Mr. Speaker, I am happy to finally return to my presentation. I must say that I am impressed with your knowledge of the rules, more impressed than I could state.
I started by making some general comments on the issue of the revocation of citizenship. I will get to that topic a bit later. Right now I would like to put a bit of background to this citizenship bill.
Bill C-16 was tabled in October 1999, with very few changes from the previous bill, Bill C-63. Bill C-63 was tabled in December 1998 and did not make it back to the House for report stage before parliament was prorogued in the fall.
This legislation will repeal and replace the current Citizenship Act, something which is long overdue. The current Citizenship Act was put in place in 1977 and there are several areas which need change.
In some areas the bill is an improvement. However, as I said before I was interrupted, there are so many problems with this piece of legislation that I cannot support it. I do not believe my Canadian Alliance colleagues would support it. I would be surprised if there were many others who would support the bill.
The legislation makes several changes to the current act, with the intention of providing more clear guidelines in areas such as residency. That is something which is much needed. Unfortunately, the bill falls short in that regard and I will talk a bit about that later.
The proposed bill, as I said, is somewhat of an improvement over the previous bill, but not enough of an improvement that I could support it.
The minister received recommendations from the government dominated standing committee in 1994. That was over six years ago. Some excellent proposals were put forth. What we see today does very little to deal with the recommendations put forth by the Liberal dominated committee.
There are some insupportable elements in the bill. There is too much reliance on regulation. This is another one of those bills which are becoming common fare from the government in which there are huge gaps in the legislation so that we really do not know what is the intent.
I do not believe that everything that is included in regulation should necessarily be put into legislation, but at the very minimum, in every area of legislation, it should be made clear what the principles will be that will guide the legislation and its implementation. In this bill there are several areas in which there is too big a gap and it is too hard to really know what are the principles guiding the legislation.
It is important to know that when regulations are presented on legislation they are drafted by civil servants in the department. They need the approval of the minister, but they are never subjected to a vote in the House of Commons. They do not get proper scrutiny. Often they do not get any scrutiny by the House of Commons. How can we allow a piece of legislation to go ahead when so much is left to the regulations and the House of Commons never gets a chance to vote on whether it approves or disapproves of the regulations?
It is becoming a habit of the government to leave those huge holes in its legislation. In the new immigration act there is so much left to regulation that it really is hard to know what the act is intended to do. Because of that, the minister has started to refer to that piece of legislation as a framework act. It is obvious that so much is left to regulation. There is the same problem in this bill.
As well, some very important definitions have been left to regulations. I want to talk about those. They are extremely important definitions which could have a serious impact on the Canadian family.
There are definitions for such things as what constitutes a genuine parent-child relationship. The bill refers to a parent-child relationship in several places. Nowhere is it defined. That will be left to regulation and that is unacceptable.
As well, who can make an application on behalf of a minor is left undefined and unclarified. It is leaving too much to regulation.
What would be in the best interests of the child was something which several Liberal members of the committee saw as a problem. That is left undefined and to regulation.
What fees will be allowed is left to regulation. We know what happens when fees are left to the government. We have seen a head tax of $950 plus other fees put on every single person coming into the country either as an independent or economic immigrant or as a refugee. Under pressure from the official opposition in committee a motion by my colleague which I supported was rejected by the government, but it has at least stated that the head tax or landing fee on refugees will be removed. That is an important step but it has not happened yet.
I cannot trust the government to make the fees fair. How do we know what kind of fee could be put on the processing or administration of the citizenship act? There is nothing to say we could not have a $1,000 fee put on this process which is unacceptable. Too much is left to regulation.
The second area I would like to talk about is that of patronage appointments, something which has been talked about by all the opposition parties and even by government members. They have said that there are too many patronage appointments and that it is time we hired people based on merit. There should be a hiring process similar to that of the civil service. Yet in this bill the government has opened up more opportunities for people to be appointed based on the favours they do for the party rather than on merit.
The citizenship commissioners are examples of this. That is particularly disappointing. The commissioners will replace the citizenship judges and most of their job will be given to people in the department in the civil service to do. Yet the patronage appointments continue. That is hard to explain.
The role of the commissioners will be minimal, mainly ceremonial. It makes no sense to leave these patronage positions in place. The government has done it so it can reward MPs who will not win in the next election, or maybe other friends who make substantial political contributions and that type of thing. That is unacceptable. It is something we all agree has to end, but it is still here in the new citizenship act.
I will now deal with what is probably the most important flaw in the citizenship act. I have to give credit to the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his role in making it clear that this flaw is too important to ignore. I have been told that the member for Kitchener—Waterloo feels it is important enough that he resigned as parliamentary secretary because the government did not listen to his proposals on the issue of revocation of citizenship.
