Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in this broad discussion on Bill C-24, introduced by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I want to commend my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and the official opposition's critic on this file, for her excellent work.
Unfortunately, once again, the Conservatives have failed to follow the rules and do the right thing, as serious parliamentarians should do. There was no real study of this bill in committee, even though this bill could have some potentially serious consequences. I will talk about those later on.
I do not understand why the government did not take the time to listen to the experts in committee. My guess is that it was because the Conservatives knew that the expects would probably disagree with them. That is the impression we got from the testimony during the pre-study and afterwards. People are very worried about this bill, which affects something very basic—citizenship and the minister's power to grant or revoke citizenship.
I think it is rather absurd and even shameful that the Conservatives decided to extend our evening debates in the House of Commons—which is something I am very comfortable with; I am pleased to be here tonight—but they do not show up, do not do their job and do not speak to their own bills. Since the Conservatives decided to extend our evening debates, they have missed 67 shifts. They have turned down 67 opportunities to speak, often on their own bills. That is an insult to people's intelligence. The Conservatives are flouting the rules of Parliament.
This bill is extremely serious because previously, a person's citizenship could be revoked only in cases where it could be demonstrated that fraud had occurred and the person had become a citizen through fraudulent means. Even though that was the only case where a person's citizenship could be revoked, the person could still appeal to the Federal Court so that his or her case could be heard properly. Today, that is no longer true. The government is lengthening the list of reasons why a person's citizenship can be revoked and, at the same time, concentrating a huge amount of arbitrary, discretionary power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration alone. That is very risky and hangs a sword of Damocles over the heads of millions of individuals in our country.
I want to begin this speech by quoting some people who are somehow involved in the conversation about this bill and the type of status the government wants to give Canadian citizens.
A French writer, Amin Maalouf, had this to say, not about the bill specifically, but in general:
It is first up to your country to keep a certain number of commitments to you: that you be considered a full-fledged citizen and that you suffer no oppression, discrimination or undue hardship. Your country and its leaders have the obligation to make sure that is the case. If not, you own them nothing.
Here is another quote about the bill from Thomas Walkom, a columnist for the Toronto Star. He said:
The federal government’s new citizenship bill is a Trojan horse. It is presented as an attempt to reduce fraud and rationalize the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, both of which are sensible aims.
But it would also give [the] Prime Minister['s] Conservative government unprecedented authority to strip Canadians—including thousands born in this country—of their citizenship.
The more we read about the bill that is before us this evening, the more reasons we have to be concerned. It seems we are at a point where citizenship is like the prize in a box of Cracker Jack. Citizenship can be given or taken away on a whim or based on the minister's goodwill.
Last year, I had the opportunity to attend my first official citizenship ceremony in my riding, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I must say that the people who were there were deeply moved and very pleased to officially become citizens. I cannot imagine having to explain to them that now a minister can choose to take that citizenship away from them, and this is actually part of the legislation, if they have dual citizenship, meaning that they are citizens of another country as well.
The minister is giving himself the power to take away their Canadian citizenship in a number of situations, simply because they already have another nationality or another official citizenship. We already heard the former immigration minister say that it was too bad that Canada has to fulfill its obligations under international treaties because the government cannot create statelessness. I get the feeling that if the Conservatives had the opportunity to do so and if it did not contravene the treaties that Canada has already signed, they would not hesitate.
Barbara Jackman of the Canadian Bar Association said this in April:
Taking away citizenship from someone born in Canada because they may have dual citizenship and have committed an offence proscribed by the act is new. That's a fundamental change. For people who are born here and who have grown up here, it can result in banishment or exile. It's a step backwards, a huge step backwards—and it's a huge step being taken without any real national debate or discussion about whether Canadians want their citizenship amended in that way...
That's a fundamentally different concept of citizenship that needs to be addressed. It needs to be discussed and debated. We think that it could raise serious human rights concerns. It does raise serious human rights concerns. It may well contravene the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled in the past that we can't exile Canadians. By redefining who a Canadian is, you achieve exile. That's not right. It's against the Charter.
We have good reason to be very worried about this government's apparent desire to resurrect a situation that, for all practical purposes, has not been seen since the Middle Ages: forcing one of its citizens into exile, kicking a citizen out of the country. If a person has another nationality—be it French, Algerian or Burmese—and if that is enough to strip him of Canadian citizenship, that is very serious because that means condemning him to exile and forcing him to leave the country, banishing him. I do not think that is what Canadians and Quebeckers want or are prepared to accept, particularly not in the overall scheme of this bill, which, as we will see, gives tremendous powers to the minister.
In May of this year, Dr. Patti Tamara Lenard, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and an expert on the subject of ministerial discretionary power, which she was concerned about, had this to say:
Finally, the bill grants the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the discretion to revoke citizenship in too many cases. Currently, as written, the bill would give the minister discretion to revoke citizenship in cases of fraud, but there is no requirement—as there was in the previous bill, or as currently enacted now—for a court to evaluate if fraud in fact did occur. If the revocation provisions are kept, every such decision must be considered by, or appealable to, a court, even in cases where citizenship is revoked under suspicion of fraudulent applications. This is for at least two reasons. First, some forms of apparent misrepresentation are made for legitimate reasons—that is, to escape genuine and real harm. Second, judicial proceedings provide the only mechanism to protect against the otherwise inevitable suspicion that the minister is using fraud as a reason to revoke citizenship of people who are suspected of aiming to harm Canada where the proof doesn't exist.
Like many people, I am very concerned about the fact that we will kick people out and force them into exile. We will revoke the citizenship of those who should keep it. If someone commits a crime, there is a penal system for that. We must use that system to ensure that people pay for their crimes. There is nothing wrong with that.
I do not see why we have to do something as radical as revoke someone's citizenship, especially when these convictions could be handed down in foreign countries, including those for terrorism, which could give rise to concerns about the legitimacy of certain convictions. Just look at Burma, North Korea or Syria. I do not think we should rely on the justice systems of those countries to decide whether or not someone should keep their Canadian citizenship.