C-24 Citizenship Act – Senate Hearing 12 June with Minister Alexander

Coverage of yesterday’s Senate hearings on C-24 with Minister Alexander and officials:

Alexander and his officials attempted to clarify what would happen to Canadian-born dual citizens convicted here or abroad of serious terrorism, treason or espionage offences that carry a penalty of five years or more. He stressed a convicted offender wouldn’t have to worry if he didn’t hold dual citizenship.

Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati says countries like Iran recognize as its citizens people who are born “five generations out” whether they want to be its citizens or not.

Alexander said: “There is a way of renouncing every citizenship. No one in our country can be forced to be a citizen of any country. And under the laws of Canada, citizenship can be renounced, either ours or those of other countries.”

“That might not resolve a difference of opinion with Tehran or other capitals who consider someone to be a citizen. But in our eyes,” Alexander said, the individual would be — as a Conservative senator suggested — assumed to be a citizen of Canada not subject to revocation of their Canadian passport.

Tories insist changes to Citizenship Act will respect Charter, Constitution | Toronto Star.

From the Globe:

The bill will also require citizenship applicants to declare an “intent to reside” in Canada, another controversial move. Along with boosted penalties for fraud, it raised fears people would be stripped of citizenship for leaving the country. “The government should be encouraging citizenship, not discouraging it. Amend this bill and remove the ‘intention’ clause,” Barbara Caruso, another member of the CBA’s Immigration Law Section, told senators.

Mr. Alexander said flatly that would not happen. “There’s no requirement for a citizen of Canada to remain physically in Canada, once granted in citizenship,” he said.

Liberal Senator Art Eggleton said the bill does allow for a court hearing for people who object to losing their citizenship. The power is in the hands of the minister. Mr. Alexander earlier said there is a de facto appeal right. “Anyone can go to the federal court if they think the government has not fulfilled its statutory mandates. And they do go,” he told The Globe.

 Minister Chris Alexander under fire as citizenship bill poised to pass 

Some points of interest:

  • Efforts by the Minister to clarify the informal nature of Canadian citizenship prior to the first Citizenship Act of 1947 in response to Melynda Jarratt and Don Chapman’s arguments that Canadian citizenship had more formal status before 1947;
  • “Canadians would be sick to stomach if they knew the extent of fraud,” stated Alexander, which would be addressed through physical residency, filing tax returns etc. He cited immigration lawyer Raj Sharma on the “rampant fraud” and how people would “lie, cheat and steal” to get a Canadian passport;
  • Alexander started to go down the path of criticizing the Liberals, NDP and the “small fringe group” of the CBA. “No one else” was challenging C-24, other lawyers “were embarrassed” by the CBA position. The Liberals didn’t “enforce the rules.” Why did they “spend so much time protecting the rights of those committing the most serious violations of rule of law.”
  • Chair reminded him and others to avoid partisan attacks.
  • Alexander stuck to the bureaucratic distinction between time spent as a temporary and permanent resident, defending the elimination of partly counting pre-P.R. time towards citizenship. Hard to understand given that many comparative countries do allow this, and given the Government’s efforts to encourage international students to settle in Canada;
  • On intent to reside, Alexander reiterated again that it only applies to the application period. Once citizenship is granted, it is no longer in force. CIC DG Citizenship and Multiculturalism Nicole Girard stated that intent to reside has to be read within the larger context of requirements to become a citizen, not post-citizenship. Senator Cordy was “still uncomfortable” despite these assurances. Alexander was not pressed to clarity whether it could be used to revoke citizenship in case of misrepresentation during that period;
  • On revocation, Girard walked through the various tests that would apply:
    • was the person a dual citizen?
    • if convicted abroad, was the offence equivalent to a Canadian offence?
    • was the sentence 5 years or more?
    • were there concerns with the process or independence of the judiciary?
    • In witness testimony, even witnesses supporting the Government (CIJA, FDD) noted the need for an explicit reference in the Act to the last test (equivalency of process). Not clear why the Government not accepting that.
  • Alexander glossed over the distinction between seeking leave before the Federal Court and having judicial review and was not pressed on that point. He also was not challenged on the question of oral hearings “Minister has authority to hold a hearing,” confirming the default of a paper process.
  • Citizenship judges would have more time for citizenship promotion, given that officials would be the decision makers, except for difficult cases such as those involving residency.
  • Alexander, in response to criticism of a harder and more costly process, stated “the higher the bar, the more attractive citizenship becomes.” Past experience with the more rigorous language and knowledge requirements had not resulted in fewer citizenship applications and lower rates of naturalization.

