Hearings on Quebec’s immigration bill stall as politicians hurl mud

Sigh. Should be possible to have agreement on witnesses with a range of views:

The province’s largest employer group says the government has bungled its immigration reform by failing to manage the thousands of applicants already in the hopper who hope to live and work in Quebec.

Without overtly criticizing the government for deciding to shred the files of 18,000 immigration applicants, the normally cautious Conseil du patronat du Québec said Thursday it “deplored” the lack of a transition plan to help people left on the sidelines in Quebec’s zeal to reform the system.

As it is, the Coalition Avenir Québec government has created a climate of uncertainty at a time when the province desperately needs workers and there are 118,000 employment vacancies.

Rather than being seen as an opportunity, the reforms are seen as a threat, the Conseil said in a brief presented to a committee of the legislature studying the CAQ’s immigration reform legislation, Bill 9.

“This undermines Quebec’s credibility on the international stage and reinforces cynicism towards our immigration system,” the Conseil said in its brief.

“The impact for employers has been major,” Conseil president Yves-Thomas Dorval told the committee later. “In reality, we need lots of people.”

Asked by an opposition party MNA if Quebec should have held off on plans to shred the files, Dorval was curt: “Ask the government that question.”

The Conseil’s blast was the least of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette’s troubles Thursday, as hearings into the bill — required by law — almost didn’t get off the ground.

In fact, the committee room was vacant for most of the day as an epic procedural battle — including choice mudslinging — unfolded between the CAQ and the opposition Liberals.

At issue officially was the list of people to be heard by the committee, but the background theme was pent-up mistrust between the two parties that resulted in the legislature being paralyzed for several hours.

Jolin-Barrette lashed out at the same time as saying the government is not trying to muzzle the ample opposition to the bill, which will be before the courts Friday as immigration lawyers seek an injunction to block it.

“The Liberals do not seem to have understood the message sent by the population: put an end to your arrogant ways,” Jolin-Barrette told reporters. “Quebecers sent them to the opposition benches to reflect, so it’s time they sat there and started reflecting.

“They refuse to put a bit of water in their wine to ensure the legislature works.”

Not so fast, responded Liberal interim leader Pierre Arcand, accusing the government of wanting to rig the sessions to avoid hearing from people opposed to the bill.

“We are now embarking into a judicial imbroglio (on the immigration issue), which is harming Quebec’s international image,” Arcand said. “The government can’t act in good faith on this issue because its ideology prevents it.

“It wants to hear from groups saying its bill is good.”

And so the war continued, leading Québec solidaire house leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois to say they were “fighting like cats and dogs.”

“Ludicrous,” added interim Parti Québécois leader Pascal Bérubé.

The list of witnesses had been in flux for days, with clerks handing out update after update all week.

The city of Quebec was supposed to address the committee Thursday morning, only to cancel, saying it did not have time to prepare.

At the last minute, the government tried to replace it with an appearance by the Barreau du Québec, which answered that with 24 hours’ notice they did not have enough time to prepare a brief either.

At 11 a.m. Thursday the two sides were still squabbling — even over when to break for lunch. When Jolin-Barrette proposed a delay to his opening remarks because there were no groups available to appear after him, the Liberals refused.

The committee finally got rolling at 3 p.m., hearing from veteran economist Pierre Fortin, who waded into the issue of how many immigrants Quebec welcomes a year.

He said a massive increase of immigrants will not solve Quebec’s labour shortages, but a more selective process — matching people with jobs in advance — makes sense. The CAQ is proposing just that.

A big influx could be more harmful because it would exceed Quebec’s ability to socially and culturally integrate them, Fortin said: “If we push too far, we fan the flames of intolerance.”

He said a bigger question for companies in Canada is how to put an end to the rampant discrimination when it comes to hiring immigrants.

As if to prove Jolin-Barrette’s point on not muzzling the opposition, the first group appearing before the committee next week is Quebec’s association of immigration lawyers, which is leading the legal challenge to the bill.

Source: Hearings on Quebec’s immigration bill stall as politicians hurl mud

ICYMI: Federal government to launch Canada-wide consultations on systemic racism

Needed and appropriate follow-up to M-103 report broad emphasis on racism and discrimination across all groups and Budget 2018 funding for multiculturalism and measures targeted issues related to Black Canadians.

But will be difficult to manage and I don’t envy the public servants tasked with devising the consultations strategy and approach. I remember the Bouchard Taylor hearings about 10 years ago, and the recent town hall that MP Iqra Khalid held, that was far from being a respectful conversation:

Ottawa is set to launch pan-Canadian consultations on racism, a topic that has stirred controversy and divisions across the country in recent months.

The exact form and nature of the consultations is still being developed in the Department of Canadian Heritage and has yet to be unveiled to the public. Still, the government said it wants to create a new strategy to counter “systemic racism” and religious discrimination.

