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House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was havens.

Topics

Democratic ReformPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition calls upon the House of Commons to immediately undertake public consultations across Canada to amend the Canada Elections Act to ensure that voters can cast an equal and effective vote to be represented fairly in Parliament and to ensure that voters are governed by a fairly elected Parliament, where the shared seats held by each political party closely reflect the popular vote.

VIA RailPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition today from citizens who are concerned about the quality of rail services delivered by VIA Rail. They want quality services to be maintained, particularly on the Halifax-Montreal route, which passes through my riding.

We are seeing constant budget cuts, and the public would like to maintain access to quality services close to home. That would give them fair access to rail service, which is a clean and economical means of public transportation.

The public urges the government to do everything it can to improve rail service to allow for daily service between Halifax and Montreal.

Canada PostPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to table today, which are signed by Albertans.

The first petitions draws the attention of the House to the cuts to postal service. The petitioners are deeply concerned about the slashing of hours; the impact on seniors and those who are disabled; the loss of 8,000 good-paying jobs; the impact on cash-strapped families, small businesses,and charitable organizations; and the rising cost of stamps.

The petitioners call upon the government to stop the devastating cuts to our post service.

Old Age SecurityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the second petition from Albertans expresses concern about the changes to old age security, which are hurting the poorest of seniors, who count on old age security benefits for daily living. The petitioners are concerned that it means that they will have to work two more years, at a loss of $12,000 from the average senior's pocket. It is difficult for seniors to live in this way. The petitioners call upon the government to return old age security eligibility to 65 years of age.

Syrian RefugeesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present two petitions today.

The first petition is from people in the Trois-Rivières area and has to do with the millions of Syrians who have fled Syria. This is a very serious humanitarian crisis. The petitioners are urging the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to take action by granting temporary visas and increasing aid for Syrian refugees.

Lyme DiseasePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 27th, 2014 / 3:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from residents of Caledon, Ontario; Barrie, Ontario; Salt Spring Island; and other locations. I am very honoured that so many petitioners are rallying for support of Bill C-442, the bill to bring about a national shared approach on the threat of Lyme disease. More Canadians are suffering from Lyme disease all the time, yet it is preventable and easily treatable if we could only share best practices and put in place the measures under the bill. It will come up for second reading on Monday.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved that Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, my thanks to all who are joining us for today's second reading debate on an important bill. I am delighted to rise today to speak to Bill C-24. the strengthening Canadian citizenship act. These are the first comprehensive reforms to our citizenship act in more than a generation, since 1977. Its aim is very clear. It is to strengthen and protect the value of Canadian citizenship. This was a commitment our government made in its most recent Speech from the Throne, and it is one that we are keeping with today's debate and by making this a legislative priority of our government.

As everyone knows, our government has transformed Canada's immigration system over the past eight years to better meet Canada's current needs and those of its economy and to ensure that it serves our national interests. Having done that, we must now improve the process for granting Canadian citizenship to qualified applicants. In Canada, the two go hand in hand. Immigrants want citizenship, and the quality of our immigration programs depends heavily on the quality and integrity of our citizenship program. We have to ensure that our policies and practices properly reflect the tremendous value of Canadian citizenship.

That is the reality that has driven this legislation, that has driven our thinking, that has driven the support that this government is receiving across the country for these reforms.

Canadians take enormous pride in their citizenship, an unprecedented pride.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Devinder Shory

Hear! Hear!

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear the member for Calgary Northeast endorsing that view. Canadians across this country are passionate about their citizenship as never before.

This government is passionate about the contribution of the member for Calgary Northeast to this bill. This has been the work of many hands, including those of my hon. colleague the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country and many others who have been absolutely instrumental in weaving together the reforms that we are now presenting and debating.

Why is citizenship seen as being so important? What is citizenship in the 21st century? It is an ancient concept. Some have traced it back to biblical times, to the Holy Scripture. In many different countries some refer to the holy covenant that the people of Israel had with their God, a kind of contract between a whole people and a God that had given law, according to which those people felt obliged to live.