Revocation of citizenship is something that everyone in the House should treat as extremely important. Every witness who commented on revocation of citizenship said that the power to revoke citizenship should be taken away from the minister and cabinet and should be given to the courts with at least leave to appeal to the supreme court if need be. It is an important issue.
Every new immigrant who has moved to this country should be looking at this. They should be asking themselves why the Liberal government refused to give the power to revoke citizenship to the courts. Why has it kept that power in the hands of the minister and cabinet? Every single new immigrant should ask that. On a political whim of the government, his or her citizenship could be revoked. I am not saying the government is going to do that.
This is an issue which was pointed out by many witnesses. It was pointed out by myself and my colleagues in the official opposition. It was pointed out by members of other opposition parties. It was pointed out, as I said, by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, the parliamentary secretary to the minister. This is wrong. The power should be left to the courts. Any political connection should be taken out of revocation of citizenship. There are too many potential problems as a result of that remaining.
I think we all gave the government several opportunities to change that. I put forth a motion in committee to change that. The committee members voted like puppets and shot it down. I do not believe that they did it based on what they believed; it is because they were whipped to do so.
The House voted yesterday on the motions I put forth. They had been originally put forth by a Liberal member and I co-signed. I thought they were good motions. The person from the government party who originally signed the motions did not move them but I did as the co-signer. It was the right thing to do. The parliamentary secretary believed strongly enough that it was the right thing to do that he resigned his position as parliamentary secretary because his government did not act on this extremely important issue.
I would like to point out that the member for Kitchener—Waterloo is an immigrant. He immigrated to this country many years ago. He can understand, as can some of the other government members who voted against the bill yesterday, that it is wrong to have the power to remove citizenship concentrated in the hands of cabinet. He was willing to take a very strong stand by resigning as parliamentary secretary. I give him credit for that. It is not an easy thing to do but the issue is that important.
Why did other government members not decide to finally take a stand and take the power away from cabinet and put it in the courts? At least give people the leave to appeal to the supreme court as a final appeal process.
I have a press release from B'nai Brith Canada which shows full support for the motions which were voted on yesterday in the House. It states:
Simply put, the amendments, designated as Motions 4 and 5 (Group 2) at Report Stage, make the Bill more just. They would modernize, simplify and expedite the process of revoking (or not revoking) a person's citizenship on an allegation that the citizenship was attained by “false representation or fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances”.
That is from the B'nai Brith on these important motions. I think they have correctly analyzed this situation and their lawyers agree with that. Mr. David Matas, a well known immigration lawyer, has tendered that position which has been presented on behalf of B'nai Brith.
The German-Canadian Congress sent a letter as well. I will quote one paragraph. I do not want to get into all of what is in the letter. The last paragraph reads:
The German-Canadian Congress strongly believes that revoking Canadian citizenship should be a decision of the courts and not be decided by politicians. In addition, a proper process for appeal must be in place and be followed.
To be more specific, it also says:
We strongly urge you to vote in favour of adopting Motions 4 and 5 (Group 2) as proposed at Report Stage in Bill C-16.
There are other groups. I spoke with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress before the bill came to report stage. I can safely say that it would fully support these motions based on what it said in committee and what was said to me in personal meetings. We would find that many others, as they came to understand what a serious issue this is, would support those motions. They would call for a change in the legislation so that only the courts upon leave of appeal to the supreme court would have the final say on revocation of citizenship.
It seems quite reasonable. The witnesses certainly thought so. Many of the groups that monitor this type of issue think so. Several members of the government party thought so and I give them credit. They believed enough in that position that they stood and voted against the whip vote on the issue. That takes some courage and I give them credit.
This issue alone is important enough to cause me to not vote in favour of the legislation. There are several other issues and I will brush over some of them because my time is limited.
This issue demonstrates very well that clearly too much power has been left in the hands of government on issues of citizenship without proper scrutiny, without proper review by the House or even by committee. I put forth 20 some motions to improve the bill. In some of my motions all I call for is scrutiny by the appropriate committee. Were those motions supported by the government? No. It was something the opposition parties supported but the government refused to support it.
There are several areas which demonstrate very well that the government has kept too much power in its hands in a way which it is not accountable for in the bill. We are not talking about a bill that deals with a minor issue; we are talking about a bill that deals with an issue which is extremely important to Canadians, the issue of Canadian citizenship.
I have another concern which I am not sure is shared by all of my colleagues. It is shared by some members across the floor and by others in other opposition parties. It is the issue of citizenship at birth and citizenship being granted automatically to any child born in Canada. That is wrong. The position of the reform party, which was the main political party at least which initiated the birth of the Canadian Alliance, is that a child born in Canada should not automatically obtain Canadian citizenship.
We said exactly the same as a parliamentary committee on which the government has a majority of members said back in 1994. It said that children born in Canada should not automatically obtain Canadian citizenship. They should only obtain Canadian citizenship if at least one parent is either a permanent resident or a citizen.
