Senate Hearings on C-6: Witnesses February 15-16

The Senate’ Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) committee started hearings this week on Bill C-6 repeal and other changes to the previous government’s C-24 legislation that made citizenship “harder to get and easier to lose”

Witnesses reflected a balance of views on the proposed changes with few surprises compared to the House Citizenship and Immigration Committee hearings last year, or for that matter, much of the discussion around C-24 in 2014.

The changed composition of the Senate compared to the 2014 C-24 review (more non-affiliated senators, Trudeau appointments) was reflected in the selection of witnesses and questions.

As expected, discussion focussed on the main elements of C-6:

Revocation (terror or treason): Witnesses from the CBA, Quebec Bar, Audrey Macklin, and Craig Forcese all supported repeal of this provision, Reis Paghtakan opposed its repeal but only for terrorist convictions in Canada, and CIJA and Julie Taub opposed its repeal in all cases. Questioning by Senators included the legal and constitutional aspects of revocation, whether or not this acted as a deterrent, and the possible impact this could have with respect to war crimes.   There was a useful discussion on the difference between revocation for misrepresentation and for crimes of terror or treason; the former pertaining to crimes committed before being granted citizenship, where misrepresentation was the issue, and crimes committed after being granted citizenship, where the issue was whether the criminal system was sufficient to handle such cases or a supplementary punishment through revocation was warranted. Needless to say, the issue of differential treatment for dual nationals and Charter rights was raised repeatedly. Forcese and Macklin noted the negative impact such differential treatment had with respect to integration and countering violent extremism.

Revocation (misrepresentation): While not part of C-6, the absence of procedural protections – paper process, no right to a hearing, no right to an appeal – was raised repeatedly with virtually all witnesses indicating this remained an issue. Most favoured a return to the previous system of appeals to the Federal Court. Taub, however, emphasized how easy it was to commit residency fraud and misrepresentation, the need for smart Permanent Resident cards to track entry and exit, but did not comment on the need or not for protections. CIJA acknowledged the need for some procedural protections but wanted to ensure that these did result in endless appeals as happened in the Oberlander case.

Language and knowledge assessment: All agreed language was important to integration. No witnesses disagreed with the proposed removal of language and knowledge testing for 14-17 year olds. Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC) noted time, money and educational challenges for their low-income and refugee clientele, the need for expanded language training and related supports such as child care and income support and greater flexibility to waive requirements on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The cost of language assessment was also mentioned. CBA noted that writing the knowledge test in english or french imposed a double requirement and they would have been happy with keeping the testing requirement for 55-64 year olds but with the flexibility to do the test with an interpreter.

The most interesting recommendation was from Paghtakan, where he continues to advocate for scrapping language assessment as is a pre-requisite for economic class immigrants for permanent residency status. Duplication meant more expense to the government and more costs to immigrants. Most family class immigrants are parents and grandparents who would thus be exempt given the proposed change in age requirements while refugees could wait until they attain 55.

Chair noted earlier work by committee that showed 55-64 year olds formed about one-third of the active workforce.

Residency: Taub questioned the change in residency from four out of six years to three out of five, arguing that it was more generous than other countries and that this and other measures would increase the number of citizens of convenience. Paghtakan, while he had supported the four of six requirement of C-24, had no issue with the change to three of five given the maintenance of physical presence. The strength of Taub’s intervention on residency-related questions prompted Senator Petitclerc why all Taub’s points were so negative without mentioning the positive benefits of citizens contributing abroad. Taub cited citizens who install their family and return to the Gulf or Hong Kong where they can make more money and not pay Canadian income tax.

Intent to reside: Only Taub supported maintaining the intent to reside provision given its symbolic importance. The other lawyers testifying noted that situations can change following applying for citizenship and the consequent risk of misrepresentation cases and thus supported its repeal.

Pre-Permanent Residency time partial credit: Again, only Taub opposed restoring this pre-C-24 provision for Temporary Foreign Workers and international students, stating that this facilitated citizens of convenience.

Other issues

Oath: Paghtakan endorsed the TRC recommendation to amend the citizenship oath by adding the words “including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples” to assist new Canadians appreciate and understand this aspect of Canadian history and society.

Parental passing citizenship to children with no genetic link (in vitro): Quebec Bar raised gap in current legislation which based parental status on the genetic link (save for adoptions) rather than the relationship as in case of in vitro children.

