Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system

Recommendations do not appear very surprising in their focus on service and service standards.

But I am surprised in their recommendation number 16 on service standards that they did not include regular performance reporting on meeting those standards, basic to accountability:

The Immigration Department’s most recent clients’ survey in 2015 found 85 per cent of clients were satisfied with the service, with the rest complaining about a range of issues from the inability to access case status information to errors in applications.

In 2016, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.

The report’s number one recommendation was to train staff at the call centre on client service and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French, as well as setting a 15-minute waiting time standard for clients to talk to a live agent for inquires.

The report recommends the department consider having agents specialize in particular programs or application types such as temporary residence, permanent residence, refugees, citizenship and passports.

“The call centre may be used to check the status of an application that is beyond the normal processing time and report changes regarding an application that is in process,” suggested Toronto immigration lawyer Stephen Green.

“While the idea of the call centre is commendable, unfortunately the limits placed on call centre agents in terms of the information that they are permitted to disclose often results in the applicant being unable to ascertain the information required.”

The report said immigration officials should establish service standards and processing times for all programs and publish the information on its website. It said the department should simplify its forms and evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on its applications.

“If you talk to any MP, 80 to 85 per cent of our caseload involves immigration files. The long delays and lack of information are frustrating people,” said MP Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the opposition NDP, who sits on the immigration standing committee.

“All we are saying is these are simple fixes that make an inordinate amount of sense.”

Bernie Derible, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the department has made tremendous strides in speeding up processing times and simplifying processes, particularly for family sponsorship applications.

“We are reviewing the recommendations and have been improving many areas already under our government . . . Client experience is a key focus of Minister Hussen’s mandate,” said Derible, adding that the government has designated a director general responsible for improving client services.

Source: Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system | Toronto Star

The Conclusions and Recommendations from the report:

The Committee recognizes that IRCC has made a priority of modernizing client service delivery. Testimony heard in the course of this study confirms both the necessity and the complexity of this endeavour. Immigration is a life-changing journey for individuals who should not be frustrated by processes and bureaucracy. As such, the Committee makes the following recommendations to build on the department’s efforts already under way.

Call Centre

The Committee was pleased to hear about the changes IRCC has implemented to the Call Centre for family class applications. These changes address concerns raised by witnesses and improve operational efficiency, as evidenced by the reduction in the number of same-day calls. The Committee encourages the department to implement similar changes in other lines of business and looks forward to hearing progress reports on further Call Centre improvements.

As IRCC moves forward with reforming the Call Centre, the Committee wishes to draw attention to several issues. The Committee heard that Call Centre agents do not communicate their knowledge in simple-to-understand terms for those who may be new to English or French; nor do they facilitate calls when interpreters are involved. The Committee also heard that callers often wait for long periods before being connected to a live agent. Finally, witnesses suggested that Call Centre agents could be assigned to a certain type of immigration application so that they could develop greater subject-matter expertise as a means of improving service. In light of this testimony and the important role that the Call Centre plays in conveying IRCC’s information to clients, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 1

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada train all Call Centre agents on client service excellence and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French speaking abilities.

RECOMMENDATION 2

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide a standard process to facilitate calls between a client and a Call Centre agent when an interpreter is used.

RECOMMENDATION 3

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have a 15-minute standard for clients to be connected with an advisor or agent for all Call Centre operations.

RECOMMENDATION 4

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider including specializations and subject-matter experts for Call Centre advisors and agents based on application type, including (1) temporary residence, (2) permanent residence, (3) refugees, including protected persons, (4) citizenship and (5) passports.

Website

The IRCC website is also an important client service interface. Witnesses drew the Committee’s attention to certain problems with the website in its current form and also provided concrete suggestions for improvement. In light of what we heard concerning the IRCC website, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 5

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider, as part of the redesign of its website, using (1) client-centric design principles to produce digital channels for each business line, (2) plain language, (3) languages other than French and English, similar to what the Government of British Columbia is doing, and (4) virtual assistance.

RECOMMENDATION 6

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada make improvements to “My Account” to allow clients to view and print applications before filing and during processing, and allow applicants to maintain a complete record of every application filed.

