Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act
Second Reading Speech
Senator Ratna Omidvar
September 27, 2016
I am pleased to present to you Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act. The bill’s provisions change elements introduced by an earlier bill, C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. This will be fresh in the memory of many Senators as the Senate reviewed this bill in 2014, just over two years ago and so I have no doubt that we will engage in vigorous discussion and much sober second thought.
But before we get to the substance of the bill, I would like to start with some poetry because if ever there is poetry in legislation, then I think it is in the lofty aspirations of citizenship. I know something about this I believe: after all I have possessed three passports in my life. One I was born into, the other I married into. These two you could say were accidents: the first an accident of birth, the second an accident a very happy accident I should add of love, marriage and partnership.
But it is the third passport that I have, the one that states I am a Canadian, which is the true manifestation of citizenship. I aspired to it, I worked hard for it, it is my earned right and it signals to me that I belong because it is in this country that I have walked through the avenues of contribution, which are the real hallmarks of engaged citizenship.
But it was not always easy. There was a great deal that I had to learn and unlearn. There were written and unwritten rules that I needed to navigate. I was advised to change my name to something more usual for the Canadian ear, but I decided to stick with it, because my name is as much part of me as the colour of my skin. I had a hard time finding work because a quirk of fate had led me to become a teacher of German. And even though I was a really good teacher, I understood that no one in Canada would want to learn German from an Indian who had just fled from Iran. So I gave that up and sought to reinvent myself.
But with reinvention came resilience, innovation, change and renewal, and slowly but surely I was able to find a new rhythm to new life.
I remember very distinctly the first time I felt a sense of belonging when I along with other parents in my daughter’s gymnastic club made mountains of a very strange Canadian culinary confection called Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches to feed the kids and the parents at the regional meet. But much as I wondered about this sticky combination, the habit of participating in common cause with others like me and unlike me has stuck. And directly or indirectly brought me to this most hallowed of Canadian institutions.
These pathways of contribution are open to us all, regardless of whether we were fortunate enough to have been born on Canadian soil, or fortunate enough to have been naturalized as Canadians. This is the glory of Canada.
It does not matter whether you came to this country 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 10 years ago. It does not matter where you came from from a small town in Quebec, or a village in Italy, from Toronto or Calgary or Iqaluit, Mumbai or Berlin. We all get to stand shoulder by shoulder, side by side, and play our part in building this wonderful country. This is the promise of Canada equality of rights, guaranteed by our Charter and enhanced by our understanding of multiculturalism.
Part of our success reflects our unique history, a history born from accommodation of our founding people: Indigenous peoples, French and British, an officially bilingual country which also become a country of many immigrants. Over one quarter of a million immigrants each year in our recent history. Think of more than 2.5 million immigrants in the last ten years alone.
Every immigrant has a different story, but there are threads of commonality: exodus, arrival, rejection, survival, renewal and finally redemption. In each of these words there are thousands of stories and many strands of poetry.
However, much as I would like to stay with the narrative and with the poetry, I must get to the prose, or as some have called it the plumbing of the bill. And there are a lot of nuts and bolts and a great number of pipes in the bill, and so in order to help me present it to you I am going to try and paint a picture of a house, a house with a strong foundation, lots of windows and lots of light but with a strong protective roof.
The foundations of this house are a few essential principles…
The first is equality among citizens. Equality sees all citizens by birth or naturalization, monocitizens or dual citizens, whether citizens for 50 years or 10 years treated equally under the law. Equal rights, equal responsibilities, and if necessary equal punishment. These are not aspirational goals. These are the floor, the absolute foundation, of how equality is expressed in Canada.
Second is the principle of facilitating citizenship. The bill finds a more appropriate balance between fulfilling reasonable requirements one the one hand and facilitating citizenship on the other, because evidence shows that citizenship is a facilitator of integration.
When immigrants integrate, they prosper, when immigrants prosper, Canada prospers. Think of this as the main floor, a welcoming living room, a big warm fire blazing to keep out the cold, lots of windows and a big welcoming door.
