Madam Speaker, I usually start by saying it is an honour to participate in this important debate. However, I have to say that this is a particularly important debate, one of the most important we have had thus far in the House, because we are talking about what Canadian citizenship means and the core aspects of Canadian identity.
I want to start by articulating what I see as three central principles of Canadian citizenship. I believe that Canadian citizenship should be accessible, should be valued, and should express collective values.
The first principle is that citizenship should be accessible. We take for granted that we are a country where citizenship is not only something people can be born into, but also that people can receive by coming here and becoming citizens. They can be from elsewhere originally, but then buy into our collective values and become part of Canada. Our citizenship is accessible, which is part of our strength—being able to draw on the knowledge and experience that come from other parts of the world.
I was recently in the United Arab Emirates, and that is not the way things work there and in some other countries. People can live there for decades and never have an opportunity to acquire citizenship. Therefore, the way we do it in Canada is special, is important, and provides us with a unique value. I believe there is consensus on this principle of accessibility.
The second principle is that citizenship ought to be valued. It ought to be the sort of thing that we understand means something. To paraphrase Kant, it should never be treated as merely a means, but be valued as a good in and of itself.
For many of the new Canadians I have talked to in my riding and elsewhere, they have a particularly sharp sense of the value of Canadian citizenship. If it is something they did not start out with, if they had to come here and then acquire it, they have a particular appreciation for the value of that citizenship. New Canadians and all Canadians want us to ensure that citizenship is not just a tool to achieve some other end, but is regarded as a thing of value by those who hold it.
The third principle is that citizenship ought to express collective values in some sense. Of course, that does not mean that we have to agree on everything, or even on most things, but it does mean that there is some set of values that we can identify as being centrally Canadian.
Not everyone who breaks the law in any sense steps out of this essential values compact, but there are cases, and we have seen them, of people who clearly voluntarily make a very strong clean break with anything we would understand to resemble Canadian values.
I would argue that if we allow people who are involved in treason, terrorism, or fighting for foreign genocidal powers against Canada, people who clearly do not buy into any semblance of our collective values, to keep our citizenship, then we devalue that citizenship. All members here understand the importance of Canadian citizenship, but it ought to be valued as an end, not merely as a means, and it ought to express something about our collective values, not just express the fact that someone went through a particular process. That is what citizenship is about. That is what it should be about.
Here in Canada we have put these two critical ideas together. On the one hand, we have sought and effectively built a very diverse country ethnically, culturally, religiously, and linguistically. However, in the context of that, we have also sought generally to insist on the importance of common values, on the meaning of our citizenship, and on expressing some kind of collective values. At first blush, this might seem like a difficult combination, diversity on the one hand and common values on the other. Indeed, in most of the world's history, these things were not seen as going together. Most of the world's history has been populated either by small republics or big empires: on the one hand, possibly societies that are relatively small and homogenous and are held together by collective values, and, on the other hand, societies that are larger, more diverse, and controlled centrally.
However, the Canadian ideal was a unique political experiment in world history, and it is one that has worked. It was the idea that we could build a society that was both diverse but also expressed common values, and did so democratically.
We have all heard the expression, “having your cake and eating it too”. This was really our attempt to have our cake and eat it with ice cream and a glass of wine. We have done it and we have built a great society.
However, to have a cohesive democratic society that is diverse, we always need to have and maintain that idea of common values. There is a point at which someone goes too far and steps outside of those common values. This is what we are fighting for, and this is something that we on this side of the House believe is worth fighting for, the idea that citizenship must at some point entail common values. As we have seen, this is an idea contested by members opposite.
The Prime Minister recently told The New York Times that “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.... Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.” It is deeply troubling that the Prime Minister of Canada would spout, respectfully, such nonsense. This is a bastardization of a great Canadian political experiment, a troubling wrong turn in thinking, and it comes at a time when, frankly, Canada is at a high point in terms of its diversity and collective values. We have to maintain them. People come here because of our diversity, but not just because of our diversity, but also because they want to buy into a set of shared democratic values in that context. The vast majority of people who come here have no interest in our allowing terrorists to retain their citizenship.
I want to say as well that this bill is important to me personally. As the son and grandson of immigrants, I was always raised with this particular appreciation of the value of Canadian citizenship and the way it expresses our collective values. My grandmother grew up in a country that did not believe she had basic human dignity because of her race. My mother was born in Venezuela when her father was working on an energy project there. She is, in fact, a dual citizen. My father's parents arrived from Malta just a couple of months after he was born, and he liked to tell us that he had been made in Malta. Since my father is also an obstetrician, we were never in doubt about what that meant. It may be the case that I am the first Canadian MP of Maltese descent and this no doubt marks a major step forward in our social evolution. My wife's family members were immigrants to Canada from Pakistan, where they faced increasing persecution because of their Christian faith. Because of a history of ethnic and religious persecution, both of our families really understand what it means to be in a country like Canada, why our citizenship is valuable, and why we need to fight for those common values against the attempts of the current government to de-emphasize them and to allow convicted terrorists to remain citizens.
I want to conclude my speech today with a few points of refutation to what we have heard in the debate so far. I must say that we have heard some very good speeches from the government side, but we have heard many speeches that just simply repeated the same slogans over and over again about the importance of diversity, as if that were actually a subject for debate. Listening to this debate, I have to say that there is no party with a monopoly on respect for diversity, but there does seem to be one party with a monopoly on sanctimony. Let us put the sanctimonious slogans aside and talk about the issues. Let us talk about the content of the bill, because it is simply too important to get lost in repeated sloganeering.
We have heard a lot of misinformation. We have heard members of the government say that new Canadians are worried that they might lose their citizenship just because they choose to reside outside the country. It is very clear that those people who are citizens are not required to live in Canada, but we do ask and should ask for an affirmation that people intend to reside in Canada. That does not preclude anyone who is a Canadian from living abroad at certain times, but it aligns us with a basic principle that if they just come here to get their citizenship and then plan on leaving right away, it does not really reflect an understanding of the value of Canadian citizenship.
We have heard this strange assertion that this violates the rule of law. Of course it does not. Citizenship is revocable in every country in the world. It would remain revocable in Canada after this bill passes, and these changes have not been required by the courts. Of course, the current elected government has a right to propose these measures, but to suggest that they are required by some principle of the rule of law reflects a misunderstanding of the way the law works. It is the invention of an artificial principle of law.
The Liberals have sought to skew the previous government's record, a record that includes the highest sustained immigration levels in the country's history. This is a critical discussion, so I ask the government members to put aside the slogans, put aside the talking points and misinformation, and let us have this discussion in a serious way. Canadian identity is too important.