In ancient Greece, the concept of citizenship achieved a new level and a new recognition of the role of individuals in participating in the life of their cities, of their communities, of their political entities. It became clear even in the fourth and fifth century before the Christian era that true freedom, true human potential in all of its facets, could only be realized when people work together on the basis of laws, when no one person was the arbitrary master of others, that slavery was an inferior way of living, and that the freedom that underpins citizenship would be one of the primary aspirations of humanity, and so it remains today.

Citizenship is quite simply the opportunity to be at our best. It provides the opportunity to participate in institutions that have been handed down to us by generations over generations. It is a balance between the responsibilities that go with participation on the one hand, and the obligations and rights on the other hand. Citizenship is sharing in the civic life of a country, in the full sense of the word, not just holding a passport. It is not just coming every four years on voting day to mark one's ballot, although both of those are absolutely fundamental aspects of our citizenship.

Citizenship is participation in the fullest sense, participation in the needs of our neighbours, participation in voluntary organizations, participation in the economy and the economic excellence that a country like Canada has managed to achieve. These are the gains of freedom to which citizenship has opened the door over centuries, indeed millennia, and which have been achieved on a level in this country that we think is without parallel in the history of humanity.

What is Canadian citizenship? What is our version of this great global legacy to which so many aspire but few actually achieve in the highest sense; where freedom is a reality for individuals, including minorities?

In Canada, our citizenship has involved first nations and Inuit. It has involved their languages and culture, their love of the land.

This has involved the creation of institutions that date back to Cartier and Champlain, and to their colleague Mathieu da Costa, whom we honour during Black History Month every year in Canada. It goes back to the era of New France when people like Frontenac, La Salle and La Vérendrye set off to discover an entire continent. They were forging a vision of a country that inspires us to this day.

It is also a citizenship that as you know, Mr. Speaker, has striven to make institutions as representative as possible.

There was already a conseil souverain under the ancien régime at the time of Nouvelle-France, but we know that Canada was one of the first countries to establish assemblies in the two Canadas. In Nova Scotia, a representative assembly was established as far back as 1758, which was among the earliest in the British Empire.

Through the War of 1812, when those traditions were challenged and our numbers were augmented by those who had fled the United States decades earlier during the American Revolution and in the decades leading up to Confederation, we fought in this country to have not only assemblies and honest government, free of corruption; we also fought to have accountable, responsible government. It was citizens across this country, in cities, towns, rural areas, and urban centres who paved the pathway to Confederation. They underpinned that national policy. They brought us, strong and free, into the 20th century, when the story of a larger Canada, and a Canada that eventually adopted a Citizenship Act in 1947, begins.

It is a tremendously exciting legacy. It is one that we all have a responsibility to live up to in this day and age. It is one that we are seeking to renew and reinforce with this bill.

The bill has three highlights. First, it aims to reinforce the value of citizenship by strengthening that value and improving the efficiency of processing. It would also deter citizenships of convenience and the idea that the passport is all that it is about. It would deter the idea that Canadian citizenship could be, for some, a flag of convenience without the full participation of Canadian life that we know is so essential to the success of our country.

Secondly, it is about maintaining the integrity of citizenship. It is about combatting fraud, which we have to do across our programs as the challenge of fraud becomes more sophisticated throughout modern life. It is also about deterring disloyalty. There are those who would plant disastrous ideologies through the Internet, or through other forms of recruitment, and into the minds of our young people and turn them against Canada. We are pleased to be able to report that those are a very limited number in this country, but we want to deter that kind of behaviour altogether.

Finally, as always on this side of the House, we want to honour those who serve Canada. There are several measures in this bill that would do so.

I would like to begin by discussing, in more detail, ways to reinforce the value of citizenship. As I said, Canadian citizenship is considered extremely valuable around the world, and our policies must reflect and reinforce that value.

I do not think that all hon. members of the House understand just how desirable Canadian citizenship is to people around the world. Many people admire us, respect us and want to become immigrants and citizens.

Among the measures in Bill C-24 that will achieve that objective, I would like to point out changes to residency requirements for granting citizenship, in other words, the time period during which those seeking citizenship must be present in Canada before they may apply for it.

These changes will promote the integration of new immigrants by changing the residency requirement from three out of the four years preceding the application to four out of the six. The bill also clarifies that residency means physical a presence in Canada.

