pose no problems. They can now be processed by citizenship officers.

Thus, the citizenship judges, as they are currently known, will have more time to work on other duties given them. To mark the change in their role, we will now be calling them citizenship commissioners.

The new citizenship legislation defines some of the selection criteria of these commissioners. They will be Canadians who have distinguished themselves through their significant contribution to their community and Canadian society. They will be people who have shown, through their commitment to the community, their ability to fill the role with enthusiasm and dignity.

In addition to asking them to preside over citizenship ceremonies, we will ask them to spend a significant portion of their time promoting related civic values.

During the public consultations on legislative review I met with people from every part of the country. Although the main focus was on immigration, citizenship was also included in the dialogue I had with Canadians. It became clear to me that one of the best ways to enhance the meaning of our citizenship was to promote it widely. As our society changes it seems very relevant to promote values such as civic responsibility, respect for the law and understanding among peoples. Indeed these lie at the core of our Canadian identity.

The best persons to assume this responsibility are our citizenship commissioners. The improvements to the decision making process will allow them to use their time, talents and expertise to actively promote community involvement and Canadian citizenship. Being a Canadian citizen brings rights and privileges and the exercise of these rights entails responsibility. Our citizenship commissioners will now take upon themselves the mandate of making Canadian citizens well aware of this.

Before concluding I will take a few moments to discuss the oath proposed under the new Citizenship of Canada Act. I am proud to propose to my fellow Canadians a pledge of allegiance adapted to today's values. The previous oath had remained unchanged for over half a century. It was high time to review it.

The proposed oath includes a clear commitment to Canada, to the Queen, to Canadian values and to respect for our rights and freedoms.

When new Canadians pledge their allegiance to Canada they will also commit themselves to observing our laws and to fulfilling their duties and obligations as active members of Canadian society.

Every year in Canada, some 160,000 people become Canadian citizens. Their commitment to their country of adoption is expressed in the oath of allegiance. With the new oath we are proposing, that commitment will no longer be to symbols but rather to the concrete definition of Canadian citizenship: our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a model throughout the world, defence of the democratic values that unite us, respect for our laws and for our duties and obligations as Canadians.

In closing, I would like to remind you that the primary mission of my department is to contribute to building a stronger Canada. The new Citizenship Act fits into that mission by reinforcing the value of our most precious asset as Canadians: our citizenship.

Building a stronger Canada means modernizing our institutions so that they may reflect contemporary issues and realities while respecting our traditions of justice, equity and compassion. Finally, building a stronger Canada means lending an ear to the concerns of the people of Canada, and responding to those concerns.

This new act is the result of considerable consultation and in depth reflection on what we want our country to be in the next century. It is part of the government's efforts to modernize Canadian institutions, to keep them in tune with today's realities and to foster public confidence in them, and to preserve and promote our identity, our values and our traditions. We need to make sure our legislative framework is updated to reflect our sense of who we are.

This is what I propose today with this forward looking, uniquely Canadian legislation. Therefore I ask all members of the House to support the new Citizenship of Canada Act.

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3:35 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask for unanimous consent of the House to have the minister respond to questions.

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The Deputy Speaker

Is their unanimous consent to permit a question and comment period consequent on the minister's speech as suggested?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is very unfortunate the minister was not willing to entertain questions at this time. I certainly have a lot of questions for her.

This piece of legislation, an act to replace the current Citizenship Act, is dealing with the very important subject matter of citizenship. It is a very personal issue and an issue that most of us feel very strongly about.

It is especially important for new immigrants so that they sense the pride in accepting Canadian citizenship, the feeling of new opportunity that comes with being a Canadian citizen, and the commitment that taking citizenship means and demonstrates to our country, Canada. For new Canadians particularly citizenship is something that is very personal and very important. For that reason the subject matter of this piece of legislation is also very important.

In the time I have been immigration critic for the official opposition I have heard touching personal stories from new Canadians about what it means to be a Canadian citizen. All of us who are not new citizens of the country could be reminded what it really means by listening to our newest citizens. I know many of us feel strongly about being a Canadian citizen, but a reminder from time to time would do none of us any harm.

I will begin by giving a little background material to the bill. The government's stated purpose has been presented by the minister. Bill C-63 was tabled by the minister on December 7, 1998. It is intended to replace the current Citizenship Act. Bill C-63 will be the new Citizenship Act when it passes, hopefully with many amendments about which I will talk in the future.

Bill C-63 has been touted by the minister as the first major reform of citizenship in 20 years. It is an attempt to modernize the act, as we have just heard the minister express. While some parts appear to more clearly define parts of the act than they are defined in the other act, Bill C-63 certainly does not constitute a major modern reform. Critical areas have been neglected while others have been changed in a negative way. I will refer to a few of those in my presentation today.

