Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 19 April Meeting

The second set of witnesses at CIMM C-6 hearings had all testified at the C-24 hearings two years ago, with a good cross-section of perspectives, largely focussed on the same issues of revocation, language and knowledge testing.

The most interesting exchange was with respect to Martin Collacott who accused the government of pandering to new Canadian voters in the relaxed residency and language requirements.

Details:

Bernie Farber, now heading the Mosaic Institute, shared his personal family refugee and Holocaust history as a means to personalize what it means to be Canadian citizens and the challenges of being a refugee. He cited research carried out by the Institute on imported conflicts, showing an attitudinal shift towards being more empathetic and recognizing common ground, with very high levels of attachment to Canada (94 percent, with 80 percent feeling more Canadian than anything). Ensuring full participation helps reduce imported trauma, improving both individual lives as well as Canada. He was broadly supportive of the proposed changes. See his op-ed Its Time to End the Stigma of Immigration”.

Sheryl Saperia, of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, reiterated her past support for the revocation provisions of C-24 for those convicted of terror or treason, believing it an appropriate consequence for these crimes. She did not accept Minister McCallum’s arguments that it created two-classes of citizenship, given that naturalized Canadians chose to become Canadian, and were not forced to become dual citizens. She noted that a Canadian is not always a Canadian, citing the examples of revocation for fraud or war crimes as exceptions. She proposed an alternative approach to revocation, with Ministerial discretion to review the depth of the connection to the other country, with the less active the connection the weaker the case for revocation. Should the government proceed with repealing the revocation provisions, this should be combined with greater deradicalization efforts in Canadian prisons.

Patti Tamara Lenard of University of Ottawa noted that citizenship in democracies is a fundamental right. She went through the previous government’s arguments in favour of revocation. There was no evidence that revocation made states any safer, using Belgium as an example, and that ‘targeting’ of dual citizens undermined security, not strengthening it. Canada was not catching up with other countries, apart from the UK [and Australia], noting that France had abandoned this approach. And public support did not justify measures to curb minority rights, even the ‘most hated’ of Canadians should still have their rights protected. She noted the broader context under which Canadian Muslims felt targeted, citing security certificates and no fly lists, all of which have contributed to their distrust of the Canadian state. Prior discourse had portrayed Canadian Muslims as disloyal and that discrimination was legitimate and inclusive language was needed.

Janet Dench and Jennifer Stone of the Canadian Council for Refugees noted the importance of citizenship for mental health, particularly so for refugees. CCR supports early access to citizenship without discrimination. They supported counting time before permanent residency towards citizenship but focussed on the lengthy processing times for permanent residency for refugees and live-in-caregivers. CCR supported the reduced residency requirements but advocated a waiver if compelling reasons provided. They also supported the reversion to the previous age requirements for knowledge and language (18-54), but noted that some older applicants still struggle to meet these requirements. CCR noted the need for some form of waiver from the high citizenship fees and language assessment, citing the USA example. While pleased that C-24 dual national revocation was being repealed, they noted the need for fraud revocation to be subject to court review. CCR also noted the need for children under 18 to apply for citizenship should they have neither parent nor guardian. Lastly, they argued for repeal of the first generation limit of passing on citizenship to reduce possible future statelessness. See their detailed brief Bill C-6 Citizenship Bill concerns.

R. Reis Pagtakhan, a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyers, is one of few witnesses to date who has changed his position in the past two years. While he remains broadly supportive of revocation for treason or terror, he now believes this should only apply to those convicted in Canadian courts to ensure Charter and related protections apply. He made a forceful statement in favour of the TRC recommendation 94, changing the citizenship oath to include a reference to treaties with Indigenous Peoples. He supported repeal of the intent to reside and credit for pre-permanent residency to count towards citizenship. See his op-ed Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says.

Martin Collacott opposed shortening the residency requirements, noting that they were among the shortest in the world, allowing some to ‘park’ their families here and work abroad. He was against repealing the intent to reside provision. He thought the change in age requirements particularly ill-considered, particularly for 55-64 year olds who were often still working. He cited the Fraser Institute report on the cost of immigrants to the Canadian economy [Note: its methodology is questionable]. He supported the previous government’s revocation for terror or treason as a reasonable measure, and that most would not be convinced by a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” in these cases. He noted that citizenship can be used for political gain, using the example of the Clinton presidential campaign in 1996 where 1 million became citizens [surprised he refrained from Canadian examples as there was a surge in new citizens in 2014 and 2015 under the Harper government]. He ended by stressing the need for a full immigration review in terms of who benefits as it was abundantly clear that the current high levels were only serving special interests, certain sectors and political parties, with congestion and higher prices being part of the costs.