In other words, we would ask those who apply for Canadian citizenship to make that commitment explicitly and upfront, to be physically present in Canada not for three out of four years but for four out of six years. That is something we did not do before.

Canada's presence requirement will help newcomers better integrate into Canadian society. For people to understand Canada's social and cultural norms, they need to experience them. Nothing can replace experiencing our customs, landscape, institutions and communities first-hand.

I would like to add, before we get too far into this, that the rules would only apply after this law comes into force and after the necessary orders in council have been gazetted, changing the regulations in this respect. So anyone who is making an application to become a Canadian citizen now or for the foreseeable future as this bill moves through this House and the other place, will be treated under the current rules. I want to be absolutely explicit on that point.

As well, citizenship applicants would no longer be able to use the time they spent in Canada as non-permanent residents to meet the citizenship residence requirements. Again, this would reinforce the value of citizenship by requiring applicants to demonstrate a commitment to Canada through permanent residence. We do this for most permanent residents, so why should we not do it for all in a country where equality is such a highly prized principle, and a defensible principle in this case? Any move to part ways with that principle would risk confusing a situation that in the past has been confused and has led to abuse on a significant scale.

Another proposed measure relating to residence requirements would require applicants to declare, prior to obtaining citizenship, their intention to reside, something that I have already mentioned.

However, these are not the only measures in the bill that would reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship. A proposed amendment would require more citizenship applicants to meet the language and knowledge of Canada requirements.

We want to ensure that potential citizens can speak French or English when they apply for citizenship, which will enable them to become full-fledged members of Canadian society. We also want to ensure that they have adequate knowledge of our country.

Consequently, if Bill C-24 is passed, applicants aged 14 to 64 will have to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test in one of our two official languages.

Right now, applicants aged 18 to 54 are required to meet language and knowledge requirements.

I must say that we are making this move because the language and knowledge requirements we have put in place so far have proven to be so successful and popular. They have actually increased the interest in and popularity of Canadian citizenship. All of those who come to this country understand how important it is to know the place they are living and to have some knowledge of the local languages, at least during their working years or high school years.

Second, a number of the measures in Bill C-24 will give us more effective tools for fighting citizenship fraud and, more broadly speaking, ensuring the integrity of our system.

Bill C-24 contains provisions that target unscrupulous citizenship consultants. Under these provisions, the government will have the ability to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as citizenship consultants. Individuals not authorized to act as citizenship consultants or representatives will be charged with an offence, and the sentences will be harsher for fraud and false statements related to citizenship matters.

As we know, this reflects or mirrors in many ways a move that my hon. colleague, now the Minister of Employment and Social Development, made with regard to immigration consultants. It has had an extremely positive, felicitous effect. We trust that the same would happen for the smaller group of citizenship consultants.

Currently, the Citizenship Act bars applicants from citizenship when they have been charged with or convicted of an indictable offence in Canada, or if they are serving a sentence in Canada.

The provisions in Bill C-24 would expand criminal provisions to bar applicants for equivalent foreign convictions. No, we would not accept bogus foreign convictions. There would be a provision by which a person who had been falsely charged and convicted abroad by a repressive regime, an abusive regime, an autocratic regime, could still become a Canadian citizen on the basis of an administrative and, if necessary, judicial review here in Canada.

If passed, Bill C-24 would also streamline the process to revoke citizenship acquired by fraudulent means, leading to timelier revocation decisions while still ensuring legal recourse to individuals.

As well, measures in the bill would ensure that international adoption safeguards are met.

Finally, on the integrity and fraud front, dual citizens and permanent residents convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or certain spying offences, or who received a specified minimum sentence, would be similarly affected.

Let me emphasize. This is a matter that relates only to dual nationals or to those who are permanent residents seeking to become citizens.

However, there is the following aspect, unfortunately, to our global reality today. According to CSIS, 130 Canadians are fighting with extremists somewhere in the world, with terrorist groups that have been listed by Canada or that face listing by Canada, some 30 of them in Syria. There is a real question for us, and I think for most Canadians, about whether those Canadians, when they are dual nationals, have not literally breached their contract with Canada. This legislation, thanks to the hon. member for Calgary Northeast, would allow us to take action against them.

