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Citizenship Act - Bill to Amend Second Reading

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in regard to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

Honourable senators, you will recall the poetic words of Senator Omidvar, who spoke of the provisions of this bill in weeks past. We should never be surprised by those who wax poetic when they consider the magnitude of being granted citizenship in Canada.

When Senator Omidvar talked about the glory of Canada, about standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side, and playing our part in building this wonderful country, that brought to mind fond memories of the saga of my own family, which settled in Canada over 400 years ago.

Long before there was a Canada, Louis Hebért arrived in New France. He came to that settlement — a community in its infancy — in service to Samuel de Champlain, for whom he was apothecary. He chose to stay in this new country, begin a family and take up farming. To say that life in 17th century New France was difficult is a gross understatement in the extreme.

His daughter, the first baby born in the new settlement, was Guillemette Couillard, who herself had nine children. I am her direct descendant. There are 11 generations between us.

In similar fashion, my husband's great-great grandfather, Timothy Eaton, left his home in Northern Ireland in 1854 at the age of 20 and moved to Georgetown, Upper Canada. There he found work as a junior bookkeeping clerk at a small general store and also worked as a peddler. Through hard work, persistence and sacrifice, he went on to build a retail empire through the T. Eaton Company.

In both these stories, our people came to this country prepared to work, prepared to build and prepared to put down roots and stay in the country in which they chose to live.

Our two stories, like that of Senator Omidvar, illustrate how this country was a land of hope for our ancestors, a place that promised to reward hard work and moral fibre, a place where people could contribute to building a great country.

Canada has been, is, and if we remain prudent, always will be a place of refuge on the threshold of opportunity. We have a history of nation building, an individual, a family and a community at a time.

This is an honest reflection of what got us here in the past 150 years and indeed in the generations who came before that. So, then, permit me to address Senator Omidvar's creative metaphor of this bill as a house, one that you'll recall was a dwelling with a strong foundation, lots of windows, lots of light, but with a strong protective roof.

In the spirit of this, what about ensuring that the dwelling's doors and windows are secure and that the people dwelling in it are safe and protected? Is its design sustainable and conducive to allowing its inhabitants to thrive?

I agree with my honourable colleague's assertion that equality among citizens is an absolute foundation. That is why we must apply rigour and strategic effort to the notion of who is worthy to be granted the privilege of Canadian citizenship and ensure that the requirements in the run-up to being eligible for it are robust enough.

I strongly believe that, as Senator Omidvar pointed out, when immigrants integrate, they prosper. While that is a noble aspiration, it must not be confused with the goals of this bill or with the former legislation that it would dismantle.

Honourable senators, you will recall that Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, sought to: one, reinforce the value of citizenship by strengthening the requirement for it; two, deter citizenship of convenience; three, improve the tools we have to maintain program integrity and combat fraud; and, four, increase efficiencies to help qualified applicants acquire citizenship faster.

Now, with Bill C-6 we are faced with proposed legislation that will: one, remove the grounds for revocation of Canadian citizenship relating to national security; two, remove the requirement that an applicant intend to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship; three, reduce the number of days during which a person must have been physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship and provide for getting credit for time spent in Canada as a permanent resident; four, reduce the requirement to demonstrate knowledge of Canada and one of its official languages to applicants between the ages of 18 and 54; and, five, authorize the minister to seize any document on grounds that it was fraudulently or improperly obtained or used.

One might say that these two perspectives, that which was under Bill C-24 and that which yet may be under Bill C-6, reflect a fundamental and pendulous dichotomy. We believe that citizenship is a privilege. This government seems to consider it a right. Therein lies the difference: The privilege of citizenship, once merited, brings access to rights under Canadian law.

We have learned from the values that helped shape and build this country from its inception, some 150 years ago, that privileges must be earned and not perceived as rights.

It's this cold reality that informs some of the issues I have with the proposed provisions of this bill. It's particularly true in the case of the first changes included in Bill C-6, specifically repealing the authority to revoke citizenship for dual citizens convicted of treason, terrorism or espionage. We believe that Canadian citizenship is highly valuable and that committing crimes such as those enumerated is deserving of measures of a highly serious nature.

I don't agree with my honourable colleague that this regimen for dealing with grievous offences like these is how Canadians understand justice. It might be a different story were revocation in instances such as this to render dual citizenships stateless. Let me remind you that the provision in this regard contained in Bill C-24 respected Canada's obligations under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and would not render such offenders stateless.

These provisions do not adversely affect dual citizenship other than for those who perpetrate these very serious crimes against the state and its citizens. It's that simple.

