Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people: Consultations

Good account of the results of the consultations:

A revised oath of citizenship that will require new Canadians to faithfully observe the country’s treaties with Indigenous people is nearly complete.

The proposed new text was put to focus groups held by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in March, following months of consultation by departmental officials.

The language comes from the 94th and final recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

Implementing that recommendation was one of the tasks given to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen when he was sworn into his portfolio in January 2017, but work on it began soon after the commission delivered its recommendations in late 2015, briefing notes for the minister suggest.

Focus groups mixed on proposed changes

The notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show the government also wants to modify the script delivered by those who preside over citizenship ceremonies. The proposed notes say the script should refer to ceremonies on traditional territories, and include remarks on the history of Indigenous people.

When it comes to the oath, the inclusion of a reference to treaties is the only proposed change.

Changing the wording requires a legislative amendment to the Citizenship Act. The Liberals are in the process of overhauling the act in a bid to make citizenship easier to obtain.

When the proposed text was put to focus groups composed of both recent immigrants and longtime Canadian residents, reaction was generally positive, according to a report posted online by the Immigration Department this week.

But there was a caveat: “Participants only agreed with the modifications insofar as newcomers are adequately educated about Indigenous Peoples and the treaties,” the report said.

“Many felt that they themselves would struggle with this new formulation, given their own limited knowledge of the treaties.”

Some wondered about the need for changes at all.

“A few participants took it upon themselves to question the need to modify the oath and that it might represent a precedent whereby other groups in Canada will want to be represented in the oath,” the report said.

The new oath comes along with a major overhaul of the study guide used for the citizenship exam. A draft copy obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this year revealed it, too, will include extensive references to Indigenous history and culture.

The Liberals had originally been aiming to unveil both the new guide and oath around Canada Day, but work is ongoing.

It reads: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

Source: Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people – Politics – CBC News

Advertisements

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.