I almost passed over one of the most popular parts of the bill, the measures that would make the citizenship program more efficient and ensure that qualified applicants become citizens more quickly. These include a streamlined decision-making model that would reduce the duplication of work from a three-step to a one-step process, giving the government authority to define what constitutes a complete citizenship application, and ensuring a more uniform judicial review system for decisions under the Citizenship Act.

A third group of provisions in Bill C-24 will pay tribute to those who serve Canada. One of those provisions would extend the granting of citizenship to the children of persons born or adopted abroad whose parents were working for the Government of Canada or serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. Under another initiative, permanent residents who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces would be granted citizenship sooner. The measures in the bill will allow the government to revoke the Canadian citizenship of people with dual citizenship who are members of an army or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada.

In conclusion, I should mention the question of lost Canadians, those born before January 1, 1947, when the first Citizenship Act came into force, or, in the case of Newfoundland, before 1949, who have not so far been entitled to the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship.

My colleague the minister of Minister of Employment and Social Development took the most important steps to right the grievous wrong that had been left unaddressed for decades. The bill would ensure that we take the final steps to make sure that the lost Canadians, the children of those who fought in World War II, those who were among the most committed to the defence and service of this country, enjoy all the benefits of Canadians, not just in the first generation but also in succeeding generations, as governed by the provisions of this law.

We are proud of the bill. We are proud to be presenting it on a day when His Highness the Aga Khan said in the House that Canada has among the highest activity of voluntary institutions and not-for-profit organizations in the world. We think that is proof of the value of Canadian citizenship, that is proof of the dynamism of our society, and those are the grounds for strengthening Canadian citizenship for a new century, for a new millennium.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his speech.

I think the intent of the bill, which is to strengthen citizenship, is commendable. However, Canadians and many experts are already concerned about and opposed to a number of aspects of this bill.

The minister knows that two main concerns have been raised. First, under this bill, the minister retains the right to grant or revoke citizenship without public knowledge or court approval. The other very worrisome aspect of the bill, and the subject of my question for the minister, is that a person with dual citizenship who is charged with terrorism outside of Canada and serving a number of years in prison could have their Canadian citizenship revoked.

That measure does not distinguish between someone who was charged and given a fair trial and someone who might be charged and thrown in prison, a victim of a system that cracks under political pressure, for example, or a person who did not receive a fair and legal trial.

Under this bill, citizenship can also be denied to persons accused of committing certain criminal offences, even if those charges were laid outside Canada. That supports the fear that Canada would recognize charges laid in some countries where the legal system is not immune to political pressure.

Is the minister aware of this shortcoming and would he be interested in changing these aspects of the bill to ensure that justice prevails?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for my colleague, we do not see any flaws in our bill.

In my speech, I forgot to mention that we are updating our Citizenship Act to reflect the type of measures we see in the corresponding legislation of our allies and NATO partners.

According to my information, Portugal is the only NATO member that cannot revoke citizenship in a serious case of disloyalty such as treason.

Consequently, we believe that the true flaw was the fact that Canada was just about the only country to not be able to revoke citizenship from dual citizens.

The courts will play a very important role in cases of treason, espionage or terrorism.

If the honourable member would carefully examine the bill, she would find that when a Canadian with dual citizenship becomes a member of an armed force engaged in an armed conflict with the Canadian Armed Forces, the government must provide a declaration indicating all the evidence we have and presents—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. Moving on to questions and comments, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the minister on his speech.

Coming from a very multicultural riding, one of the things I do not like about the bill and find particularly hard to take, and there is a list of them, is the decision to apply the language test to people in the age range of 55 to 64, who have previously been exempt.

Many of my constituents and many new Canadians across the country find it offensive because, depending on the country from which they come, they may not speak the Queen's English but may nevertheless be highly productive, loyal members of Canadian society and make many contributions, and whose children likely speak very good, if not perfect, English and whose grandchildren will speak perfect English.

Many new Canadians find offensive the imposition of a language test on older, or relatively older, people, a category that I belong to myself.

