As Canada eases COVID-19 border restrictions, advocates say refugees’ travel is ‘essential’

Covid-19 immigration effects - Key Slides - May 2021 Draft.017On the good news side, the IRB backlog declined dramatically, with new claims falling by 68% and the backlog by 30%.

The progressive reduction in travel restrictions and requirements should allow for a more normal flow, with less concern for the irregular arrivals at non-official border posts given the Biden Administration’s approach:

Thanks to COVID-19 outbreaks in jails, immigration detainee Apollinaire Nduwimana was released from a U.S. prison in late April last year, after being held among convicted criminals for almost three years.

The asylum seeker from Burundi tried to head north for protection at Roxham Road in Quebec last October. But he didn’t know Canada had closed the border to refugees.

He was immediately intercepted, sent back to America and detained at the Clinton jail in Pennsylvania. He was threatened with deportation to his homeland despite assurances from Ottawa to let him return once COVID travel restrictions were lifted.

As of July, Nduwimana was one of 450 asylum seekers “directed back” to the U.S. since March 21, 2020, when Ottawa closed the border to non-essential travels. Although there have been exemptions, seeking asylum isn’t one of them.

With Ottawa slowly easing its travel restrictions, and border rules with the U.S. up for renewal on Wednesday, advocates say the federal government’s first order of business should be reopening the door to asylum seekers and sponsored refugees, the most vulnerable migrant group during the pandemic.

“Refugee travel is essential, we know that no one chooses to be a refugee,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “Refugees can in fact enter and quarantine. So that really should have been the starting point.”

According to the latest UN Refugee Agency report, 1.5 million fewer people fled their homelands in 2020 than forecast, but the world’s displaced population still edged to a record 82.4 million by the end of last year, up from 79.5 million in 2019.

That’s because, it said, asylum seekers were unable to cross borders, with 164 countries imposing travel bans, and 99 states, including Canada, making no exception for people seeking asylum.

In total, only 34,400 refugees were resettled to third countries in 2020, down 69 per cent from 107,800 the year before. Today, 1.4 million refugees are awaiting resettlement.

Amid the chaos, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is the rare beneficiary of the border closure.

Last year, the number of new claims fell 68 per cent to 18,500, from 58,378 in 2019. These were mostly from those within Canada who entered legally and later decided to seek asylum, or who came to the border before the lockdown or belonged to one of the exemption groups.

The slowdown allowed the board to reduce its backlog, which fell 30 per cent to 65,000 by the end of June, from 91,300 in March 2020, as refugee judges moved hearings online and adapted to new health protocols in offices.

Nduwimana first arrived in the U.S. for asylum in 2017 but was detained until his release in April 2020.

Thanks to interventions of advocates on either side of the border, he is one of nine asylum seekers who have been issued a “national interest exemption letter” to return to Canada on a later date after he was turned back at the border.

But it’s not without hassles because there are no bilateral policies to ensure these “direct-back” asylum seekers will be released from detention or spared from deportation to come back to the border.

“I am not a criminal but I was detained with people convicted of murder and rape,” said Nduwimana, 41, who fled political persecution in Burundi, an East African country where human rights violations are such that Canada suspends all removals to that country.

“Canada has the obligation to protect asylum seekers. Instead they sent me back to a country that’s not safe for refugees,” added the former church pastor and university language instructor, who almost got deported in January before a U.S. court intervened.

Upon his release in March from another jail in upstate New York, he entered Canada at Fort Erie and had his 14-day mandatory quarantine at a Niagara hotel. He is now awaiting his proceedings.

Silcoff said Nduwimana’s case shows refugee travel can coexist with public health measures and the current refugee ban can be lifted.

Despite public fear that Canada would see another surge of asylum seekers once the border reopens, Silcoff believed that’s unlikely under the new White House administration. Since Joe Biden became president in January, Washington has reversed many Trump-era anti-migrant, anti-refugee policies.

Temporary protected status has been granted to migrants currently in the U.S. from major refugee source countries such as Haiti, Venezuela and Yemen. In June, the U.S. restored the possibility of asylum protections for women fleeing domestic violence in other countries as well as for families targeted by violent gangs.

“It’s a different climate,” said Silcoff. “It’s hard to know what the future would bring but we know that Canada is able to handle fluctuations in numbers of asylum seekers.”

During the pandemic, Ottawa has also rolled out several measures that involved asylum seekers and failed refugees in Canada, such as releasing immigration detainees with less serious immigration violations and suspending deportations at the peak of the pandemic.

Another positive during this global public health crisis is the special program that grants permanent residence to asylum seekers who work in health care and essential jobs during the pandemic, said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“So there have been some good parts,” she said.