But every house needs protection, a strong roof to guard it against storms and ice so this house too has a third principle: the bill introduces new elements that will enhance program integrity and ensure that the house stays strong.
I will return to these principles as they are woven into the bill’s key provisions, which I will summarize in six parts:
- Repealing the authority to revoke citizenship for dual citizens convicted of crimes like terrorism, treason and espionage;
- Repealing the requirement for citizen applicants to declare an intent to reside in Canada;
- Reinstating previous, reduced residency requirements to obtain citizenship;
- Reinstating residency credit for temporary residents;
- Reinstating previous age requirements to meet language and knowledge criteria to obtain citizenship; and
- Introducing new measures to protect the integrity of the citizenship program.
C-6 is also notable for what it leaves in place. This is a nod to the many good policies introduced by C-24, and indeed why I believe the government opted not to repeal C-24 in its entirety. But the changes before us are what now require discussion. I have heard arguments for and against each of these important changes, and I will present the more thoughtful of these to you.
- Repealing the authority to revoke citizenship for dual citizens convicted of crimes like terrorism, treason or espionage.
- Let me repeat this again with a small clarifying word added in. Repealing the authority to revoke citizenship for dual citizens ONLY, not all citizens but dual citizens ONLY convicted of crimes like terrorism, treason or espionage.
Honourable Senators: These are grievous crimes. If committed by any citizen, they should be punished and punished severely. But here is the problem: Under the current law, different kinds of citizens are punished differently for the same terrible crime. If a Canadian citizen commits any of these crimes, he or she is tried in court and punished. But if a Canadian who happens to be a dual citizen, whether knowingly or unknowingly, (and I will get back to this point) an additional punishment of banishment (citizenship revocation) is added.
This is not an abstract situation, but a very real one. Consider that the people charged and convicted of terrorism-related crimes to date include a mix of Canadians without any other nationality, and those who are either dual nationals or who have the right to another nationality.
Two people, same crime, two different responses, creating two different outcomes when our laws, our constitution, our charter, all say that citizens are equal under the law.
The political narrative on this issue is familiar. One side says “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.” The other side says “a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.” Allow me to revise both narratives: A terrorist who is a Canadian is a Canadian terrorist and must face nothing more and nothing less than the full force of the Canadian justice system and the Canadian Criminal system. Canadian who commit crimes should face the same legal consequences. Same crime, same punishment. That, I think, is how Canadians understand justice.
C-24 negates the notion of equality in Canadian citizenship and sets a dangerous precedent that dual citizens are less than mono citizens. This affects anyone who has another citizenship. It affects anyone whose parents or ancestors were born abroad and who may be eligible for another citizenship. It affects individuals born in Canada who possess another citizenship through marriage. And so it affects millions of people making some passports worth more than others.
Further, it is not clear which dual citizens the current law covers? Bear in mind there is diversity among dual citizens. Some may actually have two passports, such as dual citizens of the US and Canada. Some, however, hold no second passport and no desired claim to one. It is a second country that may lay its claim on a Canadian. Iran is one example. Syria is another. One reason I don’t ever dare to go back to Iran is that I know that I revert to being an Iranian the moment I land. Whether I like it or not, want it or not, Iran has a claim on me. And we should remind ourselves what happens to citizens of another country when they are forcibly sent there against their will. We all remember Maher Arar.
Another word about punishment arguably the brightest sign of civilization is civil punishment. We do not allow capital punishment, torture, or stoning because we are a civil society and these practices are immoral. We should not therefore allow a practice that Audrey Macklin, one of Canada’s most esteemed legal minds, has argued is akin to the medieval practice of banishment.
C-6 will restore citizenship to anyone who lost it since June 2015. One person’s citizenship was revoked under the national interest grounds, and that person is Zakaria Amara, a member of the Toronto 18. Let us face that fact soberly. And soberly decide to favour civil punishment.
Let’s also consider the practical ramifications of C-24 which I imagine were intended to make us more safe, but as I will point out, actually make us less safe.
