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.