Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Surrey Centre. It is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act .
As the member of Parliament from a riding where immigration is the number one concern for many of my constituents, I am proud to support this bill. During my 11-week campaign and the two years leading up to it, I heard time and again of the issues that people were facing concerning bringing their loved ones to Canada, or their struggles in gaining citizenship while they were completing their residency requirements.
Since the good people of Brampton East sent me to this chamber, my constituency office has received over 400 cases, and 99% of them deal with immigration. They are families who have waited seven years to be reunited. There are thousands who have waited 18 months since they were married to begin their life together. There are genuine visitor visa cases that are being denied time and again. There are also PR holders who have filled out the application, met the residency requirements, and suffered under the unnecessary changes to the Citizenship Act made by the previous government.
I am the proud son of immigrants. My family's story is similar to that of many families across this great nation. My parents immigrated to Canada in the late 1970s in search of social and economic opportunities. They worked hard. My dad was a taxi cab driver, and my mom lifted boxes in a factory. My parents realized that in Canada anything was possible with a bit of hope and a lot of hard work. At the core of their story is the day that they became Canadian citizens. It was not just a document to them. For my parents, it was security and a sense of pride that they were finally part of the Canadian family. At the ceremony, they proudly sang O Canada, and called their relatives for a party to celebrate the occasion.
Time and again, my father tells me that I won the lottery by being born in Canada, that I am a Canadian citizen by birthright, and that being a Canadian citizen is the envy of the world. I could not agree with him more. When asked on the campaign trail how I enjoyed the process, I responded that I am living the Canadian dream.
Brampton East is the second-most diverse riding in the entire country. The strength of our country has always been our diversity and building upon one another's experiences. Yet, at the same time, no matter where we come from or what we believe, we are all united by our Canadian values.
A few weeks ago, I had the honour and privilege of welcoming our new Syrian brothers and sisters at Pearson International Airport. I had the opportunity to chat with some of them, and the hope and joy in their voices was priceless. They knew how special it was to come to Canada as permanent residents. One parent spoke about how her children would now have the opportunity to live out their dreams. One day, a young Syrian refugee will study hard, become a professional, gain citizenship, and become a member of Parliament and sit in this very House. His or her life story will be a story of the Canadian dream.
Day in and day out, my team in Brampton East helps our constituents understand the immigration process, helps them determine their eligibility, and supports them through any challenges they face. Gaining citizenship is a cherished goal for many of my constituents, as well as the associated objectives such as family unification, which our government is also improving upon.
When the previous government announced the changes to the Citizenship Act, it redefined the narratives of citizenship and what it meant to be a Canadian. As a result, it pitted Canadians against one another in the ugliest of ways in order to serve political purposes. This greatly affected the citizens of my riding, many of whom are first generation and second generation Canadians. Their families moved here with the hopes and dreams of building a secure and prosperous life in Canada and providing the best foundation for their children to contribute to Canadian society.
Bill C-24, introduced by the previous government, tore into these hopes and dreams, as well as the hard work my constituents had put into building successful lives for their families. It created a fear and discomfort that is not the norm for Canadian society, and it certainly should not be.
Former citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander defended this bill by arguing that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Simply put, he is wrong. It may come with responsibilities, but citizenship is a right. Once legitimately acquired by birth or naturalization, it cannot be taken away.
Bill C-24 gave the government the kind of sweeping power that is common in dictatorships, not in a democracy built upon the rule of law where all citizens are equal. The previous government used national security as a justification for the bill, but Bill C-24 could easily have been used against Canadians who were innocent under the laws. That was the danger in the lack of clarity and overreaching scope of that bill. That is the slippery slope that we must avoid at all costs.
Under that bill, the only Canadians who could not lose their citizenship arbitrarily were those born in Canada who did not have another nationality. The double standard and inequality that the law inflicted was immediately obvious to most Canadians. Revoking citizenship is one of the most serious consequences that a society may impose and should remain an exceptional process. It should be conducted with the highest degree of procedural fairness, as rightly noted by the Canadian Bar Association and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. We must trust our justice system to ensure that all criminals of Canadian nationality face the consequences of their actions, but that should not come at the expenses of their civil liberties.
I cannot say strongly enough how proud I am of the government for introducing Bill C-6, which aims to right the wrongs of Bill C-24 committed against dual citizens, potential dual citizens, and those looking to become citizens. Canada is, and always has been, and always will be, a country that opens its arms to others, whether it be immigrant families or our new Syrian refugee brothers and sisters. It is also in our nature to support these individuals to become integrated members of our society until they are settled and contributing to their community.
I would now like to focus on the importance of other parts of Bill C-6 that may not get as much attention.
I applaud the government for eliminating unjustified barriers to achieving citizenship. Allowing applicants to receive credit for the time they are legally in Canada before becoming permanent residents is a huge step in the right direction, if we value the talent and work ethic of the people who come to work or study in Canada. I am sure we have all met a bright, young international student with a promising career whom we would like to call Canada home, as we do. This improvement to the immigration system would create economic growth in communities, as we have the best and brightest of the world's population joining our workforce.
Allowing applicants to apply for citizenship one year sooner by reducing the number of days of physical presence has already been very well received in ridings like Brampton East.
Bill C-6 would correct a wrong. I am proud of the government for making this commitment during the campaign and now fulfilling its promise.
We can never forget that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.