Questions:

As in 2014, after the first few hearings, the questions and responses tend to reinforce earlier sessions.

Revocation for terror or treason: Not surprising, a fair amount of questions from both the Government and Conservative side, with the Government challenging Saperia and Collacott’s arguments in particular. Saperia stumbled occasionally in her responses, reverting to talking points and arguing that there was no discrimination between Canadian and dual nationals convicted of the same crime but punished differently. However, she acknowledged that the argument that revocation was exporting terrorists to other countries was the most convincing one.

Revocation for fraud: NDP raised again the question of the pre-C-24 procedural protections and that C-6 did not address these. No witness substantively address this (Audrey Macklin on April 14 did).

Language: There were considerable questions on language requirements, with the Conservatives focussing on the importance of language and the NDP concerned about the cost of language assessment and the requirement to take the knowledge test in an official language. Collacott in his replies stressed the importance of language, particularly for older 55-64 year olds, that ample research demonstrates the link between language and economic integration, noting that lack of language meant having to work in the particular immigrant community with likely poorer economic prospects.

Pagtakhan interestingly posed the question why both with language assessment anyway at the citizenship stage, this should be a requirement when immigrating to Canada, rather than fixing it post facto. CCR reemphasized its previous points on challenges for refugees, who may have additional barriers in terms of ability to learn language, find time given employment and cost. Many applications had been returned given that proof of language had not been provided. Farber noted that the language bar should not be set so high to ‘exclude’; Lenard favoured a relatively low bar as in the USA.

Knowledge: No major Q&As on knowledge requirements although CCR did mention the decline in pass rates following the changes in 2010.

Statelessness: NDP raised as before. Lenard noted that international documents cover statelessness and the right to nationality. It is generally understood that the right to nationality means either having been born or mainly lived in a country.

Pandering for votes: Collacott, in his introductory remark mention of political benefits, drew considerable fire from the government side. He initially ducked the question but then, following a second question challenging him for the evidence, replied that there was considerable evidence over the years regarding Liberal governments. The previous Conservative government had tried to gain support among new Canadians through its policies [Note: he was silent on ‘boutique’ initiatives such as the historical recognition, targeted towards Chinese, Ukrainian, Indo, Italian and Jewish Canadians  and legislation such as the Vietnam Journey to Freedom Act S-219]. He cited the Liberal government having 4 ministers from the Punjabi community and none from the Chinese community in Cabinet as more recent examples.

Trudeau’s citizenship policies are about scoring votes | Malcolm

Standard simplistic analysis by Malcolm.

While her general points are valid re importance of language, the language requirements are only being relaxed for 55-64 year olds, about 6-8 percent of those tested, and the government is not changing the requirement for the knowledge test or interview to be conducted in an official language. One can disagree with this change but the sky is not falling.

And, as both media articles and C-6 hearing testimony to date attest, there was and is pressure to relax these ongoing requirements, so any ‘pandering’ (or responding to constituents)  was limited:

Beyond economics, newcomers who learn our language will integrate better in Canadian society. Language skills help newcomers make new friends and adjust to life in Canada. In a Statistics Canada research study, 96% of immigrants said learning English was important or very important to life in Canada.

Perhaps most compelling of all, a new government report found that speaking English or French in Canada has significant health implications.

A recent Statistics Canada report found that newcomers with poor English or French skills were three times more likely to report ill health than newcomers with strong language skills. This decline in health is particularly widespread amongst older immigrants.

The report found that “limited official language proficiency was strongly associated with a transition to poor health among male and female immigrants who had earlier reported good health.”

People who were healthy when they arrived in Canada became sick, just because they didn’t learn our language.

Yet, the Trudeau government is eliminating the requirement for newcomers to learn English, particularly for older immigrants who are more likely to get sick without language skills.

When newcomers arrive in Canada, they need encouragement to begin the integration process. The language requirement for citizenship is a great incentive. It urges newcomers to take a language training course – funded by the taxpayers and free of charge to newcomers – and start communicating in English in their every day lives.

