House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-6.


Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Markham—Thornhill Ontario


John McCallum LiberalMinister of Immigration

moved that Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to rise to speak to Bill C-6, which is an act to make major amendments to the previous government's Citizenship Act, better known in some circles as the noxious Bill C-24.

We are making these major changes for two general reasons: one, we promised to do that in our election platform and in my mandate letter; and two, the acts that we are carrying out in this new law are consistent with what we promised to do.

From the government's point of view and my point of view, we are doing what we said we would do. What is more important is why we want to do this. On this side, I would say there are two basic principles at stake.

That is unacceptable to us. There should be only one class of Canadians, not two. That is the first principle.

As far as the second principle is concerned, we want to welcome new citizens to Canada. The Conservative legislation put up a number of roadblocks that we believe made it unreasonably harder for permanent residents to become Canadian.

Therefore, there are two points of principle. First, there must be one class of Canadian, not two. Second, we want to welcome new citizens. We believe the Conservatives erected a number of barriers that were unreasonable to the welcoming of new people to become citizens of our country.

Let me go through each of these general areas one at a time.

In the previous Conservative bill, the minister of citizenship and immigration had the authority to revoke an individual citizenship if that person was convicted of a terrorist crime or some other crime. However, and this is a crucial point, the minister only had the power to revoke citizenship if the person involved was a dual citizen, not if the person was a citizen only of Canada. Similarly, the Federal Court had the right to revoke citizenship in other cases, but again only for dual citizens.

This is the nub of the point because once we say we can revoke one type of Canadian citizenship but cannot revoke another, then we have two classes of Canadians. We believe very strongly, and we fought long and hard during the election on this issue, that there is only one class of Canadian, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. All Canadians are equal and there cannot be two classes of Canadians, which is why we found this law unacceptable and why the new law would revoke that right to revoke citizenship.

We have said it for many months with the conviction of our beliefs, and once the law passes, we can also say it in the spirit of the law. It will say there is only one class of Canadian, not two.

In fact, we believe this so strongly that we are going to reinstate the citizenship of the one individual who had his citizenship revoked for reasons of terrorism. That individual, according to the new law, will have his citizenship reinstated.

It is a point of principle. When we say a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, that includes good and bad Canadians.

The bad Canadians who are convicted for terrorism should go to prison. If there are bad terrorists, they should go to prison for a long time, although it is the judges, not the politicians, who determine the sentences. The place for a terrorist is in prison, not at the airport. It is our strong belief that if a person is sent to prison for terrorism, there should not be two classes of terrorists: those who go to prison and have their citizenship revoked and those who only go to prison. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, for a terrorist and for others, and therefore in our view we will not have any citizenship revoked for this reason.

I would also make the supplementary argument that to revoke citizenship in this way is to launch oneself on a slippery slope, because the rules might be clear today about for what crime we have citizenship revoked and for what crime do we not, but those laws can change over time. I remember the former prime minister in the election campaign speculating about additional crimes that might be added. Who knows? It might be terrorism one year, and something else—whatever catches the attention of the government of the day—could be added the next year. It is a slippery slope, and one does not know where on that slope one will end up.

The definition of what constitutes dual citizenship is also a slippery slope. I am not a lawyer, but I know legal minds have debated the issue of who is a dual citizen and who is not. Some individuals might be born in Canada, have never been to some second country, but are nevertheless dual citizens of that country because of the laws of that country. Some people have claimed that Jews are dual citizens in a sense, because they have the right to live in Israel. Does that make them dual citizens of Canada and Israel? Under the previous law, that might have been a question that went before the courts.

Our view is that we should just terminate this slippery slope. We should abolish 100% the practice of revoking citizenship for any kind of terrorism or other crime. The debate would therefore be moot. It would not matter who is a dual citizen and who is not, or which crimes are included, because under no circumstances would a person have his or her citizenship revoked for these reasons. These other secondary, slippery-slope arguments would simply not arise.

The last point I would make on this issue is that there is one reason that is still the case for individuals to have their citizenship revoked, and that has always been on the books, and that is if individuals misrepresent who they are when they become citizens. In that situation that would imply that the individuals do not deserve to be citizens because they gave false information in order to become citizens. If that is the case, then their citizenship can be revoked. That has been the case in Canada since 1947, and that will remain the case.

There is one thing I might mention that the parliamentary committee may wish to consider. After we came out with our law, certain legal individuals said that, when a person has his or her citizenship revoked for this one remaining reason that is allowed, that person may or may not have sufficient right to appeal. If after listening to witnesses, the committee agrees that there is insufficient right to appeal such a decision, then the government and I would certainly be prepared to contemplate such an amendment to our bill.

This makes a more general point, unlike the previous government; but allow me to just talk for this government. We are certainly open to amendments, if there are amendments from either the Liberal side or the opposition side that would improve the bill. We do not claim perfection. If some members on the committee, of any party, have ideas for how to improve it, we would be open to such suggestions.

I just mentioned this one as a case in point: I heard in the debate following the introduction of the bill that there may not be an adequate right to appeal in the case of citizenship revocation flowing from providing false information.

That covers my first general point about citizenship revocation. The second area concerns barriers that we think in some cases are unnecessary or inappropriate barriers to citizenship, and there are four areas where we will change the previous bill, in some cases, substantially.

I can read the four items that we are going to change.

First, the 2015 measures required anyone applying to become a Canadian citizen to declare their intent to live in Canada once citizenship was obtained. We are going to get rid of that.

The measures also prolonged the residency requirement for applicants, requiring them to stay in Canada for a much longer period before being able to apply for citizenship. We are also going to change that, as I will explain.

They also eliminated the possibility of applying half of the time applicants spent in Canada before becoming permanent residents in the calculation of the duration of their physical presence here. This affects international students.