Why does the minister impose this rather stringent language test on people in the age range 55 to 64 simply because they do not speak the Queen's English, but are nevertheless highly productive, loyal members of this country?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, it is not the Queen's English; it is Canadian English and Canadian French that we are asking for. The Queen's English is an additional step any Canadian can take, but I myself have not yet made it to that lofty station.

Let us look at this. Why was it good enough for Liberal governments from 1977 to 1984 and then again from 1993 to 2005 to have the language requirements for this age group? There was only one year of a Liberal government when the age requirement was less, one year.

How many years did we have Liberal governments in the 20th century? We should talk about happier subjects.

It is fair to newcomers. We hear it from them. It is fair to Canadians that this minimum level of knowledge of our country and language be met. These are basic tools. They lead to better outcomes. According to our side of the House, 54 to 64 is not old. Those are the salad years for many people when they are in the prime of their careers.

We do find that a level 4 on a scale of 1 to 12 is an absolutely reasonable expectation. We will provide the settlement services and the language training for those who are not able to meet that standard.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, I commend the minister for his excellent speech and the very important reform that he has brought to Parliament.

Will he not agree with me that in fact it was the Liberal government of former prime minister Mackenzie King, in 1946, that introduced the Citizenship Act with a language requirement, which was extended in the fundamental citizenship reforms of the Trudeau government in this Parliament in the 1977 amendments that required, as the minister just said, language proficiency for Canadians between the ages of 18 and 65, and indeed that the member for Markham—Unionville ran for Parliament in the years 2000 and 2004 and served in this place for six years with the language requirement for citizenship exemption being above 65?

I was here with him, and I do not recall his ever raising this as an issue. I think the member is being a wee bit disingenuous.

Will the minister not agree with me that, on this matter of revocation from convicted terrorists and traitors, there is a misconception among some that citizenship is inalienable when in fact it is alienable, when in fact people can, under the law, renounce their citizenship, when it can be revoked if it has been obtained fraudulently?

Would he not agree with me that, when people go out and obtain the citizenship of another country, perhaps an enemy country of Canada, and engage in violent hostilities against Canada, perhaps violent treason, or join a terrorist organization that is in a form of warfare against Canada, these acts constitute a practical expression of disloyalty and a voluntary renunciation of their own citizenship?

Should we not take them at their word, rather than waiting for them to send in a form de jure revoking their own citizenship?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the minister entirely.

Let us take the example of Afghanistan. There probably were cases—and when this bill is adopted we will have to document them—of Canadians of dual nationality who joined the Taliban or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, for some time or other, which operates from Pakistan in Afghanistan, which was responsible for suicide bombings, and which was responsible for the death of a large number of our finest, our best young men and women who wore the uniform.

That does constitute a crime in our eyes. It is a terrorist organization, and so Canadians who join such a group would already face prosecution, whether they have only one citizenship or two citizenships. It is reasonable, not just in our country but in all free, democratic, self-respecting societies, those that have made the NATO alliance the success it is, to draw a limit.

Most of us receive our citizenship from our parents via birth in this country, and we are proud of that and no one can take it away from us. However, there are hundreds of thousands who become citizens every year and we have a responsibility, when there are cases of fraud, to investigate those and when necessary to revoke.

When there are extreme cases of disloyalty, we have a responsibility to look at the option of revoking citizenship when there is dual nationality. Of course we are not going to create a new class of stateless persons. It was a Conservative government that undertook that obligation in the early 1960s and we are proud to continue upholding it today.

On the other point the minister made, about the consistency of Liberals on citizenship and other matters, I think we have heard—

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There seems to be great interest in the question that is before the House this afternoon, so in the time that is allowed for questions and comments I would certainly like to allow members some latitude, but if they could keep their interventions short, more members will be able to participate in this important part of debate.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The NDP agrees that changes to the Citizenship Act are badly needed. This act has not been revised since 1977, and some elements of our Citizenship Act create injustices. The NDP has fought a long time to correct some of these injustices. I enthusiastically welcomed the news that the government was preparing a bill to amend the Citizenship Act.

There are a number of good elements in this bill that the NDP is happy to see. We would be happy to support some of these changes that have been needed for a long time. However, true to form, the Conservatives have introduced a bill that is over 50 pages long and that amends all kinds of things and affects several aspects of citizenship.

