MP’s bid to boost French requirements for citizenship could spark House battle

Citizenship is solely federal jurisdiction:

Heads up, House staff: It may be time to dust off those ballot boxes.

Another battle over backbench business may be brewing after the Commons procedure committee backed a recommendation to bar Bloc Québécois interim leader Mario Beaulieu’s bid to impose new French-language requirements on Quebec residents applying for Canadian citizenship from going to a full House vote.

Introduced on Nov. 1, Beaulieu’s bill would require permanent residents living in Quebec to have an “adequate knowledge of French” in order to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Under the current laws, they only need an “adequate knowledge” of one of Canada’s two official language, a standard that applies across the country — prompting concerns that Beaulieu’s proposal could violate the Constitution.

Last month, the all-party subcommittee charged with vetting private members’ bills and motions in advance of their addition to the House priority list recommended that the proposal be designated non-votable — while Beaulieu would remain free to bring it to the floor for debate. But when the two hours automatically allocated for second-reading consideration ran out, it would be dropped from the order paper.

During the subcommittee meeting, Library of Parliament analyst David Groves told MPs it raised “complex constitutional issues” — but could nevertheless be permitted to go forward without being designed as non-votable, since Quebec has “a great deal more control over immigration than other provinces,” and, as a result, “has some unique powers in that regard.”

The three subcommittee members weren’t so sure.

“My wife speaks five languages. French is not one of them,” Liberal MP David de Burgh Graham said. “When she got her Canadian citizenship, we had just moved to Quebec” — where, he noted, he already lived. “She would have had to return to Ontario or stay in Ontario to get her citizenship, and I think that’s against the values of our Constitution, our charter.”

New Democrat MP Rachel Blaney agreed.

“As a person who ran an organization that served newcomers to Canada for many years, I remember helping people in our very anglophone part of the world, in B.C., who spoke only French, and they would still be able to get their citizenship by using the French language,” she observed.

“I am not going to vote in support of moving forward with this, because it simply is not … well, I don’t think it’s constitutional, and it totally undermines the fact that Canada is a multilingual country. That’s something we should all be proud of.”

Eventually, the subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the bill be designated non-votable — a decision that prompted Beaulieu to exercise his right to appeal, which he did during a special appearance before the full committee last week.

But despite garnering support from the opposition side of the table for his pitch to let his bill proceed to a vote, Liberal MPs used their majority to side with the subcommittee and approve the recommended course of action, although Liberal MP Scott Simms noted that his vote was cast “with reservations.”

Beaulieu does have one remaining avenue of appeal: If he can secure the support of at least five fellow MPs representing at least two recognized parties, he can ask the Speaker to convene a secret ballot vote on the committee ruling.

That’s exactly what New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson did last year when the same subcommittee concluded that her proposal to establish a federal strategy on cleaning up shipwrecks and abandoned vessels was simply too similar to a government-backed bill introduced after her proposal was tabled.

The House ultimately rejected her call, which she blamed on the Liberal government for telling its MPs to block her attempt to revive the bill.

Even if Beaulieu succeeds in getting his bill back on the main House docket, he’ll still face an uphill battle in convincing his Commons colleagues to actually vote for his proposed new rules for hopeful citizens. That’s because the opposition members who supported his right to bring it forward at committee made it very clear they’d be unlikely to support it in the House.

Source: MP’s bid to boost French requirements for citizenship could spark House battle

Baloney Meter: How meaningful is the Bloc’s promise to ban veiled voting, oath taking?

Notwithstanding public opinion and wedge politics, likely that the experts have it right:

Constitutional law experts believe banning women from wearing veils while taking the citizenship oath or providing public services would almost certainly be struck down by the courts as a violation of religious freedom and equality rights.

“A ban during (the) citizenship oath ceremony is unquestionably unconstitutional,” says University of Waterloo political scientist Emmett Macfarlane, who has written extensively on Supreme Court constitutional rulings.

“I think a ban on front-line public service workers would also be constitutionally problematic, for similar reasons, although a court may entertain arguments relating to job requirements a little more seriously than it would the purely symbolic arguments concerning the oath.”

Ottawa University constitutional law professor Errol Mendes concurs: “If they didn’t use the notwithstanding clause, it would almost certainly be struck down.”

But here’s the tricky bit: the notwithstanding clause can be used to override only some provisions in the Charter of Rights, including religious freedom and equality rights. It cannot be used to override democratic rights, including the right to vote. Since Duceppe’s promised bill would include a ban on veiled voting, he could find the notwithstanding clause would be of no use to him.

“If the adverse effect was on voting rights, which is not covered by sect. 33 (the notwithstanding clause), it would fall,” says Mendes.

Carissima Mathen, another University of Ottawa law professor, agrees: “I think you absolutely could make a separate (democratic rights) argument because the citizen is being deprived of her right to vote.”

If the bill was limited to removal of face coverings for identification purposes before allowing a person to vote, Macfarlane said the courts might find that to be a justified limit on democratic rights.

However, it might be hard to justify requiring citizens voting in Canada to show their faces for identification purposes when Canadians abroad can vote by mail-in ballots – with no way to verify the identities of those who actually mark the ballots.

The Harper government twice flirted with the idea of banning veiled voting but did not ultimately pursue the matter, perhaps due to the constitutional hurdles.

It introduced a government bill in 2007 which was allowed to languish on the order paper. Conservative MP Steven Blaney introduced a private members’ bill on the same subject in 2011, which then-immigration minister Jason Kenney – the same minister who subsequently issued the directive against face coverings at citizenship ceremonies – called “entirely reasonable.” It went nowhere.

Even if the notwithstanding clause did apply to Duceppe’s promised bill, Mathen points out that its use would have to be approved by both the Commons and the Senate, so it’s “not necessarily a slam dunk.”

The Verdict

Strictly speaking, Duceppe’s promise to introduce a bill banning face coverings during voting, citizenship ceremonies and the provision of public services is accurate. He didn’t explicitly say it would be passed or enacted, although that was the obvious implication.

Given the procedural hurdles facing private members’ bills, it’s debatable whether such a bill would ever see the light of day. Were it to be passed, it’s equally debatable whether it would stand up to a charter challenge or whether the government could invoke the notwithstanding clause to get around the charter.

But of course none of this matters as the intent behind both the Conservatives and the Bloc lies more within identity politics than winning legal arguments.

With respect to the public servant issue (where a ban, as Macfarlane indicates, could be justified on the basis of job requirements), the following table, taken from the National Household Survey, shows the representation of religious minorities in all three levels of government:


This table of course only measures religious faith, not the religiosity of followers and the degree to which they request accommodation and/or they wear visible symbols of their faith (e.g., hijab, kippa, turban etc).

Source: Baloney Meter: How meaningful is the Bloc’s promise to ban veiled voting, oath taking? – The Globe and Mail

Le Bloc veut soustraire Québec de la loi fédérale sur le multiculturalisme | Le Devoir

Another repeat of 2008 when the Bloc, then with significant parliamentary representation, introduced a similar bill that went nowhere. Usual political positioning and usual misunderstanding and caricature of multiculturalism.

Given the Bloc only has 4 MPs, and lost one of them, Maria Mourani, over the Bloc’s support for the Charter. And she was the only woman MP from the Bloc, and the only one from the “cultural communities” as they are referred to in Quebec.

Le Bloc veut soustraire Québec de la loi fédérale sur le multiculturalisme | Le Devoir.