Finally, as for the fourth item, the measures required applicants 14 to 64 to meet language and knowledge criteria. Previously, only applicants 18 to 54 had to meet those criteria. We are going to reinstate the previous age requirement, 18 to 54.

Let me quickly go through each of these in turn. The first point concerns the intention to reside, that people have to declare before they become a citizen that they intend to reside in Canada. Some people in the legal profession were concerned that it could then become a reason to revoke citizenship. Let us say people stated an intent to reside in Canada, and let us say they were telling the truth, then their company shifted them to New York or whatever and the circumstances changed. It was feared that, having invoked this intent to reside, they could subsequently be challenged if their plans changed. The simplest way to deal with that is to get rid of that provision, which is what we are doing. We are repealing it. We think that was a legitimate concern, and we do not think there is merit to retaining that element of the bill.

The second part is the physical presence requirement. We believe that people should be required to be physically present in Canada for a certain length of time. We believe there is significant citizenship fraud or citizens of convenience, so we do want to continue to attack that. We do not dispute the principle of having a certain length of time in which people have to be physically present in Canada, but we are bringing it back to where it was, or at least changing it from what the Conservatives had, that they have to be physically present in Canada for four out of the past six years. We are moving to three out of the past five years, which is somewhat more flexible and also allows citizenship applicants to become citizens one year earlier than was the case under the previous bill.

The third item is one where I feel there is a particular lack of intelligence in the previous bill. If we look at international students, we see they are one of the most fertile grounds for new Canadians. We have an aging population. We really need more immigrants, and who better than international students, in the sense that by definition they are educated, by definition they know something about Canada, and almost by definition they can speak English or French? What better group to solicit to become Canadians than international students?

Why then do we sort of punch them in the nose, instead of courting them, by taking away the entitlement they previously had that 50% of the time they had spent in Canada as international students would count toward becoming citizens? I think they have clearly earned that entitlement by being here, learning about Canada, and so on. Therefore, I do not see why that entitlement should be removed, and indeed, in this bill, we are restoring it.

Someone asked me why not 100%, and we can have that debate. I think 50% might be a good number, but certainly not zero. I think we should go back to where it was, 50%.

Finally, this is a simple point on language. Again, we agree in principle that knowing English or French is really important, and we are not abolishing that requirement at all. Research has shown that knowledge of one or more of the official languages helps to predict an individual's success in this country, economically and job-wise. Therefore, we are not eliminating that, but we are restoring the age range to where it was, which is the age of 18 to 54, rather than 14 to 64.

In sum, we disagree with the Conservative government's legislation based on two general principles. First, a Canadian is a Canadian. All Canadians are equal. We must not have two classes of citizens. Second, we want to welcome newcomers as Canadians, and we do not want the conditions for becoming Canadian to be too rigid or too difficult.

In summary, it is for those reasons that I am pleased to present to the House our proposals in Bill C-6.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, certainly some of the proposals in the bill may lead to changes, or increases in the workload for visa officers and immigration officers who are processing other lines of business outside of the refugee stream.

I noticed in question 19, which was tabled by the parliamentary secretary earlier today, that 220 employees, if I read this correctly, have been temporarily assigned to processing Syrian refugee applications from the central processing region. If I am correct, the types of business lines that are impacted there include the processing of spousal sponsorship applications. I wonder if my colleague could tell the House how the transferring of 220 employees affected other business lines during the processing of the Syrian refugee initiative. This was up until December 15 of last year.

I note that in the response to the question, it also says that other employees were transferred around. If they are transferring employees from other business lines, given they might not be trained on certain activities or whatnot, might that impact the processing times for things like spousal sponsorship? Could the minister explain how the department has been impacted in that regard?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can say that I certainly make no apology for some employees being transferred around to expedite the Syrian refugee operation. It was a big commitment that we made and a big priority, and I think Canadians have come to support this initiative. Indeed, even the official opposition has supported our Syrian refugee initiative. It was a high priority.

The way in which we will address processing times for families, as we said during the election, is to, one, commit more resources and hire more individuals to interview people, and two, learn from the experience of Syrian refugees.

One definition of real change is to do something one has never done before. The public servants in my department have never processed refugees as quickly and efficiently as they did. Therefore, we will learn from the lessons they learned in expediting refugee processing. We will also learn from that how to move much faster on the processing of spouses and other family members.

We will achieve our objectives on processing times, first by providing more resources, but at least as important, by learning from our experience on the Syrian refugees and importing that experience to make processes for families way more efficient and rapid than they have been in the past.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister talked about the language issue. There is no question in my mind that speaking some English and French is an important component to this process. With that being said, when many immigrants come here, the question becomes the level of proficiency in the language that would need to be examined.

Under the current system, they people send in results of an accepted third-party test at the equivalent of a Canadian language benchmark level 4 or higher in speaking or listening, or provide proof of completion of a secondary or post-secondary program conducted in French or English. If they do not send those documents to prove they have met this requirement, their application for citizenship will not be accepted.

I know of many people who are not at that level, but they contribute greatly economically. They pay their taxes, they raise their families, and they participate in their community. If we do not remove these barriers, I am afraid it will prevent them from becoming citizens and, ultimately, engaging fully in a democratic society, which is having the right to vote.

Further, the other piece related to barriers to citizenship is the application fees and the high costs of those.

Under the Conservative government, the fees went up, from $100 to $530, for an adult, with an additional $100 for a child. Therefore, that also poses financial barriers for people to access the pathway to citizenship.

Would the minister agree with me that both of those items need to be addressed and will he take action in that regard?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do agree that both of those are very legitimate questions.

On the point about the fees, we made no commitment to reduce the fees. It is something we will examine going forward, but this is not in this legislation.

On the question of the language, there are two issues. There is the age at which the test is applied and the level of the test.