As the format for the new round of consultations is being debated, some federal officials are worried the forum could lead to acrimonious debates similar to last year’s controversy over a motion (M-103) to condemn Islamophobia across Canada. The motion, which did not affect existing legislation, was nonetheless roundly criticized in right-wing circles and conservative media as preventing any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Similar consultations have proven controversial in Quebec, where the government scrapped planned consultations on “systemic racism” last year over an outcry among media commentators and talk-show hosts. Instead, the Quebec government rebranded the mandate of the exercise to “valuing diversity and fighting against discrimination.”

According to last month’s federal budget, the coming “cross-country consultations on a new national anti-racism approach” will be funded out of a new $23-million envelope that is geared toward new multiculturalism programs.

“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths and has contributed significantly to our country. We recognize the need to counter all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and we are taking action to address the ongoing challenges and discrimination that still exist in our society,” said Simon Ross, a spokesman for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

“We will also be consulting with Canadians to develop a national strategy to combat racism in Canada, and we look forward to speaking with experts, community organizations, citizens and interfaith leaders to find new ways to collaborate and combat discrimination as we develop this strategy,” he said.

The new round of consultations will enact a key recommendation made earlier this year by the Heritage committee of the House, which called on the government to engage in consultations as part of efforts to create Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism.

According to the Heritage committee’s report, an action plan against racism would ensure that the government would consider the impact of all policies on visible minorities, similar to existing gender-based analysis.

“Systemic racism occurs when government actions fail to address the needs of certain racialized groups within the population, resulting in unfair, discriminatory practices and outcomes. To expose and prevent systemic racism, a number of witnesses suggested the development of a race equity lens as a key element of a national action plan,” the report said.

Jasmin Zine, a professor of sociology and Muslim studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the government should learn lessons from the debate over M-103 that was “hijacked” by concerns over the definition of Islamophobia.

“They have to be handled better than the initial parliamentary hearings were,” she said in an interview. “In the best-case scenario, the consultations could be a way to recuperate what was lost in the committee process. In the worst-case scenario, it will only reproduce the divisions and the political divides that were derailing this process from the beginning.”

She added the government cannot ignore Islamophobia as part of its study of racism and must not be afraid of confronting the root causes of racism.

“We can’t just wrap things up in nice, liberal, Kumbaya sentiments. We have to look at the issues that are critical for marginalized communities, such as questions of social inequality, power, privilege and the way racism is embedded in all institutions and levels of society,” Ms. Zine said.

Tensions are running high among federal politicians over the issue of racism, with Conservative MP Maxime Bernier accusing the government of exploiting the debate to win support in various communities.

“I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same,” Mr. Bernier said on Twitter earlier this month.

Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes shot back that research has shown that pretending not to see someone’s skin colour “contributes to racism.”

“Please check your privilege and be quiet,” she responded to Mr. Bernier on Twitter, before apologizing for her language.

The Conservative Party said in a statement that the coming consultations on racism need to be established in a way that unites Canadians.

“We hope that consultations on a subject as sensitive as this one will be conducted in an orderly fashion. It is now up to the government to ensure that they are well structured and constructive,” Conservative spokeswoman Virginie Bonneau said.

via Federal government to launch Canada-wide consultations on systemic racism – The Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson on the political risks:

With its message of hope transmuting dangerously into hectoring, the Trudeau government needs to be wary about the upcoming national consultations on racism. The exercise could further damage an already-weakened Liberal brand.

Justin Trudeau won the 2015 election on a promise of transformative change after a decade of Conservative inaction. The new government pledged to tackle climate change, forge a more respectful relationship with Indigenous Canadians and rescue refugees in peril.

Two-and-a-half years later, the national carbon tax, which is the chief strategy to combat global warming, is in peril from provincial conservatives in Ontario and Alberta who vow to scrap it if they come to power.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is behind schedule and beset with inner turmoil, even as Indigenous protesters and environmentalists vow to prevent the Trans Mountain pipeline from ever being built.

And instead of feeling good about rescuing refugees, we’re told we should feel guilty because so we’re so racist.

Ottawa committed $23-million in the last budget to new multiculturalism programs, including funding that will go to a national consultation on “systemic racism” and religious discrimination. The goal will be to develop a “national strategy to combat racism in Canada.”

This comes in the wake of Motion 103, the non-binding resolution that asserted “the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” and to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Conservatives complained the resolution would prohibit any form of criticism of Islam. It would not. More problematic, though, is the notion of an “increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Who says? There is compelling evidence that Canada, with its wide-open immigration policy, is the most tolerant country on earth.

Nonetheless, a committee crisscrossing the country in search of intolerance is bound to find it, and to publicize that finding. This is of a piece with this government’s fondness for making people feel bad about themselves.

You may be proud of your home and your community, but you’re living on unceded Indigenous land, as Liberal cabinet ministers insist almost everywhere they go.

You may consider yourself environmentally responsible, but that SUV you drive is an abomination, which is the whole reason behind the carbon tax.

You may consider yourself free of prejudice, but apparently this country suffers from systemic racism and Islamophobia, which is why we need a task force.