I congratulate the minister on two points. First, I congratulate her for finally after three years as minister presenting some legislation in her area. Clearly the first piece of legislation should have been major changes to the Immigration Act because the Citizenship Act refers to the Immigration Act in several cases. Because the Immigration Act is clearly in a state of collapse we need new legislation in that area immediately. That should have been the first area dealt with, but I sincerely congratulate the minister for finally bringing forth a piece of legislation.

Second, I congratulate the minister and her department for making the bill an easy bill to read. I am very sincere about this point. Some pieces of legislation are very difficult to work one's way through. This one is not. It is presented in a very clear way. That allows anyone reading the legislation to very quickly recognize that there are many things missing from the legislation. I will talk about some of those.

In way of a general response to the bill, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration tabled its report in 1994, four and half years ago. It was the only committee report that has dealt in a substantial way with citizenship. Many others have dealt with various components of the Immigration Act, but it was the only one that has dealt with citizenship.

Four and a half years later we finally have legislation dealing with the act, but unfortunately it does not deal with many key issues proposed by a committee which is a Liberal dominated committee. With a majority of Liberal members we would think the minister would listen and pay some attention to what the committee put forth.

This unwillingness to change integral parts of the act will result in several things, and there are some very negative things. The court system will ultimately make law in several areas which should be made by the House of Commons and by parliament.

What is left out of the act will in effect neutralize some of the good proposals that are put forth in a very general way by the legislation. In other words, it has been put forth in such a general way and so much has been left to regulation that it is virtually meaningless in many cases. The regulations that will be put forth by departmental officials will determine the impact of the act.

An increase in power is given to the minister in many areas of the legislation. To be fair, I recognize that authority is necessary in some places. I will talk a bit later about one of those areas. Too much power is being given to the minister without the checks and balances required to make sure that no individual will be discriminated against in an unfair way. I am very concerned about that.

Along the same line and by way of general comment, the legislation contains clauses which were incorporated not as the result of an initiative on the part of the minister but due to court cases.

The old legislation was so loose, the court in effect made law, and the minister decided she should at this time incorporate the court decisions in law which she is required to do. An example of a case which is worth talking about shows the extreme unfairness of parts of the old act which led to one of the changes in this bill.

Until recently there remained within the Citizenship Act a discrimination between men and women. Before 1977 certain children would not have qualified for citizenship and under the current act, such children are required by the act to make an application for citizenship and undergo a criminal security check. Children born abroad before 1977 to a Canadian mother would not automatically obtain citizenship but children born abroad before 1977 to a Canadian father need only register their births.

Clearly this was an unbelievable discriminatory aspect of the old bill. Unfortunately, rather than government changing that before 1977 it was changed by the courts and incorporated here by the minister.

For these general reasons and some very specific reasons, the official opposition must oppose this bill unless there is substantial willingness on the part of this minister and this government to accept some substantial and broad amendments. I would hope that kind of co-operation is there between the official opposition and the government and that the government will look at some very substantial amendments that we will be proposing in committee and at report stage.

If those amendments are accepted, then we would only be too happy to support this legislation. However, at this time we clearly cannot accept this legislation in the way it has been presented to us.

I would like to get into the specifics of the act. One of the very serious flaws of Bill C-63 deals with citizenship at birth. Bill C-63 states that all children born in Canada, except those born to diplomats, are automatically citizens at birth regardless of whether either of their parents has citizenship status as a landed immigrant or as a permanent resident.

Recommendation No. 12 of the 1994 committee report states “Children born in Canada should be Canadian citizens only if one or both parents is a permanent resident of Canada”. This statement was made in a House of Commons committee report, a committee dominated by Liberal members of this House, yet the minister refused to accept that recommendation.

It was not only the House of Commons committee that recommended change in this area. In 1997 the LRAG report, the legislated review advisory committee report, outlined the government's awareness of the problems that this clause was causing. It said “In our consultations across the country we heard concerns about the abuse of the provision of the Citizenship Act granting automatic citizenship to children born on Canadian soil”. It was recognized by that committee as well.

Finally, this is the position of the official opposition, and I am going to quote directly from Reform policy. “Reform supports an immigration and citizenship policy that requires children born in Canada to take the citizenship of their parents. Children born in Canada to landed immigrants would assume Canadian citizenship”.

Clearly, there is support from several groups and from many Canadians to not automatically grant citizenship to children born in this country.

During her press conference tabling this bill in December, the minister stated that she made no changes to this clause because there was no research done on how big a problem citizenship at birth really is. She stated that because hospital records do not request the nationality of parents and that changing this would require provincial co-operation, her hands were basically tied in terms of collecting data.