What we have amended in the bill is the age. While I think the hon. member and I both agree that language is important, traditionally in Canada some older people would arrive without the best English in the world and it would improve over time. However, their children, and for sure their grandchildren, would have perfect, or virtually perfect, English or French. In our view, to put the age back to 54 rather than 64 was in deference in part to older people, although I am now 65, so I never thought 64 years old was that old, but older compared with many others. We thought that was an appropriate move.

On the question of level, that point has been raised by my provincial counterparts from British Columbia and Ontario. We will meet next week and we will talk about that. I do not think the level would be in the legislation because it would be a matter for regulation, but at what level those tests should be is a legitimate item for discussion.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been noted that this legislation will reduce the age where applicants for citizenship need to demonstrate knowledge and language proficiency to ages 18 to 54. This seems to be a fair range.

Would the hon. minister perhaps discuss with the House why asking a 64-year-old grandmother, who is reuniting with her family, to pass an English test is somewhat unfair?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, there always has to be a balance here. I would not deny that it is always a good thing for newcomers to Canada to have a good knowledge of English or a good knowledge of French, or even both. However, the balance has to be made between the situation of the newcomers and the situation they are coming to.

If people are 60 years old and they are coming with perhaps children and a spouse, it is normal to think that their English language skills would not necessarily be so great as if they were younger. If they are older people, their children will probably be fluent, or near fluent, and certainly their grandchildren will be.

The way we have always done it in our country is that often people on the initial entry had far from perfect English, but then they improved, and their children and grandchildren were perfectly fluent. We are trying to seek that balance between needing the language and being reasonable in the face of people of varying ages and varying backgrounds. I hope that what we have come up with in the bill might strike the right balance.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, according to the IRCC's website, most applications for citizenship will be processed within 12 months if a person has applied after April 1, 2015, or will be processed by the end of this month if the application is received before that date. However, some cases are taking up to three years to be processed for the simple reason that a residence questionnaire was issued.

Could the minister explain how it can possibly be fair to delay an application for three years simply because of a residence questionnaire?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things we have found is that we have inherited a lot of situations that are not at all fair. There are many egregious issues we inherited that I find myself having to address, so I would be the last person to say that everything that has happened in the last 10 years or even the last 6 months is necessarily 100% correct.

However, I believe it is true that for the applications for citizenship, there has been progress made and that people applying today or applying recently will have their application processed within one year. I believe by the end of this year, the backlog will have been reduced very substantially so that overall processing times will be down.

Processing times in general are extremely high, and we have to address them on all fronts.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît, Justice; the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Health.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, so much of Canada's history and our history through immigration is a collection of stories. I would like to start with a very brief one.

On August 29, 1900, in the village of Zavar in Slovakia, a woman named Maria Krajcovic was born. The town was a very small farming town, primarily agricultural. She grew up there. She married a man named Frank Oravec. They had two young daughters, named Helen and Stefania.

In the early 1930s, when both of their girls were still quite young, I believe under the age of seven, Frank decided to travel to Canada to work with the CPR. That was a very difficult decision at the time. One can imagine leaving a wife and two young daughters at a time when Europe was becoming increasingly more uncertain. It was a quite difficult decision.

Maria had to sell some of her property and move in with her mom in order to take care of her daughters while Frank was overseas working to save enough money to send back to the family. Thankfully Maria was quite a talented seamstress. She did needlework and made beautiful lace, and was able to support and provide a living for her daughters.

However, in the late 1930s, things became very unstable in Slovakia. I believe it was in March 1939 when things got really serious. I should have my dates correct when I tell a story, but I believe it was November 1940 when Hitler's Nazis took over the country. It was a very bleak time indeed for the citizens of Zavar.

In July 1938, Maria did all of the paperwork, and it was very difficult at this time, to get her two daughters to a point where they could travel overseas and join her husband in Canada. That took place in July 1938, right before all of this happened. They travelled to Winnipeg to start a home.

At this time, Helen was 15 years old. They came to Canada with nothing. Helen had to work, cleaning homes. While she worked close to 15-hours days, she put herself through school in the evenings to learn English. She worked really hard. She ended up marrying a man who was 25 years her senior. She had five girls and they farmed in Starbuck.

She has been known to say that people are lucky if they get one good year out of five. When her daughters were all very young, she was widowed, and she had to make the decision to move into Winnipeg with her five young girls. She worked two jobs to put food on the table.

One of her five girls, Kim recounts not seeing her mom very often. Kim put herself through school as well. She got married very young. She had two daughters named Cherie and Michelle. Kim went back to school when she was in her 30s. Helen decided that she would spend her retirement years raising Sherry and Michelle. She imparted many values of Slovak heritage, hard work, and ethic into those girls.

I have my family's original voyage of passage here today. I remember when I found this document in my grandmother's house as we were packing up to put her into an assisted living facility. I remember asking her why she would make the decision to do this, and why great-gramma would bring the family overseas. She said that they did it to be safe, to be free, to build their future and mine, and to build a better country. With that in my heart, I find myself here today in Canada's Parliament speaking to the bill before us.

Canada is a country of immigrants who stand on the traditional lands of, and shoulder-to-shoulder with, first nations and aboriginal peoples who bring their wealth of experience, their thoughts, their hopes, their desires, and their dreams together under a banner of pluralism, freedom, and language.

This makes us unique. Our diversity is our competitive advantage. It keeps our economy growing. It keeps our public policy discourse vibrant. It enriches our civil society and keeps us hopeful and optimistic. Because of this, in my view, immigration policy in Canada should never be about why but about how. In this I believe that my Liberal colleagues and I are united. The bill contains a lot of how. It contains fundamental changes to how and under what circumstances we grant citizenship in our country, and for that it should be scrutinized carefully and objectively, which I will try to do now.

First of all, the bill has several components. The first component the minister has already spoken to, and removes the grounds of the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security. The minister spoke at length on this.

