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.