This minister has been the minister for immigration for three years now. Why has the necessary background work not been done so that the minister could have presented in this bill those changes that Canadians are asking for. Her story is that she cannot do anything about it because the research has not been done. It has been four and a half years since the committee reported. Why on earth has the research not been done? I hope the minister will answer that somewhere along the way.

On several occasions the minister has made it clear that she really does understand the abuses that result because of this automatic granting of citizenship. She knows of the case of Mavis Baker which is before the supreme court now. In this case Mavis Baker who came to this country legally and has three children was ordered to be deported by the minister's department.

Because the legislation is so loose and based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child among other things, her lawyer stepped in and said that Mrs. Baker could not be deported. Her deportation order by the department is being overturned by the court. We have not heard the results of this case yet.

I would not be the least bit surprised that because this law has been left as it is, the minister's neglect in this case, that the courts could well determine based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that these children be automatically granted Canadian citizenship due to the law the minister chose to leave the way it is. Because the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child does not allow separation of a mother from her children, the court could determine that this woman cannot be deported.

That kind of law in effect being made by a court is completely unacceptable. Let us have laws in this country made in the Parliament of Canada. It is only loose legislation, improper legislation that allows the courts to make laws the way they have been doing for so long.

The second issue that has been dealt with in this bill and which I want to talk about concerns the requirements for granting citizenship. There are some recommendations in this bill that look good on the surface.

Clause 6(1)(b) of Bill C-63 defines the terms of permanent residence more concisely than does the current act. This was incorporated in response to recommendation 6 of the committee report. The existing legislation may be loosely interpreted. Some individuals have been found to be residing in Canada due to a court case. The courts determined that they were residing in Canada because they had a bank account in this country or because they own property here. Either one of these things would indicate that they were residing in Canada.

The minister said the right words in the bill. She said that we were going to plug that hole. What will be required is 1,095 days or three years of physical presence in this country within a five year period to meet the conditions for applying for citizenship. That change was made. Sadly this change is rendered virtually useless because the minister did not implement recommendation 7 of the House of Commons report.

Recommendation 7 said that measures should be introduced to enable accurate monitoring of periods of time that permanent residents are absent from Canada. There is nothing that provides any mechanism or any rules that would allow for the tabulation that would be necessary under this law.

In effect this piece of legislation is rendered completely useless because the follow-up step has not been done. What will follow will be done behind closed doors by the minister's officials. The minister will approve as she sees fit without any requirement that it be passed by this House. In effect, even a change that sounds good and looks good is rendered virtually useless because it is so loose it is meaningless.

I also want to talk about the blatant patronage. It goes another step that we have not seen for some time. Let us look at the blatant patronage which has been promoted in regard to citizenship judges. Probably one of the most contentious issues of this bill is the continued trend of patronage which has now been put at a new level.

Under clauses 31 and 32 the duties of the current citizenship judges will be handed over to departmental officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. We have called for that for some time. That is a good move.

The citizenship judges who are patronage appointees will no longer determine citizenship. That will be done within the department. We have supported that because it should reduce costs, allow some streamlining and lead to some consistency in the rulings among the people who are determining citizenship. That is good.

Instead of just ending the patronage appointments entirely, the minister has created the new position of commissioner. What is the role of these commissioners? They will continue to get paid at the same rate until their terms are up and then they will be reappointed at the minister's will, or some new friends will be appointed. What is their role? Listen carefully because it is unbelievable that this kind of patronage appointment would be put in place. Their role is to promote active citizenship in the community.

Talk to the member from Hamilton, to the Canadian heritage minister about that because that is one of the stated purposes of her department. They had better get it straightened out between the immigration minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and decide which department will do this.

Most Canadians would say it is not necessary for any department to do this. It is a complete waste of taxpayers' money. Let us stop wasting money in the citizenship and immigration department. Let us stop wasting money in the Canadian heritage department and let the local residents and local community groups promote good citizenship. I know of so many groups that do such a good job of that.

Let us cut this spending entirely. I can sure see the Speaker is agreeing with this completely. That encourages me.

I was going to make several more points about citizenship judges but I think I have made the point. I will go on to the next section which is the granting of citizenship, clause 6(1)(b)(i).

The current legislation allows individuals whose application for permanent residence is approved to count each full day of residency in Canada from the date of application as a half day toward the total needed for citizenship application. That is the way the current act reads.

Bill C-63 removes that provision. As a result applicants will be penalized for bureaucratic delays in the department. Even if these delays are caused through no fault of their own, because of the removal of the provision they will be given no credit whatsoever toward their three year requirement for residency in the country before they are eligible to apply for citizenship.

It is disgusting. Few things disgust me more than when a department acting inefficiently can put that kind of burden on someone who wants to apply for citizenship in this country.

Clearly people who want to become Canadian citizens should not be denied the opportunity to do so in a timely fashion just because of bureaucratic holdups. It is a very sad commentary on this part of the bill.

