I rise today in support of Bill C6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act.
During the time leading up to the election on October 19th I heard many concerns from residents of Cloverdale-Langley City about the changes that the previous government made to the Citizenship Act.
Since this government was elected on October 19th, with part of our election platform being to make changes to the Citizenship Act. I’ve heard from constituents enquiring when these changes will occur.
This Bill represents an important reminder of this government’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive Canada. It recognizes the contribution that new Canadians make to this great country every single day.
The changes proposed in Bill C6 will provide greater flexibility for applicants trying to meet the requirements for citizenship. It will help immigrants obtain citizenship faster. And it will repeal provisions of the Citizenship Act that allow citizenship to be revoked from citizens who engage in certain acts against the national interest.
And I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that citizenship is an issue of critical importance to my constituents in Cloverdale-Langley City, many of whom are immigrants who have achieved citizenship, and are exceedingly proud of their status as Canadians. They are proud of what being a Canadian means for them and their families.
Mr. Speaker I have heard from recent immigrants about their fears of losing their Canadian citizenship. They saw how the rules of citizenship could be changed by the stroke of the government’s pen. Members of diverse communities were horrified – and terrified – that they could be targeted for deportation by their own government.
In May 2015, under the previous government’s Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, legislative changes were created to allow citizenships to be revoked from dual citizens. The legislative changes allowed citizenship to be taken away for certain acts against the national interest of Canada. Convictions of terrorism, high treason, treason, spying offences, or for membership in an organized group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, were grounds for revocation. Citizens felt threatened and under attack by these changes.
I also heard from Canadians who have been Canadians for decades but still hold citizenship from other countries and passed this dual citizenship to their children. They were horrified – and terrified – that not only they, but their children could be targeted for deportation by their own government, under the rules set by the previous government, a Conservative government.
Bill C6 repeals these grounds for deportation. This government believes that the Canadian Justice System is fully capable of administering justice, protecting the public interest, and holding individuals accountable for their actions.
However, the value, the strength, and the iconic symbolism of Canadian citizenship remains intact under Bill C-6. The bill continues to provide the ability to revoke citizenship when it was wrongfully obtained. False representation, fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances remain as grounds for revocation.
Bill C6 also contains provisions to repeal the current intent to reside requirement for citizenship. The previous government’s legislation required adult applicants to formally declare that they intend to continue to reside in Canada after being granted citizenship. This has created great concern among some new Canadians. They fear that their citizenship could be revoked if they move outside of Canada, regardless of the rationale for moving. In light of today’s global economy, we require flexibility in the movement of our citizens around the globe without the threat of losing the highly desired Canadian citizenship that we all cherish.
This government respects this right to move outside Canada, which is guaranteed under section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is something that all Canadians should be allowed to do, without fear or repercussion.
Another proposed change in this Bill is a provision to help immigrants achieve citizenship more quickly. Currently, the Citizenship Act requires applicants to be physically present in Canada for four of the six years immediately prior to applying for citizenship.
Our government is proposing to reduce this time. Prior to submitting an application for citizenship, an applicant would be required to be physically present for three out of the preceding five years. Essentially, applicants can apply one year sooner than they can now. This offers more flexibility for immigrants who may need to travel outside of Canada for personal or work reasons.
Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, since the first Citizenship Act of 1947, citizenship applicants have been required to have a reasonable knowledge of English or French, and an understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. But the previous government’s changes to the Citizenship Act expanded the age range of applicants who must meet the language and knowledge requirements from those aged 18 to 54 to those aged 14 to 64. This added an additional 14 years to the age range affected by this language requirement.
Our government is proposing to reinstate the former age requirement, eliminating a potential barrier to citizenship. For younger applicants, learning English or French and having an adequate knowledge about Canada can be achieved through schooling. For those in the older age group, language skills and information about Canada are offered through a wide range of integration and community services.
And all applicants between the ages of 18 and 54 would still be required to provide evidence of their ability to understand and converse in English or French. Similarly, they will continue to be required to pass a knowledge test about Canada, which requires applicants to have a firm understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, with a slightly lesser focus on the War of 1812 than currently exists.
