Mr. Speaker, it is reassuring to see so many members in the House, among them the minister and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
This is the second time this week that I have had the opportunity to take part in a debate on a government bill. You will tell me that that is what we are here for and it is a great pleasure for me to do so.
Last Tuesday when I spoke on Bill C-17, I had many concerns with regard to the respect of human rights and freedoms. Today, my remarks will be of a special nature since the debate deals specifically with one of my favourite issues, because citizenship is no small thing. I am our party's critic on everything related to citizenship and immigration.
So I was somewhat eager to see the bill to repeal the old 1977 act back before the House. The return of that bill was more than expected. The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is the third one facing the challenge of reforming the Citizenship Act currently in force. The question is: will he manage to carry it through to completion?
However, another question comes to mind when one takes a careful look at this new Bill C-18. In its current form, should this bill be passed? The table is set for a very relevant debate.
Before getting into the ins and outs of Bill C-18, we must understand its underpinnings. Why has the minister taken the initiative to put this bill back on the order paper? Hon. members are as aware as I that a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1977. Today's reality is totally different. Since September 11, 2001,moreover, this has been pointed out on numerous occasions in this House, and rightly so.
The phenomenon of globalization favours migration. Increasingly, countries are having to develop more clearly defined immigration policies to deal with the new challenges this brings.
If migration is on the rise, then obviously permanent residence and citizenship applications will also increase. Canada, like Quebec, is a host country for immigration, as we know. Canada receives about one-quarter of a million immigrants yearly. These will all be entitled eventually to apply for Canadian citizenship, at which point the measures set out in Bill C-18 will apply.
As well, even before that, there is the permanent residence application process. This entire process involves the same desire, to live together in one place, sharing the values of justice and fairness for all.
Given the changes the world is undergoing, it is normal, essential in fact, for legislation to adapt to the changing times. If the principle of Bill C-18 is indeed to bring the existing legislation up to speed so that it better reflects our values and aspirations, I am all for it. Let us make no mistake about it, however. Being in favour of the principle of a bill does not in any way mean supporting every provision it contains. The current context of the fight against terrorism seems to be becoming the justification for every imaginable action. We fully agree that it is absolutely vital to avoid the death of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, but we absolutely do not agree with this justifying shameless attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms. Enslavement can never be justified in the name of freedom.
Now for Bills C-63, C-16 and C-18, the current fashion here on the Hill is, without a doubt, to hold debates two, sometimes even three, times on similar bills with different numbers.
Today we are debating Bill C-18, which used to be known in another life as Bill C-16, which in turn had started out a few years earlier as Bill C-63. All this may seem confusing and repetitive in the end. However, if we look closely at the bill, we see that there are differences in certain details, but very important differences.
Unfortunately, the differences between Bill C-16 and new Bill C-18 are not always for the better. Indeed, clauses 16 and 17, which I will come back to later, seem to result from an ill-defined reaction to the post-September 11 context.
It is certainly not by limiting the scope of the rule of law that we will improve matters in the world.
To come back to the old bill, Bill C-16, clause 10 stated, and I quote:
The Minister may, for the purposes of this Act, deem a person who is in Canada and who has resided in Canada for at least 10 years to be or to have become a permanent resident as of the day the Minister specifies.
The purpose of this clause was to allow people who have been in Canada for at least 10 years and who wrongly believed they were Canadian citizens, to become Canadian citizens, after having obtained permanent resident status, during the period set out in the legislation.
Take the case, for example, of parents who immigrate to Canada with one or two children, aged two or three, say, and become Canadian citizens. It is easy to understand that the children believe, quite honestly, that they too are Canadian citizens. This is not the case. In fact, if this person—once he or she reaches the age of 18, 20, 22, or even 16—commits a minor offence as an adolescent, he or she could be deported to his or her country of origin, even if he or she has no meaningful social ties to that country.
Will a child who lived one or two years in Haiti with his parents, and who then lived in Canada for 14 years, feel like a Haitian or a Haitian Canadian? That is the question that needs to be answered. Things would be easier if clause 10 from the former Bill C-16 were reintroduced in Bill C-18.
If hon. members think that this example is just a figment of my imagination, something that cannot happen in real life, they are mistaken. This is a real life example. On June 25, 2002, during its general assembly, the Bloc Quebecois adopted a proposal dealing expressly with this issue. The deportation of young Haitians who had criminal records because they made foolish mistakes, as many people do when they are young, was the result of a serious misapprehension on their part. They believed they were Canadian citizens, with the same rights, privileges and duties as any other full fledged citizen. How could it be otherwise, since they grew up in Quebec?
This is not a cosmetic improvement but, rather, an addition that can make a huge difference in a person's life. What happened between Bill C-16 and Bill C-18 to make this provision disappear? If the rehabilitation of young offenders is a principle in which we firmly believe, should it not apply to these young people who grew up in Quebec, in the case of these young Haitians, and elsewhere in Canada?