As conservative commentators and politicians are certain to point out, the worst example of religious discrimination under way right now might come from the Liberal government itself. Employment and Social Development Canada has cancelled funding for a summer-jobs program to churches and other religious organizations because they refuse to affirm on the application form that they respect “reproductive rights and the right to be free of discrimination” on the basis of, among other things, “sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

There are people of faith of all religions who oppose abortion and who do not condone same-sex acts. On that basis, faith-based organizations have been denied funding, even though the students they would hire would be serving as camp counselors and the like, and would not be asked to proselytize.

This writer can think of another government that believed it was morally superior to the people it served. Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP claimed affirmative action was needed to counter sexism; photo radar was needed because people drove too fast; an anti-racism secretariat was needed because of racial prejudice. Voters did not take this well.

If your government accuses you of being a bad person, you are unlikely to become a better person. You are more likely to change the government.

The Liberals’ sudden and dramatic decline in popularity is entirely reversible. Governing parties often slump mid-mandate, then rebound when earlier investments start to pay off. By this time next year, Mr. Trudeau could be back on top and looking forward to the fall election campaign.

But if the Grits really do want to get back in the voters’ good graces, they need to stop lecturing so much. We’re not as bad as they say we are, and they’re not as enlightened as they think they are.

This new consultation on systemic racism should keep a low profile. ​

Liberal investigation into systemic racism should keep a low profile

And appropriate caution regarding the government’s ability to manage these consultations given both its consultation record and the sensitive and uncomfortable nature of the subject. That being said, while yes it makes sense for the government to focus on issues and entities under its jurisdiction, there is place for a broader conversation regarding systemic racism and barriers across all levels of government and institutions in Canada:

Canada’s self-image is of an open, inclusive society – one of the planet’s most welcoming places.

And in relative terms, that’s mostly true. Ours is an unusually successful national story. But step back a few paces and the picture begins to look ever so slightly askew.

It’s time to face an uncomfortable fact: We have complex societal systems and, yes, they too often discriminate against people on the basis of skin colour, religion or national origin. It is not a collective moral failure to admit that systemic racism exists in Canada – that is, historically entrenched discrimination in the rules, policies and practices governing institutions. It is an acknowledgment of reality.

Anyone who claims otherwise or takes umbrage at the descriptor is invited to speak to an Indigenous Canadian. Or to any of the thousands of black Canadians who have been forced to submit to police carding. Or to an unemployed Muslim woman. The list could go on.

While we are a country of immigrants – Canada has the world’s highest per capita immigration rate; the 2016 census revealed 21.9 per cent of us were born elsewhere – our immigrants tend not to earn as good a living as the native-born.

According to Statistics Canada, new Canadians, who are also often visible minorities, are more than twice as likely to be jobless, and those who do find work earn 16 per cent less, on average, than so-called “old stock” Canadians.

The immigration income gap is real and the numbers indicate it is growing, even for second-generation Canadians. It’s not because Canada admits people with low education levels or insufficient skills – quite the opposite. We choose the best of the best, and then have them drive cabs.

Institutional barriers are part of the problem, the most obvious being a persistent unwillingness to recognize foreign qualifications.

But prejudice is also a factor. A 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Philip Oreopoulos found that fictitious resumes featuring foreign-sounding names or work experience were three times more likely to be tossed aside by would-be employers. The most-cited reason for doing so was concern over language skills, which other research has identified as a proxy for discrimination.

So what to do? For a start, our governments could stand to listen more closely to marginalized voices. As it happens, Ottawa is in the midst of planning a national public consultation on racism and religious discrimination. We hope the effort produces some benefit. But recent precedent gives us ample cause to fear it won’t.

The Trudeau Liberals took a worthy idea in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry, made a hash of it and likely set it up to fail. It didn’t put enough care into the planning, hoping instead that the symbolic value of the inquiry would alone be enough to see it through.

This government is also insufficiently wary of the dangers of identity politics, as evidenced by the culture war it started after it denied summer-job grants to religious groups that are overtly anti-abortion or don’t support gay marriage.

Plus, it can be a challenge to keep any examination of racism from going off the rails. The Quebec government proposed a similar public discussion after six Muslims were shot dead in a Quebec City mosque last year. That quickly devolved into a partisan bun-fight over nomenclature – you’re painting everyone as racist! – and was subsequently watered down into empty banter about “valuing diversity.”

Ottawa can only avoid those pitfalls by focusing on itself – on institutions like the Canadian Armed Forces, the civil service and the RCMP, and on federal policies and programs.

It must not involve itself in provincial and local issues (such as municipal policing practices), or engage in sweeping conclusions about Canadian society at large. The terms of reference must be perfectly clear and appropriately narrow.

It’s critical to not get this wrong. Ottawa should examine the negative consequences of its policies on racial and religious minorities. All governments should.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose city is attempting to reckon with its racist history, said recently, “Here is what I have learned about race: You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.”

If Ottawa does that intelligently and constructively, Canada might become a better country for it. But we have real doubts about the Trudeau government’s ability to lead such an effort without making a hash of it.

