Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-24, particularly in light of the fact that later this week, on Friday, I will be at a citizenship ceremony in Thunder Bay. I try to get to as many as I can. I have not been to all of them, of course, but I will be there.
A citizenship ceremony is a wondrous thing. It is filled with people who have worked long and hard and who have spent a lot of time, and in many cases a lot of money, to get to where they are at that citizenship ceremony. One thing that really stands out above all at a citizenship ceremony, as I know my colleagues will agree, is that it is clear from looking at the faces of these new Canadians that Canadian citizenship is something of enormous value. For everyone who is becoming a new Canadian on Friday, with their families, friends, and relatives in attendance, Canadian citizenship is really something that is an apex for many people in their lives at this point.
Unfortunately, with Bill C-24 and with many other things the government does, we see an approach that plays politics with the issue. We have seen that a lot with the government. I would like to take my time today to speak about the good—because there is some good that I can certainly agree with—the bad, and in some cases, the ugly in the bill. I will try to use my time wisely.
First, as a little background, we were hoping that the minister would commit to working with the NDP to bring real improvements to our citizenship laws. Instead, he opted to go on with a bill that in many cases is likely to be unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the committee rejected every one of our proposed amendments to the bill, amendments that perhaps could have made it good and good, instead of good and bad.
Canadians expect us to collaborate in this place and come up with absolutely the best bills possible for the benefit of all Canadians. However, since the 2011 election we have not seen that. We have not seen the collaboration that Canadians expect in this place.
Now, here is a bill that will likely be passed. It is a majority government. The Conservatives were not willing to listen to any amendments. On top of everything else, they do not care if it is challenged in the courts. They just want to go right ahead and do it and let someone else worry about it. That is not what Canadians expect us to do in this place.
Let me speak about some of the provisions that I just cannot agree with and some that I can. Let me start with the ones that I cannot.
Bill C-24 gives the minister many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. It should not be the job of the minister of citizenship and immigration to make these kinds of judgments. Before it was done by Governor in Council, by cabinet. It was done by a larger group of people. At one time, up until now, a judge would be involved. The judge would have to make some details known and make a determination of some kind. However, this government has a very strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates more powers into the hands of ministers.
Needless to say, we condemn this practice. We do not trust the Conservatives, and by giving a minister new powers, we open the door to arbitrary and politically motivated decisions. The very idea of giving the minister, by himself, the power to revoke citizenship raises serious concerns, and it is on this principle that we can talk about this issue.
Another problem with revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens is that it would create two-tier citizenship, where some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked while others would be punished by the criminal justice system for the same offence.
Let me talk about how the minister, under the provisions of the bill, could revoke citizenship. If he or any staffer he authorizes is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that a person has obtained citizenship by fraud, until now such cases have all typically gone through the courts and cabinet, but that will not be the case anymore.
A person could be convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code, and these are serious offences, such as treason, high treason, or spying, or of an offence outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute a terrorism offence, for example, as defined in that section, or sentenced to five years imprisonment.
We cannot rely on justice systems outside of this country. We have a justice system in Canada that we believe is fair, honest, and decent, but frankly, some countries in the world do not have the same kind of justice system we have. To base the revocation of citizenship on something that may have happened in another country, and I will go into more detail about that later, does not make any sense at all.
The minister would have the authority under the bill to grant citizenship. At present, and I think I mentioned this before, it rests with the Governor in Council, which is the cabinet. Bill C-24 would transfer this power directly to the minister. This measure was introduced by the minister as a means of improving services for applicants by simplifying and speeding up the process. Specifically, the measure raises concerns, because the minister has indicated that the list of persons to whom he would grant citizenship would not be disclosed. Once again, we see the government's lack of transparency, and that should raise red flags. It certainly does with us, and it certainly does with the third party, and it should with all Canadians.
Bill C-24 provides no real solution to reducing the growing backlog and citizenship application processing delays. There has been some money allotted in the last two budgets to help speed up the process, but the fact remains that there are 320,000 applications still waiting to be dealt with.
Let me go back very quickly to Friday when I will be at the citizenship ceremony. The people who are becoming new Canadians this Friday in Thunder Bay are very fortunate and very, very lucky, because 320,000 people are still waiting to have their applications dealt with.
I do not want to belabour this point, because some other speakers have talked about it, but it is about the declaration of the intent to reside. The bill would introduce a requirement that if granted citizenship, a person would intend to continue to reside in Canada. I do not know what the government would do if a person became a Canadian citizen and then received a job overseas and was gone for two years working in another country and was not actually resident here in Canada. It is not addressed in the bill, and it is going to be a problem.
The bill would prohibit the granting of citizenship to persons who have been charged outside of Canada with an offence that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence. Again, we would have the minister, who would be the sole arbiter now, if the bill were passed, of who could stay in Canada and who could not stay in Canada, which would depend partly on the justice systems of other countries. In other words, a person convicted of practising homosexuality in another country, and we know that there are many countries where this is illegal, would be prohibited from becoming a citizen of Canada. That just does not make any sense.
I see I have three minutes left, so I will try to be very quick here. There are some provisions we can support.