In fact, to fully realize what may have happened throughout the legislative process that was primarily intended to modernize the old Citizenship Act, it is interesting to take a look at the features of Bill C-18.
First, it goes without saying that people who are born in Canada will always, without exception, be Canadian citizens. It is difficult to provide otherwise. However, those who are granted Canadian citizenship, that is, people who were born abroad to Canadian parents, will only be able to transmit this citizenship to the first and second generations. In fact, in order to retain their right to Canadian citizenship, those in the second generation will have to apply before attaining 28 years of age and have resided in Canada for at least 1,095 days, that is three years prior to the date of the application.
The idea is to avoid having people who have no connection with Canada and who have never come here avail themselves of Canadian citizenship. While this is a new provision in Bill C-18, compared to the current act, this provision was also included in Bill C-16. So, this change is not totally new.
Even though the concept of globalization is spreading at the speed of light, if you get to the U.S. border and state “I am a citizen of the world”, you will soon find out that this expression is more poetical than practical. Let us say that these days it has become increasingly less fashionable to be stateless.
This is why Bill C-18 provides for an exception for third generations, should such a situation arise.
Mr. Speaker, I have a trick question for you. To make sure you are still listening to me, since it is cold outside, is there another category of persons that may acquire Canadian citizenship? Think carefully, Mr. Speaker; I am sure I will not have to tell you. You are right: adopted children can become Canadian citizens. This is where the issue starts to get a little tricky.
To start with, let us look at the current process for granting citizenship in the case of international adoption. To become a Canadian citizen, a child must first go through the immigration process, namely apply for landed immigrant status and then citizen status. Admittedly it may be very frustrating for parents who adopt a child to have to wait several years before the child can become a full-fledged citizen. That is a situation adoptive families would like to see rectified and we fully understand them. Nevertheless, I would like the government to proceed cautiously with any legislation on this issue.
Although we recognize the logic in granting citizenship, I would say virtually automatically, to adopted children, we must be careful not to create two different classes of citizens.
As members know, in Quebec we have the Civil Code. The Civil Code creates obligations for our law makers. Adoptions must be recognized by a Quebec court since this is an area of provincial jurisdiction. If the federal government goes ahead with the proposed changes without consulting the Quebec government beforehand to harmonize legislation, that might have a negative impact. I happen to know the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration quite well, and I know for a fact that he hates negative impacts. I can see the committee chair nodding.
With Bill C-18, the new measures would not apply to a child adopted by a Quebec family. He would then have to be sponsored and to go through the whole immigration process to finally be able to receive the same status as a child adopted in another province.
This would imply extra sponsorship costs for Quebec parents, which do not seem quite fair to us. As a matter of fact, in a letter dated November 6, 1998 and referring to Bill C-63, the grandfather of Bill C-18, ministers Rochon and Boisclair said, and I quote:
This bill raises various problems in Quebec, particularly with respect to the connection with and the specifics of our Civil Code, to the health care issue and to the additional costs that might be incurred as a result.
We can already identify two major factors. On the one hand, the provincial government does not oppose the principle of the proposed amendments as such, but rather the way in which they might be implemented. On the other hand, negotiations between both levels of government are essential to prevent any inequity. And I have no doubt whatsoever that the minister will want to correct potential inequities.
You understand that I will take this opportunity to remind this House that Quebec is a leader in international adoption. This is yet another compelling reason for the federal government not to proceed unilaterally on this issue, as is, we must admit, too often the case, unfortunately.
What about residency requirements? As members know, people can resort to subterfuge, which can sometimes be quite effective, not to mention the types of subterfuge we are unaware of. With your long parliamentary experience, I am sure that if you do the calculations, you will come up with figures much lower than the true figures. Let us face it, when it comes to subterfuge, the federal government is very cunning. Therefore, this was not much of a challenge for it. However, over time, we have smartened up.
This leads me to talk about the requirements regarding residency and physical presence in Canada. I imagine that you see what I am driving at with my references to subterfuge and presence in Canada. As you must certainly know, there are clever people who know different ways to make us believe that they were in Canada, while they actually were not. As a matter of fact, someone who applies for Canadian citizenship must be able, under the current legislation, to prove that he has resided in Canada during the three years preceding the date of his application. It is the law.
How can this be proven? Suppose I love playing golf. I am not very good at it, but I am smart. If I have bought an expensive membership in a Gatineau golf club, let us say that this is one point for me. If I have a valid Ontario driver's licence, which is also valid in Quebec, I get another point. If I also have have big fat accounts in two or three Canadian banks, this has to prove that I reside in Canada. Otherwise, why would I have all that? Is it possible? It is quite possible. And why is it possible?