C-24 Citizenship Act: On to Third Reading – June 3

Committee debate on C-24 concluded June 3rd with the Bill approved in its entirety without amendment along party lines.

A large focus of the debate was on revocation (clause 8). Liberals proposed amendments, all rejected:

  • Requiring Minister to hold on independent hearing for revocation fraud, rather than Ministerial discretion;
  • Onus of proof for dual citizenship should be on government, not citizen; and,
  • Full judicial appeal for revocation fraud cases, rather than leave to the Federal Court.

NDP did not table amendments but rather focussed on the principles and approach behind revocation, focussing on how it created two classes of citizenship, and discriminatory treatment between single or dual nationals. Citizenship was not “like a drivers licence,” and was not just a privilege but also a right. Concern was also expressed about judicial processes in foreign jurisdiction and that even a right to another citizenship could mean revocation even if minimal or no connection to that country. Moreover, constitutionality of revocation for dual nationals was very questionable.

Government responded by restating that C-24 had been reviewed by the Minister of Justice and was Charter compliant. He spoke to the equivalence to Canadian crimes but was less specific as to equivalency of judicial processes aside from noting that Minister had power to waive revocation if concerns about foreign justice processes. He said “nobody wants a terrorist as a neighbour” and that we are talking about criminals, not law-abiding citizens. He didn’t know anyone “who wants them to keep citizenship” and that this send a strong message that Canada should not be a haven for terrorists.

Other amendments (all defeated) and opposition included:

  • Clause 9 (Canadian Forces credit): deletion of “intent to reside”;
  • Clause 11 (application suspension): concerns over increased Ministerial discretion;
  • Clause  12 (citizenship judge): changing onus of proof of “intent to reside” provision to Minister from applicants, as well as reducing Ministerial discretion;
  • Clause 14 (timelines): concerns expressed regarding the short delay for applicants to prepare their case (30 days);
  • Clause 15 (suspicion of security risks): concerns that innocent people could be affected;
  • Clause 18 (consultants): addition of law students to those permitted to provide consultant services;
  • Clause 19 (offences outside Canada): concerns regarding foreign judicial processes and lack of clarity on how these would be judged to be equivalent or not to Canadian processes;
  • Clause 20 (judicial review with leave): opposition to no longer providing applicants full right of appeal and concerns about Ministerial discretion;
  • Clause 31 (transition measures) amendment to grandfather current permanent residents in the system.

The most lively exchange came at the end on the ostensible issue of the proposed title, Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.

The NDP started off by noting their support for addressing Lost Canadian issues, new penalties for fraud, and greater clarification of the rules around residency. However, some elements were very problematic and weakened citizenship, in particularly, intent to reside, elimination of credit for pre-permanent residency time, and revocation. She challenged again the constitutionality of proposed revocation for dual nationals, noting the testimony of lawyers, as well as the Government’s record before the courts. The NDP’s own consultations indicated considerable opposition, and she cited the recent petition against C-24 with more than 25,000 signatures.

The NDP was extremely frustrated by the process and deplored that the Government had not listened to witnesses (“pourquoi les avoir invités?”). The Government had not accepted any, nor proposed any, amendments. The Government remained “entêtés dans son idéologie.” “C’était ridicule” as citizenship concerned fundamental rights.

The Government responded to what he called a “rant.”. Canadians “gave the government a mandate to govern as a majority.” Canada has changed since the 1977 Citizenship Act. C-24 is a blueprint for improvement, including faster citizenship processing. Every member has constituents complaining about current processing times of 2-3 years. The Bill provides an opportunity to “fix it” by 2015-16. He listed the other improvements: aligning fees to cost of processing, ensuring applicants maintain strong ties to Canada, addressing Lost Canadians, strong penalties for fraud, Crown servants, among others. Canadians did not view revocation as “harsh” and this was in line with other countries (UK).

He closed by stating that “this is a major and significant step forward for Canada. Canadians elected a government with a strong mandate to bring forward legislation that strengthens Canada.”

And with that, the Bill was voted on as a whole, “carried on division” and moves on the third reading.

***

The following clauses were carried without debate: 10 (evidence of citizenship), 13 (obligation to answer truthfully), 16 (GIC security rulings), 17 (not counting time in jail for residency), 21 (delegation of authority). 22 (additional information), 23 (proof of certificates), 24 (certificates of citizenship), 25 (regulations), 26 (regulations – Minister), 27 (sunsetting), 28 (definition document of citizenship), 29 (consultant fines), 30 (limitation period), and 32 through 46 (essentially technical transition provisions).