Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak, along with my colleagues from Winnipeg Centre and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, to this very important topic of citizenship.
It has been mentioned that citizenship is something which all Canadians hold very dear to their hearts.
A number of problems come through my constituency office around immigration issues and the difficulties people have in coming to Canada. Quite often there are a lot of bureaucratic entanglements before they can get here.
I think of one situation in particular of a young man who had married a young lady from his home of Lebanon. He had been separated from his bride for almost a year and was still encountering difficulties in bringing her to Canada. I was able to get involved in that case and help move it along to the point where she eventually was admitted to Canada.
Shortly after that, he and his wife and their family invited me and my wife to a party they were having to celebrate this occasion. It was a wonderful experience to be in the midst of the party with so many relatives, young children and older people, all having a wonderful time. They were enjoying the hospitality and friendship of each other. My wife and I looked at each other and thought it was a shame that people have to go through such difficulty before they can come together to enjoy each other.
That is why it is important that the whole issue of immigration and citizenship be looked upon very seriously and dealt with in a way that will show respect for our fellow human beings and enable us to enjoy each other's company.
With respect to the bill, some of our concerns have already been mentioned. I want to touch upon a couple of issues concerning citizenship which I think are very important.
Clause 21 of Bill C-16 would introduce a new power to permit the governor in council, upon a report from the minister, to deny a person's citizenship “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for the person to become a citizen”.
We have some concerns about that. That power would not only be new, it would also represent somewhat of a conceptual change from the present law. Under the present law citizenship is seen pretty much as a right more so than a privilege. It is a right which all people should have, provided that the objective criteria have been fulfilled. The new provision would put the whole question of citizenship into the area of a privilege which would be conferred upon people. The question of the definition of public interest is not really clarified in the legislation. We do not know what is meant by public interest and what will be used to deny citizenship to an individual.
In order to trigger this section of the bill the minister would be required to provide the person concerned with a summary of the contents of the proposed report to the governor in council. The person would then have 30 days in which to respond, in writing, to the minister. If the minister proceeded with the report and the governor in council agreed, the latter would order citizenship to be denied.
The decision of cabinet—and this is the part we want to look at very carefully—would not be subject to appeal or review by any court and would be valid for five years. This order would be conclusive proof of the matters that were stated in the report.
We have a situation where cabinet could decide, for various reasons which are not clearly amplified in the bill, that in the public interest someone is not fit to be granted Canadian citizenship and there would be no appeal. That gives a very big power to refuse citizenship on the basis of a public interest which could be defined in any way, shape or form. We have a lot of concern about that.
We are also concerned about the citizenship commissioners. The new bill would introduce a major change in the way citizenship applications are dealt with. Many citizenship judges are doing an excellent job and I commend them for their dedication to their task.
I have had the opportunity to attend in my riding many of the citizenship courts and to witness firsthand the excellent job which these citizenship judges do in imparting to the new citizens the joy, responsibilities and obligations involved in being a Canadian citizen. I want to commend the many citizenship judges throughout our country for the fine work they do.
Under Bill C-16 we find that these judges would be replaced by citizenship commissioners. Their duties would be full time or part time and they would be appointed by the governor in council during pleasure. Again, the words “during pleasure” cause us a bit of concern. That is something which should be looked at very closely. We really should not make change for the sake of making change if there is no rationale behind changing the citizenship judges and the fine job they do to a new system. I am not sure we would be moving forward in a very positive way.
It is also not clear how the advisory side of the commissioner's mandate would be accomplished under the bill, nor why the commissioners would be particularly well suited to provide such advice. Again, this is something that causes us concern and we feel it should be looked at very closely.
There are a number of things upon which I could elaborate, but I would conclude by emphasizing that from my experience the whole process of a person coming to our country, having the right to citizenship and going through the process which moves them into that status is very, very important.
I have seen many new citizens who exude a sense of pride and a sense of happiness when they are declared Canadian citizens. I have been at the ceremonies where tears fall from the eyes of many of these people as they are welcomed into Canadian society. As we do that, we are certainly saying something about our society, about the openness of our society, about how we feel that people have an obligation to share one with the other and about how we have an obligation to support these people. That is an aspect I would want to emphasize as well.
When we look at citizenship we cannot just dwell on the responsibility of those who are receiving citizenship, we must dwell upon our own responsibility to provide the kind of support mechanisms that are necessary to new Canadians.
When I come to Ottawa and I get in a taxi to drive to the House of Commons, many times I am being chauffeured by someone who is a new Canadian, someone from another country. When they tell me about their background, their experience and their qualifications in their home country, I ask myself why they are driving a taxi. Why are they not working as an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor? We have to look at that aspect of citizenship as well, as to how we treat our new citizens.
The other day I had a young man, who was originally from Africa, talk to me about the difficulty he is having getting a job in Nova Scotia. As we talked it became very clear that this young man had a university degree from one of our own institutions, yet he was having difficulty getting a job.
We have to look at some of the barriers that we place in the way of our new citizens who have obtained the desired status of Canadian citizenship.
We all have an obligation and a responsibility to work on this matter in the best interests of each and every one of the new citizens and to do the best we can to make them truly welcome and truly proud to be Canadian citizens.