Simply because, one year after the 1977 legislation took effect, a Federal Court judge ruled that in order to meet residency requirements, it was not necessary to prove physical presence in Canada. That is the reason.
People only have to establish that they have maintained close ties with Canada during the three previous years. There are also extreme cases, where people had resided in Canada only a few days a year, just long enough for a weekend of skiing, perhaps. Any sensible person would admit that this truly is an aberration.
The stated purpose of Bill C-18 is to remedy that situation. What clarification does it provide? If passed, it will specify that 1,095 days of actual presence will be required, that is, three full years out of a total period of six years. Now, theoretically at least, there will be no more doubt, the frauds will be quickly detected.
At the risk of being labelled a spoilsport—something everyone will agree applies to me only rarely—I would point out that the truth must be revealed. In practice, how will this be verified? Until now, unless the government has been doing things behind our backs, there has been no way to verify this. There is no registry of who has entered or left this great big country. Of course, the new definition of residency will help reduce the number of frauds, but by how much?
There is one worrisome thought that comes to mind. What if the government, in its zeal to limit public freedom, decided to carefully examine airline records under these new powers it plans to acquire through its public safety bill we debated earlier this week? Who can state with any certainty that this avenue will not be explored?
Speaking of lack of certainty, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask you one question. Is it true that one of the principles of a free and democratic society is the right to a fair trial? I ask this because a reading of the famous clauses 16 and 17 of this bill makes this exceedingly uncertain.
What astounds me in particular is that Bill C-18 specifically states as follows, quoting clause 3(g), that the purpose of this act is:
--to promote respect for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society.
Moreover, the government appears to believe in this to such as extent that it specifies, in clause 21(1):
If the Minister is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society, the Minister may submit a report to the Governor in Council recommending that the person not be granted citizenship or allowed to take the oath of citizenship
What is meant by “reasonable grounds to believe”? What I might find reasonable, another might not, or vice versa. The minister might find reasonable what I do not. Do “reasonable grounds to believe” mean proof, suspicion, or something else we know nothing about?
I have another question. What will a flagrant and serious disregard mean to the current minister and to his successors? When a piece of legislation is reviewed every 20 to 25 years, it is obvious that there will be other ministers. How is the seriousness of this disregard measured? Does the wording not sound a bit arbitrary? To add insult to injury, once a decision is made by the governor in council, it is final and it cannot be appealed or judicially reviewed. Is that the kind of democracy we want?
Mr. Speaker, you are probably as appalled as I am by the attitude of the government, but you have heard nothing yet. My brief analysis of the provisions so far was only a preamble.
Let us get down to business and go over clauses 16 and 17 of Bill C-18. I am giving the reference because the people who are watching need to be able to look them up for themselves and see what the government is about to do to our basic human rights.
Why not use an example? You are getting to know me. You know that I like things to be crystal clear. I will use an example to show what would happen under the bill as it stands now.
Let us say we have a Canadian citizen named Ahmed Samir. He came to Canada seven years ago and got his citizenship four years ago. He is a Muslim, a quiet man who comes from a good family. He works for a computer company and plays chess in his spare time. I hope you are starting to get a good idea of who he is.
But he still has friends in his country of origin, Syria. He goes back on occasion. After all, it is not unusual for someone who is proficient in IT to make more than MPs. Let us say that officials with CSIS start to have doubts about him. They track his air travel, and thanks to a certain bill that was passed in this House, they suspect him of being a potential terrorist. After investigating, they believe they have uncovered his true identity and they inform the Solicitor General of the case, who discusses it with his colleague, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and they nab him.The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration examines the facts and concludes that Samir obtained his citizenship by lying at the time his permanent resident status was granted, and that his citizenship should be revoked.
That is all it takes. The minister and the Solicitor General of Canada decide to file a certificate with the Federal Court to the effect that the individual in question obtained his citizenship by lying in order to be become a permanent resident, and then a Canadian citizen. In addition, the Solicitor General and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration ask that Ahmed Samir be declared inadmissible, since as far as they are concerned, he represents a threat to national security.
Once the case is before the court, the judge must ensure the confidentiality of the information on which the certificate is based and of any evidence the disclosure of which, in the judge's opinion, would be injurious to national security. The manner of the proceedings is also troublesome. The judge is authorized to proceed, and I quote paragraph 17 (4)( c ):
—as informally and expeditiously as the circumstances and considerations of fairness and natural justice permit;
What does “informally” mean? According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary , informally means “without ceremony or formality”. Does proceeding informally mean showing no respect for rules and formalities? That is the real issue. It is fair to ask this question if the government, which is allowing judges to proceed on an issue as important as revoking a person's citizenship and deporting him or her without respecting formalities, believes that this is acceptable.