Source: Globe editorial: The problem with Ottawa’s plan to consult the public on racism? Ottawa itself

M-103 committee hears calls for better data and a definition of Islamophobia

Nice to see the Post addressing its previous lack of balance in its coverage of the M-103 hearings. And most of the recommendations mentioned below are reasonable and innocuous, unlike some of the earlier fear mongering:

Better hate crime data, more training for law enforcement and a clear definition of Islamophobia are some of the recommendations the House of Commons heritage committee has heard most frequently as part of its racism and religious discrimination study required by Motion 103.

The anti-Islamophobia motion M-103 touched off a firestorm of controversy en route to its passage in March. Put forward by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, it asked the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Though it is not a law, critics have claimed it will lead to the stifling of free speech by preventing people from criticizing Islam.

Many of the recommendations heard by the heritage committee this fall amount to little more than calls for better education and more support for victims of hate crimes.

Witnesses testifying before the committee have repeatedly raised the lack of data on racism and hate crimes, calling it a significant problem. In June, Statistics Canada reported that hate crimes targeting the Muslim population had increased by 61 per cent between 2014 and 2015, and that hate crimes overall had increased by five per cent. But the agency also noted that the reported data “likely undercounts the true extent of hate crime in Canada, as not all crimes are reported to police.”

Last week, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) testified that the collection of hate-crime data “varies widely by police department,” and urged the federal government to “establish uniform, national guidelines and standards.”

On Monday, Serah Gazali of Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, a community organization in Vancouver, said Canadians also need better education about their rights and their options for reporting hate crimes. “I think (victims) talk about it within themselves and perhaps it’s normalized,” she said. “So they don’t think of it as something that needs to be really addressed.”

Other witnesses have called for police officers to receive more training about how to deal with victims reporting such crimes.

Some have also argued that Canada’s existing hate-crime laws must be strengthened or better enforced.

“Federal government resources should be allocated to support the development of dedicated local police hate-crime units,” CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel included among his recommendations to the committee. “These units have been integrated into several police services across Canada, and have constituted an unmitigated success.”

The delegation from Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, which was presenting recommendations from a community round-table organized with help from NDP MP Jenny Kwan, said the government “should strengthen laws against hate speech and crimes by providing a much more clear and inclusive definition of hate crime and Islamophobia.”

Witnesses throughout the hearings have suggested that Islamophobia, the term at the heart of the motion, needs to be better defined. “The term Islamophobia has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic,” Fogel argued. “Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand.”

On Monday, Gazali went further, suggesting that Islamophobia should explicitly be criminalized. The Criminal Code of Canada currently forbids the public incitement or promotion of hatred “against any identifiable group,” and the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on grounds including race, national or ethnic origin and religion.

Since the hearings began last month, a number of witnesses have recommended an updated national action plan against racism, similar to a plan released in March by Ontario. The federal government first released its own action plan in 2005, but Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, said the old plan is “too general.” [Note: the previous action plan, CAPAR, was largely symbolic, with the one meaningful initiative being the collection of police-reported hate crimes data.]

The Ontario plan, she said, targets four pillars: Islamophobia, anti-black racism, Indigenous racism and anti-Semitism. “Within those four pillars, there are very clearly identified targets for what the government hopes to do within the next five years,” she told the committee in September.

Education and employment are other areas where action is needed, according to some witnesses. Ayse Akinturk, an executive with the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, pointed to the challenges many immigrants encounter in trying to work as professionals in Canada. “I think recognition of foreign credentials, international credentials should become a much facilitated procedure,” she said Monday. “It takes really a lot of effort and years, at the end of which people give up and try to find other solutions to make a living for themselves.”

Others have recommended mandatory anti-racism training for government employees, and that Ottawa should work with the provinces to improve childhood education on diversity and multiculturalism.

In recognition of a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that left six people dead earlier this year, Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, recommended that Jan. 29 be declared a “national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia in Canada.”

Source: National Post

Hearing into Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion [M-103] showcases confusion, fears of free speech loss

Interesting that the Post seems to be only covering the hearings with CPC-nominated witnesses:

27 Sep:

  • Jay Cameron, Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms
  • Raheel Raza,  Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow
  • Peter Bhatti, International Christian Voice
  • Father Raymond de Souza

and not the hearings with government-appointed ones:

25 Sep:

  • Ayesha S. Chaudhry, Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice
  • Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
  • Shawn Richard, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
  • Shalini Konanur, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

Lack of reporter time, or lack of balance?

The Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, could lead to thought control, oppression, disharmony and the criminalization of non-Muslims, the House of Commons heritage committee heard Wednesday, during some of the most extreme criticism of the motion it has heard to date.

It was a hearing that showcased much of the confusion and polarizing rhetoric that has swirled around M-103 since it was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in December 2016, and highlighted doubts about the language of the motion. While the committee is supposed to be gathering recommendations for how to combat racism, several committee members spent much of their time trying to explain what M-103 actually means.

Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin was at pains to clarify that the motion is not a law, that the committee is not drafting a law and that the committee’s recommendations won’t create a new law. The committee is currently conducting a study of racism and religious discrimination, as required by M-103, which was passed in March.

“We’re just doing a study,” said Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz.

The Liberals spent so much time trying to explain M-103 that, at one point, Conservative MP David Anderson accused them of “filibustering their time.”