RECOMMENDATION 7

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improve the ability for applicants and their representatives to link paper applications with online accounts.

RECOMMENDATION 8

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide alternative payment methods for individuals without access to online payment services and credit cards, such as returning to the previous policy of accepting proof of payment at a bank.

Providing more frequent and useful information

Another important issue also raised in the course of this study is the need to obtain more frequent and useful case information from IRCC. Witnesses made a number of suggestions in this regard, including making GCMS notes available online and providing more detailed status updates through a client’s online accounts. With respect to the private sponsorship program, witnesses suggested that the government establish standards for frequency of communication with sponsoring groups so that their resources can be used effectively and they can maintain support for the sponsorship.

The Committee heard from the department that providing clients with greater assurance that their application is moving forward is one of their current priorities for client service. We fully support this priority and make the following recommendations:

RECOMMENDATION 9

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada contact clients via email or other channels when (1) processing exceeds times provided at the time of application (2) an incorrect payment is made (3) common or simple errors are made on the application.

RECOMMENDATION 10

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada implement an online portal for clients and authorized representatives to track application progress, including but not limited to: (1) current status of the application, (2) any reasons for delays, (3) an estimated time for decision and (4) any missing information or complications with the application.

The Committee also feels that the department could consider providing more useful information on refusals, particularly for temporary resident visa applicants and humanitarian and compassionate applications. The example from Australia suggests that it is possible to provide failed applicants with a more fulsome explanation while maintaining fast processing. Further, as indicated by witnesses, proactive disclosure of reasons for refusal may lower the volume of Access to Information requests made to the department. In light of these observations, the Committee recommends the following in relation to providing clients with more useful information:

RECOMMENDATION 11

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide more information and details to clients on the reasons for negative decisions.

Finally, in the area of providing more frequent and useful information, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 12

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada examine ways, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, to increase the number of pre-arrival service sessions available, including attendance, in Foreign Service locations.

RECOMMENDATION 13

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure Members of Parliament and Senators continue to have access to the Ministerial Enquiries Division.

Application forms

The Committee would also like to address the issue of application forms. We understand that the department plans to draw on its experience with revamping the spousal sponsorship application kit to make changes to other programs. The Committee supports regular review of application forms so that they can be as client-friendly as possible. The Committee would also like to address the issue, as raised by some witnesses, of clients being penalized by form changes that occurred after their application was submitted. On the matter of application forms, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 14

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada regularly review all application forms to (1) simplify the form, (2) improve the client experience, and (3) evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on applications.

RECOMMENDATION 15

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish a process for notifying applicants when forms are changed and establish a mechanism to ensure that completed applications submitted with once-current forms are not rejected due to form changes.

Processing Times

Processing times and service standards were also identified as important client service issues by witnesses, who noted that not all IRCC lines of business are subject to service standards. Witnesses also noted that, for certain applicants working temporarily as they await a final decision that would allow them to remain in Canada, the validity period of the work permit does not correspond with the waiting period for the decision. To address these concerns, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 16

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider establishing service standards and processing times for all business lines and publish the standards on the website.

RECOMMENDATION 17

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada extend the validity period of work permits from six months to one year to take into account processing times at the department.

Performance Measurement and Client Feedback

The Committee heard that IRCC has mechanisms in place for soliciting client feedback and some performance indicators for client service. The Committee encourages the department to continue work in this area and recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 18

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offer automatic client service feedback forms for applications to the department.

RECOMMENDATION 19

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review key performance indicators for all client service channels and review best practices from other immigration systems around the world, such as those of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Reconsideration

The Committee heard that errors in processing applications that could easily be rectified sometimes end up in court because there is no other way to address them. The Committee is of the opinion that it would be in everyone’s interest to avoid this costly route, and we make the following recommendation accordingly:

RECOMMENDATION 20

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a “Reconsideration Committee” to deal with reconsideration requests within applicants’ 15-day deadline.

Continuous Improvement in Customer Service

In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Committee feels that IRCC should conduct more outreach, including targeted efforts for employers and refugees. We also encourage the Department to examine the possibility of providing customer service in person, which is not currently possible. Specifically, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 21

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct “client service and delivery” consultations with customer and client service experts, the private sector, former and current clients of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and all Canadians on how the department can better provide service.