Following each request made by the minister or the Solicitor General at any time during the proceedings, the judge shall hear the information in the absence of the accused and his counsel. This is not anything like our judicial system. If, in the judge's opinion, the disclosure of this information could be injurious to national security, he cannot include it in the summary, which means that he cannot inform the accused or his counsel, but he may consider such information in making his determination.
I think hon. members will agree with me that it is hard to defend ourselves properly when we do not know and cannot know what evidence is used against us.
Moreover, clause 17(4)(j) clearly provides that the judge may, and I quote:
--receive into evidence anything that, in the opinion of the judge, is appropriate
—and I draw hon. members' attention to what follows—
--even if it is inadmissible in a court of law, and may base the decision on that evidence.
What is evidence that is “inadmissible” in a court of justice? What kind of evidence are we referring to, particularly since it is specified that the judge may base his decision on that evidence? All sense of proportion is being lost in the whole process, and this is extremely disturbing.
So far in the trial of our fictitious friend Ahmed Samir, it is legally possible that he was not informed of any of the evidence and that some of this evidence would not be admissible in a court of law.
It is now time for the judge to make his decision. Based on the evidence available, he decides to declare Ahmed Samir guilty. You may think, and rightly so, that Ahmed Samir must have some recourse, some recognized right to appeal in a society such as the Canadian society, whose justice system makes us proud, but no. When the judge issues his ruling, Samir is stripped of his citizenship and deported to his country of origin under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and there is no requirement to carry out the review or investigation provided for under that act.
Finally, the conclusion to this hypothetical but very plausible story is found in clause 17(9), which reads:
A determination under subsection (5) is final and may not be appealed or judicially reviewed.
This is the new federal version of democracy and the rule of law. Ahmed Samir is deported without any recourse. And what if the judge made a mistake? Even though that person is a judge, he is still a human being. Nobody is perfect. Anybody can make a mistake. We all know that, and it is even more obvious when we look at the federal government's actions. The right to make a mistake is also recognized by our society. This is why we have various levels of courts and why we can appeal a decision.
It is even not unusual for an appeal court to reverse the decision of a lower court. Why? Simply because that is the way of things. Judges, and the word says it all, are expected to judge, that is to pass judgment on facts, on the basis of evidence presented to them. Not all judges judge a given situation the same way. We must therefore recognize that mistakes are possible and give Ahmed Samir access to a defence worthy of the name. Above all, we must recognize that the right to appeal a decision is essential.
Georges Clemenceau, whom most of us in this House did not meet personally because he has been dead for quite a while, but have heard of, was a prominent French political figure from the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was famous for having been a key player in getting the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919, among other things. He made a very interesting comment about Parliament that I wish to quote:
Parliament is the largest organization ever invented for making political mistakes, but the wonderful thing is that they can be put right, as soon as the country has the will to do so.
There is still time to act to prevent real-life situations like that of Ahmed Samir from happening next year or two or three years down the road. If we have chosen to live in a constitutional state, we must abide by the applicable principles and provisions.
Are we going to have second-class citizens? This is somewhat ironic, because the government boasts about promoting a unique model of citizenship. I say no. And I agree with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that there should not be two classes of citizens. The minister stated very clearly that there would not be two classes of citizens. All citizens are equal and, regardless of how we become citizens, whether through birth or immigration, we all have the same rights and the same obligations. It would seem however, that all do not have the right to a fair trial with an appeal process.
Clause 3(d ) is particularly informative. It states that the purpose of the act is, among other things:
to reaffirm that all citizens, no matter how they became citizens, have the same status.
This is a fine statement, but will it apply in reality? In view of clauses 16 and 17 the answer is obviously no. In our opinion, do I have the right to appeal an unfavourable court decision? Indeed I do. Why then would an immigrant not have the same right? Is this to say that citizenship deserves to be treated with the respect required by the principles and values of a free and democratic society only when it suits us? I hope the government will be able to explain this somewhat controversial position in a clear, fair and respectful manner.
The time has now come to question a slightly archaic feature of Canadian society, namely Queen Elizabeth II. Far be it from me to suggest that this lady is not exceptional, nice and worthy of our admiration. That is not the question. But why should we still require newcomers to swear allegiance to the Queen when Canadian citizens by birth do not have to do so? Is it because we believe that the loyalty shown to her by citizens by birth inherently knows no limit? Some of my colleagues on the government bench may not agree.
If that is the government's argument, it should tell us. My colleagues and I might suggest the names of a few people who think otherwise. We do not have to go very far. If the Prime Minister were to look to his right he would see someone who shares our point of view.
In conclusion, I would like the government to explain something to me: why does Bill C-18, as it now stands, very clearly create two classes of citizens, with different rights and allegiance requirements, when it clearly states in principle that the purpose of the amendments is to reaffirm that all citizens are equal?
Once again, the government is shamelessly using a double standard.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for your kind understanding.