More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights: Rock and Axworthy

Former Ministers Alan Rock and Lloyd Axworthy argue in favour of the proposed expansion of voting rights for non-resident Canadians in Bill C-33 and repeal of the first generation limit to the transmission of  Canadian citizenship.

The main weaknesses in their arguments:

  • Reinforces a global, more instrumental concept of citizenship, without a meaningful connection to Canada;
  • C-33 only requires a citizen to have been born in Canada in order to have voting rights, irrespective of how little time spent in Canada;
  • Repealing the first generation limit means a further weakening of the meaningfulness of citizenship and connection to Canada, as again the second or subsequent generations could retain citizenship without having lived in Canada;
  • Immigrants wishing to become citizens to be physically present in Canada (four out of six years currently, three out of six as proposed in Bill C-6) and retention after the first generation should, at a minimum, require residency;
  • Like others, they exaggerate the number of Canadians with connections to Canada. Passport data shows about 630,000 active non-resident adult passport holders, not the 2 to 3 million cited. This is a minimal connection test (taxation data shows about 130,000);
  • The exemption to the first generation limit for public servants serving abroad recognizes the fact that they work directly for the government, rotate regularly back to Canada, and pay Canadian taxes. This is quite different from those who spend their entire life abroad, do not return regularly for more than short visits, and for the most part, don’t pay Canadian taxes; and,
  • Largely targeted towards globally mobile professionals, Ministers Rock and Axworthy’s proposal fails to consider the implications for the broader population, whether it be the many non-resident Canadians who simply live their lives abroad without making “important global contributions” or resident Canadians who may feel that granting citizenship without residence devalues the meaning of being Canadian. 

    Their proposal is largely targeted towards those globally mobile professionals without considering the implications to the broader population of non-resident Canadians.

Canada’s former Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, recently observed that in the 21st century, there are many good reasons why Canadians choose to live overseas, and that there is no reason to create barriers to their participation in democratic processes.

We agree, but would go further. Canadians living and working overseas face government barriers not only in participating in democratic processes, but also in passing along citizenship. These must be addressed.

The occasion for the comments made by Ms. Monsef – recently appointed Minister of Status of Women – was the introduction of legislation to repeal provisions of the federal Fair Elections Act. Adopted in 2014, this statute provides, amongst other things, that Canadians living overseas can vote only within five years of leaving Canada, and must have the stated intention of returning home.

In repealing this provision through Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the federal government will remove one important penalty for Canadians living and working overseas. However, it is overlooking a potentially even greater disincentive.

A little-known 2006 amendment to the Citizenship Act limits Canadian citizenship to just the first-generation of children born to or adopted by Canadians who live outside Canada. Thus, children born to or adopted by Canadian parents who are travelling, studying, or working abroad become citizens of Canada at birth or at the time of adoption, but their children are not entitled to Canadian citizenship if they are born outside Canada.

This is harmful for at least two reasons.

First, the amendment to the Citizenship Act strikes us as discriminatory, and out of step with the principle that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” as articulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The amendment effectively creates two classes of Canadians: those who can pass along citizenship to their children and those who cannot. Furthermore, the amendment discriminates in favour of federal employees and military personnel who serve outside Canada. Under the current legislation, they are explicitly exempted from the limits on citizenship imposed by the amendment.

Second, Canada is deeply interconnected economically, socially and culturally with communities and countries around the globe. Canadians have a long history of important global contributions in international finance, peacekeeping, United Nations’ service, and humanitarian action, to name a few. We should be encouraging Canadians to venture beyond our borders to contribute to the broader global community, whether this be as students, travellers, or professionals – now, more than ever. Unfortunately, the current provisions of the Citizenship Act may have the opposite effect, by deterring Canadians from going overseas to work.

To date, the government has sought to justify this provision based on “simplicity and transparency.” We respectfully submit that any administrative advantages are substantially outweighed both by the principles of fairness and equity required by Canadian law, and by the importance of maintaining Canada’s standing in, and contributions to, the community of nations.

