moved that the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this important motion before the House, the concurrence motion.
What we are dealing with is essentially seeking authority from the House to expand the scope of Bill S-245. Bill S-245 is a Senate bill that is before the House to address the situation of those who are commonly known as “lost Canadians”. Bill S-245 would amend the Citizenship Act to allow Canadians who previously lost their citizenship due to the age 28 rule to regain their citizenship. The age 28 rule means that second-generation Canadians born abroad were subject to the laws of citizenship under the former section 8 of the Citizenship Act, which required them to apply to certify their citizenship before they turned 28 years old.
In 2009 the Conservatives repealed this section through Bill C-37. However, the legislation did not restore citizenship to those who lost their citizenship prior to 2009. This oversight created major problems for many Canadians, as they somehow could lose their citizenship status as they turned 28. Many of them actually did not even know that was the situation they were faced with. It was only when applying for their passport, for example, that they realized they had lost their citizenship.
Bill S-245 seeks to fix the age 28 rule. However, the rule does not address other situations where Canadians have lost their citizenship. The archaic provisions of the Citizenship Act have resulted in many other lost Canadians, and New Democrats seek to actually fix this problem.
Mr. Speaker, 14 years ago, Bill C-37 passed in this House and came into force, and as a result of that, many people lost their citizenship rights. In fact, it created a scenario where Canada's Citizenship Act, for this group of lost Canadians, in many ways was not charter-compliant. For decades some Canadians have found themselves even to be stateless due to a number of these archaic immigration laws.
In 2007, the UN's Refugees magazine listed Canada as one of the top offending countries for making its own people stateless. In 2009, as I mentioned, the Conservatives said that they were going to fix the lost Canadian issue with Bill C-37. Sadly, this did not happen. Worse still, the Conservatives created a brand new group of lost Canadians, and today we have an opportunity before us to fix that.
Bill S-245, the bill that was introduced by Senator Martin, is now before the committee for citizenship and immigration, and the bill aims to address this group of lost Canadians, lost due to the age 28 rule. I want to be very clear that the NDP wholeheartedly supports ensuring those who one day woke up and found themselves without Canadian status are made whole. This absolutely needs to be done. However, it is the NDP's strongest view that the scope of Bill S-245 is too narrow. The NDP wants to seize this opportunity to fix the lost Canadian issue once and for all.
Currently, there is a large group of Canadians who are deemed to be second-class citizens, due to the Conservatives' first-generation cut-off rule brought on by the Harper administration in 2009. Bill C-37 ended the extension of citizenship to second-generations born abroad. By stripping their right to pass on citizenship to their children if they were born outside of Canada, the Canadian government has caused undue hardship to many families. For some, it means separating children from parents. Some even find themselves stateless.
I spoke with Patrick Chandler. He is a Canadian who, while born abroad, spent most of his life in Canada. As an adult, he worked abroad, married someone from another country and had children. He was later offered a job in British Columbia. When he moved back to Canada, he had to leave his wife and children behind because he could not pass on his citizenship to his children. He had to go through an arduous process to finally reunite with them a year later.
There are many families being impacted in this way, and it is wrong. We should not put Canadians in those kinds of situations, yet here we are and that is what they have to suffer through. There are many families being impacted.
Another family faced with this situation is the family of Emma Kenyon. In fact, Emma lived here in Canada, as did her husband. However, they worked abroad and they met abroad. They had a child abroad. That child is stateless because neither Emma nor her husband has status in that country. They are now in a situation where they have a stateless child born to a Canadian. This is so wrong, and we need to fix this problem. Immigration officials said to them at the time that, before their child was born, they had a choice. They could actually travel back to Canada and have their child be born in Canada.
This, of course, did not make any sense. It was during the COVID period, when, basically, it was unsafe for her to travel. If Emma did travel back to Canada, she would be without a family doctor or a gynecologist to care for her pregnancy. None of that made any sense, but that is what she was told to do. Of course, she did not risk the birth of her child in that situation. She did not risk her own health either. As a result, her child was born abroad and is now in a stateless situation. It should never have been this way.