“It seems they’ve been more interested in hearing their own voices than anyone else’s,” he said.

Still, some of the witnesses painted dire portraits of what might happen if criticism of Islam were somehow banned in Canada. Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms, spent several minutes explaining that M-103 could prevent Canadians from criticizing such practices as female genital mutilation. He also claimed the motion implies that the government should police the thoughts of its citizens.

Source: Hearing into Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion showcases confusion, fears of free speech loss | National Post

Iqra Khalid urges MPs to take unified approach in Islamophobia study

Will be interesting to see the degree to which the Conservatives play a constructive or obstructive role in the Committee study – and whether the Liberals resist partisanship in their approach.

Their choice of witnesses will be as revealing as their interventions (don’t have the complete list to be able to assess the respective balance but the inclusion of Tarek Fatah on the Conservative list suggests that their approach may not have changed):

The inclusion of the phrase Islamophobia in a hotly debated motion passed by the House of Commons last year was meant as an example of forms of racism, the Liberal MP who sponsored the proposal said Monday.

Iqra Khalid told the House of Commons heritage committee that her motion calling for parliamentarians to condemn Islamophobia and for a study on systematic racism and religious discrimination was about the study itself that began Monday.

“It uses the example of Islamophobia to make a larger point about the problem of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination — that we have to find ways to tackle that broad problem in Canada as a whole,” Khalid said.

Khalid said she was motivated to introduce M-103 after hearing several stories of racist acts against different faiths in the fall of 2016. When she looked into the issue, she found the statistics to provide context to the problem were lacking and something had to be done.

“The objective of the motion was to bring forward this study, it is upon this committee as a whole to take that unified approach to study the issue, to work with each other to find those recommendations to assist us as policy makers,” she said.

Khalid’s motion passed in a vote of 201-91 last spring. It called on MPs to recognize something had to be down to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” and to that end, the House ought to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and direct the heritage committee to study the issue, including how better to gather hate crime data.

The conflict around the motion centered largely around the word Islamophobia, setting off protests on Parliament Hill and arguments across the country over the meaning and implications of the phrase.

Khalid told the committee she defines it as “irrational fear or hatred of Muslims or Islam” that leads to discrimination.

But opponents say the word it is vague and essentially means criticism against Islam of any kind is forbidden, and some saw Khalid’s motion as the first step in criminalizing that criticism. Conservative news outlet Rebel Media seized on that issue with gusto, forcing it into the Conservative leadership race as contenders were grilled on their positions.

The Conservatives had sought to remove the phrase and instead broaden the motion to refer to multiple faiths.

They lost over objections from the Liberals that they would be watering down Khalid’s effort. Several Conservatives raised their own motion in quizzing Khalid on Monday about her intentions.

“Both of us would have liked to have found ourselves on the same side of the vote in the House on the issue,” Conservative David Anderson said.

“We are sir,” Khalid replied.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she had never seen as much “fomented anger, concern and misconception” around a House of Commons motion as she heard around Khalid’s.

She and other MPs told Khalid they’d received calls that the motion would lead to Islamic religious law, known as Sharia, being introduced in Canada or that it would give Islam a protected status in Canada greater than that of other religions.

Khalid was asked to directly address some of the specific concerns, but didn’t tackle them all, saying while there were misconceptions, it was time to move forward.

“The conversation that Canadians had over the past number of months was a very important conversation,” Khalid said.

“It is a great way to lead up to this study.”

Source: Iqra Khalid urges MPs to take unified approach in Islamophobia study – The Globe and Mail

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.

Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 14 April Meeting

At the first set of hearings with witnesses, the majority were supportive of the main changes in C-6 given their concerns regarding Charter rights, due process, and removing barriers for the more vulnerable.

There were a few committee procedural disputes, with the Conservatives challenging the Chair’s discretion in asking questions and asking for use two meetings to discuss issues related to live-in-caregivers, likely both strategies to delay passage of the Bill. The Government side voted down both motions.

The first hour was dedicated to legal and related issues, with Legal Aid Ontario (Andrew Brouwer), Audrey Macklin of UofT Law School, and the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section (Christopher Veeman) testifying. Their presentations and answers to questions reinforced each other. All supported removal of revocation for dual citizens convicted of terror or treason. I will post written briefs as received (they will likely be posted on the CIMM site).

Legal Aid Ontario emphasized their broader mandate to ensure equal access to charter rights, noting the rights of the mentally ill and children in particular. It shares Macklin’s point on the need to ensure that revocation for fraud and misrepresentation has comparable procedural safeguards to other areas, including recourse to the Federal Court. Refugees should get pre-decision time 50 percent credit for permanent residency time to qualify for citizenship. Brouwer made a number of recommendations to improve protections for stateless persons, both those who are legally as well as de facto, and that statelessness should be considered a factor in granting citizenship.

Macklin focused on revocation for fraud and misrepresentation, explaining the protections that existed prior to C-24, with the general principle that the more secure one’s status, and the more important the consequences of losing it, meant the greater the protections needed. The changes made by the previous government meant that those accused of fraud or misrepresentation would have less protection than permanent residents similarly accused, or even those facing a speeding ticket. Procedural protections were needed. First level decision-making should be delegated, with provision for appeal to an independent quasi-judicial body such as the Immigration Appeal Division. There should be various remedial options for the Federal Court to appeal or review.

