Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today about Bill C-425, which introduces new grounds for granting or revoking Canadian citizenship.
Under the Citizenship Act, Bill C-425 would, under certain conditions, allow the immigration minister to reduce from three years to two the required years of residence to grant citizenship to members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are permanent residents.
In addition, under this bill, an individual would be deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship if they engaged in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
The NDP is in favour of expediting the process of granting Canadian citizenship to reward the dedication of permanent residents who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. We also want the Canadian Armed Forces to reflect Canada's diversity. However, in terms of the specifics set out in Bill C-425, there are currently very few situations in which a permanent resident would be able to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces.
If Canada wishes to recognize the extraordinary contributions of future citizens, why not offer this same advantage to new Canadians who make remarkable contributions to Canadian society in other sectors, and not just through military service?
While Bill C-425 is meant to reduce the timeframe required to obtain citizenship for certain permanent residents, the NDP believes that the government also needs to work on reducing the exceptionally long wait times for the processing of all citizenship applications. I think it is important to point out that the sweeping changes the Conservatives have made to the Canadian immigration system in recent years have not made it any more efficient or fair.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the processing time for citizenship applications is nearly two years. Furthermore, the self-described “forgotten ones of Buffalo”, whom I saw at lunch time, actually, were on Parliament Hill today to continue to pressure the government. These immigrants, many of whom live in Quebec City, are still waiting for the federal government to settle their status. So what happened?
The Canadian visa office in Buffalo, where their applications were being processed, suddenly closed up shop in the wake of the Conservative government's budget cuts. Many of them submitted their applications two or three years ago and are still waiting to hear from Citizenship and Immigration, which is giving very little information about how long it may take to process their files. The upshot is that over 10,000 immigrants are still waiting for their application for permanent residence to be processed, and meanwhile, they are left completely in limbo.
Unfortunately, it is just the tip of the iceberg: as of last June, 285,000 people were waiting for their applications to be processed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials. At the same time, the department was cut by 5.3% as a result of the last federal budget. Even though waiting periods continue to grow, 285 positions were eliminated across the country.
There is a significant backlog in more than just citizenship applications. According to an article that appeared in Le Droit in November 2012, more than one million people who want to come to Canada are still waiting for a decision on their immigration file. It seems that this backlog will not be cleared before 2017, according to a report released last winter by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
This same report recommended that Citizenship and Immigration Canada modernize several of its immigration practices as soon as possible. According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada dismissed 75 employees at its Montreal call centre, where the department's telephone services for clients across the country are centralized.
Unfortunately, according to the same information obtained by Radio-Canada, officers could only answer 9% of the 30,000 calls received daily. David Chalk, chair of the Quebec association of immigration lawyers, says he is worried about this situation.
Mr. Chalk got his lawyer colleagues in Canada to phone the call centre in Montreal. They had to wait an average of four hours to speak to an agent. Is this normal? Citizenship and Immigration Canada defended itself by saying that it was possible to file a complaint about the abnormally long wait time. However, to get in touch with the complaints department, you have to go through the call centre.
In my Quebec City riding office, I often receive calls from claimants in distress who do not understand why the process is taking so long. These immigrants contribute to Canadian society. Most of them are permanent residents and are already participating in society. They sometimes have children who are Canadian citizens. Unfortunately, on this government's watch—