Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the citizenship act, we also talk about immigration, and when we talk about immigration, we talk about racism. I am particularly happy to rise today, because yesterday was Anti-Racism Day.
Bill C-16 contains many provisions which are identical or very similar to the current ones. If I may, I will highlight some nuances and differences.
I will start with a provision in this part of the bill, which is quite interesting. Paragraph 2(2)( c ) states that a person resides in Canada if the person is physically present in Canada and is not subject to a probation order, on parole or in jail.
More specifically on the issue of birth in Canada, the bill would maintain the current rule that children born in Canada are Canadian citizens, as stated in paragraph 4(1)( a ). The only exceptions, as is the case now, concern children of foreign diplomats and their employees. That is paragraph 4(2).
With regard to derivative citizenship, any person born abroad of Canadian parents is automatically a Canadian citizen. This is often referred to as “citizenship by transmission”. Second and subsequent generation children born abroad are also granted citizenship automatically, but they lose on attaining 28 years of age, unless they registered and have either resided in Canada for a period of at least one year immediately before applying for citizenship or established a substantial connection with Canada.
The bill would restrict the automatic transmission of citizenship to second generation children born abroad and toughen the requirements for these second generation citizens who want to retain citizenship after the age of 28.
Clause 14 provides that, to retain citizenship after the age of 28, a person would have to apply to the minister and would have to have resided in Canada for at least 1,095 days during the six years before so applying. As we will see later on, physical presence in Canada would be required during a period of three years. This is the same residency requirement that would have to be met by all permanent residents seeking citizenship.
As for third and subsequent generations, they would not be able to acquire Canadian citizenship unless they meet the usual immigration and citizenship requirements, just like any other individual who chooses Canada as his or her country of adoption.
To avoid the risk of statelessness for third generation children born outside of Canada, clause 11 provides the granting of citizenship, on application, to a person who is less than 28 years of age and who has never acquired, or had the right to acquire, citizenship of any country, but has a birth parent who is a Canadian citizen.
To qualify, this person must have resided in Canada for at least three years during the six previous years, and must not have been convicted of an offence against national security. The nature of the offence is not stipulated, and this specific category of offence is not stipulated in either the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act or the Criminal Code.
Bill C-16 modifies the requirements for acquiring citizenship other than at birth. One of the major changes clarifies the residence requirements. This important change concerns the definition of residence as physical presence in Canada, under subparagraph 2(2)( c ). The proposed objective requirement of residence, specifically to be physically present for three years, or 1,095 days, during the prescribed period, would do away with the huge uncertainties caused by the present legislation.
Even if the current legislation requires three years of residence, the word residence is not defined. Consequently, judicial decisions with radically opposed interpretations have greatly complicated enforcement of the law.
The year following the coming into force, in 1977, of the present legislation, the Federal Court held in a case that physical presence in Canada was not necessary to meet the requirements. The judge found that applicants had to demonstrate that they had established a significant connection with Canada throughout the period, whether or not they had been physically present in Canada.
To demonstrate this connection, one might produce evidence of maintenance of residence, even though this was not absolutely necessary, of accounts in Canadian banks, investments, membership in clubs, provincial driving permits, and so on. In extreme cases, some applicants were granted citizenship even if they had actually been present in Canada only a few months, and even a few days.
However, other federal court judges strongly disagreed with this approach and refused to excuse prolonged absences. So an inconsistent jurisprudence evolved, which made the enforcement of the legislation unforeseeable and uncertain; some say it even compromised the residence requirement and therefore the value of the whole granting of Canadian citizenship process. In its 1994 report, the standing committee recommended that the legal definition of residence call for a substantial period of physical presence.
On the issue of language, Bill C-16 maintains the obligation to show an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages. Unfortunately, French is not the language chosen in most cases. Also, the applicants are still required to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.
Some new provisions govern the granting of citizenship to children adopted by Canadian citizens abroad. The present legislation states that children adopted abroad must become permanent residents before granting them citizenship can even be considered, and there are loads of consequences to that.
First, children must undergo the same medical examination as any other person who applies for landed resident status or else have obtained a special exemption. Second, this means that children adopted by Canadian parents who live abroad and want to stay abroad cannot become landed residents and consequently Canadian citizens.
The legislation provides that minor children adopted abroad in accordance with the laws of the country of residence of the children or parents may be granted citizenship on application. The adoption must also meet the following criteria: the adoption must be in the best interest of the child; it must have created a genuine relationship of parent and child; and it must not have been intended to circumvent the requirements under any enactment for admission to Canada or citizenship.
Clause 10 of Bill C-16 is a new provision specifically enabling the Minister “for the purposes of this Act”—that is to grant citizenship—to deem a person who has resided in Canada for at least 10 years to be or have become a permanent resident. This clause is for persons who thought they were Canadian citizens while they were not.