When the government drops that incentive, it allows newcomers to retreat into their own ethnic communities. It becomes a barrier and stops them from branching out.

This is bad for Canada, but it’s also bad for the individual newcomers. It makes them more isolated, more sick, and less wealthy.

So why is the Trudeau government ignoring the facts, overlooking the data, and snubbing the experts on this topic?

The answer is simple. Politics.

Trudeau is catering to the demands of special interest groups who want quick and easy access to Canadian citizenship. They are rushing to turn newly arriving immigrants into voting citizens, and “reducing the barriers” to citizenship simply to earn votes and lifelong political allegiances.

Source: Trudeau’s citizenship policies are about scoring votes | Malcolm | Columnists |

Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says

Pagtakhan will be making these points at the C-6 hearings on April 19 (he also testified in 2014):

When Fahmy was first convicted on these charges, the Canadian government criticized the Egyptian court process as unfair and quickly assured Canadians and Fahmy that his citizenship would not be taken away. However, by quickly assuring Fahmy that he would not lose his citizenship, the government exposed one fatal flaw in its legislation — exactly what sort of foreign conviction would result in Canadian citizenship being revoked and how would the Canadian government decide who gets to retain citizenship?

Because it is impossible to ensure that Canadians tried abroad are provided with all the protections of Canadian law, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, citizenship revocation for terrorism should occur only if a citizen is convicted in Canada.

The other problem with the current law is that the minimum sentence that could lead to citizenship revocation is too short. Currently, a person sentenced to five years in jail for terrorism can have citizenship revoked. While five years in jail is not inconsequential, if a judge gives a convicted terrorist five years in jail as opposed to life in prison, this is because there is an assessment that the offence is less serious.

While the government should retain the ability to revoke citizenship in very select cases, revocation of citizenship should not occur automatically. Canadians should be given the ability to prove that they have changed their ways in order to retain their citizenship. One of the best examples of a person who became a statesman after being initially branded as a terrorist was former Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. Now, while most terrorists will not follow in the footsteps of Mandela, the opportunity to do so should be provided. Should terrorists not choose this path, revocation of citizenship should quickly follow.

Some of McCallum’s other proposed changes to citizenship laws are welcome — such as the proposal to eliminate the requirement that new citizens sign an intention to reside in Canada. While there is nothing wrong with wanting Canadians to live in Canada, many Canadians contribute to Canada on the world stage. As well, asking Canadians to reside in Canada when the government continues to work on free trade agreements that give preferential treatment to Canadian citizens who work abroad is hypocritical. We cannot negotiate free trade agreements that allow Canadian citizens to work abroad while telling these same citizens they must live here.

Finally, the proposal to allow temporary residents to count days they live in Canada before becoming permanent residents toward citizenship is good. Foreign nationals who study here and work here should get some credit for their contributions to society as foreign workers and foreign students. However, this time credit should not extend to tourists. While it is important to promote tourism, foreigners here merely for a vacation should not get credit toward Canadian citizenship.

Source: Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says – Manitoba – CBC News

Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 14 April Meeting

At the first set of hearings with witnesses, the majority were supportive of the main changes in C-6 given their concerns regarding Charter rights, due process, and removing barriers for the more vulnerable.

There were a few committee procedural disputes, with the Conservatives challenging the Chair’s discretion in asking questions and asking for use two meetings to discuss issues related to live-in-caregivers, likely both strategies to delay passage of the Bill. The Government side voted down both motions.

The first hour was dedicated to legal and related issues, with Legal Aid Ontario (Andrew Brouwer), Audrey Macklin of UofT Law School, and the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section (Christopher Veeman) testifying. Their presentations and answers to questions reinforced each other. All supported removal of revocation for dual citizens convicted of terror or treason. I will post written briefs as received (they will likely be posted on the CIMM site).

Legal Aid Ontario emphasized their broader mandate to ensure equal access to charter rights, noting the rights of the mentally ill and children in particular. It shares Macklin’s point on the need to ensure that revocation for fraud and misrepresentation has comparable procedural safeguards to other areas, including recourse to the Federal Court. Refugees should get pre-decision time 50 percent credit for permanent residency time to qualify for citizenship. Brouwer made a number of recommendations to improve protections for stateless persons, both those who are legally as well as de facto, and that statelessness should be considered a factor in granting citizenship.