In June, the immigration department also announced plans to expedite the processing of permanent residence applications of people who have been granted asylum in Canada, with a new target of 45,000, up from 23,500.

That commitment will help someone like Mohammed Jadallah, who fled to Canada for asylum from Gaza via the U.S. in 2018 and has since been separated from his wife and five children.

When war erupted between Hamas militants in Gaza and Israel earlier this year, with bombs raining down on his homeland, the 41-year-old Toronto man could only console his family helplessly from afar, on a computer screen.

Although he was granted protected status in Canada in October and immediately applied for permanent residence, the process was set to take an average of 39 months.

“There was an airstrike in our neighbourhood in Rimal. The building that’s just 200 metres from ours was flattened,” said Jadallah, a rebar detailer, whose family struggles with food and fuel shortages.

“As a parent, you try to protect your children. It’s so hard when you can’t do nothing for them.”

Until he receives his permanent residence, Samaa, 37, and their children — Nidal, 15; Asil, 12; Mustafa; 9, Ali, 8; and Yusuf, 5 — cannot join him in Canada.

Dench said that speaks to the need to do away the bureaucracy that requires accepted refugees to go through all the hoops to apply for permanent residence.

“It will cost us less if we give them permanent residence more quickly because then it makes it easier for them to upgrade their skills and to reunite with their family and to contribute more fully,” she said. “If you’ve been vetted and accepted as a refugee, you should be automatically a permanent resident.”

During the pandemic, the resettlement of overseas refugees in Canada has also come to a halt due to border closures and the reduced processing capacity by the International Organization for Migration, the UN and local Canadian visa posts — except for the most vulnerable who require emergency resettlement.

As of the end of October, only 2,879 resettled refugees landed in Canada since March 18, 2020, including 1,603 sponsored by community groups, 1,262 by the federal government, and 14 through a joint public and private sponsorships. Another 40 arrived under the “urgent protection” program.

In 2021, Ottawa has set a target to bring in 36,000 sponsored refugees, but only 1,630 had arrived by the end of April, according to a report by Reuters. Last year, the target was 31,700 but only 9,200 made it, leaving 22,500 spots unfilled.

Critics ask: Will Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino allow the unused spots to carry over in coming years when international travel is back to normal?

“It’s 65,000 who are in the queue essentially, who are waiting to travel,” said Brian Dyck, national migration and resettlement program co-ordinator of the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. “And that queue has never been longer than now. Their applications are going in but there are none that are going out.”

Those who managed to come during the pandemic, he said, had their proof of permanent residence in hand on or before March 18, 2020.

While the task to bring in a huge number of sponsored refugees in a short time appears daunting, Dyck said that’s doable, as shown in how Canada and Canadians successfully brought in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of months in 2015 and early 2016.

“I think that the government has learned how to use a variety of networks to process sponsorship applications in different ways,” he noted..

And there’s been no shortage of public support during the pandemic, said Dyck, whose office has continued to receive a lot of inquiries from people looking to sponsor refugees even without promoting the idea.

Torontonian Marika Elek and her sponsorship group, Beach Cares, submitted a private sponsorship application in January to bring a Syrian family of five to Canada from Lebanon.

“I remember what happened in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real surge of refugees coming in, and people managed to handle that,” said Elek, whose family was sponsored here by the Canadian government in 1957 from Hungary when she was a girl.

During the pandemic, she and some 350 sponsors got together online and officially launched The Private Refugee Sponsor Network to “connect, learn and share” information and provide free training to help each other problem-solve in anticipation of the border reopening.

“We have people who are ready to welcome them.”

Source: As Canada eases COVID-19 border restrictions, advocates say refugees’ travel is ‘essential’

Senate could get rid of law threatening to strip Maryam Monsef’s citizenship

Needed: the removal of the previous procedural protections for citizenship fraud and misrepresentation without any effective replacement was over-reach:

The Senate could come to the rescue of Canadians who are being stripped of their citizenship without a hearing.

Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, who is sponsoring another citizenship-related bill in the upper house, says she’s hopeful the Senate will amend the bill to do away with a law that allows the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone deemed to have misrepresented themselves.

It’s a law that could potentially ensnare Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, who revealed last week that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she’d always believed.

The law, part of a citizenship bill passed by the previous Conservative government, was denounced by the Liberals when they were in opposition but lawyers say they’ve been aggressively enforcing it since forming government.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers on Monday launched a constitutional challenge of the law, which they argue violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Liberal government chose not to deal with the issue in Bill C-6, which repeals other aspects of the Conservatives’ citizenship regime, including a provision empowering the government to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are convicted of high treason or terrorism.

