Madam Speaker, I would first like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.
This debate interests me a great deal. This new bill on Canadian citizenship is the third attempt since 1993 to add new elements to the legislation. During the previous two attempts, as we know, the bills died on the Order Paper at various stages, without being passed. I think that everyone hopes this will not happen again.
I think it would be good to remind those listening that, prior to 1947, Canadian citizenship did not exist. Prior to that, we were British subjects. Canadian citizenship was created in 1947. Canadian citizenship was reformed in 1977, but the same legislation has applied since then.
Having worked on this issue and given it some thought, I would like to say that citizenship, for anyone who lacks it, is a precious thing. When people are born into their citizenship, without knowing it, or thinking about it, they do not understand its importance. However, if we have the opportunity to travel abroad and to see to what extent the fact of having citizenship and having a passport is the way to exist and have one's rights recognized internationally, then we understand just how precious citizenship really is.
It is only normal for a country to monitor its citizenship and impose requirements. For example, it is perfectly normal to require applicants to know the laws of the country and at least one of its two official languages. The level at which these requirements must be met has yet to be defined. As we know, blunders were sometimes made in that regard.
It serves no one's interest if new citizens are not adequately prepared to make a useful contribution to this country and vote. In Quebec, as in other regions of Canada, it goes without saying that Canadian citizenship allows these new citizens to make a full contribution.
We understand the minister's intentions; he wanted to correct certain things which, in his mind and in other people's minds, needed to be corrected. I will mention a few of these things, and also the problems that we anticipate at this stage of consideration of Bill C-18.
The Bloc Quebecois supports the underlying principle of Bill C-18. However, and this is a general statement, a number of its provisions pose a problem and could easily generate controversy, particularly clauses 16 and 17. This means that many amendments will have to be proposed and, we hope, adopted, so as to correct a number of problems with Bill C-18.
The purpose of this bill is to require permanent residents to actually be in Canada during a total of three of the six years immediately preceding their application for Canadian citizenship.
There were two different bodies of case law, one based on the current requirement of actually living in Canada for one year, and the other to the effect that, assuming there were strong ties, there was no requirement to actually be in the country.
The bill is intended to clarify this requirement by making it necessary to have spent three of the past six years in the country. This seems a normal requirement. The only problem is that is it not easy to monitor permanent residence, and there are no means for doing so.
The second change I want to address is the introduction of a totally judiciary mechanism wherby a judge would decide whether a person's citizenship is to be revoked. The intent of this change is commendable, because until now this was a cabinet decision, except that the secrecy surrounding the current legal process and the means available to the judge in this connection make the minister's intended reform unworkable, because it ends up almost back to the old approach of secrecy and discretion.
There is reference to authorizing the governor in council—and everyone knows this means the government—to refuse citizenship to those who are in flagrant disregard of democratic freedoms and values. We can be in favour of this in principle, right off, except that there are no definitions for this flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society. Hence the possibility of discretion, which would mean potential abuse of the use of this procedure by the government.
The minister may swear that his intentions are good. But even if we believe him, there could be another minister, in another government, who could use this provision, which might open the door to numerous violations of what could be called a basis right.
Another change that would have a big impact on Quebec and should be changed again to avoid being unfair to Quebeckers is the fact that children adopted abroad by Canadians could become citizens before first becoming permanent residents. Adopting a child is costly and time consuming. Parents prefer a procedure whereby they can adopt in a foreign country as long as they follow the rules of their province, since adoption falls under the responsibility of the provinces, Quebec in our case.
The problem for Quebec is that the Civil Code, which was unanimously passed, as we know, provides that international adoptions must be finalized in Quebec by a Quebec court. If the bill as it currently stands is not amended, Quebec parents would be heavily penalized. If I may, I would like to point out that when it comes to international adoption, Quebec parents are way ahead of parents in other provinces. Indeed, of the 2,200 adoptions in Canada, 950 were in Quebec.
Finally, since I am running out of time, I will add that the government intends to change the oath of allegiance to allow for a direct expression of allegiance to Canada, without removing the allegiance to the Queen. We believe this should be changed. I am happy to hear that members on the other side believe that the oath of allegiance to the Queen belongs to another era.