For one, removing terrorists does not remove the threat they pose to Canadians or Canadian assets. Canadians and Canadian interests and assets are not only physically located in Canada. We have Canadians travelling and living abroad, we have embassies, diplomatic staff, our men and women in the Canadian Forces, and the offices and operations of Canadian companies all these could still be the target of a deported terrorist.
For another, removing terrorists risks letting them go in every sense. There is no guarantee that a foreign government or court would punish the individual to the extent that our own justice system would do. There is no guarantee a foreign government would even count this person as a terrorist. Further, removing terrorists risks losing intelligence. No less an authority than Ray Boisvert, the former Assistant Director of Intelligence at CSIS, said that once we deport a terrorist, they’re very hard to track. Our intelligence, he said, “goes black.”
The contradiction is not lost on the intelligence community. We ask our security and intelligence agencies to do everything in their power to stop radicalized people from leaving Canada. Revoking citizenship and deporting these same individuals directly conflicts with this mandate.
I also wonder why we think that this measure is a deterrent. Why would the threat of losing citizenship stop a terrorist? Terrorists are not the type to be influenced by losing citizenship of a country they act against. Several security experts have told me this.
Finally, radicalization in Canada is the main problem we’re talking about when we talk about terrorism in this country. And revoking citizenship does not solve it. Instead of distracting ourselves by deportation, we should be seriously resourcing counter-radicalization strategies.
I promised to voice the thoughtful arguments on both sides of this debate.
One comes in the form of a question: Why, if we revoke citizenship on other grounds like false representation and fraud, would we shy away from revoking citizenship of the worst criminals? The difference is this: When false representation or fraud is used to obtain citizenship, revocation takes away something that was never genuinely granted. This is why war criminals lose their citizenship and will continue to lose it. Not because of crimes committed as a Canadian citizen, but because of their conduct before becoming a citizen and their misrepresentation to us. C-6 doesn’t change this. C-6 will continue to pursue revocation of citizenship gained as a result of fraud or misrepresentation, but it draws the line at revoking the citizenship of a citizen.
To summarize: Revoking citizenship is likely unconstitutional, it offends basic principles of equality and justice for all, and it makes us less safe.
A second major change in Bill C-6 is to repeal the requirement for citizen applicants to declare an intent to reside in Canada :
Bill C-24 introduced a requirement for all citizen applicants to declare their intent to reside in Canada. This in order to signal to all applicants that their connection to Canada ought to be an enduring and physical one. ‘No thank you’ to the so-called ‘citizens of convenience.’
But this law has created a great deal of confusion because it is nebulous and vague. It is also likely unconstitutional. Section 6 of the Charter states that “every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” So naturalized Canadians who have signed off on the intent do not know whether they can leave Canada or not. Again, it creates two classes of citizens: Those who have to think twice before moving abroad and exercising their mobility rights, and those who do not.
Naturalized citizens take this seriously because the consequences of breaking such a promise are uncertain. One consequence might be revocation of citizenship on the grounds of false representation however genuine the declaration was at the time it was made. For example, a naturalized citizen might well plan on living in Canada and honestly declare so. But plans change. Over time, Canadians move for work, for study, or for love. That is a good thing. As President Obama told Parliament, the world needs more Canada.
I know of a globally connected Canadian citizen whose work as an investment banker takes him around the world for long periods of time. Deepak Dave wrote to me expressing his concern for people like him, who face a choice between their business or Canadian citizenship. Deepak was lucky and became a citizen before 2015, but he has many peers who are permanent residents, who face deep anxiety about their future as naturalized Canadians. Should they declare their intent to reside, knowing their work will take them outside Canada? What will the consequences be for them, and for their children? Naturalized citizens, he says, will always be second-guessing their rights.
These stories remind us that the laws we discuss here affect the lives of individuals in deeply personal ways. This rule has created uncertainty, ambivalence and confusion with real and harmful consequences. One is that future citizens are hesitant to take out citizenship because they fear that they could be charged with fraud and misrepresentation if their lives change. So they stay outside the full circle of Canadian inclusion. Second, it forces citizen applicants to forego opportunities to be global citizens in the global market place.
