Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces). The bill would create a new ministerial power to reduce the length of residency in Canada required for a member of the Canadian armed forces to obtain citizenship.
This bill would make it possible to renounce Canadian citizenship from a Canadian citizen who is also a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada if he engages in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.
The same goes for a permanent resident who has applied for Canadian citizenship. The application would be deemed to have been withdrawn if he engaged in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.
I will focus on the accelerated citizenship process that the minister could request for a member of the Canadian armed forces.
This bill grants the minister a new power. This power would allow him, on request and to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value, to lower the length of residency in Canada required for a member of the Canadian armed forces who wants to obtain citizenship from three years to two, provided that the member in question has signed a minimum three-year contract and has completed basic training.
I want to make it clear that since we are talking about a member who has signed a contract for at least three years, we are of course talking about a regular forces member. Members of the reserve forces do not sign three-year contracts. We are definitely talking about a regular forces member.
This bill is divided into two parts. The first part is about members of the Canadian Forces obtaining Canadian citizenship and the second part is about revoking Canadian citizenship when a CF member engages in an act of war against someone.
I would like to come back to the first part of the bill. I would point out that it is really quite rare for someone who is not already a Canadian citizen to serve in the Canadian Forces.
When I read the bill, I immediately wondered about the relevance of introducing such a bill. You cannot be a member of the Canadian Forces unless you are a Canadian citizen. I began to wonder if what I remembered was incorrect. So I went to the website, and it said repeatedly that you have to be a Canadian citizen in order to become a member of the Canadian Forces. So then I asked the Library of Parliament to do a little research, and I was shown the regulations in question, the Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, which included the following exception:
...the Chief of the Defence Staff or such officer as he may designate may authorize the enrolment of a citizen of another country if he is satisfied that a special need exists and that the national interest would not be prejudiced thereby;
Such exceptions are therefore quite rare and I must say, I doubt that most recruitment officers are even aware that this exception exists. When you go into a recruitment centre, they tell you that you have to be a Canadian citizen. If someone says they are a permanent resident, they are usually told to come back once they have obtained their citizenship. Since this is an exception, I have to wonder about the usefulness of such a measure, but I understand why it is there.
If we want to have this provision in place for highly exceptional cases, then I think we must examine this issue and determine whether the enlistment process for the Canadian armed forces needs to be reviewed. This would allow landed immigrants or even people from safe allied countries to enlist. For example, could an Australian say that he wants to serve in the Canadian Forces, since Canada is a relatively safe Commonwealth country?
An Australian has an allegiance to the same Crown and this would be reasonable, for example. Could this person with very specific training enlist in the Canadian Forces any way other than with authorization from the Chief of Defence Staff? We must think about that, but in this bill there is unfortunately no reference to the changes that could be made to the National Defence Act regarding enlisting in the Canadian Forces. I think that is the main flaw.
I will support sending the bill to committee, but I think this type of bill cannot be introduced without also introducing measures or making suggestions about the parameters of enlisting in the Canadian Forces or what reforms are necessary.
At the time, when I read the bill for the first time, I spoke briefly to the Minister of National Defence to find out whether he planned to change the laws on the requirements for joining the Canadian Forces so that permanent residents could serve. However, no changes were planned. I do not believe that he was against such changes either. I will therefore support the bill, but I think that we really have to have this discussion about whether National Defence's rules can be changed to allow people who are not Canadian citizens to join the Canadian Forces, whether those rules are still appropriate and whether they should be modernized and updated. It seems strange to me to have a bill that pertains to exceptional cases.
I served in the Canadian armed forces for three years. Many of my colleagues in the House served for a number of years. I, for one, have never met a soldier who was not a Canadian citizen. All the soldiers with whom I worked were already Canadian citizens.
Introducing a bill such as this that pertains to an exceptional case seems a bit strange to me and I am not sure that it is necessarily useful. I think that this bill should have included measures that establish who has the right to join and then it would have been useful to also refer it to the Standing Committee on National Defence. Unfortunately, such is not the case.
As I said, I will support the bill, but I think that there is really something missing. I understand the intention of the member who is introducing this bill, but I think he simply did not realize just how exceptional it is for people who are not Canadian citizens to serve in the Canadian Forces. Perhaps he did not realize that this measure is not necessarily very relevant in the context of serving in the Canadian armed forces. I understand the point of the bill and I thank my colleague for introducing it, but I really believe that he should find a way to make this discussion happen.