I am really enjoying this critic portfolio because I believe that immigration will be at the core of many of the public policy challenges we will be facing in the next 10 to 20 years in Canada, especially since we have an aging workforce.

I believe that new Canadians enrich and strengthen our country. Their experiences and perspectives, as much as my experience is grounded in the experience of immigrants, make us stronger. As I said, it leads to more vibrant public policy.

My concern with this element of the bill is that it is the government's first priority. It does revoke the citizenship of a convicted terrorist and I do not think we can be glib or flippant about that. I will be the first one to admit that issues pertaining to this were highly contentious during the election campaign, but because they are contentious, it does not absolve us in this place of the ability and the duty to speak to these issues.

I find it shocking that this is the government's first priority in the bill, and I do not accept the argument that the former government's act somehow created two classes of citizens. It did not, and there are other grounds by which citizenship can be revoked, which the minister did not really speak to.

I read an article about two Nazi war criminals in 2007 who had their citizenship revoked. Citizenship can still be revoked on the grounds of fraudulent methods, so there are other provisions in Canadian law that the bill does not change. It allows for citizenship revocation.

The discussion around this provision really boils down to what we value about Canadian citizenship. The Liberal government has put forward the following argument. If someone is a convicted terrorist and has dual national citizenship, the government believes that the person can serve his or her term out in jail and that this would be an appropriate penalty for that. The alternative to that is that if someone is a dual national citizen and has committed a terrorist act against Canada, which does affect all Canadians, as we saw here in October 2014, their citizenship should be revoked.

I am trying to be very respectful here and would ask the Liberals that as we go forward in the debate here, we do not debase this conversation to a fallacy, that the existing act created two classes of Canadian citizenship. This is a choice on punishment for a very serious act against our nation. The bill makes a choice in that regard. For that reason, I oppose this particular section of the bill.

The second section of the bill removes the requirement that an applicant intends, if granted citizenship, to continue to reside in Canada.

As I was cleaning out a trunk in my grandmother's basement, it was incredible to find newspaper clippings from the 1940s from the Winnipeg Free Press, which talked about the role of the Slovak community during wartime and its nascent roots in Winnipeg. When people moved to Winnipeg—my family, my ancestors—it was not all about tough times but joy. My great grandma wrote a play. She was an actor. I guess there was something inherited there. She contributed to the community. I also found records of my great grandfather who fundraised for the Slovak Catholic parish in Winnipeg.

When we celebrate immigration and diversity, we should be celebrating the fact that we want people to stay here and enjoy the experience of being a Canadian and contributing back to our country. It is what has made us amazing. It is what we should be celebrating as we work towards Canada's 150th anniversary.

It is quite reasonable, given that this is the spirit that binds our pluralism, to say that when people want to become Canadian citizens, they intend to stay here and make this nation stronger, as we commit to do the same for them. Taking this requirement out of the existing act removes the spirit and intent of that legislation.

The third component of this bill seeks to reduce the number of days during which a person must have been physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship. The same argument applies there. I was reading the committee testimony for the bill that was previously before Parliament and made some of these changes. Some of the quotes from the testimony can be distilled to the following, that the longer an individual lives, works, or studies in Canada, the greater connection that person will have to our beautiful and special country. I do not see this as a punitive measure.

I say that if people become citizens of this country, which I hope they do, and want to run for office, vote, or have any of the privileges that are accorded with Canadian citizenship, the time they have spent here gives them a greater understanding of Canadian pluralism and what unites us, such as gender equality, freedom of speech, freedom of sexual orientation, all the things that allow us to function and coexist as a nation of many nations under the same common banner. They need to experience that to be Canadian citizens, and that is the spirit of what this change was. That is my concern with reducing it.

I also do not think it provides an unnecessary barrier. I am looking forward to hearing witnesses at committee who can argue otherwise, but going into that debate, my sense is that it imparts the value of Canadian citizenship and imparts to people going through the citizenship process the point that Canada wants to invest in them during that process. We want to welcome them into our cultural institutions, we want them to learn what it means to be Canadian citizens, we want them to understand the public policy dialogue.

The fourth section limits the requirement to demonstrate knowledge of Canada in one of its official languages to applicants between the ages of 18 and 54. Previously, that restriction was set at 64 years of age. We often talk about one of the public policy challenges that we will be dealing with in the next 10 years, which is how to continue to knit together Canada's pluralism, which I just spoke about, as we increase and embrace more Canadians.

I will add that the Conservative government welcomed over 1.6 million new Canadians during its time in office, which was a significant number. Moreover, year over year on an annualized basis, that number was significantly higher than under the previous government to ours. I applaud its efforts to look at the citizenship numbers and situations, but I also think, to give credit where credit is due, that Conservatives increased that number significantly.

As we continue to do that and look at pluralism, there are many things that unite us, and language is one of them. Language is a unifier. Language binds us together. It allows us to have shared common experiences that we can communicate. I strongly believe that rather than talking about reducing the age limit, we should be talking about whether it is a barrier for someone over that age. I would argue that 55 is not that old. Fifty-five is probably the new 18. It is not that old. I would argue that someone who is 55 years old, or 54, still has a significant amount of life experience to contribute. If it is a barrier to learning the language, then how do we overcome the barrier?

One of the things that concerns me about the Syrian refugee initiative is the reports that new people coming to Canada through that initiative are waiting months for access to language training services. I am not sure why the government's first reaction in the bill has been to lower the language requirements rather than asking how we can help them learn the language. That is important. It allows them to participate in so many different facets of Canadian society in a way that opens doors to them. It allows them to experience so many different things. That is why language proficiency is so important.

I am really curious why the government would reduce this. It is something I look forward to hearing about at committee as well. My gut reaction to this after I found some of my grandmother's notes is that we should be asking how we can help someone learn English rather than reducing the requirement. She was 15-years-old and worked so hard to learn English. She put herself through that program by herself.