Canada’s immigrants are natural ambassadors to new cultures and new markets, new products and new thinking. Let’s not put an artificial noose around their necks.
If the intention of the “intent to reside” clause was to ensure a physical presence in Canada, to create that glue with the new country, I would point out that all citizen applicants must provide proof of physical presence in Canada before qualifying for citizenship, the glue that we are seeking to find is already there, a bit like the sticky peanut butter jelly sandwiches that I made.
A third change addresses the length of time one must spend in Canada before applying for citizenship.
Bill C-6 returns the residency requirement for citizen applicants to 3 years of physical presence in Canada, the same number required before Bill C-24 lengthened it to 4 of 6 years. This is a return to the status quo with some additional flexibility 3 of 5 years instead of 3 of 4 years. For more flexibility, C-6 also removes the requirement for a minimum number of days spent in Canada in each calendar year.
I believe that returning to 3 years strikes the right balance. Choosing residency requirements is a balancing act between, on the one hand, desiring that immigrants connect and identify with Canada and, on the other hand, enabling them to fully contribute to this country in ways that permanent residents cannot.
This law has very practical considerations attached to it. I spoke to Edward, who works at the University of Regina. Edward is an American citizen who became a permanent resident in 2013. He intends to apply for citizenship but does not qualify.
Edward has aging parents in the United States whom he visits often to care for. Because of his family duties, Edward does not meet the residency rules. These rules require 4 of 6 years of physical presence, and 183 days of physical presence per calendar year. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The rules have pushed him into keeping detailed spreadsheets of his whereabouts.
And Edward knows he does not meet the requirements. But he would meet the rules proposed in Bill C-6. These new rules bring greater flexibility and clarity. Applicants like Edward need only meet one physical residence requirement. And Edward would be able to fill in his application for citizenship as soon as Bill C-6 becomes law. And so he can be both: a good Canadian and a good son.
A fourth change is that C-6 would reinstate residency credit for temporary residents
I will not dwell long on this change because I think the value for Canada is straightforward. It would allow temporary residents to count each full day of their time in Canada as a half day, up to a maximum credit of one year. Those who will benefit are international students, temporary foreign workers, visitors like parents and grandparents, and protected persons.
Many of them, like international students and workers, are among the best and brightest immigrants. It is not only fair but forward thinking to give them due credit and encourage them to permanently invest their lives in Canada. We often hear about the war for talent, and Canada needs to win this so called war. Here is one tool in our toolbox to help us do so.
Fifth, reinstate the previous age requirements to meet language and knowledge criteria in order to obtain citizenship
As you all may know, under the previous government a great deal of attention was paid to the language and knowledge tests that applicants for citizenship were required to pass. A new knowledge guide was developed called “Discover Canada.” C-24 required all citizenship applicants between ages of 14 and 65 to pass a knowledge exam based on this guide in addition to meeting the official language requirements.
C-6 returns the age requirement for demonstrating capability in an official language and knowledge of Canada to those aged 18-54. So we are talking about two groups of people who would be exempt from the language and knowledge requirements: youth between the ages of 14-18 and older Canadians of age 55 and up.
This is a reasonable and practical change. Youth of 14-18 years of age will naturally learn the language and learn about Canada in the schools they attend during the 3 plus years they are in Canada while earning their residence requirements to qualify for citizenship. It is therefore unnecessary and wasteful to the government and their families for them to have to be tested or to prove their language capacity.
But concerns have been expressed about the upper end of the age bracket: What is the rationale for scrapping language and knowledge tests for 55 to 64-year-olds? Here is what I reply: This policy is a compassionate one that recognizes that language acquisition is much harder as one gets older ( I could never learn German now!) and that knowledge and language testing is a barrier with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups. For example, women from certain parts of the world with lower rates of literacy.