As for renunciation and revocation, Bill C-16, as the existing legislation, sets out the circumstances where citizens may renounce their Canadian citizenship. The criteria are very similar.
Under clause 16, the renunciation of citizenship may be revoked, just like the citizenship itself and the restoration of citizenship could be, if the minister is satisfied that there has been false representations, fraud or concealment of material circumstances.
The procedure being used now to challenge the revocation order remains essentially unchanged. It is set out at clause 17. When a person is notified that the minister intends to revoke his or her citizenship, this person can request the minister to refer the matter to the federal court trial division. A new element is that the court will make its determination on a balance of probabilities, under clause 17(1)( b ). This would solve the problem of certain decisions of the trial division as to the criteria that should apply.
To sum up, Bill C-16 would, with a few exceptions, maintain the present provisions on the revocation of citizenship. At present, people who lose their citizenship must first be admitted for permanent residence and may apply for citizenship after having resided in Canada for one year immediately before applying.
The bill requires people in this situation to have resided in Canada for at least 365 days during the two years immediately before applying for citizenship. This is provided under clause 19. Here again, the important change is that the new definition of residence would require actual presence in Canada.
Bill C-16 gives a new power to the Governor in Council, who, on the recommendation of the minister, may deny citizenship if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for a person to become a citizen”. Not only is this power new, it would also constitute a substantive change to the current legislation according to which citizenship is a right and not a privilege, provided that certain objective criteria are met.
While there is no definition of public interest, the new clause would, for example, make it possible not to grant citizenship to a person who distributes hate literature but who otherwise meets the criteria.
Bill C-16 would maintain, with some changes, existing procedures relating to the denial of citizenship for reasons of national security. As it is the case now, the process would begin with a report by the minister to the Security Intelligence Review Committee saying that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person has engaged or will engage in an activity that constitutes a threat to the security of Canada or an activity that is part of a pattern of criminal activity.
The bill states that, within ten days after the report is made, the person who is the subject of a report shall be notified that the report has been made and made aware of possible consequences. The committee would then investigate using the procedure set out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and, as soon as practicable, send to the person who is the subject of the report a statement summarizing the information available to the review committee.
A new provision would have the review committee consider whether the information may be disclosed without injury to national security or to the safety of persons. That is covered in paragraph 25(3). On completion of its investigation, the review committee would report to the Governor in Council and provide the report's conclusions to the person who is the subject of the report, but not necessarily at the same time.
So, Bill C-16 adds somewhat to the list of things preventing an individual from obtaining Canadian citizenship.
Crimes committed in foreign countries would be taken into account as well as those committed in Canada.
The bill prohibits granting citizenship to any person who is under a removal order or subject to an inquiry under the Immigration Act that may lead to removal from Canada or the loss of permanent resident status.
The bill also brings important changes in the way citizenship applications are processed. Citizenship judges, who are working under the direction of a chief judge, would be replaced and their basic duties fulfilled by officials acting under the delegated authority of the minister. This is under section 44.
Ceremonial duties would be assigned to citizenship commissioners, appointed by the governor in council to serve full-time or part-time, during pleasure, for a term of not more than five years. That is under section 31 of the bill. Each commissioner would receive a remuneration. A chief commissioner could be appointed to supervise and co-ordinate the work of the commissioners.
I would like to focus on the role of the commissioners. According to the bill:
31(6) To be eligible for appointment as, and to serve as, a Citizenship Commissioner, a person must be a citizen, have demonstrated an understanding of the values of good citizenship and be recognized for their valuable civic contribution.
The duties of a citizenship commissioner would be the following: to preside at citizenship ceremonies; to promote active citizenship in the community; to provide, on the minister's request, advise and recommendation about citizenship, the exercise of the minister's discretion, appropriate methods to evaluate citizenship applicants knowledge of Canada, the responsibilities and rights of citizenship and official languages. It is therefore of the utmost importance that commissioners be chosen very carefully.
In conclusion, I would like to speak briefly about the citizenship oath. Personally, and I am not speaking for my party, there is something I do not like in this oath. It is an allegiance oath, and I quote:
—to Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and to her heirs and successors.
I was raised as a Republican. Not an American style Republican, but an anti-monarchist nonetheless. I do not agree with the fact that Canada, an independent country, still has a foreigner as its head of state. This is why I dislike the oath as it is written.
When I had to take the oath as a member of parliament, I tried to skip certain parts, because I do not believe that we in Canada should swear allegiance to the Queen of England. I would agree if Canada had a leader from this country as its head of state. The governor general could bear the title of president, something with which I would agree more.