There are other components of the bill, which I believe are more technical amendments, which I do support. Overall, especially in the context of the government's tabling of its immigration levels report yesterday, I feel that it is a separate policy argument for a separate time. The government is proposing a significant change to the ratio of people who come to Canada under economic immigration classes, like the federal skilled worker programs, versus those who come in through streams such as the refugee initiative. However, in the context of the provisions of the bill, those numbers are very important. If we are talking of a 250% increase in refugees coming into Canada and our first response has been to lower the language requirement, I hope we can have more language training services. However, the age that someone can become a Canadian citizen without language proficiency is an issue.

When we talk about changing the intent to reside in Canada, when we are increasing overall numbers of immigrants to Canada, that is an issue. How are we providing services?

I asked a question of the minister earlier, which is serious. There are so many people who want to come to our country that processing times are an issue. I hear about that every day. How can we fix spousal sponsorship processing times?

If we are changing the system and changing the formula of how many people come to our country, and we do not have a plan to resource that, either through faster processing times or providing long-term housing to refugees, that is of concern. My colleague from the NDP, the member for Vancouver East, talks about 70% of refugees still being in temporary accommodation. Regardless of political stripe, that is something we need to be concerned about.

My concern with the bill is that it puts the cart before the horse in a lot of ways. It looks at issues that perhaps are not of the utmost concern with regard to immigration policy in Canada. I hope we can come to some sort of consensus because this is something that is going to affect our country over the next 10 years. We need people from other countries to ensure that lack of skilled labour is not detrimental to economic growth, that we are meeting our humanitarian obligations overseas, and we are looking at family reunification, but we are doing it in a way that is resourced. It should be done in the context of a budget that is manageable and with an overall plan for the economy that allows that Canadian advantage, that thing that brought my great-grandmother over to this country with two young girls and nothing else.

I hope I have conveyed my thoughts in a very non-partisan manner. I am happy to take any questions.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill, whether I refer to the personal example of myself or to my parents.

I came to Canada in January 1984 and received my citizenship on July 17, 1987. From day one in Canada, I felt like a proud Canadian, even though I was not a Canadian citizen at that time.

I went to the University of Calgary. I did not speak any English when I came to this country. I was able to secure a degree in engineering, a post-graduate diploma in R and D management and utilization. Now I hold two professional designations, one as a professional engineer and one as a B.C. land surveyor. Most importantly, the people of Surrey—Newton gave me the privilege of sitting in this House in 2006, 2008, and now.

I do not feel I am any less Canadian because I had only three years of residency in Canada when I applied for citizenship. I do not feel that I would be a better citizen if I had had to wait another year.

In the case of my personal example, does the member feel that I am any less Canadian because I was here only three years and not four?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is experiences like my colleague's that enrich our country. When we talk about adding to the intellectual capital of this country, it is experiences like his that we are referring to. When we talk about building the economy in this country, it means experiences like his.

The member asked about being Canadian. We are having a conversation about the value of Canadian citizenship, and we both agree that the value is very high.

The comment that I made in my speech with regard to the residency requirement stands. My colleague and I both value very dearly what our country can give to us and what we can give to it. The spirit of adding the extra year was to ensure that those who came to Canada had a full experience so that Canada could invest in them, and vice versa.

My colleague and I are not offside on this issue at all. When I listened to the member's story, it made me proud to have Canadian citizenship too, because our country is a place where that story can happen. Our country is a place that allows individuals to have the opportunity to stand in the House of Commons and have a policy debate.

I congratulate my colleague. I hope that we can continue this debate going forward.

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4:50 p.m.


Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague for her very moving and beautiful speech. I would like to thank her for having the confidence to share with the House such a personal story as that of her family. Her speech was very emotional and I am convinced that her whole family is very proud. She is right when she says that we can be proud of what led her to become a member here and do the good work that she does.

That being said, she is asking us to reach a consensus, but I would like an acknowledgement that there were some abuses when the other government was in power, in the last Parliament. The expertise of members here definitely includes dealing with citizenship applications.

Many people go to their MPs with citizenship issues. I have heard many stories from people, people who have a name and whom I see crying, people who cannot pay the fees that only keep rising, as do the wait times. At one point, the wait times were so long that they could no longer pay the fees, even though they had the money at the beginning of the year.

Is it not true that there were excesses that could be corrected, and can we reach a consensus on that as well?

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4:50 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and I think it is one that is worthy of study and debate by all parties in the House.

As I mentioned at the start of my speech, Canada's immigration policy will inform many different areas of public policy in the next 10 to 20 years, including the growth of the economy, the provision of skilled labour, enrichment of our culture, and our participation on the global stage.

How we manage and resource our immigration processing system is worthy of study. The cost is worthy of study as well. I would encourage my colleague or one of his colleagues to bring this matter up for study at the immigration committee for the House to consider.

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4:55 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech and her excellent work in general on this very important file.

I believe, and I think our caucus believes deeply, that citizenship needs to have value. In fact, it is many new Canadians who particularly appreciate the value of that citizenship, perhaps in some cases because they have had experience in other countries with more challenging environments.

What this bill would do, in my view, is reduce the value of citizenship by allowing someone to be involved in terrorism, which completely goes against Canadian values, and also to not have the intention of living in Canada at all. This potentially toxic combination would reduce the value of our citizenship. The changes we brought in helped to increase the value of citizenship, and that is why so many new Canadians supported those changes.

I wonder if the member could comment specifically on the value of citizenship and why our approach emphasizes that key concept more.

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4:55 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am going to try to have another shockingly non-partisan moment here. We will see if I succeed.

My Liberal colleague shared a story of his journey to Canada and how he has contributed to his country. His question was whether we thought of him as any less of a Canadian. My response was no. We need more of that, we need all of that, and we need that from around the world.