RECOMMENDATION 22

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consult with refugees to determine their issues with client service and take steps to address them; the review would include (but would not be limited to) the website, Call Centre, languages used, access to technology and payments.

RECOMMENDATION 23

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work to better serve Canadian businesses and employers by studying the possible benefits of the department creating a trusted employer program to offer employers an expedited service for assessments (subject to a fee); that this study include input from Canadian businesses and employers; and that IRCC make its findings available to the Committee.

RECOMMENDATION 24

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct a cost‑benefit analysis on having regional immigration offices to deliver in‑person service similar to Passport Canada and Service Canada locations.

For many Members of Parliament, a large percentage of their constituency work is related to immigration and citizenship applications filed with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The Committee recognizes that the department handles many applications on a daily basis and generally delivers timely and professional service. It is our hope that the recommendations in this report will assist IRCC in its continued efforts to modernize its approach to client service and at the same time reduce the need for intervention from Members of Parliament.

Full text: Report 9: Modernization of Client Service Delivery Presented to the House: March 23, 2017

Yazidi genocide moves onto McCallum’s plate

To watch:

The whirlwind parliamentary study of the plight of Yazidis and other vulnerable groups has finished, and the witnesses and committee members are looking to Immigration Minister John McCallum to make the next move.

The emotional and often partisan study by the House Immigration Committee included calls from survivors of the Yazidi genocide, community advocates, and opposition MPs for the government to take special action to help persecuted Yazidis—a minority religious group targeted for genocide by ISIL (also known as ISIS, Daesh, and Islamic State)—in Iraq and the surrounding territories.

The Liberal-majority Immigration Committee asked Mr. McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) to “accelerate” asylum applications by Yazidis fleeing the violence, and to “create and implement special measures to facilitate Canada’s response” in a letter sent through Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.), the committee chair.

“We’re asking the government to use existing tools that are available in order to fulfill what the United Nations has called for” for the Yazidi population, said Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos (London North Centre, Ont.), who temporarily replaced Liberal MP Shaun Chen (Scarborough North, Ont.) on the committee during the study.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.), a committee member and her party’s immigration critic, sent her own letter to Mr. McCallum calling for the government to once again exempt Syrian and Iraqi refugees from an annual cap on privately-sponsored refugees coming into Canada, and to examine using a special section of the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to bring asylum-seekers to Canada quicker.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.), a committee member and her party’s immigration critic, sent her own letter to Mr. McCallum. Both Ms. Kwan and Ms. Rempel called on the minister to use that special provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, section 25, to immediately resettle vulnerable people to Canada, and to begin tracking refugees by ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation, so as to show how successful the government is at bringing in those under the greatest threat.

Mr. McCallum declined to be interviewed on the subject through spokesperson Félix Corriveau, who wrote in an emailed statement that “the minister’s schedule will not allow him to answer your questions.”

The committee will issue a formal report to the minister once Parliament resumes in the fall.

UN refugee agency, UN convention under fire

The Liberal government faces numerous obstacles to the type of quick, large-scale action urged by the committee members and advocates for persecuted minority groups in the Middle East, South Sudan, Myanmar, and elsewhere.

For one, it has already run up a significant bill during a deficit year for its ongoing admission and resettlement of 25,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees, and has committed nearly $1 billion to support those refugees over six years.

Mr. McCallum told Bloomberg last week that his government was having trouble bringing in refugees fast enough to meet the demand of Canadians who wish to privately sponsor their resettlement. However, there was concern among the leaders of some of Canada’s largest cities that they would not have the resources to deal with the large influx of Syrian refugees as the government hit the stride of its mass resettlement effort earlier this year.

The government faces a more technical barrier to the resettlement of Yazidis and other persecuted groups. Many of those people are living in camps or other places of temporary refuge within the borders of their home country. Under the wording of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, upon which Canadian law is based, those people are not considered to be refugees as they have not left their country.

Canada currently relies upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee agency, to help it select refugees for resettlement, and that agency does not have the mandate to deal with internally displaced people, David Manicom, the associate assistant deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, told the committee.