Many impacted by this policy are parents and grandparents in the family class who arrive in Canada later in life, or older refugees accompanying their children to Canada. I ask my honourable colleagues to think of your parents, or grandparents, or whichever generation first arrived in Canada if you do not trace your heritage to one of the First Nations. Maybe they were lucky enough to be fluent in one of our official languages. But maybe they were not. Yet they too became citizens and contributed to this great country.
Today, people who come to Canada later in their lives contribute in so many ways. Some are lucky enough to find work in the community whether or not they are fluent in one of our official languages. Others may live at home with their children and grandchildren, may speak a smattering of English, walk the kids to school, are relied on by other parents on the street for help, and as such become an essential feature of the neighbourhood. I have lived most of my life in Canada in Little Italy, and it was a comfort to us that an Italian grandmother was the resident go-to Nonna.
They are all committed to this country and want to belong here as much as their children and grandchildren do. They want to share Canadian citizenship with them and not be left behind because they may not speak English or French as well as the younger generations do.
My mother, who lives with me at home, speaks to me in a mix of Hindi, Punjabi and English. For most of her 30 plus years in Canada, she has cooked at home, and helped to raise her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She has supported our household as much as my husband and I.
She applied for citizenship in the early 1990s under the old rules and the old citizenship exam. And thank god she passed. But as I look at the requirements today, I am not sure she would pass. As a citizen whose command of English is not perfect, she avidly watches the Canadian politics on OMNI TV, insists on voting at every election, even though now mobility issues are getting in the way and questions me constantly on the issues of the day confronted by our Parliament and country.
Removing testing requirements for younger and older Canadians removes a potential barrier to citizenship, and the sense of belonging that comes with it.
Finally, Bill C-6 invests in the integrity of Canadian citizenship by introducing new measures.
Allow me to list just a few.
C-6 enables citizenship officers to seize fraudulent documents, it adds conditional sentences as a situation in which a person would be prevented from being granted citizenship, or from counting that time towards meeting the physical presence requirement.
And finally it plugs a gap that would citizenship applicants from taking the Citizenship Oath if a new, problematic issues arises between the date their application is approved and the date of taking the Oath.
In all of these issues of citizenship testing, citizenship revocation, residency provisions, the question is asked: what are our peers doing? And by our peers we are talking about a handful of like-countries, such as the US, the UK, France, Australia and NZ. And the answer is that in some cases we are with the pack and in some cases we are not. Sometimes the difference is minimal, sometimes it is not.
But here is the real kicker. We are not just in the pack, we are the leaders of the pack. In the context of immigration, Canada leaves its peer countries behind. Our immigrants do better, their children do better, our society is more cohesive, and therefore more safe, immigrants aspire and reach the highest positions in public life and have ample role models in our history to guide them. So I think it is these peer countries that should be looking to us for answers, and not the other way around.
I am often asked, “What is the secret of our success?” And there are many answers to this. One answer lies in that Canada has a truly global soul, but a more practical answer lies in the fact that when we select immigrants we are actually selecting future citizens.
In closing, I will remark that the immigration system in general and the Citizenship Act in particular are not perfect. Canada, its laws and institutions, are an eternal work in progress.
In fact, there are elements in our citizenship laws that can be further strengthened. The absence of a hearing for those whose citizenship is revoked for reasons of fraud and misrepresentation concerns me. On this and other matters, I look forward to discussions and findings at committee level that will help the Senate in improving and approving this bill in a timely and collegial manner and a complementary house of sober second thought.
Before I close, let me hark back to the house that Canada built. When immigrants come to Canada, they enter this house. In the beginning, everything is new to them, they sit on the edge of the chair in the living room, but over time, they begin to feel for more comfortable. They figure out how the dishwasher works, where the electrical fuses are. They figure out how to pay the bills and how to save money on the bills. They take on some of the mortgage payments. And then one day, they decide to paint the house another colour and rearrange the furniture, because after all, it is now their house too. It is where they belong. It is home.
I believe that belonging in law and in all its expressions in practice belonging is the spirit and letter of this bill.