Not so simple, however, is the case of Zakaria Amara, the architect of the so-called Toronto 18 terror plot. As the ringleader of this heinous plan, he sought to detonate truck bombs, open fire in crowded areas and storm the CBC and CSIS. It was his aim to overtake this very building of the Parliamentary Precinct, Centre Block. His ultimate goal? To take hostages and to behead the Prime Minister and others — in plain language, to wreak total havoc upon Canadian society.

Such plans by an individual determined to harm others at any cost, based in the detestation and hatred of Canada and the values it stands for, are more than sufficient cause for revocation in cases of dual citizenship. Such clear and violent disaffection for one's adoptive country speaks volumes of the total disregard for having been granted the privilege of Canadian citizenship.

Let us not mock the abject seriousness of this element of the debate with the jingoistic posturing of "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian" versus "a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist." How insulting this is to law-abiding Canadians.

Those who undertake sedition and commit treason and terrorist acts do not put down roots here; they do not share any sense of Canadian identity. They do not respect this country's democratic principles, and in so doing, they deem themselves no longer worthy of the privilege of Canadian citizenship. In the parlance of the housing metaphor, how safe, how secure, are home and hearth if they are to be destroyed by acts of terrorism?

I found something that I thought might be interesting to you. It deals with revocation. Twenty-two countries in Europe allow denaturalization for terrorism or other behaviours contrary to the national interest. They include Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Australia just introduced a bill this last June, and Britain can render you stateless.

Let us move on to the next provision that would repeal the measures introduced in Bill C-24 requiring citizenship applicants to declare their intention to reside in Canada. Under the provisions of this act, the declaration of the intent to reside was required to obtain citizenship but no longer applied once citizenship was granted. Once citizenship is granted, a citizen has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada, as guaranteed by the Charter.

In her speech, Senator Omidvar said, ". . . naturalized citizens who have signed off on the intent do not know whether they can leave or not." As a consequence of this, Senator Omidvar asserts that Bill C-24 ". . . creates two classes of citizens: those who have to think twice before moving abroad and exercising their mobility rights, and those who do not."

With all due respect to my honourable colleague and to those on whose behalf she speaks, this is not a legislative matter requiring repeal. Rather, it is a communications issue requiring redress, and it is something with which Minister McCallum and his department should deal with immediately. After all, a citizen is a citizen is a citizen.

Let us hear what stakeholders have to say on this matter when the bill is referred to committee for study.

Again, with all due respect to my honourable colleague, the provisions the government now seeks to repeal weren't put there to encourage attraction to Canada. Intent to reside is a symbolic declaration of an immigrant's determined desire to put down roots; to embrace and contribute to Canadian life, very much the way she has; and to demonstrate the significance and importance of their choice to seek Canadian citizenship, not as a means of fostering a warm and fuzzy feeling about becoming a Canadian.

Directly related to the declaration of intent to reside is the requirement for physical presence before obtaining Canadian citizenship. Bill C-24 has lengthened the period of time required, from three of five years to four of six years. Colleagues, I am at a loss to understand what makes the four-year period seem so onerous and so unwieldy that it must be changed. Four years is not considered too long to spend studying for an undergraduate degree. A postgraduate degree, such as law or medicine, can take many more than four years; yet, the effort and hard work all seem more than worthwhile on convocation day.

Honourable senators, the same must be said about the time spent in Canada awaiting the granting of citizenship.

Investing four years is surely worthwhile if we consider the intrinsic value of Canadian citizenship.

Two years ago, when Bill C-24 was introduced, we believed, as we still do, that Canadian citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history. A Canadian passport is not an instrument of convenience. It should be seen as a badge of dedication, an affirmation of all that we stand for, and those who are privileged enough to bear it do so as an affirmation that they want to be here, want to build a future here and want to adapt to the Canadian way of life.

A fundamental element of Canadian life is to know and understand our country, its history, its human geography and the way it's governed, and to understand that we communicate in two official languages.

Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship is Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's guide to facilitate this, and what a most excellent tool it is.

The next step in this bill's repeal of Bill C-24's measures is to eliminate the need for knowledge and language testing for those aged 14 to 17 and those over the age of 55.

Senator Omidvar, on behalf of the government, indicated that it was thought that testing youth in the age bracket unnecessary and possibly wasteful as they will learn language and gain knowledge about Canada in the schools they will attend here. I would encourage the government to perhaps undertake some consultation with provincial education ministries before making such assumptions.

In my province of Ontario, the overhead Citizenship Education Framework is a key component of public school social studies curriculum, but this information occurs progressively, year after year, in grades one through six, which precludes youth aged 18 from benefiting from it.

We would have, under the provisions of this bill, teens new to Canadian citizenship who, though they literally have the world at their fingertips through their electronic devices and cellphones, will receive no testing on this country and its languages. How kind it is of us to ensure that we create a ghetto of ignorance and social exclusion for these youths instead of promoting knowledge of their new home and familiarity with its languages — not to mention how difficult it would be for them to find part-time employment if they don't speak the language.