There were some changes made regarding adoption outside Canada. Some of these changes seem to be a move in the right direction but they are so loosely defined and the regulation will really determine whether they are effective or not.

Bill C-63 will reduce the distinction between a foreign child adopted by a Canadian citizen and a child born in Canada. Currently a foreign child adopted by a Canadian citizen must first be admitted to Canada as a permanent resident before citizenship can be granted. That is the way it is under the current act. It is currently ensured that the child is sponsored and undergoes medical, criminal and security checks. That is the way the act is now.

This bill will remove those requirements as long as the adoption occurs outside Canada. That causes me great concern. I just cannot wait to get the minister's explanation as to why that has been put in the bill.

The new legislation will make it easier for adopting parents to gain Canadian citizenship for the child, which is good, but Bill C-63 stipulates that in order to allow citizenship to be granted to the minor, the adoption must create a genuine parent-child relationship. This is in response to some abuse we have seen across the country. It is not general abuse but specific people abusing the system by claiming they are adopting while they have other reasons for wanting the young person to come into the country.

Section 43 puts the regulation in place. The concern is that section 43(f) leaves defining the terms of this relationship to the minister's discretion. This legislation fails to provide more specific guidelines and terms with regard to exactly how this will be determined. The legislation is so loose that regulation could make some changes that appear to be positive have no positive impact whatsoever.

There is another area of great concern in this bill. Should this bill pass as is, authority will be given to the immigration minister to redefine the Canadian family if she so chooses. I am referring to clause 43 which grants the minister quite far reaching powers including the right to “specify who may make application under this act on behalf of a minor”. This is not defined in the legislation. It is left to the bureaucrats and the minister.

Clause 43(c) refers to fixed fees. The level of the fees could have a great impact on how this act works. Clause 43(i) defines a spouse for the purposes of this act. It is left to the minister's to define what a spouse is. Should this legislation pass the minister could choose to define a spouse in any way she wants. If the minister feels a change should be made, that change must be made by parliament. It should be made neither by the minister nor by the courts. This legislation opens it up so the minister can freely define what a spouse is.

It is of concern to me that the minister is free to define what constitutes the relationship between a parent and child for the purposes of determining entitlement to citizenship under the provisions of this act. Allowing these issues to be determined by the minister behind closed doors without the oversight of parliament is clearly a very arrogant and insulting thing to do to the Canadian population. I call for the minister to quickly reject this part of the act. I hope it is something she missed as she was reviewing the legislation put together by her department. If changes are needed in these areas and the minister wishes to make them, those changes should be done in parliament and not behind closed doors.

Reform Party policy supports restricting sponsorship privileges to the immediate family members, including spouses, minor dependent children and aged dependent parents. All others should apply for entry through the normal selective process. That is what we and I think many Canadians are calling for.

I will read both citizenship oaths. This is the oath under the current act:

I swear [or affirm] that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

This is the proposed oath contained in this legislation:

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to defend our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.

Am I objecting to the new oath? No. I do not think the new oath is probably all that bad. What I am objecting to is the way this oath was arrived at. This minister is so arrogant that she puts forth her oath and thinks her oath is what the Canadian population should accept. That is arrogance that Canadians will not accept. I believe the minister will be chastised by the Canadian public for doing that.

Clearly the minister has missed an opportunity here. She has missed a tremendous opportunity to have a patriotic debate across this country such as presents itself rarely. She could have called for a debate across the country in this House where Canadians would have the input on the oath and the oath then would truly be the oath of Canadian citizens. It would be an oath supported by citizens across the country.

But no, the minister in her infinite wisdom has determined that she can change that oath unilaterally and to heck with what Canadians want. I am concerned about that.

There will be now a debate on the process of entering this oath and on the oath itself, but it will not be as a result of what the minister has done.

On the language requirement in clause 6(1)(c), the minister stated in her presentation that she has put in place language requirements for those who wish to become Canadian citizens. The clause in question states: “The minister shall on application grant citizenship to a person who has an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada”. Further clause 31(7)(3) states that the new commissioners “will be responsible for providing advice and recommendations to the minister on appropriate methods to evaluate citizenship applicants about their knowledge of an official language of Canada and of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship”.

At least the minister will let these citizenship judges who will no longer be judges have their say on what they think the language requirement should be, but clearly the legislation should contain a definition of what the minister believes are reasonable language requirements. The minister has once again ignored her responsibility to make a decision on this issue. She is going to have that made behind closed doors by her departmental officials. Parliament will have absolutely no say in what adequate language requirements are.

While the move sounds like it may be a good move, I have heard from some new Canadians that they do not support the new language requirements or any new language requirements. But probably a majority do.

While this change could have been so positive because nothing has been defined, because everything is left up to regulation, we have not a clue what the minister really means about that. I think that is too bad.