Macklin focused on revocation for fraud and misrepresentation, explaining the protections that existed prior to C-24, with the general principle that the more secure one’s status, and the more important the consequences of losing it, meant the greater the protections needed. The changes made by the previous government meant that those accused of fraud or misrepresentation would have less protection than permanent residents similarly accused, or even those facing a speeding ticket. Procedural protections were needed. First level decision-making should be delegated, with provision for appeal to an independent quasi-judicial body such as the Immigration Appeal Division. There should be various remedial options for the Federal Court to appeal or review.

The CBA noted that it welcomed some of the changes in C-24 that provided greater clarity on residency, streamlined decision-making and the increased resources to address the processing backlog. It agreed with Macklin, calling C-24’s misrepresentation revocation provisions ‘Kafkaesque.’ The CBA also questioned IRCC’s authority to suspend processing of incomplete applications essentially indefinitely. Loss of citizenship should mean reversion to permanent resident status. Some discretion should be provided with respect to physical presence for those whose work takes them overseas but who are based in Canada, citing pilots as an example.

Questions:

Government side:

Q: Would the risk of giving citizenship judges greater flexibility not mean less consistent decisions?

A (CBA): Possible, but that type of discretionary decision-making exists and this provides flexibility to address those with strong cases.

Q: To address statelessness, what provisions would be recommended, and would these be best dealt with in C-6 or separate stand alone legislation?

A: LAO): Within C-6, including a definition would be particularly helpful. Larger issues include ratification of the 1954 statelessness convention, an improved process to determine status similar to other countries like the UK, and amendments to humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) guidelines and the grounds for invoking statelessness.

Q: Why is revocation like banishment and how would the previous revocation provisions of C-24 been incompatible with the Charter?

A (Macklin): Explained mainly with respect to s 7 of the Charter as being cruel and unusual punishment. The normal Ministerial powers do not include punishment, with revocation being a double punishment in addition to jail time. Earlier SCC jurisprudence on the right of prisoners to vote provided a precedent for this reasoning.

Q: For those whose families are in Canada but who work abroad (example from Gulf), physical presence means they may never meet these and not become Canadian.  What suggestions do you have to address these kinds of situations?

A (CBA): During C-24 hearings, our submission recommended IRCC discretion the tests in the previous IRCC policy manual 5, pages 6-7 for a nuanced assessment of connection to Canada. This should be delegated to officials.

Physical presence is black and white, easier to apply, and thus improves processing speed. Trade-off between speed and allowing exceptions. Macklin noted that one can have both clear rules with allowable exceptions.

Q: What is the logic of the CBA in not wanting to require tax returns?

A (CBA): There are already provisions in the Income Tax Act so no need. Risk of misrepresentation revocation in case someone did not file.

Opposition questions:

Q (C): With respect to revocation, people want to feel safe. Three jurisdictions have introduced or passed similar legislation: UK, France (still in Senate) and Australia. Any reaction to the fact that other countries had adopted a similar approach to C-24? Tilson went on at some length to make his points.

A (CBA): From a practical point of view, not sure how revocation makes us safer. Better to keep them in a jail; expelling them means they may come back later. (MP Tilson noted that revocation and expulsion would happen after jail time).

A (Macklin):  France had abandoned its proposed bill. Australia had no entrenched bill of rights. There was ongoing litigation in the UK over revocation practices. More interesting, many countries had not implemented such measures, including the USA. As to question whether revocation made us safer, her understanding was that terrorism was a global problem, one that we should not export elsewhere. She cited the absurd example of a dual Canadian-British citizen, convicted of terrorism, and a ‘race’ to see which country would revoke first.

Q (NDP): What are the implications of the provisions on foreign criminality as a bar to citizenship? On language testing, is not the requirement to do the knowledge test in an official language a form of double testing?

A (LAO): There are justifiable concerns that someone who comes from a repressive regime, that the regime could lay a charge to prevent that person from becoming a Canadian citizen.

A (CBA): CBA advocates a return to the previous system where the knowledge test could take place before a judge with an interpreter.

Q (NDP): Does the steep increase in citizenship fees  result in hardship, and would you recommend the government entertain measure to reduce this hardship.

A (LAO and Macklin): Obvious barriers particularly on refugees. Refugees need citizenship and government should be mindful not to erect barriers.

Q (NDP): What should be the considerations for invoking H&C? At what stages?

A (Macklin): Crucial throughout given no law or regulation can cover all situations. Factors need to be specified.

