Mr. Speaker, although I had a lot to say already about Bill C-18 during questions and comments, this is the first time I have made an actual speech on this bill, which amends an existing statute, the Citizenship Act, one that has been around a very long time. It was introduced in 1977.
When examining a bill, it is important, particularly when it is a citizenship bill, to keep in mind what has gone before. We need to remember that Bill C-18 is, basically, an old bill first introduced in 1993. At that time it Bill was C-63. It then returned as Bill C-16 and today returns in virtually the same form, as Bill C-18.
The government has told us, and reminded us throughout this debate, of the importance of supporting this bill and passing it quickly. Admittedly, a bill dating back to 1977 needs to be updated, because there are imperatives and procedures that need updating and sometimes even simplifying.
The process I have just explained, and the historical background on the three bills, which died on the order paper, either because an election was called or because a new session started, demonstrate how little priority is, attached to passing a new bill and modifying the existing citizenship legislation.
Let us recall that, prior to 1947, there was no law setting out what might be called legal citizenship. Legal citizenship began with the advent of this act. What did the 1977 act allow? A number of things, but I will touch on two, one of which was reducing from five to three years the time required to qualify for permanent resident status, that is the length of time before one was eligible for Canadian citizenship.
The other important aspect of the 1977 legislation was that it did away with something which is completely unacceptable, the right to hold dual citizenship. Before 1977, a person with Canadian citizenship automatically lost citizenship in another country. The 1977 legislation provided a framework that we want to renew today.
What does Bill C-18 do? It reinforces the current citizenship legislation. Bill C-18 clarifies, according to the government, certain legislative provisions. Finally, it reinforces certain administrative procedures.
Apart from these amendments, it would be foolish to believe that the bill before us is only aimed at meeting administrative imperatives with regard to Canadian citizenship. Some fundamental elements will alter the way we do things in Quebec and the way we are planning Quebec's future, whether we talk about the citizenship oath or the lack of respect for the provisions of the civil code of Quebec dealing with foreign adoption.
We can only be critical--it is our right in this House--of this bill that is a far cry from the mandate given to us by our constituents in Quebec, namely to make sure that Canadian legislation meets future needs, but also to defend their interests.
Defending those interests means, among others, defending the civil code of Quebec. I am sure my colleague will do this in committee as I did when I was my party's critic on this issue, and as my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve did. In committee, we will defend the Civil Code of Quebec.
We will show that under the civil code of Quebec, only a Quebec court can finalize an international adoption through Quebec's Secrétariat à l'adoption internationale.
We will show that the provisions of the bill that would grant citizenship without having to go through the immigration process contravene something fundamental. To a degree, it could result in major constraints and distortions between two children adopted abroad who settle in Canada, more precisely in Quebec as compared to another province. The civil code is clear and must be enforced.
As Minister Rochon, among others, asked on March 6, 1998, would it not be better if the federal government would consider some bilateral arrangement between the Quebec government and the federal government when the time comes to grant Canadian citizenship to a child adopted abroad?
One of the fundamental principles recognized in several Canadian acts and enshrined in the Constitution is that the best interests of children should always prevail. If the federal government supports this principle, then it will agree to make some bilateral arrangement with Quebec to streamline the citizenship process for children adopted abroad.
We have several concerns about this bill. We also believe that the government is using this bill to do some nation building, as evidenced by the oath of allegiance to Canada. We would like the duties of the citizenship commissioners to be clearly defined to ensure that they remain neutral, efficient and non partisan.
Too many immigration commissioners have been appointed because of their so-called professionalism or other such qualities, but a look at their record makes one wonder. The appointment process for immigration commissioners has been called a patronage den, not only by us but by other independent organizations.
With this bill, the government has the opportunity to clarify the real role of the citizenship commissioners and ensure they are not partisan, but it refuses to do so.
This House and the study of this bill in committee will clarify the situation and the role of citizenship commissioners.