This is the second reading of this bill and we are looking at very general comments. I have kept my comments quite general. There are several other issues I will talk about as we get to report stage. Other members of the official opposition will talk at third reading and in committee as well.

I sincerely hope this minister will pay attention to what she hears at committee, to what she hears from Canadians from across this country. Because the minister did not listen before she presented the legislation, she should now listen to what Canadians really want in this area of citizenship. It is an area that is extremely important to Canadians, a very personal issue and an issue which should be dealt with by Canadians and not by the minister behind closed doors.

I look forward to future debate on this issue from all political parties and hopefully we can make the changes necessary to make something out of this bill, something that Canadians will be able to identify with.

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4:10 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to divide my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, with each of us taking 20 minutes.

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The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent from the House for the hon. member to share his time as requested?

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Some hon. members


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Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

First of all, I would like to say that we generally understand citizenship to be part and parcel of national sovereignty. It is the government's prerogative to introduce a bill such as this. We will support it, bearing in mind of course that the day is not far off when a sovereign Quebec will introduce its own such bill.

That having been said, with the contagious laughter of an enthusiastic minister in the background, I wish to draw to the House's attention six questions we have about the bill.

I would like to begin by congratulating the minister on one aspect of the bill, a courageous aspect that makes me think I was not mistaken in describing the minister as a dove, while other aspects of the bill are indicative of a few hawks in this cabinet. There have even been some uncharitable remarks about nighthawks, but that is another story.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the minister for having included recognition of same-sex couples in her bill. This is ground-breaking, for such recognition is long in coming. I am pleased that the minister has shown leadership and I hope that she is seated right beside the Minister of Justice in cabinet, if that is not privy information.

We therefore congratulate the minister on this aspect of the bill.

My first question has to do with the decision to introduce a citizenship bill first when all signs were that an immigration bill was coming down the pipe. The minister wanted to take us a bit off guard and introduced a citizenship bill first.

This is the government's prerogative, but I know that deep inside she will agree, in the light of the Trempe report, tabled by the task force brilliantly led by the former deputy minister to the current minister responsible for income security. This task force made 172 recommendations, some being admittedly more valuable than others, but I think that overall it did a good job. I would have liked to see the minister heed the wishes of the auditor general, who had asked that she review the legislation.

The inefficiency of the Immigration Act and the highest administrative tribunal, namely the IRB, currently costs the provinces of Ontario and Quebec $100 million a year. This is something that could have been addressed if the minister had been willing to, but we were all left unsatisfied.

The auditor general also arrived at a fascinating diagnostic. He told the IRB that there were two hierarchies pitted against one another: officials and commissioners. Such confrontation obviously makes it very difficult to exercise any real administrative control. The hon. minister knows that what I am saying can easily be found in the documents from the auditor general, and I ask her in all friendship to table a bill in the next few weeks. She can count on the kind and gentle co-operation of the opposition in ensuring vigilance.

I would now like to share a few good memories with the minister about the 1995 referendum campaign. I think this was a high point in her public life, she had incredible visibility and the full confidence of the Prime Minister. We will recall that the agreement signed in June by the three party leaders—the current Quebec premier, Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Dumont—contained a proposal, which will be back on the table in a foreseeable future, and I am sure the minister remembers it, for dual citizenship.

This is reassuring. Behind every minister, there is probably a closet sovereignist. The minister is surely very pleased to tell us that, since the provisions remain the same, the status quo is maintained as regards dual citizenship.

Once Quebeckers decide to become a sovereign people, we will certainly be able to agree, as two sovereign states should do, on the issue of dual citizenship.

This is a very positive aspect of the bill. Again, we hope the minister's influence will be felt among Privy Council members, but that is far from certain.

The other issue is that of linguistic ability. That issue was also raised in the Trempe report. I agree that it is not easy to draw the line. However, I hope the parliamentary committee—before which, I am sure, the minister will as usual be pleased to appear—will obtain guarantees that, with regard to the linguistic skills that will be required and evaluated by using standardized tests, particular attention will be given to the knowledge of French which, as you know, is Quebec's official language.

I know that the Quebec government has made representations to the minister. We will reiterate them and I hope the minister will be in a position to provide the guarantees that are necessary, given the precarious situation of the French language in Quebec.

You, Mr. Speaker, are a bilingual citizen and this is to your credit. Quebec's precarious situation is easily understood when we read the Beaudoin report. The authors of that document, which was released two years ago and which is named after the minister responsible for the charter of the French language, estimated that 40 rulings—imagine the context in which we find ourselves—were made under the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and invalidated entire sections of Bill 101.

I am sure the minister is aware of this. It is important to be vigilant and to make sure that those who choose to settle in Quebec will comply with an inescapable requirement, which is to have a knowledge of the French language.