Canada and the international community should look at reopening the UN Refugee Convention to address that issue, said Mr. Fragiskatos.

However, Mr. Manicom said doing so would be too risky, as some signatories to the convention wish to narrow, not expand, their responsibility to refugees under that convention.

To bring in internally displaced people from hard-to-reach areas, the government may have to follow in the footsteps of Germany, which resettled more than a 1,000 persecuted Yazidis following the ISIL attack in 2014 by working with third-party humanitarian groups instead, Mr. Manicom said.

Government officials are planning a fact-finding mission to Erbil in northern Iraq for the fall, he said.

Source: The Hill Times

Time to change refugee law, says immigration committee chair

To note:

Canada’s refugee system is failing persecuted peoples around the world who can’t flee their own country, say members of the House Immigration Committee.

The committee agreed unanimously to hold a series of meetings over the summer to study the protection of vulnerable groups, and much of the discussion will likely revolve around internally displaced persons (IDPs)—those who are persecuted and driven from their homes, but aren’t able to reach refugee camps outside of their country’s borders, and thus are not legal refugees.

“Everything [in Canada] is structured around refugees: the regulatory, the legal framework. And it doesn’t allow us to address the issue of IDPs,” said Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.), the committee chair.

The committee hopes to have a report ready by September, complete with suggestions for legal, regulatory, or policy changes that could make it easier to bring vulnerable internally displaced people, including Iraqi Yazidis, to Canada, said Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, adding he hoped the report “could be used as a framework for our government to act on this humanitarian crisis.”

The committee was inspired to act after the United Nations released its report last month on the persecution of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq by ISIL (also known as ISIS, Daesh, and the Islamic State), say the committee chair and vice-chairs.

A pair of Yazidi women are among the witnesses scheduled to speak before the committee, as are representatives of the UN Human Rights Commission, office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and government officials. The committee also invited electronic submissions from the public up until July 13.

Source: The Hill Times

C-6 Citizenship Act: Clause-by-clause review (updated)

No major surprises as CIMM reviewed the draft bill. The NDP tabled 25 amendments, the Conservatives three, and Elizabeth May eight.

The Conservatives noted their objections to the reduced residency requirements, the repeal of the intent to reside provision, the reduction in knowledge and language testing to 18 to 54 from 14 to 64, and revocation in cases of terror or treason. They also tabled an amendment having a five-year review provision (not part of the Conservatives’ C-24) which the Government-side voted down.

The Bill was approved, with a few minor amendments, largely on party lines, and will be reported to Parliament.

Amendments passed:

Clause 1

That Bill C-6, in Clause 1, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 3 the following:

“(13) Subsection 5(4) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(4) Despite any other provision of this Act, the Minister may, in his or her discretion, grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

That Bill C-6, in Clause 1, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 3 the following:

“(13) Section 5 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (3):

(3.1) For the purposes of this section, if an applicant for citizenship is a disabled person, the Minister shall take into consideration the measures that are reasonable to accommodate the needs of that person.”

The discussed amendments included:

Admissable

Citizenship applications by youth (under 18, NDP and CPC): Government side voted this down, arguing that Minister had adequate flexibility to waive requirement when merited.

Submission of tax returns (CPC): Richard Kurland’s recommendation to clarify the language in the Act to make it a requirement to file taxes when applying..

Accommodation for persons with disabilities (NDP): Discussion focused on existing accommodation practices, whether this also covered invisible disabilities such as cognitive or learning disabilities and whether or not existing practices and legislation like the Canadian Human Rights Act were adequate. In end, CIMM adopted unanimously to send stronger signal.

Youth criminality (NDP) and not allowing youth criminal records to be considered for citizenship: Defeated with government arguing that existing protections – serious charges, free from record for four years – were appropriate rather than wholesale ban.

Knowledge and language test (allowing interpreter for knowledge – NDP): Government stated that the knowledge test was specified in the Act. The review of Discover Canada, including its language level, would make it easier for people. However, language was critical to integration and the Government defeated the amendment.