Q (C) : Under what conditions should citizenship be revoked? Fraud, lying?

A (CBA/Macklin): Yes, for misrepresentation. There could be consideration for long-term residents. Macklin added that the misrepresentation should be material, that citizenship would not have been granted if known. A statute of limitations could be introduced. MP Saroya questioned having a statute of limitations, asking what about war crimes? Macklin noted there was no statute of limitations for war crimes or crimes against humanity. She added, in response to a further question, that citizenship is a limited tool to address safety and security, the criminal justice system and enforcement were more effective.

Second Hour

This was a broader discussion, featuring former Ambassador James Bissett, Debbie Douglas of OCASI, and Ihsaan Gardee of NCCM.

Bissett indicated his opposition to C-6, reiterated his well-known belief that five-year residency was needed. He talked about citizens of convenience, citing the Lebanese evacuation of 2006 and eventual return to Lebanon. His prime argument is that there are two classes of citizenship: natural born (by accident) and choice (naturalization). He then added to that dual citizens (which either can be).  Canada was not the only country to revoke citizenship, citing the UK. He mentioned the CSIS analysis of some 130 radicalized Canadian fighters abroad.

Douglas supported C-6 but argued for greater flexibility in the physical presence requirement with citizenship judge discretion. She noted the difficulty older applicants may have in passing the test; while she believed in its importance, it should not be a condition. Moreover, older applicants should be allowed interpreters in the knowledge test. Up-front language testing was an issue, particularly the cost, and should be eliminated for those who have met all other criteria. There should be greater clarity on the disability exemptions beyond vision and hearing.

Gardee focussed his intervention of the revocation for terror or treason, welcoming the proposed repeal of this provision in C-24. He noted that this had created considerable unease among Canadian Muslims as it created two classes of citizens. Repeal was urgent and he reminded MPs of the Maher Arar case. He mentioned C-51 as another measure that disproportionately singled out Canadian Muslims and should be repealed.

Questions

Government-side:

Q: Asked whether Bissett wanted to comment with the previous witnesses raising the issue of Charter consistency of C-24’s revocation provision.

A (Bissett): While aware of his concerns, as far as he knew it did comply with the Charter as the Dept of Justice would have reviewed the Bill and not let it go forward if not compatible (Note: bit naive given previous government’s record before the courts). C-24 had not been challenged and  there was one case of revocation. The CBA speaks for lawyers but “many other lawyers perhaps disagree or have some doubt.”

Q: Asked about the number of different categories of citizen and whether further categories were not possible, and should the criminal system have different rules for different categories.

A (Bissett): System inherently set up for three classes of citizen: natural-born (accident), naturalized (choice), dual nationals. If one chooses and takes the oath, revocation appropriate for terror or treason. More symbolic than anything else but worthy of penalty.

Q: Cited earlier Bissett article arguing that all Muslim immigrants should be interviewed and that Charter undermines Canadian security.

A (Bissett): Replied that he believes all immigrants should be interviewed and that electronic review of applications not adequate to detect fraud. Went on to say that interviews should apply to countries where terrorists come from, which are mainly Muslim, and that no one hires an employee with an interview. He noted the extent of fraudulent documents in Bangladesh and that the current system of no interviews was both ‘dangerous and silly’.

Opposition:

Q (C) : Importance of language to new Canadians, integration, inclusion, overcome barriers? What about proposed Quebec legislation and emphasis on learning French to overcome inclusion issues? What about their proposed transitory certificate to be evaluated after three years before being fully granted immigration status? What about the requirement to sign a statement of adherence to Quebec values?

A (Douglas): Language is important to function and many can and do. Has not read the Quebec proposals but is doubtful about the idea of a requirement to sign a statement on Quebec values.

Q (C) : There has been no quantitative research by IRCC on the impact of no longer requiring language assessment for 14-17 and 55-64 year olds yet there is large percentage affected. What are the implications and issues around language training”

A (Douglas): We have a robust system but resources are always an issue. The C-24 changes were not evidence-based and were ‘arbitrary.’ (Note: What goes around comes around …) C-6 goes back to a proven system. For refugees and particularly women refugees, it is often hard to pass the knowledge test. For many, coming from situations of violence and war, spending a generation in a refugee camp, some may not be able to pass the language assessment.