Again, I am counting on you, Mr. Speaker, to remind the minister that we must have very solid guarantees. It will of course be our duty to raise these issues in committee.

There is also the oath of citizenship. The minister is a woman of honour. She knows the importance of an oath in everyday life. An oath is a binding commitment with a strong symbolic value.

But there is a small paradox. There is something of an inconsistency. First, we should question why we are maintaining this allegiance to the Queen of England. Some may argue that Canada has been a sovereign country since the Statute of Westminster. We know that. We wonder why a minister, who seems to represent the progressive wing of the cabinet, stubbornly and, I must say, somewhat awkwardly maintains an allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who has had her share of problems, as we know.

I do not want to speak against the royal family—it would be against our rules—but let me say that there have been many more divorces in that family than in mine.

Why should we keep in an oath of allegiance such an explicit reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who fulfils a symbolic role?

Would it not have been wiser to take advantage of the opportunity to eliminate this reference to Her Majesty Elizabeth II in “modernizing the oath” as they are calling it? The minister has said in a press conference that these are two separate debates. I imagine this government will have the opportunity to discuss the matter as things develop.

There is something I do not understand, and I am sure the following question will be of interest: How can it be that the opportunity is not being taken, in revising this element, to respect what this government has adopted, namely a motion recognizing Quebec's distinct society, its distinct character?

Ought there not to be some consistency here? If we want to speak of the reality of Canada, and if we believe that we must do so truthfully and accurately, ought the minister not to agree with me that it would have been the most basic of courtesies to refer to the existence of two nations in this country or at least to Quebec's distinct society?

Quebec's characteristics are well known. The minister, who has a strong background in social sciences, is aware of this. I am not asking the minister to become a member of the Bloc Quebecois or the Parti Quebecois but, as a Quebec MP just like me who shares my passion for Montreal, when talking about Quebec, she should speak with a bit more finesse, a bit more accuracy, a bit more refinement, all qualities which she certainly does not lack.

Mention should have been made that Canada comprises two nations. Any treatise of constitutional law, which the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry has taught over many years, would have helped the minister understand that a nation is made up by people with a sense of community. This is the definition given in the 19th century. A nation is made up of people that control a territory. The minister cannot deny that Quebec controls a territory, that its population has a real sense of community, that it has a vernacular language, French.

The fourth element that defines a nation is, of course, its history. This is important, because this is to be found in every constitutional law treatise.

The minister's oath is incomplete, her work is incomplete. I think we should expect amendments.

I could make the same remarks with respect to native Canadians. Why did the minister not refer to them? At the 1982 constitutional conference, the minister was already very interested in things federal. She knows very well that this conference was the native peoples' conference. It even appears in the Constitution Act, 1982. There are very specific rights.

When we speak of Canada, we really must do so in the knowledge that it will soon be facing major change, based on two states that will form an association respecting their mutual sovereignty. In the meantime, it would have been simple courtesy for the minister to mention Canada's binational reality and the existence of the first nations, in her reference to Canada. This must not be forgotten, when an oath is taken on this reality. This did not happen, and should be rectified.

I want to raise another point that will require the minister to provide explanations to the committee. This is the notion of redefining the role of the citizenship judges in depth. They will be called citizenship commissioners. However, the description of the responsibilities of these commissioners remains rather vague. It would not take much for this appear as a desire for rather lyrical propaganda.

The bill mentions promoting civic values. That is certainly interesting, because there is no social unity without civic values.

But would this not be a slippery road to propaganda? I do hope the minister will make it extremely clear what role these commissioners will be expected to play.

The strongest criticism I have to make to her—and I urge her to listen, as her undivided attention is required on this very serious concern of ours—has to do with the process for appointing the commissioners. Why not go through the Public Service Employment Act and have a competition? How will they be appointed?

At the press conference, I was left with the impression that we are dealing with partisan appointments, something I have always stayed away from, as the whole sovereignist movement has done. So, does the minister not feel that the appointment process could be used to benefit friends of the government? I am concerned about that.

If I were sure that those selected were all as qualified as the hon. member for Laval-Ouest, I would not be concerned, because I know that immigration is an area she knows very well, having herself been involved in those circles. But we have been given no such assurances.

I think that the minister will have to be extremely careful and that these appointments should be free from partisanship. I want to really stress this point. I do not want to turn into a Reformer, but still the minister should beware and she will have account for her actions to the parliamentary committee.

Another important point is the whole issue of international adoption. I myself had occasion, in a slightly more informal context, to make representations to the minister. She knows how important this issue is for the Government of Quebec.

In fact, I wonder whether I would have unanimous consent to table a letter addressed to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, in which Quebec's minister Jean Rochon, an honourable man if ever there was one, and André Boisclair, express certain concerns.

