Citizenship Act Third Reading

Speeches

Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts Senator Jane Cordy June 19th, 2014

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise today to make a few brief comments about Bill C-24, and I'd like to begin by thanking Senator Eaton for doing her job of bringing forward her government's bill, and I would like to thank Senator Eggleton for his careful analysis of Bill C-24 and for bringing forward well-reasoned amendments in attempting to improve this bill.

I am supportive of many measures in the bill; however, some serious concerns were raised about provisions in this bill when it was studied by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. I've also received phone calls and emails from Canadians who also expressed fears over what this bill will mean for them. If these provisions remain as drafted in the bill, they will have a devastating effect on people's lives when this bill becomes law. Bill C-24 will essentially create unnecessary barriers to acquiring citizenship and will discourage many from even considering Canadian citizenship, and I believe, honourable senators, that would be unfortunate.

One concern raised many times by witnesses at our hearings and by those who have contacted me is the Canadian citizenship applicant's new requirement to show intent to reside in Canada provision. If the applicant cannot satisfactorily demonstrate that they intend to reside in Canada, they will be denied citizenship. There was some skepticism about how this requirement will even be administered by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, as it would seem impossible to determine. There were also some concerns about the constitutionality of the clause.

I would like to quote from a gentleman who emailed me his concerns about Bill C-24. He wrote:

The new law will violate mobility rights and will put all naturalized citizens under the tacit threat of having their citizenship revoked by making it possible for government officials to strip a naturalized Canadian of citizenship if they believe that person never intended to live in Canada, for example if she/he decides to study, accept a job, or move in with a romantic partner outside of Canada. In contrast, citizens by birth never have to worry that time spent away from Canada might put their citizenship status at risk. I believe requiring citizens to indicate that they intend to live in Canada if granted citizenship is unconstitutional, as it would distinguish between naturalized and other Canadian citizens, and would violate mobility rights under the Charter.

This gentleman's comments also highlight another fear many naturalized Canadians have, that the intent to reside clause in this bill will create an atmosphere of discrimination or second-class citizens by treating dual citizens or naturalized citizens differently. Honourable senators, we should not have two classes of Canadians. A Canadian is a Canadian.

I raised this issue with the minister when he appeared before the committee. The wording of clause 3(1)(c.1) in the bill stipulates that the applicant "intends, if granted citizenship, (i) to continue to reside in Canada" — "intends, if granted citizenship," that's past tense, after you become a citizen, "to continue to reside in Canada." I'm not a lawyer, but the wording of this clause seems to me to be saying that if the applicant is successful in their bid to obtain Canadian citizenship, they are obligated to stay in Canada. This would seem to me to be placing restrictions on naturalized Canadian citizens. However, in committee, the minister said this would not be the case. He assured the committee that citizenship would not be revoked for those successful applicants who leave the country after obtaining Canadian citizenship. To quote the minister: There's no requirement for a citizen of Canada to remain physically in Canada once granted citizenship . . . However, when the Canadian Bar Association testified, they had a different interpretation of the intent to reside requirement. Barbara Caruso, Executive Member, National Immigration Law Section, said:

The minister says it doesn't matter what you do after you become a citizen because the Charter says citizens have the right to mobility, but citizenship can be revoked for misrepresentation, and subsequent travel outside of Canada may be used to prove misrepresentation.

So what the Canadian Bar Association is saying is that the minister can use his or her own unilateral discretion and take away someone's Canadian citizenship if that Canadian happens to leave the country, if the minister deems it necessary. This can all be done under the guise that the applicant lied during the application process regarding their intent to reside in Canada.

If the minister is saying the intent to reside does not apply to new Canadian citizens, then why is this provision in the bill? Why did the Conservatives on the committee vote against Senator Eggleton's amendment to remove the intent to reside provision from this bill?

We heard from lawyers who said that if they had clients who were naturalized Canadians, they would tell their clients not to go outside the country until there is case law. If I were a lawyer and if I were offering advice to a naturalized Canadian, that's exactly what I would tell them when I look at the provisions in this bill.