Q (NDP): Noted that her mother, who only had a grade 6 education, would have failed language and knowledge requirements. She asked about the barriers posed by these requirements, and the associated costs.

A (Douglas): The 14-17 years olds have spent time in Canadian schools and never understood why language assessment was required. For older women, they ‘pick up what it means to be Canadian’ and an interview with a judge can determine that. Refugee women should have interpretation where required. There are also disability issues like those who are hard of hearing where waivers may be appropriate.

Q (NDP):  Any suggestions to reduce these financial barriers and improve language training?

A (Douglas): Eliminate up-front language fees. Ensure language training available on weekends and evenings. Invest in childcare and transportation to language classes.

Q (C) : Asked about the problems faced by caregivers.

A (Douglas): Settlement agencies deal with many caregivers, with the main issues being long waiting periods for permanent residency status and associated residency issues.

#Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Hearings Start April 12

The first Citizenship and Immigration Standing Committee hearing took place April 12. The Minister made a summary introduction to allow more time for questions (and given he was somewhat late).

The Minister did indicate in his responses to questions that while his focus was on implementing platform and mandate letter commitments, he made the general point that he was open to considering amendments in response to the NDP’s question regarding the lack of judicial hearings in cases of revocation for misrepresentation.

Government-side questions were a mix of softball (e.g., time for C-6 to be implemented) and those that likely reflected constituent concerns with respect to knowledge and language testing, along with some that probed the rationale for certain policy choices (e.g., 3 year minimum residency rather than 2). Some MPs were better at having internalized their questions, others stuck more closely to their written material.

Surprisingly, the proposed repeal of citizenship revocation for terror or treason received comparatively little attention from the Conservatives, with the Conservative immigration critic (Michelle Rempel) focussing on the elimination of language assessment for 55-64 year olds and the possible impact on the economy, leaving it to another Conservative to question the proposed repeal, mentioning the restoration of citizenship to the convicted terrorist Zakaria Amara,  (“a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist”).

The Minister made his standard reply: all Canadians, whether sole or dual nationals, should be treated the same (“a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”), and that the Canadian legal and penal systems were more appropriate ways to deal with terrorists.

My summary notes:

Language: No disagreement among all parties on the importance of language competency to integration and citizenship. The Conservatives focussed on the reduced age requirements to 18-54 from 14-64 and the possible impact that would have on labour market participation and outcomes. They suggested a better approach was more emphasis on language training.

The Conservatives also asked whether any economic analysis had been done on the impact of this change for 55-64 year olds and the answer was no, the Minister retorting that none was carried out when the Conservative government increased the requirement. The Minister also responded that the number of 55-64 year olds was 8 percent of the number of applicants  (data provided to me by IRCC for earlier years shows a smaller number but they may have used 2014-15):

Citizenship Test Age Change ImpactSurprisingly, the Conservatives spent some time on the younger cohort affected (14-17 year olds) despite the fact that they would have all (or virtually all) been in school for 3-5 years and thus be competent in English or French (I always suspected this was a ‘backdoor’ way to ensure civics education).

The NDP focused more on the level of resources for language training, citing examples of reduced funding and wait times. The response was to emphasize the current high levels of funding for language training and additional funding for Syrian refugees. They also asked a number of technical questions regarding the level of language required (CLB-4 – basic).

Some Liberals noted that some constituents worried about the citizenship test, particularly the 55-64 year olds and asked how many people are likely to apply without the test and these worried. Officials replied that it is difficult to isolate factors, there were a number of reasons, including some dual citizens may not want Canadian citizens, but referred to the historic 85 percent naturalization rate (recent rate is significantly lower).

Knowledge test: There were a number of questions regarding the knowledge test and what happened when an applicant failed. The Minister and officials noted that the first time pass rate was 87 percent. Those who failed could write the test a second time, boosting the overall pass rate to slightly above 90 percent. Those who failed a second time could have a hearing before a judge, leading to another few percent to the overall rate. Subsequently, officials noted that typically the time to retake the test is between 2-4 weeks.

The NDP also noted some of the difficult and ‘tricky’ wording of the knowledge questions. The Minister acknowledged the point and stated that the revised citizenship guide would be written in a manner to be more comprehensible to more people.

Citizenship guide: Liberal side asked questions of planned revising of citizenship guide and degree to which the Charter would be emphasized and questions regarding religious rights. Officials noted that much of the content of the guide is prescribed by regulations (history, society, rights and responsibilities).

