Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-24, the strengthening Canadian citizenship act. While I support the objective of clarifying the test for residency and also the approach with regard to the retroactive restoration of citizenship for additional lost Canadians, I have serious concerns with respect to the bill's principles and policies as a whole. I submit it will not strengthen, but in fact prejudice, Canadian citizenship, and in particular undermine the fundamental principles of Canadian law and policy that have long underpinned our citizenship regime.
There are too many problematic and constitutionally suspect aspects of this bill to address all of them in my allotted time. Accordingly, I would invite members who are considering voting in support of this legislation to consult, among other resources, the comprehensive and persuasive briefs of the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, submissions of constitutional experts, and others, who have identified the serious flaws in this bill while making the case for its rejection.
I will focus primarily on those proposed yet seriously problematic reforms to the Citizenship Act that would fundamentally alter the concept of Canadian citizenship, ultimately resulting in the creation of two unequal classes of Canadians. Indeed, Bill C-24 marks the unprecedented introduction of citizenship tiers for the first time in Canadian history. Not only would this bill make it more difficult to obtain citizenship, it would make it easier for the government to revoke it.
Specifically, Bill C-24 provides that an applicant seeking citizenship must intend to reside in Canada upon obtaining citizenship. This provision would ultimately empower the minister to revoke citizenship from naturalized Canadians based on a finding that they initially misrepresented their intent to reside in Canada. As a result, naturalized Canadians who, for example, engage in extensive international travel for legitimate reasons, such as to visit family or engage in work abroad, would be left in a state of standing uncertainty as to whether their international travel would provide the government with the basis for citizenship revocation on the grounds that they misrepresented their intent when making their initial citizenship applications.
Simply put, it is both wrong and unconstitutional to place this heightened and unequal burden on naturalized Canadians. Indeed, whether this threat is acted upon, the result would be a chilling effect on the mobility rights of naturalized Canadians, thereby creating two unequal classes of citizens under the law: naturalized Canadians for whom international travel may provide a basis for citizenship revocation, and Canadian-born citizens who may travel freely.
New immigrants to Canada are active members of our society. They pay taxes and contribute positively to our nation's economy. Indeed, I am extremely proud to be able to represent one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the country, the rainbow riding, or comté arc-en-ciel de Mont-Royal. I myself have been witness to how a reasonable and respectful immigration system treats new Canadians as full and equal Canadians, and contributes positively to the community and the perception of Canadian society as constituting a multicultural mosaic. Indeed, section 27 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to multiculturalism as a constitutional norm.
Simply put, there is no societal or governmental interest achieved in creating an arbitrary distinction and disparate impact and burden on mobility rights between birthright Canadians and new immigrants who have come here lawfully to better their own lives, and who in turn strengthen the fabric of our nation. Indeed, approaching immigration and integration in such a derisive and discriminatory matter is at odds with Canada's long history of being a welcoming and inclusive nation.
Critics such as the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have argued that the “intent to reside” requirement will provide “broad discretion to a citizenship officer to speculate on the future intentions of a citizenship applicant and deny citizenship based on an alleged lack” of future intent to reside. While the government certainly has the right to restrict immigration, it should do so directly and with clear and express justification, and not based on fear, stigma, speculation, or prejudice.
Apart from the discriminatory effect of this bill that I have described, the legislation is also objectionable on the grounds that it would make Canadian citizenship impractical, if not entirely inaccessible, for many who would otherwise contribute positively to our country, and in particular to our economy.
Moreover, not only would this bill negatively impact permanent residents and naturalized Canadians, it would also establish new grounds for revoking citizenship for all Canadians, including those born here, subject only to a vaguely worded requirement that revocation not conflict “with any international human rights instrument regarding statelessness to which Canada is signatory”.
As the Canadian Bar Association explains:
Citizens who may be subject to citizenship revocation include those born in Canada who are presumed to be able to claim citizenship in another state through one of their parents....
Not only would this approach raise a whole set of interpretative challenges for the courts, it would enable the government to change the substance of this restriction by unilaterally withdrawing from a treaty without consulting Parliament. All of this, of course, ignores the glaring constitutional questions posed by this bill in general, and this specific flawed provision in particular.
I will remind the House of the wording of one of the foundational sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 6(1). It says:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.
There is no exception in the charter. Section 6(1) does not distinguish between naturalized, dual, or Canadian-born citizens, as would Bill C-24.
While I regret the seeming presumptiveness of reading from the charter to hon. members in this place when we all have obligation to uphold, protect, and defend it, given the bill we are debating and the interventions in debate thus far, it does seem possible that some members in this place may not be as familiar as they should be with this and other charter provisions.
Indeed, one must wonder how it is possible that this bill is before us at all with no report of its charter non-compliance, given the requirements of section 4(1) of the Department of Justice Act that the minister review government bills for consistency with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and table a report of inconsistency, if such is found. Entrenched charter rights, in particular mobility rights under section 6, due process rights under section 7, and equality rights under section 15, are engaged by this bill and would likely be infringed.
Similarly, cases could be made that provisions of Bill C-24 would also infringe on sections 11 and 12 charter rights as well, let alone section 27, to which I have otherwise referred.
This is but a brief snapshot of why these charter rights are engaged and infringed. Whereas principles of fundamental justice include the basic entitlement to procedural fairness, the punishment of exile as it would be applied to Canadian citizens in this legislation could also infringe section 7 of the charter.
In another example, the new grounds for revocation, which would apply only to a class of Canadians deemed to be dual citizens under this bill, would violate the principle of equal citizenship and draw an impermissible distinction based on the enumerated ground of national origin, under section 15 of the charter. Time will prohibit me from elaborating further in this regard.
It is clear that this legislation should have been rejected, even by the government's own alleged standards of review as set forth in its court documents to the effect that the government considers a bill as being charter compliant unless its likelihood of withstanding a charter-based challenge is only 5% or less.
It does not take a constitutional expert to see that this bill is seriously constitutionally suspect, even allowing for the government's particularly low threshold. Therefore, I must take this opportunity to ask why, in light of the government's recent legislative record of constitutionally suspect provisions, it would today seek to pass yet another bill that would trigger expensive, time-consuming, and foreseeable litigation, which would ultimately be struck down in part, if not full. Even more troubling perhaps, it would put the Canadian citizenship regime in a state of flux and uncertainty.
I have only touched on the particulars of this fundamentally flawed and constitutionally suspect legislation.
I wish to emphasize that tiered citizenship as contemplated by this bill is both unethical and unconstitutional. I see no reason why the government should be seeking to restrict immigration to Canada. I would therefore put the question directly to the members to this place. Is there any reason, let alone a compelling one, to make it more difficult for law-abiding applicants to achieve citizenship? Is it the case that we have decided that diversity no longer represents a societal virtue and Canadian value? Is it the case that multiculturalism is no longer a constitutional norm?
The government has yet to justify the primary legislative changes accomplished through the bill in any compelling, let alone constitutional, manner, and its advancement will only continue to create stigma and prejudicial fallout for new immigrants.
For these reasons, I would urge all members to join me in affirming respect for Canadians, respect for the charter, respect for the foundational principle of equality, and respect for multiculturalism and to therefore oppose Bill C-24 and uphold the rule of law.