The CBA noted that it welcomed some of the changes in C-24 that provided greater clarity on residency, streamlined decision-making and the increased resources to address the processing backlog. It agreed with Macklin, calling C-24’s misrepresentation revocation provisions ‘Kafkaesque.’ The CBA also questioned IRCC’s authority to suspend processing of incomplete applications essentially indefinitely. Loss of citizenship should mean reversion to permanent resident status. Some discretion should be provided with respect to physical presence for those whose work takes them overseas but who are based in Canada, citing pilots as an example.

Questions:

Government side:

Q: Would the risk of giving citizenship judges greater flexibility not mean less consistent decisions?

A (CBA): Possible, but that type of discretionary decision-making exists and this provides flexibility to address those with strong cases.

Q: To address statelessness, what provisions would be recommended, and would these be best dealt with in C-6 or separate stand alone legislation?

A: LAO): Within C-6, including a definition would be particularly helpful. Larger issues include ratification of the 1954 statelessness convention, an improved process to determine status similar to other countries like the UK, and amendments to humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) guidelines and the grounds for invoking statelessness.

Q: Why is revocation like banishment and how would the previous revocation provisions of C-24 been incompatible with the Charter?

A (Macklin): Explained mainly with respect to s 7 of the Charter as being cruel and unusual punishment. The normal Ministerial powers do not include punishment, with revocation being a double punishment in addition to jail time. Earlier SCC jurisprudence on the right of prisoners to vote provided a precedent for this reasoning.

Q: For those whose families are in Canada but who work abroad (example from Gulf), physical presence means they may never meet these and not become Canadian.  What suggestions do you have to address these kinds of situations?

A (CBA): During C-24 hearings, our submission recommended IRCC discretion the tests in the previous IRCC policy manual 5, pages 6-7 for a nuanced assessment of connection to Canada. This should be delegated to officials.

Physical presence is black and white, easier to apply, and thus improves processing speed. Trade-off between speed and allowing exceptions. Macklin noted that one can have both clear rules with allowable exceptions.

Q: What is the logic of the CBA in not wanting to require tax returns?

A (CBA): There are already provisions in the Income Tax Act so no need. Risk of misrepresentation revocation in case someone did not file.

Opposition questions:

Q (C): With respect to revocation, people want to feel safe. Three jurisdictions have introduced or passed similar legislation: UK, France (still in Senate) and Australia. Any reaction to the fact that other countries had adopted a similar approach to C-24? Tilson went on at some length to make his points.

A (CBA): From a practical point of view, not sure how revocation makes us safer. Better to keep them in a jail; expelling them means they may come back later. (MP Tilson noted that revocation and expulsion would happen after jail time).

A (Macklin):  France had abandoned its proposed bill. Australia had no entrenched bill of rights. There was ongoing litigation in the UK over revocation practices. More interesting, many countries had not implemented such measures, including the USA. As to question whether revocation made us safer, her understanding was that terrorism was a global problem, one that we should not export elsewhere. She cited the absurd example of a dual Canadian-British citizen, convicted of terrorism, and a ‘race’ to see which country would revoke first.

Q (NDP): What are the implications of the provisions on foreign criminality as a bar to citizenship? On language testing, is not the requirement to do the knowledge test in an official language a form of double testing?

A (LAO): There are justifiable concerns that someone who comes from a repressive regime, that the regime could lay a charge to prevent that person from becoming a Canadian citizen.

A (CBA): CBA advocates a return to the previous system where the knowledge test could take place before a judge with an interpreter.

Q (NDP): Does the steep increase in citizenship fees  result in hardship, and would you recommend the government entertain measure to reduce this hardship.

A (LAO and Macklin): Obvious barriers particularly on refugees. Refugees need citizenship and government should be mindful not to erect barriers.

Q (NDP): What should be the considerations for invoking H&C? At what stages?

A (Macklin): Crucial throughout given no law or regulation can cover all situations. Factors need to be specified.

Q (C) : Under what conditions should citizenship be revoked? Fraud, lying?

A (CBA/Macklin): Yes, for misrepresentation. There could be consideration for long-term residents. Macklin added that the misrepresentation should be material, that citizenship would not have been granted if known. A statute of limitations could be introduced. MP Saroya questioned having a statute of limitations, asking what about war crimes? Macklin noted there was no statute of limitations for war crimes or crimes against humanity. She added, in response to a further question, that citizenship is a limited tool to address safety and security, the criminal justice system and enforcement were more effective.

Second Hour

This was a broader discussion, featuring former Ambassador James Bissett, Debbie Douglas of OCASI, and Ihsaan Gardee of NCCM.

Bissett indicated his opposition to C-6, reiterated his well-known belief that five-year residency was needed. He talked about citizens of convenience, citing the Lebanese evacuation of 2006 and eventual return to Lebanon. His prime argument is that there are two classes of citizenship: natural born (by accident) and choice (naturalization). He then added to that dual citizens (which either can be).  Canada was not the only country to revoke citizenship, citing the UK. He mentioned the CSIS analysis of some 130 radicalized Canadian fighters abroad.