In terms of scope of impact, it is worth considering that at any point in time, 2-3 million Canadians live, work, or travel overseas. If even 0.5 per cent of these people have children overseas, this would amount to 10,000-15,000 children whose rights are limited and whose options are narrowed by this legislation each year. These numbers underscore the urgency and importance of addressing this matter quickly.

As the Government moves to restore voting rights to Canadians living overseas, it should also restore another fundamental birthright by allowing foreign-born descendants of Canadians who were themselves born outside our country to begin life with Canadian citizenship.

Source: More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights – The Globe and Mail

The Evolution of Citizenship: Policy, Program and Operations

There are comparatively few articles on the history of Canadian citizenship, particularly with respect to the administrative and operational aspects.

This article, being published in installments by the Canadian Immigration Historical Society (CIHS), aim to fill that gap and provide useful historical context to some of today’s policy and public debates.

I would like to thank the CIHS for their encouragement and support, particularly Valerie de Montigny, whose critical review and careful editing helped enormously.

The first instalment: Bulletin 78 – September 2016

Given that this history may provide context for some of the upcoming debates over the amendments to the Citizenship Act in Bill C-6, currently before the Senate, the full article can be found at the following link:

The Evolution of Citizenship: Policy, Program and Operations

Ottawa softens stand on stripping citizenship over false papers

More on revocation for fraud and misrepresentation, and the Minister’s openness to suspend revocation pending changes to the Citizenship Act that restore some measure of greater procedural protections to those accused of fraud:

Immigration Minister John McCallum says he is open to granting a moratorium on the revocation of citizenship from Canadians who misrepresented themselves in their applications, an issue that has been thrust into the spotlight by the circumstances of cabinet minister Maryam Monsef’s citizenship.

Mr. McCallum’s comments come a week after the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers filed a legal action with the Federal Court asking the government to put a stop to all revocations until it could fix a law that allows citizenship to be stripped without a hearing.“I will consider that moratorium. I won’t rule it out unconditionally,” Mr. McCallum told Senate Question Period on Tuesday. “What I am saying is that we would welcome a reform to the system.”

The Federal Court application made headlines when lawyers on the case said that Ms. Monsef, Democratic Institutions Minister, could have her citizenship revoked under the current law for having an incorrect birthplace listed on her citizenship papers. Ms. Monsef said she only learned that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she had believed, after an inquiry from The Globe and Mail last month. She said her mother never told her and her sisters they were born in Iran because she did not think it mattered.

While Ottawa is considering the moratorium on revocations, the government says it is committed to eventually reinstating the right to a hearing for Canadians who face losing their citizenship because they misrepresented themselves in their citizenship and permanent residency applications.

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar said she is going to propose an amendment to the government’s citizenship Bill C-6 to reverse the Conservative law that took away the long-standing right.

“I am hopeful that they will allow this amendment to be tabled,” Ms. Omidvar said. “Everybody’s hoping they’re able to do it in this bill at the Senate. But if not, I’ve been told that it will be fixed through legislation.”

MPs tried to table the amendment to Bill C-6 at the House immigration committee earlier this year, but was it declared to be out of scope by the committee chair. Ms. Omidvar noted that the Senate procedure rules are different, so the amendment still has a chance in the Red Chamber.

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-softens-stand-on-stripping-citizenship-over-false-papers/article32254296/

Will changes to the Citizenship Act affect the naturalization rate? – Policy Options

My piece in IRPP’s Perspectives on the need for the Senate to consider the decline in the naturalization rate in its review of Bill C-6’s changes to the Citizenship Act.

Source: Will changes to the Citizenship Act affect naturalization rate? – Policy Options

Citizenship Act: Changes to revocation for misrepresentation coming

At the CIMM hearings 5 May on the IRCC estimates, Minister McCallum committed to address the concerns raised by witnesses regarding that revocation for fraud or misrepresentation lacked  procedural protections and due process (e.g., no right to appeal).

He stated that he would return in the fall with legislation and that IRCC was considering options. This could not be done “overnight” in the “proper way” and hinted that some of these options might include machinery changes (e.g., role for IRB).