That seems to be a fair position to take. It is the position that parliamentary committee took six years ago, again a government dominated committee. The thing to do is to make sure a child born in Canada automatically receives Canadian citizenship if he or she is born to at least one parent who is a citizen or a landed immigrant.
I believe that is a fair position. I have a lot of information on that issue. I feel I have to go into it to some extent. I certainly will not present all of it, but I want to say what the minister said in this regard.
When minister was speaking about that issue before the bill was tabled she said she left in the clause regaqrding automatic citizenship at birth because there had not been enough research done to see how it impacted on Canada. Even though the committee had recommended that it be changed, the minister said she would leave it the same because there just was not enough evidence. Yet it was six years ago that the committee made the recommendation to change it. Certainly the opposition has been calling for this change to be made for the last six years.
After six years it is the responsibility of the government and of the citizenship and immigration minister to have done the research if they felt it was necessary to do so. Perhaps the minister did not know whether or not automatic citizenship was a problem, but she certainly knows, as do I suggest most members of the opposition, that it is abused terribly in the country. This is no secret.
This is something that has been brought forward again and again and again. There are people who deliberately come to Canada to have a child, knowing that the child will automatically become a Canadian citizen. They may come as visitors or in various ways. As a result of the court ruling on the Mavis Baker case, we now have a court saying that we have to take into account the citizenship of a child before removing a parent who would otherwise be removed from the country.
We have the government leaving in automatic citizenship. We have the court saying in the Baker case that we have to take into account the fact that the child was born in Canada and automatically is a Canadian citizen, and what kind of hardship it might cause if the mother or father were removed from the country and chose to take the child as well.
It is clearly an issue where the government's lack of action has led to serious abuse. The department seems unable to deal with the abuse. The minister shuns the responsibility by saying that we do not have evidence of just how much abuse there is or how much of a problem it is so we will leave it the same. It is an odd way to make law. I do not think it is what Canadians are looking for.
I want to speak about a couple of more important issues in the legislation. The next issue is the issue of physical presence. In the current citizenship act there are some problems, no doubt, with the definition of residency. In fact the courts ruled that people can be residents if they have bank accounts in Canada. The court ruled that even if people never lived in Canada they can be residents if they pay taxes in Canada, if they are here now and again or if they have a business in Canada.
There was need for change. Clearly the current law on residency is not working. It was never intended, as the courts ruled, that anyone who pays taxes or has a bank account in the country would be considered a resident of Canada. In the act a person has to be a resident for a certain length of time before he or she can obtain citizenship. That is the issue. I think most people would consider that to be reasonable.
The current definition is not working so what did the government do? It made an improvement by saying that residency will be defined by physical presence in the country, that a person had to be physically present in the country three years out of six, basically. I have no problem with that. I think that is probably a pretty reasonable kind of compromise which was made as a result of hearing from witnesses, from the opposition and from government members in the committee which dealt with Bill C-63, the predecessor to this bill. It is probably reasonable that there be 1,095 days or three years of physical presence out of six years.
There is a problem. Let us look at what the minister, the deputy minister, the ADM, and other department officials have said about physical presence. I talked about this issue at committee and said that it sounded good, but I asked how we would know whether people had been physically present in Canada.
Officials from the department made it very clear that they had no way, or at least not a suitable way, to determine that. They said it was not a big problem because they would only refer to actual physical presence in cases where they felt they wanted to do so. They are saying they will apply the law only when they see a particular reason to apply it.
I do not believe we should have laws that we cannot enforce. This is a law we cannot enforce. Before the legislation was brought to the House there should have been an explanation by the minister of how she would enforce physical presence, but it did not happen. While it is an improvement it is one of those laws that just is not enforceable. For that reason I think it should be rejected by the House. It is another reason to reject the bill.
I will skip over a lot of things I wanted to say about physical presence and go to the issue of retroactivity on which we have some interesting comments from government members. Subclause 55(1) states that proceedings in relation to an application pending on the day on which the act comes into force must be dealt with under the act. However subclause 55(2) stipulates that if the application is being considered by a citizenship judge at the time, the application will be considered under the old act.
There is an issue of retroactivity. The department claims that it takes about eight to twelve months to process a citizenship claim. However it seems like the more realistic figure is seventeen months. If a citizenship judge has been taking longer than another judge, we are saying that a particular case could be dealt with under the new act because it has not actually been considered or is not being considered by the citizenship judge.
This is a case of retroactivity and is an unacceptable form of retroactivity. There should not be two different paths for applications to follow depending on how efficiently or expeditiously an official has or has not been dealing with someone's application. That is all wrong and has to be changed in the act.