During study of C-6 at a House of Commons committee, the NDP attempted to amend the bill to repeal the power to revoke citizenship without a hearing. But that was ruled by the committee chair to be outside the scope of the bill.

Omidvar, who moved the second reading of C-6 on Tuesday in the upper chamber, said Senate procedural rules are different and she’s hopeful the upper house will be able to do what the Commons could not.

“I would like to see this question addressed,” said Omidvar, a longtime advocate for immigrant and refugee rights.

“I think it’s a very important question because, as BCCLA has pointed out, even if you get a traffic ticket, you get a hearing or an appeal and here your citizenship is being revoked and you have no avenue for a hearing and appeal.”

Omidvar said she’s spoken about the matter with Immigration Minister John McCallum and “he’s open to an amendment” from the Senate.

“He understands that this was an oversight.”

Source: Senate could get rid of law threatening to strip Maryam Monsef’s citizenship | Toronto Star

Rights groups call for oversight of Canada border agency

Another due process pressure point on the Government:

Civil society groups proposed a model Thursday for independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency, following the deaths of two immigration detainees in March.

Recent revelations that the CBSA had fully implemented just one of the 19 recommendations from a coroner’s inquest examining the 2013 death of Lucia Vega Jimenez at the Vancouver airport are another indication that the border agency is in need of oversight, said Josh Paterson of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The CBSA is the only law enforcement agency in Canada that has no independent oversight body, noted Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers president Mitch Goldberg, even though officers generally have more power and less training than police.

An oversight body for the CBSA would need to be independent of political influence and have legal power to both investigate and monitor CBSA activities, said Canadian Council for Refugees president Loly Rico. The council has proposed a model for a CBSA oversight body, recommending that it have the ability to receive and review complaints from citizens and non-citizens about their interactions with the CBSA, compel CBSA to share information, and make recommendations to the Public Safety Minister.

Canada has been criticized by three United Nations agencies in the last four years over its treatment of immigration detainees, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada. Some of the practices criticized by the United Nations included the practice of keeping children in detention, the lack of a limit under Canadian law on the amount of time an individual can be detained, and the country’s extensive use of immigration detention, when it should be a last resort, Neve said.

“That is a very strong signal that Canada’s immigration detention system is broken,” he said, adding that it is “unconscionable” that there is no independent oversight of CBSA.

Source: Rights groups call for oversight of Canada border agency

Refugee health care temporarily restored in most categories

Government partial compliance with the refugee claimant health care coverage:

“We are doing this because the court has ordered us to do it. We respect that decision while not agreeing with it,” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said following question period on Tuesday.

The government had until the end of today to review a 2012 policy the Federal Court deemed unconstitutional, “cruel and unusual” last July.

The government had asked for a stay until an appeal is heard, but that request was rejected on Friday. A date for the appeal has not been set.

“Under the temporary measures, most beneficiaries are eligible to receive coverage for hospital, medical and laboratory services, including pre- and post-natal care as well as laboratory and diagnostic services,” the government said in a notice posted on the website of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration over an hour after the minister spoke.

Children under 19 years of age will receive full coverage, while pregnant women will be covered for all but supplemental health benefits.

Supplemental benefits include “limited dental and vision care, prosthetics and devices to assist mobility, home care and long-term care, psychological counselling provided by a registered clinical psychologist, and post-arrival health assessments.”

However, refugee claimants in seven of the 12 categories included in the governments chart will not be covered for drugs or supplemental health coverage.

….The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, one of the groups that took the government to court over the changes the Conservatives brought in back in 2012, says the temporary plan does not comply with the Federal Court ruling.

“The government is still being punitive, they’re being selective and the court told them to reinstate all benefits,” said Peter Showler, co-chair of the refugee lawyers’ group and a former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. He is also an expert in refugee law at the University of Ottawa.

Showler was critical of the government’s decision to deprive certain refugee claimants of coverage for prescription medications.

“They are not in compliance with the decision based on the information that the government put out on its website today.”

Refugee health care temporarily restored in most categories – Politics – CBC News.

And the link to the table outlining what is covered and what is not:

Text of the government’s temporary plan for refugee health care

Plan to revoke passports raises concerns

Waldman is correct to highlight that this power could be applied arbitrarily but given that court safeguards exist, and given that there are some Canadians engaged in extremist activities in Syria and Iraq, it seems a prudent measure. See earlier Canadian government revoking passports of citizens trying to join extremist groups for background.

Not the same level as revoking citizenship:

Lorne Waldman, the head of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says he’s worried the government might use its powers arbitrarily.