In addition, he acknowledged that some of the amendments ruled inadmissible (see C-6 Citizenship Act: Clause-by-clause review) may be possible at some future date.

C-6 Citizenship Act: Clause-by-clause review (updated)

No major surprises as CIMM reviewed the draft bill. The NDP tabled 25 amendments, the Conservatives three, and Elizabeth May eight.

The Conservatives noted their objections to the reduced residency requirements, the repeal of the intent to reside provision, the reduction in knowledge and language testing to 18 to 54 from 14 to 64, and revocation in cases of terror or treason. They also tabled an amendment having a five-year review provision (not part of the Conservatives’ C-24) which the Government-side voted down.

The Bill was approved, with a few minor amendments, largely on party lines, and will be reported to Parliament.

Amendments passed:

Clause 1

That Bill C-6, in Clause 1, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 3 the following:

“(13) Subsection 5(4) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(4) Despite any other provision of this Act, the Minister may, in his or her discretion, grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

That Bill C-6, in Clause 1, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 3 the following:

“(13) Section 5 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (3):

(3.1) For the purposes of this section, if an applicant for citizenship is a disabled person, the Minister shall take into consideration the measures that are reasonable to accommodate the needs of that person.”

The discussed amendments included:

Admissable

Citizenship applications by youth (under 18, NDP and CPC): Government side voted this down, arguing that Minister had adequate flexibility to waive requirement when merited.

Submission of tax returns (CPC): Richard Kurland’s recommendation to clarify the language in the Act to make it a requirement to file taxes when applying..

Accommodation for persons with disabilities (NDP): Discussion focused on existing accommodation practices, whether this also covered invisible disabilities such as cognitive or learning disabilities and whether or not existing practices and legislation like the Canadian Human Rights Act were adequate. In end, CIMM adopted unanimously to send stronger signal.

Youth criminality (NDP) and not allowing youth criminal records to be considered for citizenship: Defeated with government arguing that existing protections – serious charges, free from record for four years – were appropriate rather than wholesale ban.

Knowledge and language test (allowing interpreter for knowledge – NDP): Government stated that the knowledge test was specified in the Act. The review of Discover Canada, including its language level, would make it easier for people. However, language was critical to integration and the Government defeated the amendment.

Inadmissible (outside scope of C-6)

Restoration or creation of an appeal process in cases of revocation for fraud or misrepresentation (NDP): Although out-of-scope, the NDP noted the earlier signals of the Minister with respect to being open to reviewing the issue and expressed hope that the Minister would come back in the fall, recommending an expansion of the Immigration Appeal Division’s role to include citizenship revocation cases (for fraud or misrepresentation).

Statelessness and remaining ‘Lost Canadians’ (NDP): One of the few statelessness amendments to be considered admissible was in relation to revocation in cases of fraud or misrepresentation. Defeated. However, an amendment providing the Minister with greater discretion was passed.

Changes in oath to include TRC recommendation 94 (reference to treaties with Indigenous peoples (NDP)

Ability to suspend application processing indefinitely (NDP)

 

 

Citizenship Act bill: An overview of what the committee witnesses had to say

Versions of this post originally appeared in IRPP’s Perspectives and The Hill Times:

A Commons committee has finished hearing witnesses on the proposed changes to the Citizenship Act in Bill C-6, and is proceeding to clause-by-clause examination of the legislation. Contrasting the nature of the committee testimony with that of Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, some two-years ago reveals similarities and differences. A number of suggestions were broadly in line with the government’s overall agenda of diversity and inclusion, and it will be interesting if the government responds to these in amendments to the bill.

Starting with the common elements between the two sets of hearings:

  • An almost complete absence of Quebec-based witnesses and French-speaking witnesses, and thus any Quebec-specific citizenship issues that may reflect its different mix of source countries, particularly from the Maghreb, where revocation, or removal of citizenship, would likely be a particular concern;
  • An almost complete lack of statistical data with witnesses talking either in conceptual terms, anecdotal examples, or principles, without any reference to the numbers of people potentially affected by the changes. Assertions by those impacted, for better or worse, by the previous or current Bill, would benefit from the hard numbers;
  • Both sets of hearings ensured different perspectives.

