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Third reading of Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act—Motion in Amendment

 

Honourable senators, I rise today to support Bill C-6, and while I support the bill I’m afraid there is one crucial omission. This is where Senator McCoy’s amendment comes into play. Having heard testimony from witnesses at committee I’m in full support of the change our colleague has suggested, as it honours the spirit of equal treatment before the law.

This amendment deals with the powers surrounding citizenship revocation on the basis of misrepresentation or fraud, granted to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. As Senator McCoy has pointed out, this authority is delegated to an employee in the department. This person will ultimately decide if an individual will or will not remain a Canadian. I’m not here to deride the good work done by our public service, but that’s an awesome power to bestow on civil servants.

Currently, when someone receives that type of revocation notice, they are denied the right to due process. I totally disagree with what Senator Frum has said in her suggestion that it is in fact provided. It’s not provided. The only recourse afforded them is to reply in writing to their accuser within 60 days. They can argue that there has been a mistake or they can plead for clemency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and that is it. If the argument is unconvincing to the individual, who has already decided that a fraud or misrepresentation has occurred, citizenship is revoked, case closed.

Adding to the absurdity of all of this, a naturalized Canadian citizen actually has fewer rights than if they had remained a permanent resident. If accused of fraud or misrepresentation in their application, a permanent resident can receive a hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board and even an appeal at the Immigration Appeal Division. This is how the right to due process works, and yet in Canada this fundamental right is denied to you if you’ve become a citizen.

Honourable senators, there are few penalties with more consequence than having your citizenship revoked. Yet as Senator Pratte noted at the last sitting, someone who faces a $35 fine for a parking infraction has more recourse than someone who is being stripped of their citizenship. That is fundamentally wrong.

During earlier debate, Senator Omidvar expressed bewilderment as to why this matter was not addressed by Bill C-6 in the first place. I share those feelings. By not fixing this revocation procedure, naturalized Canadians will continue to be denied due process — a right granted to every citizen who is a Canadian by birth. I oppose having two classes of Canadian citizenship.

The government has even acknowledged this omission. When the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, John McCallum, appeared in this chamber I pressed him on this. He conceded that every citizen should have the right — right, not leave — to an appeal and said that he and his government would welcome an amendment to Bill C-6 to ensure this.

Admittedly, his successor, Minister Hussen, was somewhat hesitant when I questioned him on the matter in the Social Affairs Committee where we studied this bill. And yet, while he defended the current system he said, “We are always open to measures to improve and increase procedural fairness. . . . I can commit to you that we will examine them very closely and work with you to see what we can do in that regard.”

Well, that gives us an opportunity to fix this through an amendment. Fortunately, such an exercise is what this chamber excels at. One of our fundamental roles as senators is to study legislation in depth. When we see a flaw, we attempt to correct it. And there are few better examples of this than the amendment that is now before us.

This amendment strikes a fair balance. It will not remove revocation as a punishment for fraud or misrepresentation. It doesn’t remove it. It will simply give Canadian citizens the right to have their hearing, their day in court, the right to a hearing before an independent tribunal. This is how the justice system works in this country.

I have heard arguments that some individuals will not be able to afford to take this matter to court. Well, I agree. This is the case when many people go through the justice system and I welcome wholeheartedly any attempts to make our system of legal aid more effective, but that has never been a reason to sidestep due process in this country and it never should be. We cannot deny this right to a particular set of Canadians because of the cost.

I’ve also heard arguments on the other end of the spectrum. An individual with means could draw out his or her appeal process, abusing the system and prolonging a verdict. Again, this is the case throughout our justice system and reforms are needed to provide timely decision making. But again, when has this ever been used as an argument to remove due process altogether? It hasn’t. And this instance is no exception.

Honourable senators, it has been said that citizenship is the right to all other rights. And yet under this circumstance an individual actually loses the right to due process when they become a citizen. That’s wrong and the amendment before us would correct this.

When viewed through the lens of sober second thought, it is clear to me that this amendment to Bill C-6 is needed. While the amendment before us was not ready in time for a vote at committee, senators will note that our report in this chamber included three observations — observations which I also support. One such observation dealt with the rising cost of obtaining Canadian citizenship. In the last three years, citizenship application fees have risen by over 500 per cent — that’s right, over 500 per cent.

When you factor in a $100 right of citizenship fee, the cost to acquire citizenship for a family of four with two minor children is $1,460. When extra costs such as language training and testing are taken into consideration, the costs go even higher. High costs can act as a barrier for low income people. These people should not be barred from citizenship because they cannot afford it. And yet we heard in testimony before the subcommittee that citizenship applications have been dropping by as much as 50 per cent.

Historically, there have been around 200,000 applications a year. In 2015, that number fell to 130,000, and that was the first year of the new fee schedule. Now in 2016, the figure is forecasted to be about 100,000, which is about a 50 per cent drop.

Before I conclude, honourable senators, there is one other item I would like to mention briefly and that is the matter of second generation Canadians born abroad. They fall into a category of individuals who have been called “Lost Canadians.”

Since Bill C-6 arrived in this chamber, I have been contacted by a number of citizens who are worried about the effects our current citizenship laws will have on their grandchildren. I will use an example to illustrate what I mean. I was contacted by one family who recently adopted their daughter from another country. Their daughter will be raised here. She will go to a Canadian school, she will work here, pay taxes. She is a Canadian. Yet, if later in life she starts a family and gives birth abroad, there’s a chance her child will not be Canadian. This is despite the fact that Canada is her home.

In today’s increasingly globalized world, I think this is an unreasonable limit to place on our citizens. Canada is a multilingual, cosmopolitan and educated society. Canadians are in demand. More and more education and employment opportunities will take Canadians abroad for any length of time. They should not be punished for this. This is a strength and benefit to our country. We should be encouraging Canadians to export our values and economic interests, not placing arbitrary limits on them. Their attachment to this country is what is most important.

In the coming months, it is my intention to introduce legislation to address this issue. A bill will provide this chamber with an opportunity to address the numerous and technical issues related to this, and I look forward to working with honourable senators in this regard.

In the meantime, we have before us Bill C-6. It’s a good bill, but one that remains incomplete without the amendment that is before us that was put by Senator McCoy