Mr. Speaker, the last time I rose in the House to speak to Bill C-16, it was a rather short intervention. I barely had the time to outline the main elements of my speech; I was supposed to have some 40 minutes but had a mere two minutes.
It is with great pleasure that I take part today in this debate on Bill C-16, the Citizenship of Canada Act, which all the members have had the opportunity to look at. It is about 40 pages long and is designed to replace the existing Citizenship Act.
Members will recall that the House studied this bill once before, as it is a carbon copy, so to speak, of earlier Bill C-63. That bill had been tabled in the House and had gone to committee. This morning, we had the opportunity to discuss that at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It was mentioned that, when the earlier bill was considered, more than thirty individuals, organizations and experts had testified before the committee to express their concerns with regard to the Citizenship Act.
That earlier bill having died on the order paper, the government has now introduced a new bill, Bill C-16, to replace the existing Citizenship Act. I will describe this bill as simply and as succinctly as possible, giving a brief historical overview of citizenship in Canada, and then moving to the changes proposed in Bill C-16.
Later, I will explain the Bloc Quebecois vision with regard to the concept of citizenship, which can be both legal and civic.
I will then talk about a number of amendments, one in particular from my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, who was the citizenship and immigration critic at the time Bill C-63 was being studied.
In my opinion, my colleague presented a constructive amendment at report stage, which made it possible to improve Bill C-63 on citizenship.
Those amendments had the support of a number of individuals and organizations. I will address the amendments made by my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve shortly. It is my intention to do so because they are of interest and of considerable importance to a number of different groups.
The concept of citizenship may have a connotation and a definition that are purely legalistic. Naturally, the legal concept of citizenship confers certain rights and responsibilities. These responsibilities and rights are civic in nature, but they are also political and to some extent social. There is also the aspect of responsibilities.
Bill C-16 replaces Bill C-63, which died on the order paper. It has a lot of history attached to it. Hon. members must keep in mind that, prior to 1947, not just anyone could become a Canadian citizen. One had to be a British subject. That is hard to imagine now, but I think that some of my colleagues who will be taking part in this debate will address this aspect.
Before 1947, a person could be Canadian provided he were a British subject. We had to wait until 1977 for the Citizenship Act as we now know it to come into effect. The 1977 statute, which still applies, was aimed at encouraging this citizenship, at making it more accessible in a number of ways. There are three or four elements characterizing the 1977 legislation.
The first one was that it reduced from five to three the number of years of residency. This is an important element. It eliminated the discrimination between men and women when adopting a child born abroad.
The act introduced a new concept: dual citizenship. From then on, people could have dual citizenship. The 1977 act was aimed at making it easier to become a Canadian citizen.
The bill before us today—for all intents and purposes and as surprising as it may seem—is the first review of the Citizenship Act we, as parliamentarians, have the opportunity to vote on.
Since 1977, apart from a few statements from subsequent ministers—in particular the member for Westmount, who, during her previous mandate, made various statements—it is the first time parliamentarians are called upon to vote on an in-depth review of the Citizenship Act.
I would like to highlight a few of the changes to the existing legislation. One clause of Bill C-16 deals with the issue of birth in Canada. Technically, a child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen.
A few exceptions apply. If a parent of the child is a diplomat, there are a number of exceptions. These exceptions are maintained in the bill before us today.
Then there is the whole question of the physical presence with regard to residency. It boils down to the fact that a person who has been physically present in Canada for three years is a Canadian citizen. On should remember that today's reality, both in Canada and across the world, is that, with globalization and other trends, an increasing number of citizens are travelling.
In recent years, we have seen the large number of foreign immigrants and investors who invest in several countries and who must take into consideration the provisions of the Citizenship Act. This bill takes into account these two aspects, including the globalization aspect, the fact that people, particularly business people, have to travel more and more frequently to other countries.
Another aspect of Bill C-16 is foreign adoption. I think all parliamentarians know that, right now, a child adopted abroad must go through the permanent residence process before being granted Canadian citizenship.
Of course, under the existing Citizenship Act, medical examinations are mandatory at the time when an application is made. The whole process is often lengthy, and more than anything else, it gets in the way.
The bill before us will speed up the process for granting citizenship to children adopted abroad. As we often hear, it is like motherhood and apple pie. It is certainly in our best interest to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for adopted children. However, one thing must be clear. Everybody knows it, but I think it is important to remind the hon. members.
In Quebec, the whole issue of adoption comes under the Civil Code. In this regard, I would say that the changes made pose a certain number of problems for us with respect not to content but to form of course. We firmly believe that, on this issue, it is important to define the mechanisms of co-operation between the provincial government and the federal government in order to comply with the Civil Code of Quebec.
I remind members, and I will take the trouble to read the part of the bill dealing with adoption, that:
- The Minister shall, on application, grant citizenship to a person who, after February 14, 1977, was adopted by a citizen while the person was a minor child and whose adoption: a ) was in the best interests of the child; b ) created a genuine relationship of parent and child;— d ) was not intended to circumvent the requirements under any enactment for admission to Canada or citizenship.
As I pointed out, we are not against the underlying principle of the bill, but we firmly believe that there should be mechanisms for co-operation between the two governments in order to facilitate its enforcement in compliance with the Civil Code of Quebec.
What Quebec is asking for in this regard is that a bilateral approach be taken to ensure consultation at all stages of the process before the federal government grants citizenship.
We believe that this work should be done in co-operation with the provincial government. When Bill C-63, which has now become Bill C-16, was reviewed, a number of stakeholders, including the Fédération des parents du Québec, told us “We support the principle, but we are asking the federal government to put in place a mechanism that will respect Quebec's requests”.
Another issue is the oath of citizenship. I want to read the oath of citizenship. The bill provides that:
A person acquires citizenship on being granted citizenship by the Minister and taking the oath of citizenship.
The current oath reads as follows:
I swear 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 fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Bill C-16 provides that, from now on, newcomers will have to express their loyalty to Canada. The oath will be replaced by the following:
From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada...
I am convinced that the member for Bourassa has a deep respect for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, because in his numerous missions abroad he had the opportunity to meet her many times.