We have to be very careful when we talk about the value of citizenship. We have to talk more about intent. When we are looking at citizenship as a means to bolster Canada in the long term in a wide variety of areas, we should be looking at this: if somebody wants to come to Canada and reside here and contribute, how do we help them succeed? How do we resource that? If that person's intent is not to do that, how do we treat that situation?

This is where we can tie in the components of it being a choice in what we do with dual nationals who have been convicted of a terrorist act. What is the punishment for that? We need to divorce that conversation from the fact that there are so many people who do not even think about the value of Canadian citizenship. They think about how to participate in the Canadian economy, how to participate in our culture on a day-to-day basis.

I am hoping that, as we go forward and as we have this debate on this bill, we really focus on how rather than why we deal with immigration, as I said at the start of my speech.

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4:55 p.m.


Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member opposite on the beginning of her speech. I thought it was quite elegant, and I agreed up to a certain point, although I have some fundamental disagreement with the philosophy she espoused since. I would also like to suggest that the comments from the member for Surrey—Newton and his experience essentially, in my view, validate what we are trying to espouse through this new bill and what the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is leading here.

One of the points that the member opposite did not get to in her speech was the return of partial credits to international students who come to study in our world-class universities. I am proud to boast of two such universities in Fredericton—the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University—that attract smart, intelligent, highly skilled, and capable international students every year. They could contribute so much to the community I live in and to the province of New Brunswick, which need these young, industrious, entrepreneurial social leaders to stay and be part of our communities.

I would like the member opposite to comment on her support of the initiative to return some of the credit to international students who come to our communities and who can contribute so much to Canada.

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4:55 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the government's immigration levels report yesterday, the government significantly changed the formula for how many people can come to Canada. That raises a lot of questions, including this particular stream.

I am not arguing for or against, but it is a question to ask and then resource appropriately. How does the entry of international students affect placement for Canadians who are attending post-secondary institutions? I spent most of my career in PSE and I know international students definitely add to that. That is a wonderful thing.

However, given the significant change yesterday in the immigration levels report, there are more questions that the government has to answer with regard to its plan to resource and support people in any immigration stream coming into Canada.

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5 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-6 is an act that would amend the Conservatives' Bill C-24, the so-called strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. To put Bill C-6 in context, we must first examine the content of Bill C-24.

During the 41st Parliament, the Conservatives made significant changes to the Citizenship Act under Bill C-24. Effectively, the Conservatives' Bill C-24 created two classes of citizens in which Canadians with dual citizenship were treated as second-class citizens. Many experts repeatedly pointed out that the bill was likely unconstitutional and did not respect international law.

The NDP opposed Bill C-24 from the beginning and at second reading, the NDP called on the Conservatives to withdraw the bill. The Conservatives refused and, despite our opposition, rammed Bill C-24 through without amendment. Then, in June 2014, Bill C-24 received royal assent. Since then, the NDP has been asking for the bill to be repealed.

As it happens, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister made the promise, particularly in the Chinese media, that he would repeal Bill C-24 if he formed government. Well, as members may have guessed, Bill C-6 does not repeal Bill C-24 in its entirety.

The NDP is disappointed that the Prime Minister is failing to deliver on his promise to repeal Bill C-24, but we welcome the provisions of Bill C-6.

Worth mentioning are the following amendments: removing the ability to revoke citizenship on national interest grounds; removing the obligation for a new citizen to declare intent to reside in Canada; restoring the length of time a permanent resident must actually be present in Canada to qualify for citizenship to three years, which is 1,095 days over the last five years; restoring the right to count two years of temporary residence toward the required presence in Canada; eliminating the requirement that an applicant must have been present in Canada for 183 days in four out of the six years; and removing the requirement for the language and knowledge examinations to permanent residents aged 14 to 17 and 55 to 64.

The NDP supports these provisions. First and foremost, we fundamentally believe that all Canadians should be treated equally under the law.

The Conservatives' Bill C-24 created two classes of citizens, some with more rights than others. Disproportionately, immigrants to Canada, their children and grandchildren, and those with dual or multiple citizenships are deemed to have less rights than those who were born in Canada.

If a Canadian is charged with a criminal offence, let him or her be brought in front of the Canadian judicial system and be tried fairly, independently, and equally under the Canadian judicial system. If found guilty, let him or her be sentenced under the same principles of fairness, independence, and equality.

The Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and many respected academics all said that the former Bill C-24 was likely unconstitutional and did not respect international law. In fact, there was already a court challenge on Bill C-24. Josh Paterson, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said:

All Canadian citizens used to have the same citizenship rights, no matter what their origins. We were all equal under the law. Now this new law has divided us into classes of citizens—those who can lose their citizenship, and those who can’t. Bill C-24 is anti-immigrant, anti-Canadian, and anti-democratic. It undermines – quite literally – what it means to be Canadian.

I am glad that Bill C-6 addresses this concern and this concern will be no more after the passage of Bill C-6.

Building from that basic fundamental principle, repealing the intent to reside provision of Bill C-24 is also a step in the right direction. The freedom of mobility, including the ability to leave the country, is very clearly enshrined in section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The intent to reside provision in Bill C-24 was vague, difficult to prove, confusing for citizenship applicants, and ignored the changing realities of people. Somone can intend to reside, but life circumstances, such as a relative in another country becoming severely ill could interrupt that intention.

Work obligations could also alter that intention. In fact, during the campaign, I came across someone who has dual citizenship in the United States. As it happens, she is in the film industry. She travels a lot with her work. Sometimes she is away for a week. Other times, she may be away for a year or more. There is no telling. It is all subject to her work.

With Bill C-24, she was concerned that her intent to reside in Canada could be challenged and that she might lose her citizenship. This is just plain wrong. I am glad that Bill C-6 addresses this concern.