Inadmissible (outside scope of C-6)

Restoration or creation of an appeal process in cases of revocation for fraud or misrepresentation (NDP): Although out-of-scope, the NDP noted the earlier signals of the Minister with respect to being open to reviewing the issue and expressed hope that the Minister would come back in the fall, recommending an expansion of the Immigration Appeal Division’s role to include citizenship revocation cases (for fraud or misrepresentation).

Statelessness and remaining ‘Lost Canadians’ (NDP): One of the few statelessness amendments to be considered admissible was in relation to revocation in cases of fraud or misrepresentation. Defeated. However, an amendment providing the Minister with greater discretion was passed.

Changes in oath to include TRC recommendation 94 (reference to treaties with Indigenous peoples (NDP)

Ability to suspend application processing indefinitely (NDP)

 

 

Citizenship Act bill: An overview of what the committee witnesses had to say

Versions of this post originally appeared in IRPP’s Perspectives and The Hill Times:

A Commons committee has finished hearing witnesses on the proposed changes to the Citizenship Act in Bill C-6, and is proceeding to clause-by-clause examination of the legislation. Contrasting the nature of the committee testimony with that of Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, some two-years ago reveals similarities and differences. A number of suggestions were broadly in line with the government’s overall agenda of diversity and inclusion, and it will be interesting if the government responds to these in amendments to the bill.

Starting with the common elements between the two sets of hearings:

  • An almost complete absence of Quebec-based witnesses and French-speaking witnesses, and thus any Quebec-specific citizenship issues that may reflect its different mix of source countries, particularly from the Maghreb, where revocation, or removal of citizenship, would likely be a particular concern;
  • An almost complete lack of statistical data with witnesses talking either in conceptual terms, anecdotal examples, or principles, without any reference to the numbers of people potentially affected by the changes. Assertions by those impacted, for better or worse, by the previous or current Bill, would benefit from the hard numbers;
  • Both sets of hearings ensured different perspectives.

However, a number of significant differences between the study of the two bills, reflecting the change in government, are also notable:

  • 18 witnesses for C-6 compared to 28 for C-24, reflecting the broader scope of C-24 and a likely tighter timeline under the current government;
  • About 40 percent of witnesses broadly supported the revocation of citizenship provision during the study of the Conservative government’s C-24, in contrast to about 25 percent during the study of C-6, reflecting the previous administration having ensured a majority of witnesses in support of the most controversial change;
  • A generally more open tone in discussion and the questioning of witnesses by all parties. The witnesses for the most part recognized that a change in government meant a needed change in tone and approach. Shimon Fogal of the Canadian Israel Jewish Advocacy exemplified this approach, going out of his way to recognize the arguments against revocation while maintaining his position in favour of it. James Bissett and Martin Collacott, both former public servants with immigration experience, did not, thus undermining their arguments as they largely repeated themselves and their tone from previous testimony.
  • Predictably, witnesses that favour an easier pathway to citizenship, while welcoming the proposed changes of C-6, focused on what they perceived as remaining gaps: procedural protections for revocation of citizenship in cases of fraud or misrepresentation; barriers to refugees and some immigrants with respect to more difficult knowledge test and language assessments;  the need for exceptions to the requirement of physical presence in Canada and not merely the possession of a legal address; and the high cost of citizenship fees ($630) and language assessments (about $200) for all applicants.

Minister McCallum did express some openness to amendments and the nature of the questions from Liberal MPs suggested the same flexibility. While the extent of this willingness is unclear, the following is my take on possible amendments, based on their broad consistency with the government’s “diversity and inclusion agenda” and the principles and philosophy behind Bill C-6:

  • Revocation for fraud or misrepresentation: C-24 removed the rights or «procedural protections » that those facing revocation faced, including recourse to the Federal Court, leaving revocation at the discretion of the Minister and delegated officials. There was broad support to ensure those protections were made comparable to those in place for revocation of permanent residency, which provides for an oral hearing. Some argued for reverting back to the former process requiring a Federal Court ruling, which was lengthy. Others argued for the Immigration Review Board (IRB) to expand its mandate to include citizenship hearings, which would require additional resources.
  • Language and knowledge testing: The government responded to public pressure by reverting to the previous age range of 18 to 54 for the testing, but did not (wisely in my opinion), allow the knowledge test to be taken with an interpreter. The revision of the study guide, Discover Canada, and the related citizenship test questions, will presumably (and should) include a complete rewrite into plain language. This would address many but not all of the issues raised by witnesses, without a further weakening of the language requirements, with language skills so important to integration.
  • Physical presence requirement: This provides a clear and common sense definition of residency. However, given the nature of a more mobile and global world, particularly for many economic immigrants, there is a strong case for some forms of defined exemptions. These exemptions could include those who work for a Canadian company abroad, or leave the country for health and compassionate grounds. Or the exemptions could revert to the previous, broader guidance provided to citizenship judges.
  • Citizenship fees: While not part of legislation, the quintupling of fees in 2014-15 and the additional cost of up-front language testing will reduce the number applying, and thus reduce the naturalization rate, a trend we are already seeing. Fees are a significant barrier for lower income immigrants and refugees. Given that a large part of Canada’s relative success as a diverse society reflects a clear pathway to citizenship, addressing the cost, through a general reduction to perhaps $300, possibly combined with a partial waiver for refugees, would help restore this pathway to citizenship and political integration.

Whether the government will consider amendments, or whether the selection of witnesses was part of a strategy to allow the government to demonstrate flexibility, will tell us both about the specific citizenship policy directions as well as their general approach to governing. Will they view Parliament only as a way to deliver on their political commitments, or will they view Parliament as a significant forum for more open policy discussions, debates and decisions?

The upcoming clause-by-clause review starting May 3rd will illustrate their approach in both the particulars of C-6 as well as the broader context.

C6_-_Citizenship_Hearings_and_Possible_Amendments.png

Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 21 April Meeting

The last round of witnesses took place as CIMM proceeds to clause-by-clause review of Bill C-6 after next week’s recess (May 3).

As before, discussion focussed on revocation, particularly on the lack of procedural safeguards in cases of revocation for misrepresentation, language and knowledge testing requirements, and the need for exemptions with respect to the physical presence.

One of the more interesting aspects was the contrast in tone between discussions on revocation in cases of terror or treason. In contrast to the rhetoric/talking points of the previous government and witnesses supporting them, Shimon Fogal of Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which had broadly supported this provision, went out of his way to stress how he understood the government had a mandate and that he was sympathetic to many of the revocation concerns raised by others. If my memory and notes are correct, his intervention in 2014 was less acknowledging and understanding of other perspectives. While this may reflect CIJA taking a bit back to the centre after being perceived as too close to the previous government, it nevertheless provided a good example of how serious differences in opinion can be discussed openly and respectfully.

Details

Shimon Fogel of CIJA started by noting that Canadian citizenship is valued and respected, and is a balanced package of rights and responsibilities, with freedom, dignity and quality for all. Immigrants value being Canadian. Despite the restrictions on Jewish immigration capture is ‘none is too many’, Canadian Jews have made positive contributions to the Canadian story. CIGA supports the restoration of pre-permanent residency time credit towards citizenship, the retention of the physical presence requirement, and the maintenance of basic language and knowledge requirements. CIJA also supports that C-6 does not change the streamlined revocation procedures in cases of fraud or misrepresentation, citing the Oberlander case where the procedures were ‘abused’ to allow Oberlander to remain in Canada.

Other elements required further consideration. CIJA supports the intent to reside provision as an important element to reduce citizens of convenience. But safeguards are needed for those who intended but went abroad to pursue studies or other reasons. Amendments were needed to provide greater safeguards, including checks on Ministerial discretion through requiring going through the courts. CIJA continues to support revocation for terror or treason for dual nationals and wants the provision to be expanded to include war crimes and crimes against humanity. While CIJA respected the government mandate and arguments, it wished to encourage further reflection as terror and treason were not only crimes but an ‘insult to Canada.’

Elke Winter noted the importance of citizenship to nation building. She supports repeal of the national interest revocation provision, noting that this only exported the problem, was unlikely to be an effective deterrent, and that past legislation had resulted in negative stereotyping of Canadian Muslims, citing her recent study examining parliamentary debates, mainstream and social media.