There are so many things in this bill. Some are very positive, while others are worrisome. Civil society organizations, legal experts and other Canadian experts have already expressed some legal and human rights concerns. The public is very upset about some aspects of this bill, and I hope to explain why certain parts of this bill are worrisome and very problematic.

First, I will talk about what I am happy to see in Bill C-24. The NDP certainly supports the fact that this bill resolves the issue of people whose citizenship has been dispossessed, the so-called lost Canadians. I would like to give a practical example to show why it is so important to address this injustice.

John is two years old. He lives in the Eastern Townships in Quebec. His father is Canadian and his father's father is Canadian. Is John Canadian? No, he is not. Little John is here in Canada and lives with his Canadian father, but has only a temporary visa that will expire in May. The family's situation is rather unstable. Why does John not have citizenship? It is because his father, who is a Canadian and was born to a Canadian father, was born outside the country while his father was serving in the Canadian Forces. Instead of being proud to have a grandfather who served in the Canadian Forces, John is being penalized because his grandfather was serving outside the country when his wife gave birth to their child.

This deprives little John of medicare and day care, which is an enormous burden for the family. Little John is not the only one in this unfair situation. In fact, there are approximately 80 lost Canadians. These people are often in a tragic situation that also adversely affects many people who are close to them. The NDP fought for a long time for the government to resolve these unfair situations. From critic to critic, MP to MP, from motions to news releases, the NDP fought this battle, and we are pleased to see that, today, justice will be served for these people who should already be Canadian.

The other positive aspect of this bill is the expedited access to citizenship for permanent residents who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, this aspect, which the NDP already supported, is found in Bill C-425 from the last session. I would like to raise one issue, however. This bill will not affect hundreds or even dozens of people. It will affect only a few, perhaps five or 10. It is very rare for permanent residents to be accepted into the Canadian Forces. Usually, a person must already be Canadian to be accepted. Only in very exceptional cases are permanent residents allowed to serve in the Canadian Forces.

That being said, these people serve our country in an exemplary way. They meet important needs that only they can meet within our armed forces. In our opinion, it is therefore completely reasonable, acceptable and desirable to reward these individuals by expediting their access to Canadian citizenship, if they so desire.

The NDP also fought hard for the implementation of measures to train immigration consultants and to fight more effectively against fraudulent consultants. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina spoke out loud and clear, as she called on the government to take action in this regard. In a news release made public in 2010, she called for the creation of a regulatory body to enforce the rules and protect the public. It was not until today that practical measures were proposed to better train immigration consultants. That is positive aspect of the bill, because many people are victims of immigration consultants who betray their trust—although most consultants are honest individuals. These are the good things I wanted to say about Bill C-24.

I would like to point out some parts of the bill that should be the subject of consultations with experts and the public because they are worrisome in some way or because people have differing opinions on them. The first is the longer term of Canadian residency required to obtain citizenship. The longer term is not necessarily a bad thing, and I understand the goal of it. It is a good idea to make sure that people with citizenship have lived in Canada for a certain period of time. This is good, but I also want to point out that this particular measure adds clarification that was not in the act before, making it very clear to people how many days they must reside in Canada before being eligible for Canadian citizenship. This measure makes sense.

However, we should talk about the ridiculously long processing time for citizenship applications. If the government is asking people to reside in Canada for a longer period of time, then it really must ensure that their applications are processed quickly and efficiently, which is what they might expect.

Increasing application fees is also a contentious issue. I will explain why. People certainly understand that the fees need to change. Fees for citizenship applications have not changed in several years. Now the processing fees will be higher than the fees people have to pay to submit their application.

However, why are these fees jumping from $200 to $400? What justifies that amount? So far, nobody has provided us with all of the information justifying that specific amount. Why not $50 more or $50 less? Does this amount really just cover the costs, or is it merely a way to get money from people who want citizenship? I would like a lot more information about that. If the government charges more, people are naturally going to expect better service.

This brings me back to the processing times, which are unacceptable. They have more than doubled under the Conservatives. Asking someone to pay more for a service is one thing, but providing a service that gets worse and worse is another. The government needs to make sure that higher fees go hand in hand with better service.