The Conservative Bill C-24 also made the pathway to citizenship for immigrants harder, longer, and frankly with other measures, more expensive to obtain. Accessibility to citizenship is the ultimate pathway to a person's right to fully participate in a democratic society. The cornerstone of a democracy is imbedded in having the right to vote. Creating additional barriers to access this citizenship only serves to undermine our democratic institution.

To that end, the NDP also supports the measure in Bill C-6 that returns physical presence requirements to what they were prior to Bill C-24, allowing time in Canada prior to obtaining permanent residence to partially count toward the physical presence requirement.

As I previously mentioned, there is a countless number of legitimate situations that would require a permanent resident or citizen to leave the country for an extended period of time. Restoring the old physical presence requirements is a step in the right direction, as is giving at least partial credit for the time spent in this country before obtaining permanent residence.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, IRCC, officials take their work seriously and work judiciously to ensure that every permanent resident meets the requirements to become a new Canadian.

The Conservative former Bill C-24 was brought in under the pretext that the provisions within the bill strengthened the meaning of being a Canadian, when in fact I would argue it served to undermine many of our strongly held Canadian values and principles.

As stated by Mitch Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, “Instead of welcoming new Canadians, the new Citizenship Act discriminates against them”.

Bill C-6 would rectify this, and the NDP welcomes the amendments proposed under Bill C-6.

With that being said, I would be remiss if I did not turn my attention to what is missing in Bill C-6 as well. First, on the right to judicial review before losing citizenship, I was glad to hear the minister reference this, and his willingness to entertain amendments.

Prior to Bill C-24, individuals who were accused of fraud and risked having their citizenship revoked could request a hearing before a Federal Court judge who would review the minister's evidence. A final decision would then be made by the Governor in Council.

Bill C-24 allowed the minister to make a decision based on a review of paperwork with no right to a judicial hearing. The NDP believes that a citizen facing revocation should always have the right to a hearing before an independent and impartial decision-maker.

Under Bill C-6, which was tabled, we believe that the Liberals agree with that as well. In fact, the Liberals tabled an amendment to Bill C-24, which would provide the right to a full appeal to the Federal Court in the case of citizenship revocation proceedings. In support of the amendment, a Liberal member stated quite clearly that Canadians deserve the right to appeal with regard to citizenship.

However, today the Liberal Bill C-6 does not deliver on that sentiment. The Liberals' failure to address this feature of Bill C-24 means, I am afraid, that there may still be a constitutional challenge of the Citizenship Act, which would be viable.

Second, on the issue regarding people charged with a criminal offence abroad, Bill C-6 does not amend the provision that prohibits granting citizenship to anyone charged with or serving a sentence for a criminal offence abroad. This broad measure fails to account for countries dealing with corruption within government and the judicial system, as well as governments engaging in political prosecution.

The Canadian Bar Association and others have further argued that this prohibition was far too broad and created significant inequalities between applicants, depending on their country of origin.

Additionally, the Canadian Bar Association has suggested that these cases are best dealt with by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Immigration and Refugee Board, where cases can be determined upon their individual merits, and the NDP agrees with the recommendation of the Canadian Bar Association.

Third is discretionary citizenships granted by the minister. Bill C-6 would not require the minister to disclose cases where citizenship is granted for discretionary reasons, the frequency of citizenships granted, or the reasons for granting citizenship at all.

We want to ensure that privacy rights are respected, and we should work within those boundaries. However, it is problematic to not make information available, because it speaks to the lack of transparency. Given the recent example we have seen of, I think, the hyperpartisan former minister of citizenship and immigration, under the Conservatives, I think we need more transparency and accountability.

Fourth is the issue of language. While Bill C-6 would revoke the changes made by Bill C-24 by bringing back the language knowledge requirements for applicants aged 18 to 54 instead of 14 to 64, the threshold for language proficiency under Bill C-24 remains.

Under the current system, they must send in results of an accepted third-party test at the equivalent of Canadian language benchmark level 4 or higher in speaking or listening, or provide proof of completion of a secondary or post-secondary program conducted in French or English. If they do not send in documents to prove that they have met this requirement, their application for citizenship will not be accepted.

The higher language requirement does not demonstrate that they are somehow more Canadian.

As well, Bill C-6 would maintain the requirement for citizenship applicants to pass a knowledge test about Canada in one of the two official languages.

Effectively, this would amount to double testing and would not really represent an individual's ability to function and succeed in Canada.

Many immigrants have come to Canada who have not been able to read and write in French or English at the proficiency level that is currently required, but they have worked hard, paid taxes, raised their families, contributed to our society, and become an integral part of our communities.

I can share with members the story of my own family. We all came, and none of us spoke English. To this day, I would say that, if my mother were put to a test such as the one that exists right now, she would likely fail that test. Yet, all of her life since she immigrated here, she worked, first as a farm worker, making $10 a day to support a family of eight. Then she got a minimum-wage job at a restaurant, which she retired from at 65, and she supported her family every single day with those efforts. She spoke minimum English—enough to get by, enough to support her family, enough to vote and understand what voting means and what democracy means.

With that being said, I would argue that the proficiency test is way too high for far too many immigrants, and that must change.

Fifth is the issue of financial barriers. Bill C-6 does not address how much permanent residents should pay for their citizenship applications to be processed by the ministry.

Citizenship processing fees have increased from $100 to $530 since February 2014, under the Conservatives. This is on top of the additional $100 right of citizenship fee. A family of four would have to pay $1,460. That is more than a month's rent for many. A family's bank account should not be the deciding factor on whether or not they can become Canadian citizens.

I really hope that the Liberal government will change this. Access to the pathway to citizenship is critical for all immigrants. Let us make it easier, not harder, to attain.