I cannot resist sharing this letter with its rather—

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4:25 p.m.


Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

The reply as well.

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4:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

The reply as well, if a page brings it, because I do not have it with me.

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4:25 p.m.


Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Table them both at the same time.

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4:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

I will read the letter, then:

During a meeting with the minister of relations with citizens and immigration, on October 26, you confirmed—

The reference here is to the minister.

—your intention to table, in mid-December—

Everyone will recall that that was around the last day of the session. I wish to mention in passing that the opposition parties were put in a rather difficult situation from a parliamentary point of view, because I learned on the train one Friday that I had to be back Monday to reply to the Minister. It would have been nicer to have a few extra days to prepare, but I know that the minister has her plate full and that this will not happen again in future.

The letter said:

During a meeting with the minister of relations with citizens and immigration, on October 26, you confirmed your intention to table, in mid-December, a bill to amend the Citizenship Act. This bill proposes, among other things, to grant citizenship without delay, in cases of recognized international adoption, to the child adopted by a Canadian citizen, before that child arrives in Canada.

This bill raises various issues in Quebec. One of them has to do with how we can reconcile the legislation and our civil code.

I will stop here, but let me tell the House this: under Quebec law—and the minister, who at one time sat in the National Assembly, knows Quebec law—the adoption process must be confirmed and finalized by an order from a Quebec court.

There is an incompatibility and this is why the Quebec government made representations regarding the fact that the status of adopted child would be granted when the child is still abroad, before the process is finalized in Quebec.

On the other hand, I fully realize that parents who go through the international adoption process expect things to be done diligently. We hope it will be the case. However, I am asking the minister to respect the provisions of the Quebec civil code, and in particular the prerogatives of the National Assembly.

In conclusion, we will support this bill, since citizenship is an attribute of national sovereignty. In the not too distant future, when we have achieved sovereignty, we Quebeckers will have an opportunity to introduce a similar bill. I know that we can count on the minister to promote good relations and to ensure successful negotiations on dual citizenship.

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Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

I am always very pleased to see the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve display his sense of humour and irony to the House, involving our colleagues on the other side of the floor and reminding us that they sometimes do listen to the opposition and its proposals.

I will be pleased to associate with my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, as I have in other circumstances, moreover, in offering some views, some enlightenment arising out of my training as a professor of international and constitutional law, as someone who has spent a number of years in a university teaching about legislation such as this Citizenship Act. Someone who wants to take a constructive look at improving this legislation, clarifying some of its provisions, making that contribution for the most part within a parliamentary committee, which will examine it clause by clause.

It might be worthwhile raising a few questions here in the House, in order to provide the minister and her staff with the opportunity to reflect upon some of the clauses which strike me as needing more reflection and perhaps upon the changes which we can examine together within the parliamentary committee.

It seems to be that the general nature of the act has not been changed, overall. Of course it has retained the two major concepts for assigning nationality, the concepts of the law of the blood and the law of the soil, jus sanguinis and jus soli, adding to them naturalization and attribution of citizenship under a certain number of other criteria, such as the exceptional criteria by which the minister may, on occasion, on recommendation of the governor in council, award citizenship. These items are in many ways a repeat of the old act.

There is no doubt one thing the minister should look at, and that is the notion in part I of the right to citizenship. It seems to me that clauses 3 to 12 of the bill do not really concern the right to citizenship, a right that could have been acknowledged and guaranteed in the Canadian charter of rights and which was not. We could have, had we wanted, for example, incorporated in Canadian law the prescriptions of international instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

I submit the following thought to the minister for her consideration: does part I not indeed concern the granting of citizenship and should we not use that expression rather than the right to citizenship. Although the quality of citizen is involved, clauses 3 and following are not drafted in a way as to concern a right really, but the government's ability to grant citizenship, especially when it is granted through the process of naturalization.

Compared with the part following, which concerns the loss of citizenship, part I should be entitled: “Granting citizenship”, with the corollary of the various reasons and grounds for granting citizenship provided in the various provisions in this part.

I would point out to the minister that in this part there is some doubt about the relevance of clause 11(e), which could pose a problem in the case of dual citizenship, as the government does not seem to want to grant or agree to grant Canadian citizenship when an individual is a citizen of another country or is entitled to citizenship in another country.

There seems to be a restriction to dual citizenship in paragraph 11(e). I therefore submit to the minister that this may be an exception to the rule, which calls for further investigation.

There is also a need to ensure—this has not been done and, in any case, it deserves careful consideration—that the legislation will not allow the two conventions signed by Canada, that is the Convention on the nationality of married women and the Convention on the reduction of statelessness, to be violated. By signing the latter, Canada and the other signatories agreed to pass legislation that does not cause statelessness.

I look forward to finding out at committee whether the act has been examined in terms of compliance with this international convention of which Canada is a signatory. This is one of the issues I think a parliamentary committee should look into.