Citizenship was an important step towards integration, an inclusive approach being more conducive to winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of immigrants. The reversion in language and knowledge requirements to 18-54 would encourage more to become citizens. Restoration of pre-permanent residency time was important for students and live-in-caregivers and recognized their Canadian experience. The reduction in residency requirements to 3 out of 5 years would enable Canada to retain the ‘best brains’ and most mobile immigrants. She also recommended implementation of TRC recommendation 94, adding reference to indigenous treaties to the citizenship oath.

Peter Edelmann started off by noting as a dual Swiss Canadian citizen, whose children are also entitled to Swiss citizenship, noted that he and his children as dual faced a possible risk that other Canadians did not. He welcomed the proposed repeal of the national interest revocation provision. He then focussed his remarks of revocation for misrepresentation, largely echoing Audrey Macklin and others who noted that lack of procedural protections given the single decision maker without any right to a hearing or comparable protections. He took issue that the Oberlander case justified this change, saying that the previous process did not by itself require such delays. Permanent residents charged with misrepresentation had a more rigorous process, with the right to a hearing by the Immigration Appeal Division and the possibility to present health and compassionate reasons. There was more procedural fairness around parking tickets than citizenship revocation. Misrepresentation could be serious of trivial. Citizens who citizenship was revoked did not revert to becoming permanent residents but rather foreign nationals who could be deported, and thus in a more precarious status.

Steven Green focussed his intervention on the physical presence requirement. While he welcomed the reduction to 3 years out of 5, physical presence could hurt a lot of people, citing examples of a CBC reporter assigned abroad or a university student at MIT or Harvard. He used the example of MPs, who spend most of their time in Ottawa but nevertheless were residents of their ridings, where their life was centred in terms of bank accounts, social connections etc [Note: stretch analogy in my view]. Exceptions were needed to physical presence and the government should revert to the tests used prior to C-24. The USA provided exceptions for those working for US companies, media or religious organizations abroad. The UK provided exceptions in terms of where the family lived, where the main business was located, and where were social ties. If the government were to keep this provision, exemptions should be provided, recommending working for a Canadian company, studying full-time or being a missionary. Failure to do so would mean we ‘would lose some great people.’

Avvy Go and Vincent Wong of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic noted the importance of citizenship in terms of what we are as a people and nation. The rights and benefits are important to immigrants and their sense of belonging. Citizenship should not promote exclusion and should be a signal that Canada is a “welcoming place.” She was pleased to see the language and knowledge test requirements revert to 18-54 year olds, the repeal of the intent to reside provision and the restoration of pre-permanent residency time credit.

However, Wong noted a number of “serious” problems remained. He supported Green’s testimony on physical presence, adding that compassionate grounds should be another exemption for those who had to go abroad to look after ailing parents. A test could provide flexibility while addressing citizens of convenience. For revocation for fraud, the previous process with recourse to the Federal Court should be reinstated. The up front language test should be “scrapped” as it was a “double whammy,” both a language and financial barrier to citizenship. Requiring applicants to take the knowledge test in English or French was a barrier given that this required a higher level of language proficiency than the CLB-4 required to become a citizen. Many immigrants and refugees did not have time to take language courses.

Richard Kurland focussed on two points: an apparent loophole with respect to tax filings and the lack of procedural safeguards in cases of revocation for misrepresentation. He was pleased that the government had kept the requirement to file income taxes, as this was meant to ensure that applicants were residents of Canada not just for immigration but also tax purposes. However he saw a ‘gaping’ loophole in C-24’s provision to file taxes and proposed adding the words ‘to meet any applicable requirement’ to close it. He also, like a number of other witnesses, noted the “strategic design flaw” of having less procedural safeguards than for revoking permanent residency. He suggested adding citizenship adjudication to the IRB’s responsibilities or alternatively, downgrade their status to Permanent Residents to have a “modicum” of justice.

Discussion:

Revocation for terror or treason: The government side asked how CIJA could justify revocation for terror or treason in light of some of the arguments that this was perceived as singling out certain groups. Fogal noted that he was not incentive to these concerns, that this was a difficult issue and part of the government’s mandate. His support was philosophical and used the analogy of a marriage when the fundamental commitments have been broken, the solution was divorce. Repudiation of the central Canadian values was not just a criminal matter, it was a crime against Canada itself. Kurland noted that this was a matter for the criminal system not citizenship.