Physical presence requirement: Raised by Liberal MPs for cases of those working overseas with families in Canada, the Minister reiterated that citizenship required physical presence, that we did not want ‘citizens of convenience’ acknowledging that there were some hardships but nevertheless maintaining the requirement.

Fees: The NDP raised the issue of the steep increase of fees in 2014/15: from $100 to $530. Minister responded by saying that neither the platform nor mandate letter referred to fees but that he did not preclude looking at fees in the future.

Revocation (misrepresentation): The NDP raised the removal of judicial review as noted by the CBA, leaving revocation at the discretion of  the Minister. The Minister responded by stating that the Committee would hear from the CBA and that he was open to amendments in this area.

Processing times/Service standards: Liberal members raised the issue of processing times. The Minister gave credit to the previous government for a number of measures that have allowed IRCC to meet a processing time of 12 months (later officials indicated this was with respect to 80 percent of complete applications as of 1 April 2015 – incomplete ones are not counted).

International students pre-permanent residency credit: Minister reiterated measure to restore 50 percent credit for pre-permanent residency time for international students and also review possible improvements to Express Entry to make it easier for students, something that he intended to do that was not in his mandate letter. Some government members asked whether consideration would be given to more than 50 percent with the response being that 50 percent was deemed to be reasonable.

Refugee pre-permanent residency time: Chair asked whether consideration would be given to granting pre-permanent residency time to refugees or humanitarian cases. Officials noted that credit was only provided once refugees had been confirmed as protected persons and Minister added as general principle, government should not credit illegal time in Canada, only legal.

Lost Canadians: NDP raised that there were remaining cases and that the first generation limit remained an issue. IRCC officials explained the provisions of prior legislation (C-37 and C-24), that avenues were available for particular cases not addressed along with stateless persons.

Seizure of documents in cases of fraud. Conservatives asked for examples and officials indicated passports with entry and exit information. There were questions regarding the degree to which officials would have discretion with officials replying that this would be based on ‘reasonable grounds,’ with the details to be spelled out in regulations.

There was a long side discussion on the legitimate issue raised by the Conservatives regarding changes in the way that MP citizenship (and immigration) enquiries were going to be handled compared to the earlier direct channel of the Ministerial Enquiries group, leading to a Conservative motion, supported by the NDP, that officials brief the Committee prior to C-6 moving forward. Defeated on party lines although the request for a briefing (if not the timing, holding C-6 hearings in abeyance) appeared reasonable.

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

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.

Liberals to repeal citizenship law Bill C-24: immigration minister – “coming days”

Whether in the form of “tweaks”, “significant” or “radical” changes (the Minister has used all three terms), likely that the changes will be more substantive than mere tweaks.

But overall, messaging is a reversal of the previous government’s approach of making citizenship “harder to get and easier to lose.”

The extent to which this undermines some of the needed integrity measures introduced by the Conservatives – more rigorous knowledge and language testing, physical residency requirements etc – remains to be seen, although the Minister in Committee did state the importance of language knowledge to integration.

These changes happen in the context of a significant decline in the number of persons applying for citizenship: from an average of around 200,000 in past years, to about 130,000 in the last three years.

Will be hosting a citizenship workshop at Metropolis next week in Toronto and should the Minister literally announce this within days, we will have a good discussion regarding the changes (I will post my deck next week, essentially an updated version of Citizenship – Canadian Ethnic Studies 24 Oct 2015 with more recent data:

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will announce significant changes to the Citizenship Act in the coming days.

Mr. McCallum said Tuesday that the Liberals will soon follow through on their election pledge to repeal the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-24, which gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

Asked when the changes will be unveiled, Mr. McCallum told The Globe and Mail to expect an announcement “in coming days, but not very many days.”

During last year’s election campaign, the Liberal platform committed to “repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”

Mr. McCallum said the government’s announcement will make it impossible to revoke citizenship.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Mr. McCallum said, repeating a line used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a heated election debate last September. “We would not revoke people’s citizenship. … That will certainly be a part of it [the announcement],” the Immigration Minister added.

Mr. McCallum said the government will also remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24.

“We believe that it’s better to make it easier rather than harder for people to become citizens.”

However, he did not say which specific barriers would be addressed.