Douglas supported C-6 but argued for greater flexibility in the physical presence requirement with citizenship judge discretion. She noted the difficulty older applicants may have in passing the test; while she believed in its importance, it should not be a condition. Moreover, older applicants should be allowed interpreters in the knowledge test. Up-front language testing was an issue, particularly the cost, and should be eliminated for those who have met all other criteria. There should be greater clarity on the disability exemptions beyond vision and hearing.

Gardee focussed his intervention of the revocation for terror or treason, welcoming the proposed repeal of this provision in C-24. He noted that this had created considerable unease among Canadian Muslims as it created two classes of citizens. Repeal was urgent and he reminded MPs of the Maher Arar case. He mentioned C-51 as another measure that disproportionately singled out Canadian Muslims and should be repealed.

Questions

Government-side:

Q: Asked whether Bissett wanted to comment with the previous witnesses raising the issue of Charter consistency of C-24’s revocation provision.

A (Bissett): While aware of his concerns, as far as he knew it did comply with the Charter as the Dept of Justice would have reviewed the Bill and not let it go forward if not compatible (Note: bit naive given previous government’s record before the courts). C-24 had not been challenged and  there was one case of revocation. The CBA speaks for lawyers but “many other lawyers perhaps disagree or have some doubt.”

Q: Asked about the number of different categories of citizen and whether further categories were not possible, and should the criminal system have different rules for different categories.

A (Bissett): System inherently set up for three classes of citizen: natural-born (accident), naturalized (choice), dual nationals. If one chooses and takes the oath, revocation appropriate for terror or treason. More symbolic than anything else but worthy of penalty.

Q: Cited earlier Bissett article arguing that all Muslim immigrants should be interviewed and that Charter undermines Canadian security.

A (Bissett): Replied that he believes all immigrants should be interviewed and that electronic review of applications not adequate to detect fraud. Went on to say that interviews should apply to countries where terrorists come from, which are mainly Muslim, and that no one hires an employee with an interview. He noted the extent of fraudulent documents in Bangladesh and that the current system of no interviews was both ‘dangerous and silly’.

Opposition:

Q (C) : Importance of language to new Canadians, integration, inclusion, overcome barriers? What about proposed Quebec legislation and emphasis on learning French to overcome inclusion issues? What about their proposed transitory certificate to be evaluated after three years before being fully granted immigration status? What about the requirement to sign a statement of adherence to Quebec values?

A (Douglas): Language is important to function and many can and do. Has not read the Quebec proposals but is doubtful about the idea of a requirement to sign a statement on Quebec values.

Q (C) : There has been no quantitative research by IRCC on the impact of no longer requiring language assessment for 14-17 and 55-64 year olds yet there is large percentage affected. What are the implications and issues around language training”

A (Douglas): We have a robust system but resources are always an issue. The C-24 changes were not evidence-based and were ‘arbitrary.’ (Note: What goes around comes around …) C-6 goes back to a proven system. For refugees and particularly women refugees, it is often hard to pass the knowledge test. For many, coming from situations of violence and war, spending a generation in a refugee camp, some may not be able to pass the language assessment.

Q (NDP): Noted that her mother, who only had a grade 6 education, would have failed language and knowledge requirements. She asked about the barriers posed by these requirements, and the associated costs.

A (Douglas): The 14-17 years olds have spent time in Canadian schools and never understood why language assessment was required. For older women, they ‘pick up what it means to be Canadian’ and an interview with a judge can determine that. Refugee women should have interpretation where required. There are also disability issues like those who are hard of hearing where waivers may be appropriate.

Q (NDP):  Any suggestions to reduce these financial barriers and improve language training?

A (Douglas): Eliminate up-front language fees. Ensure language training available on weekends and evenings. Invest in childcare and transportation to language classes.

Q (C) : Asked about the problems faced by caregivers.

A (Douglas): Settlement agencies deal with many caregivers, with the main issues being long waiting periods for permanent residency status and associated residency issues.

#Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Hearings Start April 12

The first Citizenship and Immigration Standing Committee hearing took place April 12. The Minister made a summary introduction to allow more time for questions (and given he was somewhat late).

The Minister did indicate in his responses to questions that while his focus was on implementing platform and mandate letter commitments, he made the general point that he was open to considering amendments in response to the NDP’s question regarding the lack of judicial hearings in cases of revocation for misrepresentation.

Government-side questions were a mix of softball (e.g., time for C-6 to be implemented) and those that likely reflected constituent concerns with respect to knowledge and language testing, along with some that probed the rationale for certain policy choices (e.g., 3 year minimum residency rather than 2). Some MPs were better at having internalized their questions, others stuck more closely to their written material.

Surprisingly, the proposed repeal of citizenship revocation for terror or treason received comparatively little attention from the Conservatives, with the Conservative immigration critic (Michelle Rempel) focussing on the elimination of language assessment for 55-64 year olds and the possible impact on the economy, leaving it to another Conservative to question the proposed repeal, mentioning the restoration of citizenship to the convicted terrorist Zakaria Amara,  (“a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist”).