Bill C-6 would not make access to citizenship financially accessible for many permanent residents and their families. I do hope that the Liberal government acts to reduce the financial barriers along the path to citizenship.

Sixth is ensuring fair processing delays. Under the Conservatives, the processing delays for citizenship applications exploded to 24 months for regular cases and 36 months for non-routine cases.

The Liberals have committed to processing all applications received before April 1, 2015, by March 31, 2016, and to processing new applications within a 12-month period.

However, this one-year delay does not apply to non-routine cases, which are often only called this because a residence questionnaire was issued. This creates an enormous gap of 24 months, perpetrating a two-tier system, and we believe this should be changed as well.

The NDP will continue to push the Liberal government to take these measures and to act urgently on lengthy wait times, huge backlogs, the issue around family reunification for parents and grandparents, and the barriers to citizenship that still remain in place.

New Canadians provide countless benefits to this country every single day. We see many of those Canadians in this very chamber, some elected for the first time. Others are returning members. That is the testimony of who we are, and it speaks about the strength of Canada to harness that. Those rules that create barriers for access to citizenship must be changed.

This deserves a system that recognizes all immigrants for their contributions in making Canada the wonderful country it is. We are built on a multicultural community basis. Let us harness those strengths, eliminate the barriers, and make sure Canada in its process, in its policies, and in its approach is truly Canadian and reflects our multicultural values.

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5:15 p.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member has gone to great lengths to tell us why Bill C-24 was a terrible bill, and I appreciate her support on this issue. The Conservative government went to great lengths to devalue Canadian citizenship, to make Canadians unequal, and to separate Canadians by the age of their stock. The minister warned that revocation of citizenship on the basis of a particular crime is a slippery slope, a sentiment with which I could not agree more.

I have citizenship in two countries and eligibility for citizenship in two more. I have never been to any of those other three countries where I either have or am eligible to have citizenship. My two-year-old daughter has multiple citizenships as well. Among my wife, me, and my daughter, we are either citizens of or are eligible to be citizens of Canada, Ireland, the Philippines, Spain, and Israel. This is the result from being from families of immigrants from all over the world. It does not even list the numerous countries like France, Turkey, Poland, and Australia where I have ancestry but not citizenship.

I am the result of that very Canadian story of immigrants coming from everywhere, getting together, and creating new generations of Canadians. Why should my daughter be subject to a slippery slope whereby she could be stripped of her Canadian citizenship and sent to another country in which she has theoretical eligibility for citizenship, but has never been and may not even have the intention to explore because of breaking that law the particular government has passed? I will ask her in a few years.

What value has Canadian citizenship if we give the government the right to revoke it at will? What is a Canadian if not a Canadian? The member's comments on Bill C-24 are essentially correct, and I want to thank her for helping us on the road to fixing a decade of mistakes by the last government on this file. It is not the only error it made and is not the only one on which we will be seeking help to rectify.

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5:15 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments and for sharing some of his family history with us. I wholeheartedly agree that individuals who have dual citizenship, or can have dual citizenship, or multiple citizenship for that matter, should be treated the same as any other Canadian in this country. That is the premise of who we are. That is exactly the Canadian value we talk about.

It is not just I or the NDP who says this. Lawyers and people who are well versed with our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with international law echo that point of view as well.

To that end, I am glad to see Bill C-6 being debated in the House to address some of these concerns. The member is absolutely right. There is still much more work to be done, and I look forward to his support on some of the issues that I have identified as missing in Bill C-6, on which we need action. Let us hope, and let us work together to make Canada a better place.

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5:15 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is striking how the government caucus is so keen to spread absolute misinformation about the existing bill that is being changed. Liberals gloss over the fact that this bill strips citizenship from convicted terrorists, that nobody needs to worry about this bill unless they plan on committing an act of terrorism. Those are the people who are liable to lose their citizenship. The Conservatives' position is that convicted terrorists do not have a right to be part of the Canadian family if they are not going to accept our fundamental values.

The bill leaves in place, though, the option of stripping citizenship from those who obtain their citizenship fraudulently. I wonder if the member could comment.

Does she see this as an inconsistency? The government says people can lose their citizenship, in fact, dual citizens can be stripped of their citizenship, if they obtain their citizenship fraudulently, but not if they were involved in terrorism.

Does this not seem to suggest the opposite of the Liberals' rhetoric and that they regard fraud as a more serious matter than terrorism?

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5:20 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

On the contrary, Mr. Speaker. The truth of the matter is that if people commit crimes, whatever crime it might be, whether a crime of national interest or any other crime, they should go through the Canadian judicial system equally, fairly, and independently. Everyone should go through that process. No one should be able to escape that process. They should go to trial and then, if convicted, through the sentencing process as well. There should not be a two-tier process of what the sentencing might be depending on one's place of origin.

That being said, on the issue of fraud, the member actually raised a slightly different point, in this sense. When people commit fraud in their applications, they are effectively providing false information. They are lying about the information that they are putting forward. If that is the case, then there needs to be a mechanism to address that and that is what the bill speaks to.

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5:20 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent speech, which I think most members appreciated.

I am very pleased that we are going to vote in favour of Bill C-6 at second reading. I was here during the previous Parliament when the House passed Bill C-24, and this bill does address a number of problems.

However, like most members of the NDP, who made up the official opposition at the time, I opposed the discretionary power that the bill gave to the minister. Bill C-24 was not the only example of this. Various other bills gave discretionary powers to the finance minster, the public safety minister and, in this case, the immigration minister. I remember quite well that, at the time, the Liberal opposition agreed with us and was opposed to giving ministers new discretionary powers that would allow them to make decisions without necessarily going through the proper channels.

I would like to ask my colleague what she thinks of the provisions that grant this sort of discretionary power and how important she thinks they are. How does she suggest we make the process fairer than just allowing the minister to make decisions at his or her discretion?