Is it just me or is it just the Canadian Alliance that has been saying these things? No. In fact the member for Scarborough Southwest made some sense when he stated in committee on April 28, 1999:
I take a position on the traditional, historical pattern of the Liberal Party of not having retroactive legislation. If this citizenship law passes as is, as I understand it, notwithstanding that someone has been making his plans in anticipation of the law as it currently exists, he/she will have to wait, for no apparent reason other than a change in law...to apply for Canadian citizenship.
The hon. member for Scarborough Southwest went on to say:
That to me is retroactivity. That to me is taking away from people who have relied on an existing law, and that is un-Liberal...I'd like to know why immigration department officials recommended that to a Liberal immigration minister...retroactivity is, generally speaking, anathema to the Liberal Party.
The member for Scarborough Southwest is agreeing with the position we take on the issue. This type of retroactivity can unfairly penalize someone due to an official not dealing with the issue of citizenship properly. It is all wrong. It is another reason I certainly will not support the bill. It leads me to believe that most of my colleagues and others in the House will not support it.
I want to talk a bit more about another issue which I touched on earlier, the concept of having citizenship judges maintaining their position and salary which allow them to deal with citizenship when they will no longer have those responsibilities. The responsibility of actually dealing with who is a citizen and who is not, or who should be and who should not be, will go to departmental officials to determine who is eligible for citizenship and who is not.
In spite of that change where most of the responsibility of citizenship judges is taken away, the act will allow those people to maintain their patronage appointments. It will allow people in the future to be named as commissioners. The salary has not been named, but it sounds like it will be at least the same salary or maybe higher when the responsibilities are primarily ceremonial.
I think everyone would agree that it is time to end this type of patronage appointment. This is not something that is acceptable any longer. It is time to end those patronage appointments and to hire people who are being put into positions of such importance, even if they are ceremonial, based on merit much as any public servant would be hired.
I will not talk a great deal about this point, but I recognized in a motion that it made sense to allow the government to appoint the top commissioner. It is important that a government has its views reflected in that function in the department. In the case of citizenship, therefore, I believe the top position will determine the general principles to be considered in areas of discretion. It makes sense to have the person appointed to that position by government.
We have called for that position to be approved by the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of other opposition parties. At the very least it should be approved by the appropriate committee of the House. That is something which I think is only reasonable but unfortunately is not in the bill.
I have talked to some extent about the importance of removing some of the discretion which will be put in place through regulation. The bill has been in the process as Bill C-63 and now as Bill C-16 for two years. I would think by that time regulation would be developed. Why is the committee not looking at the regulation and saying that too much has been left to regulation which can be easily changed by the government without putting it through the House.
Let us put that in legislation. Let us put at least the guiding principles in this area clearly in legislation. That is what legislation should do. It should leave less to regulation, something which is generally supported by members of the committee. Yet it does not show up here.
They voted down the motions I put forward to amend that in the act. It is difficult to understand why when we hear many members supporting it in their speeches. However, when a committee comes to a vote or there is a vote in the House they vote against something they support.
I am talking about regulation that sets fees, that defines what “in the best interests of the child” means, that defines what a genuine parent-child relationship is, something that could be very important. It would define these important things.
The last thing I will talk about this afternoon are the penalties laid out in the bill for people who break the law under this legislation. I believe that the penalties are much too light.
I want to make a comparison. We have heard a lot of talk lately about people coming to our country illegally with the help of people smugglers and people traffickers. We have heard that these people often pay as much as $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000 to have a smuggler or trafficker, someone involved in organized crime, help them.
At the same time, under the Citizenship Act, someone who falsifies a document, maybe after taking a bribe, faces relatively minor penalties. I am sure my colleagues will talk about these penalties in their presentations.
We have people who come to our country illegally, paying $60,000 or $70,000 to do so, when they could buy a citizenship for a couple of thousand dollars, and the person who would break the law to sell them the citizenship would be subject to relatively light penalties.
What makes it even worse is that when there is someone in a position of trust, someone in the department or someone who is responsible for issuing Canadian citizenship documents, who accepts a bribe to falsify documents, that person receives the same penalty as anyone else who falsely issues citizenship documents.
For much less money people could become actual citizens through the use of false documents, which probably would allow them to act and live as citizens in most cases, and yet the penalties issued are very minor indeed. And the same penalties would apply to people in a position of trust, people in the department, who are responsible for issuing these citizenship documents.
I put a motion yesterday which would increase the penalties to department officials and others who issue citizenship documents. It was rejected by the government.
There is much more that I would like to say about this bill, but my time is up. I would encourage all members of the House, especially members of the governing party who voted against the important motion on the revocation of citizenship, to vote against Bill C-16. Let us improve it and bring it back as a bill which would adequately deal with the important issue of people obtaining citizenship in our country. That is what I ask. I think that is reasonable and I look forward to that kind of support so that we can do it right.