Source: Liberals to repeal citizenship law Bill C-24: immigration minister – The Globe and Mail

Changes coming soon to #Citizenship Act, John McCallum says

Messaging is more in the nature of relatively minor changes/reversals, in contrast to his earlier reference to “radical changes” (McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com). We should know which is it in a few weeks:

But McCallum said the Liberal government has two main goals when it comes to making its changes to the Citizenship Act.

“We would make it impossible for the government to take away someone’s citizenship, and we would reduce the barriers currently in place that people have to overcome,” he said.

One of those barriers is a test to prove language proficiency in English or French. Bill C-24 expanded the age range for people required to take that test, to those aged 14 to 64 from a ranged of 18 to 54.

McCallum hinted the government is considering restoring the original age limit, among other changes.

“We could bring it back to [age] 54,” he said. “That’s an adjustment at the margin on the grounds that some older people coming to this country may not be fully proficient in English, although their children will be and their grandchildren certainly will be.”

“It’s one of the things we are potentially considering,” he added.

But McCallum made clear the government has no plans to scrap the language testing.

“I think you could call it tweaks to the system, and certainly not ditching the system.”

As for when Canadians can expect an announcement from the government, McCallum said to be on watch “in the coming days and weeks, but not very many weeks.”

Source: Changes coming soon to Citizenship Act, John McCallum says – Politics – CBC News

The Liberals are blowing up the citizenship system again. Why? Kheriddin

While I agree with Kheiriddin on the importance of language, she ignores that language and knowledge were assessed by previous Liberal governments, albeit with significant integrity and consistency problems which Conservative reforms largely addressed.

While political considerations play a role (as they did with the previous government), Liberal MPs are also likely responding to constituent and supporter representation from those ridings with significant numbers of immigrants and visible minorities – which the Liberals won overwhelmingly.

But the Conservative reforms created another problem: a declining rate of citizenship take-up and a dramatic fall of some 30 percent in the number of immigrants applying for citizenship over the past three years.

We do not yet know what will be in those ‘radical changes’ (my ‘transition advice,’ drafted before the election, Citizenship: Getting the Balance Right (October 2015) highlights possible changes).

So the question for the current Government, is to find the right balance between facilitating citizenship (making it accessible) and making it more meaningful in terms of language, knowledge and residency, and in so doing, consult, engage and listen to the range of views of what that balance should be:

Lack of language proficiency also hurts elderly immigrants. It makes them dependent on family and isolates them from the wider community. Immigrant women in abusive relationships often have nowhere to turn because they lack the language skills to get help from police, a shelter or social workers. Language barriers are a frequent problem cited by immigrant women’s rights advocates — and it doesn’t stop being a problem at age 54.

The solution is not to have every government worker learn every minority language, as some might suggest. It’s to empower immigrants with the basic language skills they need to live, thrive and participate in Canadian society.

The Liberal proposal ignores another very basic truth, one which Quebecers know all too well. Language amounts to more than words. Language is culture. Learning a language brings with it knowledge of the culture that produced it, and engenders an appreciation for that culture. It allows the speaker to connect to that culture, to feel part of it. It’ll be interesting to see how Quebec reacts to any such changes, as the province has maintained its own immigration requirements for years — including French proficiency.

So why are the Liberals doing this, and why now? The likeliest explanation is the crass one: They’re doing it for the votes. Just as the Conservatives avidly courted immigrants’ support over the last decade, the Liberals are determined to take it back. Chen represents Scarborough North, the riding with the highest percentage of visible minorities in the country, at 90.1 per cent. McCallum represents Markham-Thornhill, which has the third-highest number (82 per cent) of visible minorities in the country, and where 50.1 per cent of residents were born in Asia as of the 2011 census. The second-highest visible minority population (87.6 per cent) is in the riding of Brampton East, Ont., which is also represented by a Liberal, MP Raj Grewal.

McCallum is right in saying that these would be “radical” changes; they surely are, for all the wrong reasons. They do nothing to strengthen immigrants’ sense of belonging to Canada, or the linguistic duality of our country.

In fact, in their zeal to erase every single vestige of Conservative policy, the Liberals are actually betraying the legacy of their own party. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau championed bilingualism and enshrined English and French minority rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While he also supported multiculturalism, he made sure his children became fluently bilingual. One would hope all Canadian kids — and their parents — would have that same chance under the Liberal party in 2016.

The Liberals are blowing up the immigration system again. Why?