What's more, media reports shed light on a case whereby a New Brunswick high school was overwhelmed by the influx of Syrian refugee students. In July of this year, Global News reported that a lack of support, including access to full-time translators, led to what frantic staff called communication breakdowns and culture clashes between Syrian refugee students, classmates and teachers at a New Brunswick high school.

They reported that more than 2,700 pages of documents reviewed by the Canadian Press detail the concerns of overwhelmed educators as they dealt with a sudden influx of students who didn't speak English, may have been out of school for years, observed different religious practices and came from war-affected countries.

The reports went on to cite issues of tardiness and absenteeism among the 29 Syrian students and cultural confusion about gender roles. Such teachers complained about students refusing to speak English and using peer pressure to deter others who were trying.

Yes, these poor children were refugees, but the same could easily be said if they'd been new immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship. Stories such as this make it clear that applying evidence-based policy development would surely not see testing requirements eliminated.

Rather, in the face of such reports, it would seem that additional programming, and by no means less, is required if immigrant youth are to effectively integrate and settle in and future situations like this are to be avoided.

Let us move on to the matter of removing testing requirements for persons over 55. Senator Omidvar observed that:

Removing testing requirements for younger and older Canadians removes a potential barrier to citizenship and the sense of belonging that comes with it.

Senator Omidvar also indicated that this policy is compassionate as it recognizes that language acquisition gets more difficult with age. Colleagues, this chamber is, for the most part, filled with Canadians over 55. I'm sure you must share my bewilderment over the government's decision in this regard.

Deliberately removing the testing requirement for older persons seeking citizenship removes the motivation to take government sponsored language training made available to immigrants. This is no less than cultural banishment and ageism, and I find such discrimination on the basis of age and ethnicity offensive, if not downright appalling.

To once again visit Senator Omidvar's house metaphor, we have a dwelling in which older members, as well as their younger teen children or grandchildren, who know little to nothing of the community in which they now live, must stay inside. They are ghettoized by our very charitable intentions. This government suggests that Bill C-24 created two tiers of Canadians. The decision to remove testing requirements for both the young and the late middle aged — and that is what that age range of 55 to 64 is these days — is regressive and certainly prohibits any kind of inclusion of these groups in the full extent of Canadian life. How archaic. How sad. How punitive.

When questioned about why the government would choose to do this, Minister McCallum indicated, in a recent briefing on this bill, that the government was returning the age criteria to that which had been in place for the last hundred years. Yes, Minister, but, after all, this is 2016, isn't it?

Minister McCallum also mentioned that the measures contained in Bill C-6 were part of the Liberal campaign platform. While it does enumerate related measures under the banner of "Opening the Door to Prosperity," the platform makes no mention of any of the provisions contained in this bill. Similarly, the minister's mandate letter only mentions the repeal provisions for dual citizens, intention to reside and international students' time spent in Canada.

This is not a case of evidence-based policy informing legislation. This initiative was not fueled by extensive consultation. Sadly, the reality, it seems, is that this is a most partisan piece of legislation, which seeks to undo improvements to the citizenship program only because they came from the previous government.

Honourable colleagues, in her recent speech on this bill, Senator Omidvar mentioned several times that this is a matter of rights.

To this I say that it is indeed a matter of rights, once citizenship is granted. I again assert that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. The discussion of rights versus privileges will undoubtedly be a key element of the study of this bill in committee, and I look forward to hearing expert insights in this regard.

Before I conclude, I wanted to share with you new research from the World Bank that shows that Canada is among the four countries in the world that consistently attract the top tier of highly skilled immigrants.

Yet the research also shows that the highly skilled members of the next generation appear to be less tied to any particular location or national identity but instead have connections and mentalities that are much more global in nature than those of their predecessors.

Add to this the recent findings from a CBC/Angus Reid poll that found that a majority of Canadians prefer an immigration policy that will enhance our economic prosperity over one that emphasizes the needs of people in crisis around the world.

The same study also found that, by a factor of almost two to one, Canadians would prefer that minorities do more to fit in with mainstream Canada rather than to encourage cultural diversity in which groups keep their own customs and language and remain siloed. These realities remind us that we need a strong immigration program like the one Bill C-24 delivered and that Bill C-6 now seeks to dismantle.

Debate on this bill covers a number of issues: linguistic rights, the education of immigrants, and the whole issue of public safety.

These were the same issues with which we grappled when we studied, debated and ultimately passed Bill C-24. We should perhaps remind ourselves of this throughout the course of our review of this legislation and determine whether it is in Canadians' best interests to leave a more robust citizenship regime in place and thus amend this bill before us to ensure just that.