However, a number of significant differences between the study of the two bills, reflecting the change in government, are also notable:

  • 18 witnesses for C-6 compared to 28 for C-24, reflecting the broader scope of C-24 and a likely tighter timeline under the current government;
  • About 40 percent of witnesses broadly supported the revocation of citizenship provision during the study of the Conservative government’s C-24, in contrast to about 25 percent during the study of C-6, reflecting the previous administration having ensured a majority of witnesses in support of the most controversial change;
  • A generally more open tone in discussion and the questioning of witnesses by all parties. The witnesses for the most part recognized that a change in government meant a needed change in tone and approach. Shimon Fogal of the Canadian Israel Jewish Advocacy exemplified this approach, going out of his way to recognize the arguments against revocation while maintaining his position in favour of it. James Bissett and Martin Collacott, both former public servants with immigration experience, did not, thus undermining their arguments as they largely repeated themselves and their tone from previous testimony.
  • Predictably, witnesses that favour an easier pathway to citizenship, while welcoming the proposed changes of C-6, focused on what they perceived as remaining gaps: procedural protections for revocation of citizenship in cases of fraud or misrepresentation; barriers to refugees and some immigrants with respect to more difficult knowledge test and language assessments;  the need for exceptions to the requirement of physical presence in Canada and not merely the possession of a legal address; and the high cost of citizenship fees ($630) and language assessments (about $200) for all applicants.

Minister McCallum did express some openness to amendments and the nature of the questions from Liberal MPs suggested the same flexibility. While the extent of this willingness is unclear, the following is my take on possible amendments, based on their broad consistency with the government’s “diversity and inclusion agenda” and the principles and philosophy behind Bill C-6:

  • Revocation for fraud or misrepresentation: C-24 removed the rights or «procedural protections » that those facing revocation faced, including recourse to the Federal Court, leaving revocation at the discretion of the Minister and delegated officials. There was broad support to ensure those protections were made comparable to those in place for revocation of permanent residency, which provides for an oral hearing. Some argued for reverting back to the former process requiring a Federal Court ruling, which was lengthy. Others argued for the Immigration Review Board (IRB) to expand its mandate to include citizenship hearings, which would require additional resources.
  • Language and knowledge testing: The government responded to public pressure by reverting to the previous age range of 18 to 54 for the testing, but did not (wisely in my opinion), allow the knowledge test to be taken with an interpreter. The revision of the study guide, Discover Canada, and the related citizenship test questions, will presumably (and should) include a complete rewrite into plain language. This would address many but not all of the issues raised by witnesses, without a further weakening of the language requirements, with language skills so important to integration.
  • Physical presence requirement: This provides a clear and common sense definition of residency. However, given the nature of a more mobile and global world, particularly for many economic immigrants, there is a strong case for some forms of defined exemptions. These exemptions could include those who work for a Canadian company abroad, or leave the country for health and compassionate grounds. Or the exemptions could revert to the previous, broader guidance provided to citizenship judges.
  • Citizenship fees: While not part of legislation, the quintupling of fees in 2014-15 and the additional cost of up-front language testing will reduce the number applying, and thus reduce the naturalization rate, a trend we are already seeing. Fees are a significant barrier for lower income immigrants and refugees. Given that a large part of Canada’s relative success as a diverse society reflects a clear pathway to citizenship, addressing the cost, through a general reduction to perhaps $300, possibly combined with a partial waiver for refugees, would help restore this pathway to citizenship and political integration.

Whether the government will consider amendments, or whether the selection of witnesses was part of a strategy to allow the government to demonstrate flexibility, will tell us both about the specific citizenship policy directions as well as their general approach to governing. Will they view Parliament only as a way to deliver on their political commitments, or will they view Parliament as a significant forum for more open policy discussions, debates and decisions?

The upcoming clause-by-clause review starting May 3rd will illustrate their approach in both the particulars of C-6 as well as the broader context.