In addition, using the principle of a free and democratic society as a reason to deny citizenship is puzzling. The minister said “These are principles that will enable us to deny citizenship on rare occasions. They will apply only occasionally”.
One cannot assume that the legislative provisions of a bill will be used only on rare occasions. We cannot make such an assumption, first, because we do not know the state of affairs. Also, there is no guarantee that the government will not try to use this provision to deny Canadian citizenship to a number of people.
It is totally unacceptable, in light of these powers and the power of these provisions to deny Canadian citizenship, that the use of the principle of a free and democratic society as a reason to deny citizenship is not better regulated. As I said earlier, this is all very vague, fuzzy and inadequate in terms of direction with respect to a provision that has and could have such an impact.
Of course, we are not saying that citizenship should be granted to persons who committed violent crimes against certain ethnic or religious groups. However, we believe that these principles ought to be strictly set and regulated.
Another aspect is the citizenship oath. Each time Bill C-63 or Bill C-16 has been discussed since we came to this place in 1993, we in the Bloc Quebecois have expressed doubts about the real political will of the government regarding the oath of allegiance. We have condemned in the past oaths of allegiance that involved swearing allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. Now, the government wants new Canadians to swear allegiance to Canada.
There is reason to express doubt about this government's real motives regarding the use of this oath. Is it trying to show Canada's uniqueness? Is it trying to show that the Quebec and aboriginal peoples do not exist? These are questions we feel entitled to ask at this stage of the consideration of the bill. I am convinced that, at committee stage, the hon. member responsible for this issue will have some genuine and tough questions for officials about what this allegiance to Canada really means.
The other fundamental issue to which I must go back is the Quebec civil code. Through this bill, the federal government refuses to recognize our civil code. Since March 6, 1998, Quebec ministers have made repeated calls—orally or in writing—to ask that the Quebec and federal governments work bilaterally to streamline the process to grant Canadian citizenship to children adopted abroad, while respecting the Quebec civil code.
Unfortunately, since 1993, and particularly since 1998, the letters sent by the Quebec ministers have been ignored. Today, we can only ask that the principle of the best interests of the child be applied in Canada. Because if we believe in the fundamental principle which says that the best interests of the child must be protected, it is with these interests in mind that the federal government must cooperate with the Quebec government. The Secrétariat sur l'adoption internationale has done an excellent job. In absolute as well as relative numbers, Quebec welcomes more adopted children from abroad than any Canadian province.
This shows that not only the civil code, but particularly Quebec's approach in this regard, work properly and are effective. What the federal government wants to do through clauses 16 and 17 is to create distortion in something that works just fine.
How can we accept that, as regards an approach that is working, an approach that has allowed Quebec to welcome, both in absolute relative numbers and more adopted children, the federal government is proposing a provision which, by virtue of clauses 16 and 17, could go as far as creating a form of discrimination toward children, and also toward Quebec parents. The government must be receptive to these repeated requests.
The government must heed these demands, because back in 1998, ministers Rochon and Boisclair explained that this bill raised various problems in Quebec, including how to reconcile the legislation and our civil code, and the health issue and additional costs that could ensue as a result.
To close, I would say that this bill contains a number of incongruities. Of course, the time had come to update the Citizenship Act, which goes back to 1977. Of course, certain provisions needed to be clarified. However, there are certain provisions that concern us on this side of the House.
First, there is the issue of foreign adoptions. Second, there is the issue of the oath of allegiance to Canada. Then there are the citizenship commissioners. Under this bill, their appointment could be seen as a plum patronage position. We have a golden opportunity to change this.
I would like to close with one of the more original ideas proposed by my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. There has been much talk of legal citizenship, but he spoke of civic citizenship. Why not have a copy of Quebec's Charter of the French Language, our Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms given out at the oath ceremony? I think that would be the honourable thing to do.
I am sure that my colleague will present amendments in committee to ensure that Bill C-18 could include this original idea.