There is another thing in this act that struck me; it is in part 4 on prohibitions. The concept of public interest may be too vague. In the context of paragraph 21(1), this concept is the basis for making an order prohibiting the granting of citizenship. This may be too vague a concept and the vagueness of the criteria set out in paragraph 21(1) of this citizenship bill could cause problems in terms of constitutional validity.

I also submit to the minister that it might be a good idea to consider adding, at section 23, which deals with national security, a provision to ensure that, in paragraph 2, reference is made not only to crimes provided for in federal legislation, but also international crimes now codified in several international conventions as well as in the statute of Rome establishing the international criminal tribunal.

It might be appropriate to add a reference to the criminal acts under international law referred to in section 11(g) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This might be one way of ensuring that international criminal acts, being increasingly codified, could be used to justify refusal of citizenship, since it would represent a threat to national security to award it to people who have committed criminal acts not only under federal law but under international law as well.

I have always found this act to contain a curious concept—and I found it so in my university teaching days as well—that of Commonwealth citizenship. In this act, as in the one it is intended to replace, there is the concept of Commonwealth citizenship, that any Canadian citizen or any citizen of another Commonwealth country holds the status of citizen of the Commonwealth in Canada.

This is therefore a nationality or citizenship which is superimposed on nationalities attributed by other countries, but it is one about which we know nothing. What point is there to Commonwealth citizenship? Does it confer any real rights, or is a highly symbolic assignment to citizens of other Commonwealth countries of a status in Canada?

I would like to be properly enlightened on the real significance of this concept of Commonwealth citizenship and its corollaries in Canadian law.

Perhaps there is one point here which ought to be of concern to the minister, which is that other concepts of citizenship or nationality appear to be being created here in Canada itself. It might be worthwhile checking whether the Nisga'a treaty, just signed between the authorities of British Columbia and the Nisga'a band, contains a concept of citizenship which is compatible with Canadian citizenship, or is complementary to it.

Then there would have to be an examination of, not only the concept of Commonwealth citizenship, but also other domestic citizenships which seem to have been created, or will be created in future, by treaties with aboriginal nations. So I suggest the minister examine this new idea of a domestic citizen and look at how it would work with the notion of Canadian citizenship.

Finally, on a more technical level, on the content of the bill, I sometimes have a hard time understanding why, in a bill on citizenship, there are provisions that have nothing to do with citizenship. All of part VI concerns what non-Canadians cannot or can do. There are provisions on their right to acquire property, for example, in this bill, and a number of provisions on the power of the lieutenant governor in council, by regulation, to alter bans on property ownership by non-Canadians. This whole part should not be included in a bill on citizenship.

The general organization of this bill, therefore, does not lend itself to the idea of including provisions that do not concern Canadian citizens and the rights they enjoy.

Therefore, in my opinion, we could readily contemplate the inclusion of clauses 49 and 54 in legislation other than on citizenship, because it seems to me they have no place in this legislation, except a place history has reserved for them, but that history does not justify now as it used to, especially since the existence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other instruments enshrining property rights.

So, these in my opinion are the things that warrant debate and verification in certain cases. I was also interested in the matter of citizenship from the standpoint, as my colleague mentioned, of what would happen in the case of a sovereign Quebec, in the matter of dual citizenship, the opportunity for dual citizenship. I am one of those who consider the minister very wise to—

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Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC


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Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

—visionary, even—my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve has such a way with words—in that I think that, internationally, the trend now is no longer just to tolerate, but to accept and even encourage multiple nationalities and not just dual citizenship. The trend is to even add the category of supranationals as Europe has done, with the Maastricht treaty that was recently passed to recognize citizenship in the European Union, which is entirely consistent with French or British nationality.

This is something sovereignists will continue to ponder. Would it be a good idea for a sovereign Quebec to share supranational citizenship with a sovereign Canada, in other words citizenship in one Canadian union for two sovereign states? These are debates we will also be having.

In the present legislative setting, amendments are certainly important. My colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, and I will be making constructive suggestions during the committee debate.

I conclude by recalling the fundamental distinction established by the French when they passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789.

The French understood “man” in the generic sense, including “woman” of course, as a universal being with a certain number of fundamental rights to which he was entitled as a member of a universe where borders were of no importance. But citizens are no longer universal beings. Citizens inhabit territories and, when it comes to the status of Canadian citizens within such territories, they must be provided with citizenship legislation that provides them with the best guarantees.

It is in this perspective that the Bloc Quebecois intends to make a positive contribution to the study of this bill. I hope that I will be able to make a contribution that will be helpful to the minister and her officials.

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4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, employment insurance; the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Canada Post; the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, employment insurance; the hon. member for Mercier, Pratt & Whitney.