Mr. Speaker, I thought there was a law that said that the hon. member for Hamilton Centre always has to speak last. With all the energy he has, there is a different atmosphere in the House after he speaks. I would like to recognize the excellent work that he does and the excellent speech that he gave just before me.
Today, I am rising to speak to Bill C-24, which was introduced at first reading on February 6. According to the minister, this bill is very important, but it was all but forgotten after February 27. The media spoke about it a little bit, but it was not debated again until May 29. The government did not put this bill back on the House's agenda for many months.
It is also important to note that the committee began studying this bill before the end of second reading. This is a 50-page citizenship reform bill that has been needed for nearly 30 years. It was touted and heralded and did not even go through normal House procedures. We debated it for one hour and then it was shelved. Then, all of a sudden, we were forced to study it in committee before second reading had even finished.
This approach will have a negative impact on experts and people in general. It will prevent them from having an opportunity to study the bill, testify before the committee and contribute to the study of this bill. Many people have talked to me about this in my riding. They wanted to know how they could contribute to the study of Bill C-24 with their analysis and their expertise. Unfortunately, we have had to tell them that it is already too late. The usual procedures went out the window. Experts and individuals were not able to contribute because the government rushed the committee's work and because we were not allowed to have a normal debate in the House.
The NDP wanted to call more witnesses but our requests were denied. The NDP put forward a number of amendments in committee. The Conservative committee members rejected our amendments. Then debate resumed in the House. A week later, it was report stage. The Conservatives rushed the committee's clause-by-clause study. Because a reasonable study was not done, we have before us today a poorly written, botched bill.
The NDP wanted to remove several clauses or at least study them in depth. Many experts and individuals are concerned about these clauses. The government rejected all of the amendments proposed by the experts who appeared and by the opposition.
One of the problematic measures is that Bill C-24 places a lot of power in the minister's hands. This is an unfortunate trend we have seen across many different bills. One of these powers is the power to grant citizenship to dual nationals or revoke it from them.
The government has a marked tendency to create laws that concentrate power in ministers' hands, which is something the NDP does not support. We cannot and will not trust it, and by giving a minister new powers, we are exposing ourselves to the possibility that the minister could make arbitrary, politically motivated decisions. It will be sad if that is how things turn out. That is what is happening in other countries, and it is bad for democracy. I truly hope it will not come to that.
The very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke citizenship raises serious questions. Canadian law already includes mechanisms to punish people who commit illegal acts, so why would the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration need to make that type of decision? The minister could revoke citizenship when he, or one of his authorized employees “is satisfied on a balance of probabilities” that the person has fraudulently obtained citizenship.
Until now, these issues were generally sent before the courts and cabinet. This element poses serious problems in that the minister would have the power to revoke citizenship based on suspicion, without an independent court ruling on whether or not the accusations are true.
In the United States, the government may file a civil suit to revoke an individual's citizenship if it was obtained illegally, if the individual concealed information that was relevant to eligibility for citizenship or if the individual made false statements. In that situation, the individual in question has the legal right to refer the matter to the courts. Every ruling can be appealed, and the individual is guaranteed due process. However, here the government wants the minister to have the right to veto.
The minister could revoke the citizenship of someone who was convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to imprisonment for life for treason, high treason or espionage; or someone who was convicted of a terrorism offence as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code—or an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute a terrorism offence as defined in that section—and sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment.
The problem is that this measure makes absolutely no distinction between a terrorism conviction handed down in a democratic country with a credible and reliable justice system and a conviction in an undemocratic regime where the justice system could very well be corrupt or beholden to political interests. This revocation process can be used without the Federal Court ever seeing the file. In addition, the measure is retroactive.
What is more, candidates between the ages of 14 and 64, instead of 18 and 54, will now have to pass the test that determines their knowledge of French or English. A 14-year-old child belongs with his parents. Denying him citizenship on the grounds that he still has not mastered either official language is questionable. In this case, family reunification is paramount and that child is young enough that he has enough time ahead of him to learn one language or even both. Again, a 14-year-old child belongs with his parents.
Last but not least, this bill could be subject to constitutional challenges. The use of revocation of citizenship as a legal consequence for dual citizens could, in some circumstances, be inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Revoking the citizenship of those found guilty of treason and terrorism by a Canadian or foreign court could be perceived as a punitive measure imposed in addition to other criminal sentences.
Among other problems, treating people with dual citizenship differently by exposing them to the possible loss of their citizenship creates a double standard and raises major constitutional questions, particularly under section 15 of the charter. This section states that everyone has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Section 11 of the charter could also be invoked in cases of revocation of citizenship, when the legislation is not about revocation for fraud, but rather imposes a punishment after the fact. If the revocation is perceived by the courts as an additional punishment for crimes, then it is even more likely that the accused will point to the key elements of section 11, including the presumption of innocence and the right to be heard by an independent and impartial tribunal, which are fundamental rights in our country.
Increasing the government's powers to revoke citizenship causes not only moral problems, but also constitutional problems, which might occur because of this bill.
The government is doing away with the process of passing a bill in the House at first reading, at second reading, in committee and at third reading.
Then it moves a time allocation motion to limit our debate in the House. That shows utter contempt for our parliamentary institutions. We have a duty to make excellent laws for our constituents, and I think this Conservative government should keep that in mind.