Mr. Speaker, I heard from immigrants who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s. I heard over and over again that they don’t consider themselves hyphenated Canadians. They consider themselves as Canadians, as do I. They were horrified – and terrified – that they could be targeted for deportation by their own government. This government wants that to change. A Canadian is a Canadian and will always be a Canadian under the changes proposed in this bill.
Mr. Speaker, our government is proposing to make it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada; reunite families; and help strengthen the economic foundation to the benefit of all Canadians.
Bill C-6 will credit time spent as a non-permanent resident towards the new 3 year physical presence requirement for citizenship, for up to 1 year. This proposed change will allow any person authorized to be in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person to count a day spent in Canada as a half-day towards meeting their physical presence requirement for citizenship.
Last week I spoke with an immigrant about the anticipated changes to the Citizenship Act. This woman has been in Canada for 4 years – 2 years as a student and 2 years on a work permit. She is committed to Canada and becoming Canadian. She was happy to know that some of her time spent in Canada will count towards her citizenship requirements.
As in the case of this woman, the time credit will encourage skilled individuals to come to Canada to study or work, and benefits groups like protected persons and parents and grandparents on visitors’ visas.
Mr. Speaker, I can also confirm that the changes proposed by Bill C-6 will not compromise the security of Canadians. In fact, there are several provisions in this Bill that strengthen the fair application of the right to become a Canadian citizen, and provide protection against abuse of the process to do so.
For instance, the Citizenship Act currently prohibits a person under a probation order, on parole, or incarcerated from being granted citizenship or from counting that time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship. However, these current prohibitions do not include conditional sentences served in Canada – that is, sentences served in the community with conditions. As a result, an applicant who is sentenced to a conditional sentence order could conceivably be granted citizenship, or could count that time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship.
The amendments in this bill would change that, for both new applications and those still being processed.
Another provision relates to the requirement to maintain the conditions for citizenship until taking the oath, which I might digress, will respect the court’s decision on appropriate attire.
Under provisions of the previous government’s Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, applicants were not permitted to take the oath of citizenship if, in between the time the decision to grant citizenship and the time to take the oath – a period that is typically two to three months – they no longer met the requirements for citizenship.
However, that rule only applies to applications received after June 11, 2015 – when the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act came into force – and not to applications received before that date. The proposed changes included in our government’s Bill C-6 will require ALL applicants to continue to meet the requirements of citizenship until they take the oath, regardless of when their application was received.
And, Mr. Speaker, let me provide one last case: at present, citizenship officers do not have the authority to seize fraudulent documents. Bill C-6 will change that. Citizenship officers will have the authority to seize fraudulent documents provided during the administration of the Act, which includes during in-person interviews and hearings. This change enhances the ability for citizenship officers to conduct investigations, and prevents the use of false documents.
Bill C-6 also protects the integrity of the citizenship application process, The proposed change helps ensure that those who might do harm to Canada cannot secure citizenship through misconduct or deceit.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, while this government encourages all immigrants to chart a path toward becoming a full and permanent member of Canadian society, we also remains steadfastly committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians. This government will remain vigilant in countering any and all threats to Canada, its citizens and its interests around the world.
Mr. Speaker, I remind this House that one of the most effective tools for achieving successful integration into Canadian life for new Canadians is by achieving Canadian citizenship. This Bill ensures that any and all who become Canadian citizens are treated equally under the law, whether they were born in Canada, naturalized in Canada or hold a dual citizenship.
But this bill also embodies the notion that Canadian citizenship is of great value, equally attainable for those who choose to meet its duties and obligations. Citizenship will be beyond the reach of those who would use it for any purpose other than to help build a strong and prosperous Canada for generations to come.
I believe that Bill C-6 serves as a clear, tangible and powerful reminder that Canadian citizenship is a valued and permanent legacy for those seeking a place to make a difference in the world. It helps improve us all, and makes Canada a better place.
For these reasons, I encourage all members of this House to support Bill C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act.