C-24 Citizenship Act: Senate Hearings Start

While overshadowed by the Galati case and related media coverage, Senate hearings on Bill C-24 treaded much of the familiar ground and focussing on mainly the same issues. Given Parlvu was somewhat choppy yesterday, may not have captured all the main points.

Starting with the witnesses supporting the Bill. Richard Kurland, Lawyer and Policy Analyst, and regular media commentator, applauded the government for providing greater clarity and transparency on the requirements and pathway to citizenship from temporary and permanent residency. The greatest benefit will be in more applications processed in a more timely manner at lower cost. He expressed concern, however, over the insecurity created by the intent to reside provision. He emphasized the need for oral hearings, not allowing citizenship officers to rule on revocation for fraud without the person being able to present themselves. As to citizens of convenience, he argued in favour of the US approach of requiring US citizens living abroad to file tax returns.

 Julie Taub, Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, was even stronger in her support for the Bill. She had “fought the system for decades” and welcomed the tougher penalties for fraud, the simplification of revocation and the crackdown on citizens of convenience, drawing examples from her legal practice and recalling the evacuation of Lebanese Canadians and their eventual return in 2006. She would have preferred residency of five years as Canada was too short compared to other countries. To further avoid residence fraud, she recommended that Permanent Residents be provided with a “swipe card” required for entry to or exit from Canada, given many Permanent Residents have more two passports.
Opposing the Bill were Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Lorne Waldman, President, and Peter Edelmann, lawyer. They focused on the revocation provisions, noting the differential treatment between various classes of citizens: single national born Canadian; dual national born Canadian and aware of their dual nationality; dual national born Canadian and not aware of their dual nationality; and naturalized Canadians.

Revocation could apply, save in cases of statelessness, to any of the three last categories. The Bill did not say who was a dual national and how dual nationality would be interpreted. Given how citizenship laws vary by countries, some communities would be affected more than others. The reverse onus of proof was not justified. The threshold of 5 years for terrorist offences was too low compared to sentences for murder and sexual assault. Revocation for fraud allowed for no hearing and was a completely paper process without any independent review. The intent to reside provision was not clear on how it would be interpreted and applied, and was another example of differential treatment.

Loly Rico, President and Janet Dench, Executive Director, Canadian Council for Refugees, opposed the increase in residency requirements and removal of credit for pre-PR time, given that refugoees typically spent three to four years of temporary residency before becoming permanent residents. Total time for citizenship could approach eight to ten years with these changes. Extending language and knowledge test requirements made no sense for youth given they would be in Canadian schools; for 55-64 year olds who were refugees, their life circumstances, time in refugee camps etc, may make formal test requirements an unreasonable requirement. CCR opposed revocation as it was discriminatory between Canadian and dual nationals and that punishment was better handled through the criminal system.

Debbie Douglas, Executive Director, of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, noted the anniversaries of the Komagata Maru and the M.S. St. Louis as a caution against promoting “any sort of racist policies.” OCASI opposed increased residency requirements, removal of credit for pre-Permanent Residents time, particularly for live-in caregivers where family separation has social and family costs. The intent to reside did not recognize that circumstances can change for work, study, or care of family members. Good faith of Minister that this would not apply post citizenship did not change ambiguity of law. Douglas echoed CCR on extending language and knowledge testing to 55-64 year olds, questioning the purpose of adding this additional barrier.
Debate as in the Commons Committee revolved around the familiar issues of intent to reside, revocation, language and knowledge testing, and decision-making process and lack of hearing or appeal. Government senators largely focussed on their defence of the Bill, and Opposition senators largely drew out their positions from witnesses opposed to C-24.
Some of the more interesting points:
  • Government Senators were sceptical that many new citizens would be affected by the intent to reside provision, examples cited by witnesses were “exceptions,”  with Sen. Enverga stating that if you “apply to come to Canada, your should live in Canada.”
  • On revocation for terror or treason, Edelmann trotted out the cliché, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and how definitions change over time. But more originally, rather than the usual Mandela example, he cited the contemporary example of Greenpeace being charged in Russia (Dench referred to Maher Arar). He also noted other heinous crimes, mentioning Paul Bernardo and Robert Picton, questioning why terrorism or treason should be treated differently;
  • There was a fairly spirited exchange on whether restoring knowledge and language testing to 55-64 year olds was an unreasonable barrier. Taub and Senator Eaton noted that basic language capability was not unreasonable to require. Refugee advocates emphasized for some it was, given what they had gone through. Senator Eaton, as a 70-year old, found their concerns to be “patronizing” to seniors but acknowledged that it may be a “huge struggle” for some. After probing by the Chair whether this was regarding language capability itself or formal testing, Douglas confirmed that it was more the lack of the alternative of an interview with a citizenship judge
  • Israel’s “law of return” was cited by Kurland as an example of dual citizenship. Some citizens, particularly refugees,  will always have a “fear of the state.” We will see how the judiciary “handles it,” acknowledging that this created two classes of citizenship.
  • Senator Eaton and Taub noted recent media reports of young men fighting in foreign conflicts and the risks of returning fighters to Canada. Taub noted there “really is not a choice” between Charter provisions and keeping Canada safe, and 75 percent of Canadians support revocation in these cases.
  • Whether more or less time in Canada increases integration was subject of debate. Douglas was powerful in noting that inclusion and removal of barriers  “goes a longer way than time,” citing the example of Black Canadians who had been here for generations.
  • Indicating the philosophical divide was a short exchange on citizenship as a privilege (Senator Enverga) and as a right (particularly Rico), who emphasized that as a former refugee from El Salvador, the right to be a full citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities that entailed as anyone born in Canada. That was part of the “beauty of Canada,” its inclusiveness and multiculturalism.
Hearings continue today with Martin Collacott, CBA, Asia-Pacific Foundation, Canadian War Brides (shut out from Commons Committee hearings), and PAFSO (foreign service union). Will be interesting to see if Galati case comes up during questions of the CBA witnesses.