C6_-_Citizenship_Hearings_and_Possible_Amendments.png

Citizenship Deck and Statistics Update: Conference Board Immigration Summit Presentation

Will be presenting today this updated and tightened version of the Metropolis deck presented a month ago with the full 2015 operational data. Overall trends remain the same: current pass rate remains about 90 percent and the trend of declining naturalization remains.

Citizenship – Conference Board April 2016

Citizenship: 2015 Full-Year Data – Backlog largely eliminated

Citizenship - Conference Board April 2016.001My quick analysis of the 2015 operational data released a few days ago.

  • The increased funding of $44 million provided in Budget 2013 to address the backlog has clearly worked: 235,000 in 2015, slightly down from 263,000 in 2014, but significantly greater than earlier years when it dropped as low as 113,000;
  • The backlog has been reduced from a high of 396,000 in 2013 to 130,000 in 2015, a major achievement;
  • In election year 2015, significantly more citizenship ceremonies were held (3,300) compared to previous years averaged around 1,900, likely reflecting a conscious decision to do more ceremonies, smaller in numbers, in more places; and,
  • While the number of applications appears less (130,000) compared to 2014 (198,000), the data is often revised as any delayed or incomplete applications originally not entered into the system are backdated to the original date of the application (the 2014 data, originally showing 130,000 was revised only in the third quarter of 2015).
  • While it would be premature to declare a trend, logic suggests that the various changes made by the previous government, including the fee increase to $630, would result in a decline of applications.

As the proposed changes to residency and testing in Bill C-6 need to go through the parliamentary process, followed by coming-into-force provisions, these unlikely to be implemented much before 2017.

My Take of the #Citizenship Act Changes: Finding the Centre

The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act announced 25 February by Minister McCallum focussed on implementing the Liberal platform and ministerial mandate commitments, rather than full-scale repeal of the previous Conservative government’s legislation and related measures.

The package of measures is carefully balanced between matters of principle — a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” repealing the national interest revocation provisions — with measures both to remove barriers to citizenship while improving integrity.

Given some of the pressures within the Liberal caucus, particularly those with large number of new Canadian voters, to ease language competency and other requirements, this has to be viewed as a relatively moderate package (the Liberals won the vast majority of seats with large number of new Canadians, and have the largest number of visible minorities in their caucus (39).

In many ways, these changes reflect the establishment of a new centre, one that balances facilitation while emphasizing integration, integrity and meaningfulness.

While Michelle Rempel, Conservative critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has already lambasted the government on repealing the revocation provisions, she is silent on the extent that many of the integrity and process changes introduced by the Conservative government have been maintained, if not strengthened. This significant legacy of former ministers Kenney and Alexander remains, one that addressed long-standing management and integrity issues with the citizenship program.

In his announcement, the Minister emphasized both what was different — repeal of the revocation provisions and removal of barriers — as well as what was unchanged: emphasis on program integrity, and continued emphasis on ensuring that citizenship means a “real and meaningful” commitment to Canada.

Starting with what is different.

Principle that a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

What will clearly be the most controversial change, judging by the Official Opposition and media, the Government will repeal the revocation provisions for those convicted of terror or treason and restore the citizenship of the one person, Zakaria Amara (a member of the “Toronto 18”), whose citizenship was revoked under the previous government’s legislation.

This was the focus of media questions, and McCallum repeatedly stressed the principle that a Canadian, whether born in Canada or not, whether Canadian only or having dual nationality, should be treated the same and that Canada’s criminal justice system is to punish the convicted. The Government campaigned on this issue and is implementing its platform commitment.

In response to questions regarding that Canada is moving in the opposite direction to other government such as Australia and French, he declined to comment on other governments, and simply reiterated the principle behind the decision, one that the government campaigned on.