Furthermore, changing the age at which people must take the test in one of the official languages has upset many communities across the country. In the past, people aged 18 to 54 had to take the test in one of Canada's official languages. From now on, people aged 14 to 64 will have to do so.

I understand the importance of learning one of Canada's official languages. However, many people are worried. For instance, people aged 54 to 64 might have a harder time learning one of the official languages, studying for an exam or managing the related stress this could bring. Many people live within a community and could very easily get by in Canada without necessarily mastering a certain level of language. Such a change could cause a lot of stress, especially regarding the lower age limit at which people will have to take the test. Indeed, children as young as 14 will now have to take the test, and this could determine whether they get to become citizens or not.

What happens to a child who does not pass the test for some reason or another, while the rest of his or her family passes? Will that child be the only non-citizen in the family? Could this cause problems when the family wants to travel, for instance? Why impose a test with such serious consequences on children as young as 14, when we know that young people living here in Canada have to go to school in one of Canada's official languages and learn the language day in and day out? Why put that kind of pressure on a 14-year-old child? This is highly questionable. As I said, we had many discussions with a number of groups and individuals who all questioned this.

Another aspect worth debating that is upsetting people is the elimination of the use of the length of stay in Canada as a non-permanent resident. This measure is really troubling for many foreign students and temporary workers who have been in Canada for a few months, or even a few years, and who were planning on applying for citizenship in the near future. They now see that they might have to wait for many more years. This really changes their plans.

I have gotten a number of emails from my constituents and from people across Quebec and Canada. I think it is worth sharing some of them. For example, Abdoul Haseeb Awan said:

I chose and moved to Canada three years ago after being offered admission in world leading universities. I have won various prizes, grants and awards during the last three years. After graduating as Master in Engineering, I chose entrepreneurship. I was promised a PR status within 12 months, which took 19 months. [Yes, the delays are very long. I will have to wait] 2 more years for citizenship.

That person contributed, studied here, worked here, created jobs here, and does not understand why we would deny him consideration for the time he has lived and contributed in Canada.

Another example is an email from Andras Korinek. I will quote a few sentences from his email. He said:

The second issue I see with this bill is the new method of counting residence days. I personally came into Canada through a work permit and it took me 2 years to finally become a permanent resident. I think the intention of the bill to make sure applicants are supporting Canadian society and sharing Canadian values are honourable, however, the metrics used to measure this are flawed. I am contributing to Canada by working here and paying taxes. I have a Canadian spouse, Canadian friends, I joined a local sports team. I would like to be officially welcomed into Canadian society as a proud citizen.

One last example, though I have a lot of them, is from Sultan Ali Ahmed, a McGill University student, who arrived in August 2007. He says:

...there should be recognition given to students graduating from canadian universities, who were initially on study permits, started working after graduation and then applied for their PRs.

As members can see, many people are worried about seeing their plans change and are urging us to review this measure. This subject is worthy of an honest debate.

I would now like to talk about the elements that I do not even think are worthy of debate. I think they are extremely worrisome for several reasons. First, Bill C-24 increases the minister's discretionary power. Under this bill, the minister will now have the right to grant or revoke citizenship in special cases.

We have seen a lot of this from the Conservatives: using bills to grant themselves more discretionary powers. The NDP disagrees with this measure. This kind of discretionary power opens the door to turning our citizenship system into a political tool. The minister has said that he was not necessarily prepared to say to whom he would grant citizenship.

That a member of a political party could do such things behind closed doors is unacceptable. These are great powers. The citizenship process must be part of a system that people can trust because of its impartiality and transparency. I am very worried that by granting such powers to a minister we are moving in the opposite direction.

The bill raises another concern. According to the provisions of this bill, the minister can revoke citizenship—in the case of a dual citizen—when there is a suspicion of fraud. The key word here is “suspicion”. In fact, the minister has the power to revoke citizenship or to authorize a person to revoke it in his name if he is “satisfied on a balance of probabilities” that the person obtained citizenship fraudulently.

The problem is that the person will no longer be able to appear before an independent tribunal that would determine whether or not the allegations are true. That is important. A person with Canadian citizenship is a Canadian and should have access to a fair and just process under our justice system. It is worrisome in this case, and also in the case of someone who is accused of terrorism abroad and who must spend a few years in jail. Because of this charge, a person's citizenship can be revoked.

