Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in support of Bill C-6. The bill will restore the fundamental principle of equality of citizenship, and also restore common sense to the process of becoming a Canadian citizen.
There are few privileges on earth greater than being a citizen of Canada. In our country, we cherish our freedom, our democracy, and our inalienable rights that attach to our citizenship. Canada has long been a beacon of hope and opportunity to many around the world. Our country is blessed to have been enriched by people who have become Canadians by choice.
In my riding of West Nova, we have an incredible history which started the foundation of the country, with rich contributions from Acadian, Mi’kmaq, Métis, British, and African Canadians. Also, we know that through many generations at Pier 21 in Halifax, many more immigrants began their lives as Canadians and together helped build this great country.
The most fundamental principle of the rule of law is that all citizens are equal before the law. We cannot have two classes of Canadians. Once someone is a citizen of our country, certain rights and privileges attach to that. They cannot be taken away. Bill C-6 restores the fundamental principle of our system of citizenship. It rightly seeks to reinstate this principle, which was taken away under the Conservatives' Bill C-24 in the last Parliament.
I have heard all kinds of claims by the opposition members in the debate so far on Bill C-6. However, the most intellectually frustrating argument I have heard is their claim that Bill C-6 leaves in the law the ability for revocation of citizenship in some cases. Therefore, the argument we are making on this side of the House, that it is fundamental that we cannot revoke citizenship, is somehow inconsistent with leaving that provision in the law. I have heard this from the other side. The argument has been made that Bill C-6 in fact creates two tiers of citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite is true. The bill remedies the fact that in Bill C-24 there are two classes of citizenship.
Does the opposition not see the obvious difference between taking away citizenship from someone who never would have or should have obtained citizenship but for fraud or misrepresentation, and revoking the citizenship of an otherwise valid citizen for egregious behaviour done after they have been conferred with all rights and privileges that come with citizenship? To my mind, there is a clear distinction between something being void ab initio, that meaning from the beginning. They were never citizens. That is the difference between something void ab initio and something voidable in the future for future behaviour.
Furthermore, do they not see that maintaining the integrity of our citizenship application process requires a mechanism to prevent those who would lie in order to become a citizen? What kind of system is reliable if there is no mechanism to withdraw from it people who have lied, committed fraud, or misrepresented the statements made in order to obtain the thing conferred upon them? Of course, to have a proper system of citizenship requires a mechanism for those people who have misrepresented themselves to the government to obtain the citizenship to take that away.
That is vastly different from saying that someone should have their citizenship revoked for something done after they have become a citizen. There is no causal link. There is nothing between their bad behaviour afterwards and their citizenship. Therefore, it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that because there are provisions that remain in the law to revoke citizenship for someone who should never and would never have been conferred citizenship, versus someone revoking their citizenship for egregious behaviour after the fact, that the law is flawed
Let me be clear about this. There is no question that the behaviour associated with revoking citizenship in Bill C-24 is egregious behaviour. It is intolerable. It is criminal. It is repugnant. That is exactly why the criminal law in this country, to the fullest extent, should make sure that those people go to jail. That is where they belong. It should not be used as a punishment to revoke their citizenship because it does in fact create two tiers of citizens. It creates citizens who have dual citizenship who could be subjected to having their citizenship revoked on future behaviour, versus those who are Canadian and only Canadian citizens.
There is a big fundamental difference. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. I know that line has been used on both sides of the House, but it is true. It is true that if we go down the road of having more than one class of citizenship, it will render less valuable the fact that someone is a Canadian citizen.
Being a dual citizen means that an individual is a Canadian citizen. However, a Canadian citizen is the same, whether or not they have more than one passport.
I submit that most Canadians understand this obvious difference. It is unfortunate that it is being advanced as a proper argument to maintain these elements from the previous Bill C-24. I note that these elements were part of the election campaign, and Canadians rejected those ideas in the last election.
Bill C-6 also reduces the length of time that someone must be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship. This would help immigrants achieve citizenship more quickly and change the requirements to three years within five years total. It will mean that applicants can apply one year sooner in order to join the citizenship of this country. This offers greater flexibility for immigrants who travel outside of Canada but maintain the timelines. It does ensure that a new Canadian has significant ties and links with our country to be a full and proud Canadian.
Another element of Bill C-6 that I find very good is the part of the bill that restores the 50% credit, for international students in particular, who spend time at one of our amazing schools in this country. It does not make any sense to take away the credit for those individuals whom we hope to attract, for whom we are competing with other countries around the world to have them live in Canada, to participate in our country. It does not make any sense at all to make it harder for them. We are competing with other countries around the world to attract the best and brightest, and we must do what we can to ensure that they stay here.
They have links with Canada. They obviously have a linguistic connection, either English or French, or perhaps both, in order to attend one of our universities or post-secondary schools. Therefore, it makes sense with those links, those connections, their intelligence and innovation, that we should be attracting and doing everything we can to encourage these students to become part of the Canadian family.
We know that Bill C-6 also amends the age range for the language requirement. Bill C-6 proposes to amend the age range for those required to meet language and knowledge requirements from 14 to 64, to those aged 18 to 54, removing a potential barrier to citizenship for applicants in both the younger and older age groups.
All Canadians are free to move outside of Canada, of course, and this is a right guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many Canadians enjoy that privilege and maintain their strong ties and connections and pride in Canada. It is right and correct that Bill C-6 repeals the June 2015 change that required adult applicants to declare that they intend to continue to reside in Canada. This is a prime example of previous modifications to our law that treat certain citizens differently.