Parkdale Community Legal Services Statements – C-24 – May 5
Presentation to Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration – Bill C-24
Geraldine Sadoway, Staff Lawyer, Parkdale Community Legal Services
May 5, 2014
Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity to speak with the Committee about proposed changes to citizenship law in Canada.
Our 8 recommendations are set out in our written brief and summarized on the second page of the brief. In this oral presentation I will focus on the issue of the increased residency requirement and explain how this will not do anything to strengthen Canadian citizenship. Nicole Veitchwill talk about the problem of barriers to citizenship for some refugees and family class immigrants that will become more serious obstacles if Bill C-24 becomes law.
I would like to begin with an example of “strong Canadian citizenship”:
When the representatives of ourcommunity legal clinics first met to talk about Bill C-24, one of our colleagues, Rosalinda, told us how important it was for her and her family to become Canadian citizens.
She was 16 when she arrived in Canada in 1975 with her parents and six brothers and sisters. They had come to Canada from Chile, via Argentina, after the Pinochet military coup. Her father had been detained and tortured in Chile. When he was released the family had fled to Argentina where they were recognized by the UNHCR as refugees and then accepted by Canada for resettlement.
Rosalinda’s father had previously worked as a pipefitter and metal worker in a big factory in Chile. He got a job at Homes Foundry in Sarnia, and later at the Bruce Nuclear plant. Her mother who had not worked outside the home before, took a job in a tomato canning factory in Alymer and then as a chambermaid in the Holiday Inn in Sarnia.
Rosalinda and her brothers and sisters were encouraged by their parents to learn English and to learn everything about Canada. In 1978, three years after their arrival in Canada – the very day they became eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship, they all filed their applications and 8 months later they were granted citizenship. For their citizenship ceremony, Rosalinda’s mother made all the girls beautiful red velvet pantsuits that they wore with white blouses. Afterwards, Rosalinda’s father always wore his Canadian flag lapel pin when dressed up for any special occasion. [seepicture of Rosalinda’s father]
Rosalinda said that her father- who died last year – always spoke of how they were treated with respect and consideration at the Canadian Embassy in Argentina. And after their arrival in Canada, they experienced nothing but kind and caring treatment by government officials and Canadian people. She said that he felt his human dignity had been restored to him and he wanted to become a Canadian citizen so that he would feel that he truly belonged here, and so that he could participate fully in Canadian life, including being able to vote. He was always very proud of being Canadian and made it clear to his family in his last illness that he wished to be buried in Canada.
In his later years, Rosalinda’s father worked as a volunteer and para-legal – translating and interpreting for new refugees and immigrants and helping them to become settled. He instilled in all of his children his strong sense of dedication and loyalty to Canada.
I doubt that there can be any greater degree of love, loyalty and dedication to Canada than that felt by refugees who have been forced to flee their country at a time of war or political oppression and who have been granted protection in Canada.
The point of this story is that Canada will lose some of its most devoted and loyal citizens if refugees who have been accepted here, then find that they are unable to gain Canadian citizenship. Refugees need citizenship even more than other immigrants because in most cases they are legally or practically stateless. They have no other place to go, Canada is their home. Yet they cannot feel that they fully belong here until they are able to become citizens.
As we have noted in our written submissions, under Article 34 of the Refugee Convention, Canada also has a legal obligation to facilitate the integration and naturalization of refugees in Canada.
However, under Bill C-24, the lengthening of the residency requirement to 4 out of 6 years, with no credit given for the time already spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident, will not strengthen Canadian citizenship. This increase in the residency requirement will only delay the integration and naturalization of many refugees and immigrants and discourage some from applying.
Our recommendations are therefore focused on reducing the barriers that could prevent or delay refugees and other new immigrants from becoming citizens. Nicole will describe some of the barriers we have seen to illustrate why we are making these recommendations.
Presentation to Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration – Bill C-24
Nicole Veitch, law student, Parkdale Community Legal Services
May 5, 2014
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Nicole Veitch and I am a law student and caseworker at Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). By highlighting the barriers to Citizenship I have seen as a caseworker, I hope to show you how the proposed changes to the Citizenship Act disregard the needs of permanent residents with disabilities, impairing psychological conditions and social hardships.
First, many people do not know about the possibility of an exemption to the knowledge and language requirements. Section 5(3) of the Citizenship Act empowers the Minister to waive the language or knowledge requirements on compassionate grounds. However, the recently revised notification for Applicants who fail the citizenship exam, places an emphasis on advising Applicants to withdraw their application for citizenship rather than explaining the possibility of an exemption request. As a law student who speaks English I found understanding the standards and application process to seek an exemption request to be very challenging. For a permanent resident who does not speak English or French and has a learning disability the task is impossible. We recommend efforts be made to facilitate exemption requests by making people aware of the possibility and assisting people where necessary.
Secondly, obtaining sufficient medical evidence is daunting. The CIC guidelines on waivers simply state that it is a discretionary power that usually needs to be supported by a medical opinion from a doctor. However, we have yet to encounter a case where a medical form from a physician was enough to warrant an exemption. To illustrate, last summer I called fifteen different agencies in Toronto before I was able to find an organization willing to attempt an assessment of my Tibetan speaking client who has no formal education and a learning disability. Similarly, we frequently encounter refugees whose trauma has manifested in conditions which prevent learning including anxiety, grief and post traumatic stress disorder. Where our clinic is involved we provide translation, assist to find appropriate medical professionals and advocate for reduced fees for expensive specialist reports. Realistically, permanent residents who face barriers to learning and have wealthy, privileged support networks are more likely to obtain an exemption. Citizenship should not be for sale. We need clear guidelines directing citizenship judges to be reasonable in the evidence they require, with consideration of barriers to obtaining medical documentation to confirm disabilities.
Finally, having a right of appeal is essential to protect permanent residents whose request for exemption has been rejected by the citizenship judge. When my Tibetan client finally was able to find a specialist to work with him we obtained a strong report which clearly stated he will never be able to learn English to any level of proficiency due to his disability. In addition to the report, we provided letters of support from ESL teachers, his employer and his family physician. When the citizenship judge did not recommend him for an exemption my client was devastated; he is deeply ashamed of his inability to learn despite years of ESL classes over his 11 years in Canada. Currently my client has the right to pursue an appeal to the Federal Court which he is doing on the basis that the medical evidence has been disregarded. We urge you not to revoke the right of appeal for people whose citizenship application has been rejected. An application for leave to seek judicial review of the refusal of citizenship is discretionary and it is also an expensive and inaccessible remedy for low income applicants.
These examples are unique because our clients were able to access a legal aid clinic with the translation services and capacity to assist them. Further, we might be able to help these clients to successfully appeal the refusal to grant exemptions in their cases at the Federal Court.
But the Committee Members should consider that in many parts of Canada these legal services are not available. Yet there are many permanent residents of Canada who are members of the refugee and family classes who face these barriers to citizenship due to poverty, illiteracy, a lack of formal schooling, trauma, learning disabilities and an inability to obtain medical evidence. By failing to consider the needs of these community members we are discounting their contributions and excluding valuable members of our society from citizenship. This is harmful to Canada and does nothing to strengthen Canadian citizenship.
We would be pleased to answer any questions you have about this presentation and the materials in our written submissions.