In a question to the minister, I mentioned earlier that the main concern in this case is that people can be accused of terrorism without having the right to a fair and just process in a country where the justice system is not immune to political pressure, for example.

We have already seen a number of such cases, even in Canada. People have been charged, spent several years in prison and then may have become heroes because they were imprisoned for political and partisan reasons. Someone behind me whispered the name of Nelson Mandela and, indeed, that could be one example. These are serious concerns.

In closing, this bill does not tackle the main problems with our citizenship system at present—the wait times and the backlog. The wait times are horrible. They have more than doubled under the Conservatives, who waited all these years before pretending to take an interest in the problem.

The government says that this bill will resolve the situation, but I am not so sure. Nothing in this bill can prove to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be significant changes. On one hand, we are adjusting certain administrative measures to help the process run more smoothly or more quickly than before, but on the other, we are increasing the use of the residency questionnaire, which is extremely long to compile and analyze. Other criteria, such as a declaration of intent to live in Canada, are being added.

What is the point in making the system more efficient if we are asking the people who have to review the files to do extra work? How will that really help? People are fed up with being told to wait when they apply for citizenship and are entitled to it. They should get a response quickly and efficiently.

For a number of the reasons that I mentioned, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following:

this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, because it:

(a) does not provide an adequate solution for reducing citizenship application processing times, which have been steadily increasing;

(b) puts new significant powers in the hands of the Minister that will allow this government to politicize the granting of Canadian citizenship;

(c) gives the Minister the power to revoke citizenship, which will deny some Canadians access to a fair trial in Canada and will raise serious questions since Canadian law already includes mechanisms to punish those who engage in unlawful acts; and

(d) includes a declaration of intent to reside provision, which in fact gives officials the power to speculate on the intent of a citizenship applicant and then potentially deny citizenship based on this conjecture.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The amendment is in order.

I recognize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am intrigued by my hon. colleague's remarks. I have a few questions for her, which I think may lead her to reconsider the amendment she has just proposed.

First, is the member aware that we have a legal obligation to charge the fees for the full cost of the service we are giving?

Is the member aware that the people whose emails she cites, Andreas, Sultan Ali, and there was a third, may actually have faster service by the time this bill becomes law? The processing times would be reduced from where they are today to under one year by 2016, which would mean that the four-year residency requirements combined with a speedy processing time would make them Canadian citizens even faster than they would be under the status quo.

Is the member not aware that there are cases where revocation of citizenship, above all, for fraud, for plain and simple proven fraud, is something that Canadians want us to undertake on the necessary scale to deter the kinds of abuses we have seen?

Is the member not aware that by proposing these amendments, by opposing this bill, she is opposing the will of the vast majority of Canadians who want to see their citizenship protected?

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I always get a kick out of people who stand up and say that they know what the vast majority of Canadians want. Frankly, I am curious to know how the minister managed to poll the vast majority of Canadians.

That said, and this is odd, the arguments that the minister gave were in no way related to my objections to the bill. He knows that. He was there; he listened to my speech. I spent a lot of time talking about what I agree with and talking about elements of the bill that I understand. I am not necessarily opposed to increasing fees. On the contrary, I understand that fees need to be increased.

Can the minister give us more information about the reasons behind the $200 increase? Is that that the kind of increase that is required to cover fees?

Of course, if the minister is able to reduce wait times to under a year, that would be commendable. No one would object to that. However, the problem with this bill is that it does not prove to us that the Conservatives are going to make that happen.

It is difficult to believe that the Conservatives will reduce citizenship and immigration delays when we see their errors and failures in this area.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on her speech.

I want to ask a question because I agree with her, not with the minister. My question is about the conversation that just took place. It seems to me that if the government wants to increase costs for those wishing to become citizens, it should start by improving efficiency. Under this government, wait times doubled between 2007 and 2010. In its own document, the government said that wait times have increased because it did not invest enough resources in the system. It is the government's fault. If it wants to increase costs, it needs to start by improving efficiency.

Right now, the government is just making pre-election promises. It is saying that efficiency will improve, but nothing is certain. Efficiency has gone downhill.