The Conservatives continued to focus on revocation. Fogal again noted his sensitivity to the points raised by Engelmann and Winter and that the government had some “compelling” arguments about not differentiating between different Canadians. But he couldn’t escape the fundamental philosophical problem. An act of terrorism is an “insult to Canada” and their has to be some recognition of that difference and redress.

Engelmann and Fogal entered a short inconclusive debate whether a marriage or parent analogy was more appropriate (one can’t renounce one’s child was Engelmann’s point while unfortunately, divorce was all too frequent). [Note: Fortunately, no one raised divorce procedural issues related to religions (permitted, not permitted, gender discrimination) but I would caution over-use of this analogy).]

Revocation for fraud: Not much new discussion here. Fogal reiterated his support for the streamlined process, stating that there was a legal and moral imperative to maintain revocation in these cases, which was fundamentally different than revocation for other reasons. Engelmann recommended the “relatively straightforward” process of the Immigration Appeal Division with respect to permanent residents, noting that not all misrepresentation was the same, using an example of someone who 25 years ago had submitted a fraudulent engineering diploma but had been living, working and raising a family since them and there may be grounds not to revoke. Green and Go/Wong responded similarly.

Intent to reside: The government side questioned CIJA on its support for the intent to reside provision and how it could be reconciled with the mobility rights under the Charter. Fogal noted that none of the situations lead themselves to simple solutions. We need to balance the degree of confidence that new citizens have to fully participate with considerations regarding citizens of convenience, citing the 2006 Lebanese evacuation and eventual return of some 15,000 Lebanese Canadians. Individuals normally enrich Canada by being in Canada. There was not a black and white solution but it was important to be mindful of citizens of convenience.

The Conservatives questioned Green on his opposition to intent to reside. Green noted later that as a practical matter, intent to reside could not be managed. Was it a one month commitment? 6 months? The intent to reside provision would not have changed the Lebanon situation one little bit. [Note: Intent to reside applied only to the period of time the application was in process but C-24 testimony indicated some concern how it would be implemented.]

Kurland noted the only way to address citizens of convenience was to have a very stiff passport renewal fee ($5-10,000) for non-resident Canadians who do not file Canadian taxes, or adopt the US approach of basing income tax on citizenship, not residency.

Physical presence:  Some discussion related to situations where the father worked abroad to support his family in Canada. Go noted access to employment issues in Canada that led to this situation, and the risk to the husband’s permanent residency status if not working for a Canadian company. She also noted that many students studying abroad will return to Canada. Green noted that many successful business people have frequent travel abroad and just can’t meet the residency requirements and have to make the choice between their business or getting citizenship.

Criminal convictions: The NDP asked about the prohibition to become citizens for those with a criminal record abroad. Engelmann noted that the existing mechanism with respect to permanent residents already dealt with these cases. If serious enough, permanent residency can be revoked. Moreover, the provision in the Citizenship Act made no allowance for the context of the foreign conviction and he recommended repeal of this provision given that IRPA addressed this concern adequately. In subsequent questioning, Go noted the problematic nature of foreign convictions, particularly in China and Vietnam where most of her clinic clients come from.

Language/Knowledge: Same general points as before regarding the importance of language to integration, the concerns regarding up-front language testing in terms of cost and difficulty, and the “double testing” of language through the knowledge test. None of today’s witnesses spoke in favour of the current approach. Engelmann noted the higher language level required in the knowledge test and cited his personal experience of only knowing scientific terms in French  [Note: during my time at IRCC/CIC, we argued unsuccessfully for Discover Canada to be written in more accessible language, along with the questions. It appears from the increase in average pass rates in 2014-15, that the questions have been made clearer and more accessible].

Go and Wong made similar points from a fairness angle, stressing the difficulty for low-income families, often refugees, noting that this effectively disenfranchised those already marginalized. Go noted an upcoming study on Chinese restaurant workers who worked long hours and did not have time to learn an official language.

Statelessness: Similar discussion as before, although Kurland noted the need to carefully scrutinize applications from stateless persons, given that they were a recruitment target for terrorists.

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.