Reduce Barriers to Citizenship

As part of efforts to shifting the balance towards making citizenship easier, Bill C-6 includes the following measures:

  1. Restore the previous age limits for knowledge and language testing to 18-54 year olds (the previous government had increased these to 14-64). This change will affect slightly over ten percent of all applicants. The rationale for requiring testing for 14-17 year olds was never clear (they would have been in the Canadian school system for 4-6 years) whereas for older applicants, 64 was believed to be a better and more consistent definition of senior;
  2. Repeal the “intent to reside” provision given concerns regarding how this could be interpreted over time, and become grounds for possible future revocation;
  3. Restoring pre-permanent residency time 50 percent credit towards citizenship, calling the previous government’s removal the “stupidest part” of C-24, given that providing such credit encourages citizenship take-up by international students, in line with the approach of other countries which also ‘compete’ for students. Some IRCC senior officials have previously indicated that this change was prompted in part by concerns of increased competition with Canadian-born students;
  4. Maintaining the physical presence requirement but reducing the time required to three out of five years compared to four out of six (historically, it was three out of four, making it three out of five provides greater flexibility for those whose work or family obligations take them outside Canada);
  5. Although not in legislation (nor in the Liberal platform or the Minister’s mandate letter), revise Discover Canada, the citizenship study guide, given concerns about language and content (McCallum cited too much emphasis on the War of 1812 and references to “barbaric cultural practices”). This will be done jointly with the departments of Canadian Heritage and Indigenous Affairs, reflecting a much more inclusive process than when my former team prepared Discover Canada.

Retain Integrity

McCallum repeatedly stressed that citizenship should mean a “real and meaningful” commitment to Canada. Citizenship misrepresentation and fraud remained a concern. The physical residency  requirement remained as did the language requirements (although he said “modest adjustments” would be made).

He also retained virtually all of the integrity-related measures introduced by the Conservatives:

  1. Physical presence, not just legal residency;
  2. Knowledge requirement must be met in English or French, not through an interpreter;
  3. No change to “lost Canadians” provisions;
  4. No change to expansion of bar granting citizenship to those with foreign criminal charges and convictions;
  5. No changes to regulations for citizenship consultants;
  6. No changes to increased fines and penalties for fraud;
  7. No change in authority for Ministerial authority to revoke citizenship for routine cases (previously, had been Governor in Council);
  8. No change in authority for Minister to decide on discretionary grants of citizenship (previously, had been Governor in Council);
  9. Maintain authority to decide what is a complete application (streamlines processing);
  10. Maintain single-step citizenship processing to reduce duplication (previously was three-step) with reduced role for citizenship judges;
  11. Maintain requirement for adult applicants to file Canadian income taxes;
  12. Maintain fast-track mechanism for Permanent Residents serving in the Canadian Forces.

In addition, the Minister is also proposing to increase citizenship integrity further (not highlighted in his press conference) by:

  1. No longer counting time spent under a conditional sentence order towards meeting the physical presence requirements; and those serving a conditional sentence order are prohibited from being granted citizenship or taking the oath of citizenship;
  2. Retroactive application of the provision prohibiting applicants from taking the oath of citizenship if they never met or no longer meet citizenship requirements to applications still in process received prior to June 11, 2015; and,
  3. Authority to seize documents if there are reasonable grounds to believe they are fraudulent, or being used fraudulently.

Issues not addressed include the high cost of citizenship (which rose from $200 to $630 under the previous government). When asked, McCallum stated that his focus was on implementing Liberal platform commitments and that the issue of fees may be examined in the future. Moreover, there was no commitment to reducing the time required to process citizenship applications, or implement and report on how well the department is doing.

Given the media focus on the revocation changes and the degree the previous government emphasized this provision, this will continue to be the focus of the discussion and debate on Bill C-6. It is also the easiest issue for people to understand and debate, as the other changes are largely adjustments (“tweaks” to use the Minister’s word), as the fundamentals — physical presence, knowledge and language requirements — have been preserved.

Taken as a whole, these proposed changes reflect a re-centring of citizenship, a relatively surgical approach to repealing provisions of the previous Conservative government’s 2014 Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (C-24). It aims to define a new balance between facilitating citizenship while maintaining meaningfulness.

Meeting the Liberal government’s public commitments, while retaining virtually all of the previous government’s integrity measures, should reduce fears that the Government is not able to make choices and is not ‘pandering’ to the many ethnic voters which supported it.