Commentary on Bill C-24: Citizenship Act Revisions

Not surprisingly, the Toronto Star has a field day criticizing the new citizenship bill, with an editorial and commentary by Haroon Siddiqui and Thomas Walkom:

In typical fashion for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s law-and-order obsessed government, the laws promise to “protect the value of Canadian citizenship” by cracking down on problems that largely don’t exist. The vast majority of new Canadians are loyal, honest, law-abiding citizens. They have contributed enormously to the building-up of this nation. But you wouldn’t know it to judge from the unwelcome mat rolled out this week by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. It’s all about cracking down on the marginal few who turn out to be treasonous, terrorists, criminals or fraudsters, and raising the bar for everyone else.

Canada’s new Citizenship Act reeks of mistrust: Editorial | Toronto Star.

He [Minister Alexander], too, is promising “reforms” and more get-tough measures. He will reduce the backlog in citizenship applications (now at 320,000) and waiting times (now between 25 and 35 months). If Kenney cleaned up the backlog in the skilled workers program by throwing out 98,000 applicants who had waited years in the queue, Alexander is going to “improve” the clogged citizenship processing by making immigrants wait four years instead of three to get citizenship, and make them pass a stringent English and French language test, as well as another test on their knowledge of Canada. Never mind that many native Canadians may not pass those tests, either.

As he heralded the “strengthening” of the Citizenship Act, he slipped in such measures as tripling the fee and giving himself the power to grant and strip citizenship — no need for the rule of law and due process, as he appointed himself the Citizenship Czar in some cases.

How to read Ottawa’s latest immigration changes: Siddiqui

Whether they know it or not, there are plenty of dual nationals here. Even the United States extends citizenship to Canadians with at least one American parent.

It can be argued that citizenship is a privilege rather than a right. It can be said that anyone who commits high crimes and misdemeanors — regardless of birthplace — should lose this privilege.

In an ideal world, that might make sense. But in the real world, public opinion can be fickle and government arbitrary.

After World War II, for instance, Ottawa seriously contemplated deporting all Japanese-Canadians, including those born in this country, to Japan. It probably would have been a popular move.

In the real world, as the career of iconic anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela demonstrates, yesterday’s terrorist can be tomorrow’s hero.

Canada’s new citizenship bill a Trojan horse: Walkom

The National Post has limited commentary, but Kelly McFarland strongly supports the Bill:

Canada has always embraced immigration; the country was built on it and depends on it for our continued growth and vibrancy. But past policies have too often been designed to reflect a spirit of generosity so eager that it exposed the process to abuse, and cheapened the value of what is, in a practical sense, the greatest honour a country can bestow. Citizenship means more than simply buying a passport, or obtaining a bolt hole to be used when life in another country becomes too dangerous or inconvenient. Canada has been preyed on openly by people who put in the minimum time required to gain access to its benefits, only to spend the bulk of their lives outside its borders and careless of its culture. Mr. Alexander’s changes should go some distance to remedying those failings.

Some elements of his plan may prove contentious, and perhaps open to challenge in court. The new rules would enable Ottawa to revoke citizenship from dual citizens who commit treason, take up arms against Canada or engage in terrorist acts here or abroad, freeing Ottawa from the need to assist “citizens” who involve themselves in terrorist escapades overseas. Other countries have similar provisions, but while they would apply only in “exceptional” cases, they may be open to challenge on the basis that they create two standards of citizenship, with some Canadians more equal than others….

But overall the reforms are an excellent start, which emphasize the value of citizenship and demand applicants demonstrate a real desire to make Canada their permanent home, absorb its culture and contribute to its progress and well-being.

Citizenship changes recognize high value of being Canadian

Interestingly, there does not appear to be any commentary in Quebec French language media. Whether this reflects the internal focus on Quebec (e.g., the Values Charter and pre-election positioning) or bigger federal stories (e.g., electoral reform) is unclear.

Some immigration and refugee organization issued critical statements. The Canadian Council for Refugees:

“Citizenship is a fundamental status – not something that is ‘deserved’. It is wrong to use citizenship rules to punish people for wrong-doing – that’s the role of the criminal system,” said Loly Rico, President. “Treating dual citizens differently is discriminatory and violates the fundamental principle that all citizens are equal.”

The CCR also opposes the proposal to make permanent residents wait longer before they can apply for citizenship. Extending the wait period undermines efforts to integrate newcomers.

Offering citizenship is a key way Canada embraces newcomers and encourages them to quickly become full participating members of our society. Traditionally this has been an area where Canada excelled.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers:

Unlike the Conservative government, CARL has full confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system’s ability to effectively punish individuals who violate the law.  As such, CARL condemns the proposed provisions that will allow for citizenship stripping. We do not need to revive the medieval practice of banishment to achieve the goals of punishment, namely deterrence, retribution, denunciation, and rehabilitation.  We now have the benefit of a modern judicial process that includes prosecution, trial before an independent judge and, in the event of conviction, a punishment that expresses society’s condemnation with the full weight of the law.

The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s predecessor falsely claimed that citizenship stripping is commonplace in other countries, including the United States.  In fact, the only western state to make use of this practice in the last few years is the United Kingdom, and it is an outlier whose use of it should serve as a cautionary tale.  Citizenship stripping has been unconstitutional in the United States for over 50 years.

PRESS RELEASE: Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers reacts to proposed government citizenship bill

Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Issue: Increasing the amount of time a permanent resident must wait before becoming a full participant in Canadian society will not strengthen democracy in Canada. Some permanent residents, such as those who were Convention Refugees, will face difficulties in travelling to see family or take advantage of overseas employment opportunities.

Issue: The government has said that the Bill will reduce the processing time. But this may not make a real difference to immigrants since they will have to wait longer to apply…

Issue: The change will impact on seniors who are currently exempt from these provisions, including those who have been working since they arrived and did not have time to take a language test, those who know enough English or French to live and work in Canada but not enough to pass the required language test, and those who do not have the capacity to learn a new language such as older refugees.

Issue: Increasing the amount of time a permanent resident must wait before becoming a full participant in Canadian society will not strengthen democracy in Canada. Some permanent residents, such as those who were Convention Refugees, will face difficulties in travelling to see family or take advantage of overseas employment opportunities.

Issue: The government has said that the Bill will reduce the processing time. But this may not make a real difference to immigrants since they will have to wait longer to apply.

OCASI Comments On Proposed Citizenship Changes

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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