Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate surrounding Bill C-16, our last and final opportunity to debate the bill before it proceeds to its final vote.
The NDP caucus feels strongly that Bill C-16 has merit and does meet the needs of Canadian citizens. We are comfortable and satisfied that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration listened to numerous representations. In fact 37 groups and organizations came before the committee. We are satisfied that the concerns brought forward by the experts in the field and by the many advocates who made representations were incorporated into the final bill. In other words the committee heard Canadians. The committee listened to them and the committee instilled what it heard into what we now know as Bill C-16.
The bill started out in its first incarnation as Bill C-63. It was dealt with, at length, under that name. We brought forward many concerns and recommended amendments at committee stage. We are pleased to say that the government when it reintroduced the bill as Bill C-16 took into consideration many of the shortcomings we pointed out with respect to the original bill.
The 37 presentations to the committee is an indication of the broad interest in this subject. I have sat on other committees and dealt with other pieces of legislation when we did not have nearly as many groups coming forward. People feel strongly about the issue of citizenship. Canadian citizenship is to be valued. Canadian citizenship is to be treasured. Most of us feel very passionate because most Canadians are fiercely proud Canadian nationalists.
The reason the particular bill generated so much interest is that many of us are looking at citizenship in a whole new light, given the global economy we currently live in. We have been forced to re-evaluate and revisit the whole concept of citizenship.
Given the globalization of capital we are seeing borders disappear. Many say we are probably witnessing the beginning of the end of the concept of a nation state. Free movement of goods, services, investment and capital does not pay attention to international borders. These things are happening all around us. The only way we can define ourselves and maintain our identity as Canadian is to ensure that the nation state of Canada survives as a entity and that the personification of that or the way it affects citizens is by virtue of our citizenship.
We are very concerned when we see international trade agreements that do not recognize nation state boundaries. For instance, we saw the MAI, the multilateral agreement on investment, which recently failed. The people of the world voted that idea down. The people who were promoting the MAI were actually quoted as saying that there was a surplus of democracy in the world which was interfering with the free movement of capital, meaning that freely elected governments were getting in the way of what businesses wanted to do.
This is why I raise the issue that people are concerned about the concept of citizenship. They are concerned about the concept of the nation state and ultimately about the future of democracy if we have corporate leaders of the world saying that there is a surplus of democracy in the world that is interfering with the movement of capital. It makes us wonder what is the next step.
These are some of the reasons people are concerned with the idea of citizenship and why we had so many groups come forward to the committee. It is not just about the practical aspects of how one achieves citizenship in Canada or how citizenship can be revoked within the country. Those are the technical elements. There is a larger more philosophical issue regarding the very concept and nature of citizenship. Many of the groups that came forward and made representations dealt with the much bigger picture of what it means to be a citizen.
In being a citizen of Canada I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in many senses. It is a feeling of camaraderie. It is a feeling of togetherness that Canadians enjoy, being part of the greatest country in the world. It is something we treasure and value but we take very seriously.
We have to take note that citizenship is not a right. It is a privilege. With citizenship comes responsibilities. With citizenship comes many benefits, but it also carries with it the burden of responsibilities. We have to conduct ourselves in a certain way or frankly our citizenship can be revoked.
There are parts of Bill C-16 that deal with the revocation of citizenship. Some of those who made representation to the committee felt very strongly that it gave the minister far too much power in terms of the revocation of citizenship.
The NDP is satisfied that on that subject Bill C-16 is balanced, in that there are options for appeal at every stage of the revocation of citizenship. This can ultimately wind up in the highest court of the land and we do not believe anyone needs any more avenue of recourse than that. I am glad to see we have broad acceptance of that idea.
We are comfortable that Bill C-16 gives the avenue of recourse of appeal to the federal courts. We are satisfied that Bill C-16 is not too heavy handed in dealing with the revocation of citizenship. We are comfortable now that the terms of gaining citizenship are clarified. Some of the changes we asked for in the early stages of Bill C-63 have been incorporated in Bill C-16.
We found great fault with a change which recommended that when people take their citizenship tests they would have to know one of the official languages of the country. They would not have access to translators. They would have no access to interpretation. We did not think that knowledge of one of the official languages and any kind of a test for what kind of a good citizen a person would be related whatsoever.
We are glad to see that under the current incarnation of the bill people will be allowed access to translation services if their working knowledge of either of the official languages is inadequate to carry them through what can be a very complicated test.
Another issue we commented on and brought forward at the early stages of Bill C-63 was the concept of being physically present for a certain period of time in order to qualify for citizenship. We pointed out that many landed immigrants, many new Canadians who come here, still have interests offshore. Some may be business people. We can use the example of a new Canadian from Asia who may have a number of different business ventures throughout that region. That person would have to travel to take care of those interests. We also do not believe that physical presence in the country is any kind of a test or an indication of what kind of citizen the person will ultimately be.
We felt it was being unnecessarily rigid to demand that a person be physically present for x number of days within a certain timeframe in order to qualify for citizenship. We are comfortable that the government listened to these concerns and tempered those measures somewhat along the lines we asked.
A number of groups came forward and spoke about citizenship rules as they pertain to disqualification due to criminal activity. We believe we should not be providing safe refuge or sanctuary for international criminals. We have every right. We do not believe it is a violation of any of our international obligations under human rights conventions of the United Nations to say to some people that we will not allow them to be citizens of Canada.
We value our citizenship too much and it trivializes my citizenship to allow people into this country who would abuse the system or who would take refuge and sanctuary in order to carry on criminal activity. We will not tolerate it. Canadians want tough rules to make that abundantly clear.
Canadians are incredibly tolerant in terms of their attitude toward immigration per se. We want the front doors opened even wider when it comes to inviting new Canadians to come to this country, but we also want the back doors shut soundly so that we are not allowing any undesirables, international criminals, terrorists or people of that type to take sanctuary or refuge in Canada. We do not need them and we do not want them here. Bill C-16 in a very soft way speaks to that somewhat when it deals with the revocation of citizenship.
The New Democratic Party caucus is comfortable that Bill C-16 meets the needs of Canadians in terms of acquiring citizenship. It sets fair rules for both the acquiring of citizenship and the revocation of citizenship in the unlikely event that it becomes necessary.
We are comfortable that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration listened to the concerns brought forward by a number of Canadians, by some 37 groups that made representations, and by members of the committee like myself who moved amendments at committee stage. We are satisfied now that those concerns have been addressed under Bill C-16.
We will be looking forward to voting in favour of the bill to move it through the House so that we can spend more time addressing the larger issue of immigration and refugee protection found under Bill C-31, another citizenship and immigration bill that deals more with the meat and potatoes of the immigration rules and how we attract and retain more people to come to Canada to help us grow the economy.
We are looking forward to moving on from Bill C-16 satisfied that it is adequate and to getting into the much larger debate of immigration and refugee protection under Bill C-31.