Families are so frustrated with these archaic immigration laws, especially with the stripping of the rights of immigrants having children born abroad. Those rights were stripped because of the Conservatives’ Bill C-37. Families are now taking the government to court to address this inequity. The Conservatives deemed first-generation Canadians born abroad to be less worthy and less Canadian, even though many had grown up in Canada. The implications are so serious that people are taking the government to court.
At the citizenship and immigration committee, when the opportunity arises, I will be moving amendments to ensure that this does not happen to anyone else. The NDP amendments would ensure that first-generation, born-abroad Canadians would have the right to pass on their citizenship rights to their children based on a connections test. They would also retroactively restore citizenship to persons who have not been recognized as citizens since the second-generation cut-off rule was enacted in 2009.
The same principles would apply to adoptees as well. We need to make sure that individuals and families that adopt children are not going to be caught in this bad situation. For those who do not wish to have citizenship conferred upon them, upon notification to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, these changes would not apply to them.
This will mean that people like Patrick, whom I mentioned, and people like Emma and her family would not have to suffer the challenges they face as a result of Bill C-37’s stripping of their rights.
In addition to the amendments related to the first-generation cut-off rule, I will also be moving amendments to symbolically recognize those who died before citizenship was conferred upon them. For example, many of Canada's war heroes fought and died for Canada. However, they were never recognized as Canadians. The NDP amendments would also honour them and recognize them as citizens, retroactive to birth.
The situation with what I call “war heroes” is this. The first Governor General of Canada, in 1867, right after Confederation, said that Canadians were a new “nationality”. However, according to Canada's immigration laws, Canadian citizenship did not exist prior to January 1, 1947. That means that no soldiers who fought and died for Canada in battles like Vimy Ridge or D-Day are deemed to be Canadians.
Bill C-37 was supposed to fix this, but it did not happen. Don Chapman, who has fought for so long on the issue of lost Canadians and trying to rectify those concerns, indicated that “the government has confirmed they're leaving out all the war dead [pre-1947]. So, the war dead in Canada were really just British. We might as well just scratch the Maple Leaf off their headstones.”
Symbolically recognizing those who fought for Canada and ensuring that they are recognized as citizens would have zero implications, no legal consequence whatsoever or liability for the government. It is really a strictly symbolic gesture, and it is an important one, especially for family members of loved ones who fought and died for Canada. I see some of these family members on Remembrance Day every year. Many veterans went to war and fought for Canada, and never came back. We should remember them as Canadians.
Beyond this, there are a couple of other categories of lost Canadians, who, due to one of the discriminatory rules, such as the gender discrimination rule that existed in Canada, were not recognized as citizens. The NDP's amendments would aim to fix that as well. Suffice it to say, there are long lists of people who have been hurt by this set of rules, and successive governments have said they would fix it. However, it never came to be. Now we have a chance to actually do that work. It is important we do that work now.
I fear that the Conservatives would not support this effort. At committee, when the senator and the sponsor of the bill were before us at committee to talk about this bill, the Conservatives indicated they wanted to just ensure the bill would be left as is and address only the 28-year rule, not deal with the other categories of lost Canadians. To me, that is wrong. Their argument is that it is too complicated, that we do not have time and that if the matter goes back before the Senate, then an election might be called and the bill might just die. That is, of course, if the Conservatives want that to happen.
We could actually work together, collaboratively, to say that we are going to fix this problem once and for all, for lost Canadians. We want to make sure that people like Emma Kenyon, whose child was born stateless, would never be in that situation. We could actually make that happen by amending the bill.
I know that Conservative members, even their leader, would say that they support the immigrant community and that they are there for them. If they are there for them, first, I would say that Bill C-37 should never have stripped of their rights the immigrants who became Canadians, such as myself. If I had a child born abroad, my child should have citizenship conferred upon them. The Conservatives took that away. We have a chance today to fix that, to say that immigrants, such as myself, would be able to have the same rights as those who were born in Canada, and be able to pass on their citizenship rights to their children born abroad.
To be sure that there is a connection between individuals like that, we could put forward a connections test, such as, for example, having been in Canada for 1,095 days. This happens to be the same number of days required, through the Citizenship Act, for people getting their citizenship. We could put in provisions like that to ensure there is a clear connection between them and Canada. There is no reason to say that we are not going to do any of this and that we are just going to strip them of their rights and not recognize them. Let us fix this once and for all.