The Minister made his standard reply: all Canadians, whether sole or dual nationals, should be treated the same (“a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”), and that the Canadian legal and penal systems were more appropriate ways to deal with terrorists.

My summary notes:

Language: No disagreement among all parties on the importance of language competency to integration and citizenship. The Conservatives focussed on the reduced age requirements to 18-54 from 14-64 and the possible impact that would have on labour market participation and outcomes. They suggested a better approach was more emphasis on language training.

The Conservatives also asked whether any economic analysis had been done on the impact of this change for 55-64 year olds and the answer was no, the Minister retorting that none was carried out when the Conservative government increased the requirement. The Minister also responded that the number of 55-64 year olds was 8 percent of the number of applicants  (data provided to me by IRCC for earlier years shows a smaller number but they may have used 2014-15):

Citizenship Test Age Change ImpactSurprisingly, the Conservatives spent some time on the younger cohort affected (14-17 year olds) despite the fact that they would have all (or virtually all) been in school for 3-5 years and thus be competent in English or French (I always suspected this was a ‘backdoor’ way to ensure civics education).

The NDP focused more on the level of resources for language training, citing examples of reduced funding and wait times. The response was to emphasize the current high levels of funding for language training and additional funding for Syrian refugees. They also asked a number of technical questions regarding the level of language required (CLB-4 – basic).

Some Liberals noted that some constituents worried about the citizenship test, particularly the 55-64 year olds and asked how many people are likely to apply without the test and these worried. Officials replied that it is difficult to isolate factors, there were a number of reasons, including some dual citizens may not want Canadian citizens, but referred to the historic 85 percent naturalization rate (recent rate is significantly lower).

Knowledge test: There were a number of questions regarding the knowledge test and what happened when an applicant failed. The Minister and officials noted that the first time pass rate was 87 percent. Those who failed could write the test a second time, boosting the overall pass rate to slightly above 90 percent. Those who failed a second time could have a hearing before a judge, leading to another few percent to the overall rate. Subsequently, officials noted that typically the time to retake the test is between 2-4 weeks.

The NDP also noted some of the difficult and ‘tricky’ wording of the knowledge questions. The Minister acknowledged the point and stated that the revised citizenship guide would be written in a manner to be more comprehensible to more people.

Citizenship guide: Liberal side asked questions of planned revising of citizenship guide and degree to which the Charter would be emphasized and questions regarding religious rights. Officials noted that much of the content of the guide is prescribed by regulations (history, society, rights and responsibilities).

Physical presence requirement: Raised by Liberal MPs for cases of those working overseas with families in Canada, the Minister reiterated that citizenship required physical presence, that we did not want ‘citizens of convenience’ acknowledging that there were some hardships but nevertheless maintaining the requirement.

Fees: The NDP raised the issue of the steep increase of fees in 2014/15: from $100 to $530. Minister responded by saying that neither the platform nor mandate letter referred to fees but that he did not preclude looking at fees in the future.

Revocation (misrepresentation): The NDP raised the removal of judicial review as noted by the CBA, leaving revocation at the discretion of  the Minister. The Minister responded by stating that the Committee would hear from the CBA and that he was open to amendments in this area.

Processing times/Service standards: Liberal members raised the issue of processing times. The Minister gave credit to the previous government for a number of measures that have allowed IRCC to meet a processing time of 12 months (later officials indicated this was with respect to 80 percent of complete applications as of 1 April 2015 – incomplete ones are not counted).

International students pre-permanent residency credit: Minister reiterated measure to restore 50 percent credit for pre-permanent residency time for international students and also review possible improvements to Express Entry to make it easier for students, something that he intended to do that was not in his mandate letter. Some government members asked whether consideration would be given to more than 50 percent with the response being that 50 percent was deemed to be reasonable.

Refugee pre-permanent residency time: Chair asked whether consideration would be given to granting pre-permanent residency time to refugees or humanitarian cases. Officials noted that credit was only provided once refugees had been confirmed as protected persons and Minister added as general principle, government should not credit illegal time in Canada, only legal.

Lost Canadians: NDP raised that there were remaining cases and that the first generation limit remained an issue. IRCC officials explained the provisions of prior legislation (C-37 and C-24), that avenues were available for particular cases not addressed along with stateless persons.

Seizure of documents in cases of fraud. Conservatives asked for examples and officials indicated passports with entry and exit information. There were questions regarding the degree to which officials would have discretion with officials replying that this would be based on ‘reasonable grounds,’ with the details to be spelled out in regulations.

There was a long side discussion on the legitimate issue raised by the Conservatives regarding changes in the way that MP citizenship (and immigration) enquiries were going to be handled compared to the earlier direct channel of the Ministerial Enquiries group, leading to a Conservative motion, supported by the NDP, that officials brief the Committee prior to C-6 moving forward. Defeated on party lines although the request for a briefing (if not the timing, holding C-6 hearings in abeyance) appeared reasonable.