COVID-19’s latest victims: Would-be citizens waiting to take their oath face new delays over expired clearances

Appears to be a case for some flexibility on a case-by-case basis as has been done elsewhere:

The backlog and wait time for new citizenship ceremonies are bound to grow due to a new complication brought on by COVID-19.

The traditional in-person oath-taking mass ritual has already been cancelled since March as a result of public health concerns during the pandemic. As long as someone hasn’t sworn their allegiance to the country, they are still just permanent residents and are unable to vote or run for political office.

The immigration department has since slowly moved the citizenship ceremonies online.

But in the meantime, some would-be citizens who have already passed their exam and are in the queue to go in front of a citizenship judge are being told they can’t take their oath because their criminal clearances expired while they’ve been waiting for their turn.

“As required by the Citizenship Act, all citizenship candidates must meet the requirements for citizenship, including being free of prohibitions prior to taking the oath of citizenship. As such, individuals must have valid clearances in order to be permitted to take the oath,” said immigration department spokesperson Lauren Sankey.

“The criminality clearance is valid for 12 months and must be valid at the time citizenship is granted and the oath of citizenship is taken.”

According to a response to an access to information request, at least 76 virtual citizenship ceremonies were cancelled in Montreal, Greater Toronto and the Atlantic region up until the end of June as a result of expired criminal clearances.

A would-be new citizen told the Star his original in-person citizenship ceremony for March 20 was cancelled and he was then rescheduled for a virtual ceremony for June 25. But less than 24 hours before the event, he was told by email that it was cancelled because he needed a new clearance certificate.

“Getting citizenship is like being adopted by Canada. Imagine you’re in an orphanage waiting to be adopted. You met your adopted parents and they said they’d pick you up and take you home on a certain day. Before that day comes, they call the orphanage and say they can’t come,” said the American immigrant, who asked that his name not be used for fear of repercussions.

“You don’t hear anything for several months. Then less than 24 hours before the next pickup day, they call and cancel again. That’s pretty deflating there.”

The man, who moved to Toronto 12 years ago after marrying a Canadian, said he was told by his MP’s office that the citizenship application process is all paper-based. Hence, there are no automated systems warning immigration officials when a criminal clearance is about to expire.

He said he’s still waiting for instructions from the immigration department about what to do next.

Sankey said immigration officials will request new criminal checks from other federal agencies in the event clearances have expired before a citizenship ceremony.

“It is not necessary for applicants to reapply,” she said. “Once valid clearances are returned, these clients will be prioritized and rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.”

Additional delays are expected because the department depends on its partners to complete the process.

“Generally, clearances should take about a week to complete, however in the current context, our partners are making assessment on a case-by-case basis, consequently IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) cannot provide specific processing time frames,” Sankey said.

Source: COVID-19’s latest victims: Would-be citizens waiting to take their oath face new delays over expired clearances

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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