Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-425, which introduces three new grounds for citizenship, or its removal, under the Citizenship Act based on relations with the Canadian armed forces.
The bill introduces, first, a new ministerial power to shorten permanent residency requirements for members of the Canadian armed forces seeking citizenship. This would give a new power to the minister for the purpose of alleviating special and unusual hardship or to reward service of exceptional value to Canada. On application, it would also reduce the residency requirement from three years to two years for members of the Canadian armed forces seeking citizenship, so long as that member has both signed at least a three-year contract and has completed basic training.
Second, it contains a deemed application section for renunciation of Canadian citizenship if that citizen engages in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces and that same citizen is also a citizen or legal resident in a country other than Canada.
Third, there is a deemed withdrawal provision of an application for Canadian citizenship where a permanent resident who has made that application for citizenship has engaged in an act of war against the Canadian armed forces.
I must start by pointing out a classic bit of hypocrisy, which we often see from the Conservative side of the House, where the parliamentary secretary stood up and lectured the member for Mount Royal for bringing up the musings of the Minister of Immigration this past week of adding a section that would also allow the government to strip citizenship of those accused of terrorism. The parliamentary secretary berated the hon. member on this side of the House for bringing that up and considering that. He then proceeded to do the same thing in his own speech.
One wonders whether basic elements of consistency and principle have any traction on that side of the House. By the way, I want to compliment the member for Mount Royal on a thoughtful speech that points out what Canadians really want to see in their immigration policy and in policy in general, which is well-thought-out, rational, policy-based, evidence-based and constitutional legislation.
The background to the bill and the context in which it occurs is important for Canadians to remember. Since March 2008, over 25 major changes have been made to immigration procedures, rules, legislation and regulation. These have increased dramatically since the Conservatives formed a majority government. Among other changes, the Conservatives have used their majority to freeze parental sponsorships, to weaken family reunification, to punish vulnerable refugees and to increase the number of temporary foreign workers to meet the demands of their friends on the employer side of the equation. Most of these changes are politically motivated, invariably heartless, always without evidentiary basis and frequently unconstitutional.
Bill C-425 attempts to fast-track the time within which certain permanent residents may apply for citizenship. New Democrats think the government ought instead to be working to address the exceptionally long processing times for citizenship applications, which Citizenship and Immigration Canada currently reports is an almost two-year wait for processing. In other words, no one in this country gets their citizenship recognized anywhere near the time they are legally entitled to, and as such Bill C-425 is making a hollow and, I would respectfully submit, politically motivated promise.
Two years is the average. I have constituents waiting for citizenship, and I think every member in the House does, who wait between two and five years. These are permanent residents who came to this country, did everything they were asked of by this country, have worked hard, paid their taxes and want to become citizens so they can vote in this country, fully express their democratic rights and get a Canadian passport.
Instead of taking care of these unbelievably appalling and outrageously long lines, the government does nothing and instead fiddles with these relatively arcane issues that do not affect very many people at all. This private member's bill would get at an extremely limited number of cases as the circumstances under which a permanent resident would be able to enrol in the Canadian Forces are currently extremely narrow.
The Canadian Forces website and the Canadian Forces Ottawa recruitment office have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that a permanent resident may not enrol in the Canadian Forces. A permanent resident may only enrol when the Chief of the Defence Staff of Canada or such officer as he may designate authorizes the enrolment of a citizen of another country, which would only happen if he is satisfied that a special need exists and that the national interest would not be prejudiced thereby.
How many permanent residents do we really think are in the Canadian Armed Forces who have served three years, who have completed basic training, who are permanent residents, who are applying for Canadian citizenship and are residents and citizens of another country? However, I can tell the House how many permanent residents are waiting right now for their citizenship: hundreds and hundreds of thousands. One might ask, why would any member of the House target a bill that might affect six people, a dozen or a couple of dozen, instead of dealing with 300,000 Canadians? That shows misplaced priorities.
In terms of the other part of the bill, deemed stripping of citizenship, I want to repeat the remarks of my friend, the hon. member for Mount Royal, who points out the very delicate matter of stripping citizenship from people.
It may be good policy, because I have noticed in the House that whenever the government gets in trouble, whenever one of its members gets criminally charged or is under ethical investigation or the government is having a bad week, the government turns to one of two things, a crime bill or an immigration bill. Invariably, it seeks to marginalize and attack a certain group.
Right now we have a member from Edmonton who is charged for failing to take a breathalyzer test; we have Senator Brazeau who is charged with domestic and sexual assault; we have four senators now who do not seem to know where they live despite the constitutional requirement to reside in the province to collect their money. In fact, they are collecting money and per diems from Canadian taxpayers to live in Ottawa based on the fact they are away from their homes, but they have homes in the Ottawa area.
Marginalizing and attacking certain groups is a constant theme of the government, but Canadians are not fooled. They are not fooled because if the government were truly interested in dealing with citizenship and immigration, it would be attacking the real problems facing people in this country, including appallingly long wait times to sponsor one's parents and unite one's family, for employers to get their workers here, and for skilled workers to immigrate to this country.
Right now, despite all the rhetoric and fast talk of the Minister of Immigration, the truth, as members will find out in talking to any immigrant community across this country from coast to coast, is that wait times are as long today as they were five years ago. There is no progress. People do not mind waiting six or 12 months, but wait times are now measured almost in decades. People wait 10 years to sponsor their parents.
I have a real case from one of my constituents in the armed forces, who is serving with distinction. He is from Vietnam. He applied in October 2006 to sponsor his widowed mother in Vietnam. The sponsorship was verified and first-stage approval was given in 2009 and it has been in transit for second stage approval, which was received in Singapore in 2009. The most recent status update that we did for this gentleman in December 2012 indicates that the application was received in 2009, that it is in queue and that there is a 49-month wait.
Thus, there is a four-year wait from now, plus the three years' wait from 2009, on top of the wait from the time he applied in 2006. This member of our armed force, who is proudly serving our country, defending our interests, putting his life on the line and who wants to sponsor his mother, has been waiting since 2006, some seven years, and has another four to wait. This person will wait 11 years to sponsor a parent. He is not alone.
Is the government doing anything to speed up the process? No, it is cutting the number of officers around the globe. It is cutting funding for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and wait times will get longer.
While all the fast talking is being done by the minister, Canadians know the truth, that the government is using immigration as a political football, not trying to improve the process.
I also want to point out that the parliamentary secretary said that the Conservatives had strengthened our Canadian citizenship. I ask, when was it weak? Who thought it was weak, because we on the New Democrat side of the House have always valued Canadian citizenship? We think all Canadians have as well. The Conservatives act as if Canadians took their citizenship lightly before 2006. In Vancouver Kingsway, consisting of some 70% new Canadians or at least second or third generation Canadians, these people take their Canadian citizenship extremely seriously. I do not know what kind of mind could conjure up the idea that someone is taking Canadian citizenship lightly, but it is surely no one on this side of the House.
I will conclude by saying that the New Democrats will support the bill's passage to committee, because we want to study the bill and pursue amendments. The idea of doing anything that might speed up citizenship for any member of our forces is an idea worthy of exploration, but let us be clear: Only a New Democrat government will ever bring in the kind of immigration reforms necessary to actually satisfy the needs of the immigrant community in this country. We will do that in 2015.