Waldman likened the practice to Canada’s secretive no-fly list, which civil liberties groups have argued violates the right to due process.

In the case of passport revocation, Waldman says there are at least legal avenues available for people to appeal such a decision through the courts.

But he said there should be assurances that power is used fairly by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

“The Passport Order gives the minister the right to deny passports if there were issues of national security,” Waldman said Sunday.

“Now, that’s pretty vague and pretty broad, and the minister is going to have to justify it in some way or another.”

Plan to revoke passports raises concerns

Government welcomes Royal Assent of Bill C-24, Civil Liberties Groups Plan Legal Challenge

Key messages from the CIC’s Press Release:

Improving efficiency

Canada’s citizenship program is being improved by reducing the decision-making process from three steps to one. It is expected that, by 2015–2016, this change will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year. It is also projected that by 2015-2016, the current backlog will be reduced by more than 80 percent.

Reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship

The government is ensuring citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada. These amendments to the Citizenship Act provide a clearer indication that the “residence” period to qualify for citizenship in fact requires physical presence in Canada.

More applicants will now be required to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test to ensure that new citizens are better prepared to fully participate in Canadian society. New provisions will also help individuals with strong ties to Canada, such as by automatically extending citizenship to additional “Lost Canadians” who were born before 1947 as well as to their children born in the first generation outside Canada.

Cracking down on citizenship fraud

The updated Citizenship Act includes stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison and expands the grounds to bar an application for citizenship to include foreign criminality, which will help improve program integrity.

Protecting and promoting Canada’s interests and values

Finally, the amendments bring Canada in line with most of our peer countries, by providing that citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism, high treason and spying offences depending on the sentence received or who take up arms against Canada. Permanent residents who commit these acts will be barred from citizenship.

As a way of recognizing the important contributions of those who serve Canada in uniform, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces will have quicker access to Canadian citizenship. The Act also stipulates that children born to Canadian parents serving abroad as servants of the Crown are able to pass on Canadian citizenship to children they have or adopt outside Canada.

Government welcomes Royal Assent of Bill C-24 – Canada News Centre.

And the press release from the Canadian Association Of Refugee Lawyers and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA):

Bill C-24, introducing sweeping changes to Canada’s citizenship laws that make citizenship harder to get and easier to lose, has passed through the House of Commons and is now being considered by the Senate.  CARL, BCCLA and Amnesty International take the position that this proposed law has dramatically negative effects on Canadian citizenship, eliminating equal citizenship rights for all, and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as international human rights. According to the organizations, the new law will take away rights from countless Canadians, creating a two-tier citizenship regime that discriminates against dual nationals and naturalized citizens.

“This proposed law would allow certain Canadians to be stripped of citizenship that was validly obtained by birth or by naturalization. We think that is unconstitutional, and we intend to challenge this law if it is passed,” said Lorne Waldman, President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “We have presented our arguments to the House of Commons and to the Senate, in an attempt to get them to change or stop this Bill. But the government hasn’t listened, it refuses to amend the bill, and we feel we will have little choice but to challenge it in the courts.” …

“The ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act’ does exactly the opposite of what the title proclaims. It makes citizenship less secure,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “In Canada, lawfully-obtained citizenship has always been permanent – once a Canadian, always a Canadian – and all Canadians have always had equal citizenship rights. This bill turns the whole idea of being Canadian upside-down, so that the Canadian citizenship of some people will be worth less than the Canadian citizenship of others. That is wrong, and it must be challenged.”

PRESS RELEASE: New citizenship law will be challenged on constitutional grounds, if passed, say rights groups

In case you missed it, my assessment, The new citizenship act is efficient. Is it fair?

C-24 Citizenship Act Committee Hearings – 5 May

As there was no real press coverage of Committee hearings 5 May, watched the video and the following summary may be of interest.

Like many committee hearings, an element of Kabuki theatre with the Government asking questions of witnesses in favour of their approach to revocation while the opposition asking questions of those opposed to revocation and a number of other provisions.

On the Government “side,” there was Canadian Israel Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), Alliance of Canadian Terror Victims Foundation and the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD); “for” the opposition, the Inter-Clinic Immigration Working Group and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

CIJA supported most aspects of the proposed changes, including increased residency, language and knowledge requirements, the intent to reside, and the revocation provisions. Given that the possible impact of the Israel’s law of return, given all Jews the right to Israeli residency and citizenship, subject to an application process, Fogal spent considerable time stating that the dual national distinction did not apply to the right to having another citizenship but only to those who exercise that right. He did, however, note the need for some process improvements, particularly the need in any terror-related convictions in foreign countries to be subject to a test that they were equivalent to Canadian practice and fairness.