These comments exposed another concern that I have with the bill, namely, the expanded powers of the minister to more easily revoke citizenship. The technical aspects of the bill will allow the minister to skirt judicial appeal processes in revoking Canadian citizenships and placing the decision-making powers in these cases to the minister alone or to an officer acting on behalf of the minister. Citizenship judges are taken out of the equation all together, and powers will be centralized in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. I would like to read again from the email the gentleman sent me:

The new law will significantly diminish due process rights and will grant government officials the authority to revoke citizenship. Under the current law, the government cannot remove a person's citizenship without making an application to a Federal Court judge. The new law, however, expands Ministerial discretion to remove citizenship, eliminates some rights of appeal, and, in most instances, replaces the right to an oral hearing before an independent judge with a written review by a bureaucrat acting under the direction of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The intent of Bill C-24 is to strengthen Canada's citizenship policies, and many measures in this bill will accomplish just that. Canada's Citizenship Act is well overdue for updating. However, as in the case of any piece of legislation, there is always the chance of unintended consequences. It is the clauses that are surrounded by uncertainty that require the attention of this chamber.

Full examination can rarely be accomplished as we continue to rush through yet another bill. This bill arrived in this chamber on Monday, and while the committee did a pre-study of the bill last week, the majority of the senators in this chamber were not engaged in that process. Why the rush? Whatever happened to the belief of Sir John A. Macdonald that the most important function of the Senate is that we serve as the chamber of sober second thought? Yet we hear from ministers that bills are terrific just as they are — no need for amendments. They continue to treat the legislative processes of our democracy with contempt, as they view it as nothing more than a nuisance and routinely dismiss the viewpoint of any Canadian who may disagree with them. We consistently get the message from this government that they are not interested in anyone's opinion but their own and the Senate should just rubber-stamp their legislation and, by the way, do it fast. And if we dare to question aspects of the legislation or propose amendments, we are subject to partisan attacks by the minister, as was the case during our committee's analysis of this bill.

Minister Alexander stated in committee that he would not revoke the citizenship of any new Canadian who would travel to another country for work or to study, and that is good. But, honourable senators, what about the next minister, because the bill clearly states in clause 3(1)(c.1), and I'll quote it again: "intends, if granted citizenship (i) to continue to reside in Canada."

Honourable senators, Canadians have a right to mobility - all Canadians - not just some Canadians. Indeed, section 6 of the Charter states, "Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada."

Honourable senators, we have heard that human rights lawyer Rocco Galati will seek a Supreme Court opinion on the constitutionality of this bill and that he will bring forward the challenge himself if changes are not made to the bill.

Well, honourable senators, so far changes have not been made, despite amendments - excellent amendments, I might add - put forward at committee by Senator Eggleton, which were voted down by the Conservative majority on the committee. Changes have not been made to Bill C-24, despite the testimony of witnesses at our committee or despite the correspondence we have received from the public. That is truly unfortunate, because we are the chamber of sober second thought, and I believe that we have a responsibility as senators to examine legislation thoroughly.

Why would we not fix the bill now, instead of having it sent to the Supreme Court at great cost to Canadian taxpayers?

Honourable senators, this bill will create two classes of Canadian citizens. Some citizens will be more equal than others.

This bill has been brought forward with little consultation. As Senator Eggleton said in his second reading speech, when major changes were made to the Citizenship Act in 1977 there was a white paper along with cross-Canada forums. In 2014, on the other hand, the Senate received the bill on June 16 and wants to pass it on June 19. I believe it is unfortunate that a bill of such importance, which will almost certainly be challenged in our court system, hasn't had a proper sober second look by this chamber.

Bill C-24 most certainly updates some of Canada's citizenship policies, which I support, but I am equally concerned with aspects of this bill that provide expanded and overreaching powers to the Minister and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. Also worrisome is the potential of this bill to discriminate and essentially create second-class Canadian citizens, not to mention the untested constitutionality of some of the clauses in this bill.

To quote Christopher Veeman of the Canadian Bar Association when he appeared before the House of Commons committee study of this bill, talking about the new barriers to the Canadian citizenship application process, he said:

Simply making it harder to obtain doesn't make it better.

Honourable senators, Canadian citizenship is truly a great privilege, whether you were born in Canada or whether you have chosen to make Canada your country. Let's not create a second class of Canadian citizenship.

Honourable senators, I'm unable to support this bill without the excellent amendments put forward by Senator Eggleton, which will make Bill C-24 a better bill.