Alliance of Canadian Terror Victims Foundation (ACTVF) and the Foundation for Defence of Democracies also support the Government’s revocation proposals (see earlier opinion piece by Sheryl Saperia The case for revoking citizenship – National Post). Both argue that the fundamental social contract makes revocation appropriate in such extreme cases of terrorism, war crimes and the like.

Saperia of FDD noted the need for some process improvements (tighter drafting of connection to Canada for terrorist activities and, like CIJA, the need to have explicit criteria for determining the equivalence of foreign to Canadian convictions). On dual nationals, she said that in cases where other countries do not allow for renunciation, the Minister could have discretion to decided on the degree of connectedness to the foreign country. She also emphasized the need for more preventative anti-radicalization measures, noting the RCMP high-risk traveller program (RCMP set to tackle extremism at home with program to curb radicalization of Canadian youth), as well as requiring those applying for passports to make some sort of commitment to not engage in such activity.

For Alliance founder Maureen Basnicki, it is intensely personal, given she is a 9/11 widow, and believes that:

Therefore, if Canada allows a convicted terrorist to retain the Canadian citizenship, Canada is in effect saying “we accept the terrorist act as part of the fabric of life in Canada”.

But we also allow murderers and sex offenders to stay in Canada, as unfortunately they too are part of the fabric of society.

All three did not acknowledge that dual nationality does not only apply to naturalized Canadians. One can be born in Canada and yet have dual nationality. And if such a person is born and educated in Canada, is  “outsourcing” the problem, without accepting responsibility. And I suspect that the distinction made between the legal right to another citizenship, without taking it up, is a distinction that may not be applied equally to all communities, combined with the reverse onus of proof.

On the opposition “side”, the Inter-Clinic Immigration Working Group focussed on the situations of some of the more vulnerable refugees, and recommended keeping existing residency requirements (3 of 4 years), some exemptions for the knowledge and language requirements, testing language at end of process, maintaining right of Court appeal, reversal of proposed fee increases, no power to strip dual nationals of Canadian citizenship, and ensure intent to reside provision is not grounds for misrepresentation given that situations change.

Audrey Macklin of CARL focussed on the intent to reside and revocation provisions. On the former, their reading is that the law is written so that this could be grounds for citizenship revocation on grounds of fraud or misrepresentation. On revocation, CARL focussed on the constitutionality, noting that Charter rights cannot be violated as punishment, and that the social contract argument is not supported by jurisprudence. The distinction between “mono” and dual Canadian citizens is also likely not Charter compliant. She also raised a number of procedural rights (e.g., retroactively, reverse onus of proof) as areas of concern.

Questioning by MPs was largely predictable. Government MPs asked questions of “their side” as did opposition MPs, both trying to buttress their own positions.

One of the more interesting questions, however, was by Chungsen Leung (CPC), who went on at some length about how attachment and contribution to Canada could happen when one was abroad, almost questioning the intent to reside provision. The eventual question, directed at CIJA, reverted back to the obvious examples of citizens of convenience (e.g., 2006 Lebanese evacuation), with CIJA maintaining that being the real aim of the provision. But then drafting should be tighter so as not to cast to broad a net on Canadians that may move abroad for valid work, study or family reasons.

Ted Opitz (CPC) was poorly briefed in arguing that many countries have the same approach to revocation as proposed by the Government and that a previous Liberal government had ended revocation for treason. CARL corrected him on the former point (only UK currently has this approach, Australia is considering) and it was under Diefenbaker, two generations ago, that Canada stopped revoking citizenship from dual citizens.

And a bit of an interesting debate between Saperia and Basnicki with Macklin of CARL on whether the world would think better of Canada if we revoked citizenship or not. For Saperia and Basnicki, this was viewed as a strong signal worldwide that Canada did not tolerate such activity; Macklin argued the contrary that “outsourcing” our problem would signal that Canada does not take responsibility for the activities of its citizens. A philosophical divide.

Links (where available) are below. One note of frustration, the Parliamentary website, apart from posting agenda and the video link, does not appear to be posting briefs or transcripts, making it harder for those who wish to follow the discussions. A related frustration is that a number of organizations to not post their briefs and statements on their websites automatically or respond to requests for copies. I will update this list as the briefs and statements become available.

Inter-Clinic Immigration Working Group

Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – CIJA (link not yet posted)

Alliance of Canadian Terror Victims Foundation

Foundation for Defense of Democracies (link not yet posted)

Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (brief)

CARL Press Release: New Citizenship Act Threatens Rights of All Canadians

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