Religious accommodation language testing: CIJA noted that many language testing centres only provided this service on Saturday (Sabbath), with extensive delays in accommodation.

Smart permanent resident card (chip or magnetic strip): Taub argued strongly that the PR card should be a smart card like any gym card that would allow tracking of entry and exit and make it easier for applicants to prove they met the residency requirements without having to search through documentation. (Comment: sounds good in theory but not a simple change, compounded by government challenges in managing complex IT projects as seen with Phoenix and Shared Services Canada.)

Fees: MTCSALC noted that the increase in citizenship processing fees from $100 to $530 made it prohibitive for many low income and refugee immigrants. The recent CBC article on the impact of citizenship fees on the number of applications was cited by Senator Eggleton. Taub argued that reduction was not just related to the increase of fees, that other factors — change in residency requirements, language testing — were also factors. She supported full cost recovery but with subsidies for low-income applicants.

Monsef could face consequences, immigration lawyers warn 

Lots of coverage on Maryam Monsef and her birthplace.

Most coverage conflate birthplace, citizenship and identity. While they can for many be one and the same, this is not the case for all, particularly in the case of immigrants.

For example, my mother was born in Russia on the eve of the Russian revolution, her family as refugees fled to Latvia, and her Canadian passport listed Riga as her birthplace, likely reflecting that the chaos at the time made it impossible to obtain a Russian birth certificate. But we all knew her true birthplace.

As to the speculation by some regarding whether or not her citizenship and immigration status could or should be revoked, Monsef arrived in Canada at the age of 11 so all documents would have been submitted by her mother. So while her mother’s status could theoretically be subject to review, hard to see why any government would do so some 20 years after the fact and given that it is not material to the family’s status as refugees.

Iran has between one and three million Afghan refugees, which are not well integrated into Iranian society, and largely live within Afghan neighbourhoods.

So I am sceptical of the reasoning of the immigration lawyers contacted by the Sun (Guidy Mamann, Chantal Desloges and Julie Taub):

Canadian immigration lawyers say Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef could suffer consequences if her refugee or citizenship applications included false information.

“It’s extraordinarily serious,” Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said. “From a strictly legal point of view – and I’m assuming cabinet ministers want to observe the law – she is a person right now who has citizenship through fraud. It may be intentional or unintentional, but her citizenship in Canada right now is open to attack.”

…“If you had false info on your citizenship application you could be subject to having it revoked,” Toronto immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges explained. “It could not go so far as a criminal charge because for her to be charged criminally you’d have to do it knowingly.”

While lawyers the Sun spoke to disagreed on certain specifics, none doubted that a case such as Monsef’s would typically undergo a review.

“There are differences in cases where they probably decide not to proceed when false info is presented for reasons of safety and security. But that’s rare,” says Ottawa immigration lawyer Julie Taub, a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

“The situation is if she was not an MP, if she was not a cabinet minister, if she was just your average Joe, the government would probably seek to vacate her status and once that protection is gone they could go after her citizenship,” Mamann added.

“I think the government is going to be in a hard position because they obviously won’t want to take any action on it but if they don’t, how is that going to look, that she’s getting preferential treatment?” Desloges said.

Source: Monsef could face consequences, immigration lawyers warn | furey | Canada | News

Michael Friscolanti demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of the issues involved, and the likelihood of removing her immigrant and citizenship status:

If her mother provided inaccurate information to the IRB, does that mean Monsef could be stripped of her citizenship?

Again, it’s not clear what Basir told the IRB. But even if she failed to disclose where her daughters were born, experts in refugee law are divided about the potential consequences. According to the Citizenship Act, the government has the power to revoke citizenship on the grounds it was obtained “by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances.” Material is the key word. Simply put, would the evidence that has come to light have altered the IRB’s original opinion that Monsef was a bona fide refugee? “If it was not disclosed that she was born in Iran, that, in my opinion, is a material misrepresentation,” says Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann. “If you find one lie, then you start questioning the whole story.”

Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Immigration critic, seems to agree, saying there could be “serious consequences” if Monsef’s refugee claim contained false information. But Showler, the former IRB chair, sees it differently. Because Monsef had no legal status in Iran (to repeat: she wasn’t a citizen, despite being born there), her birthplace had zero bearing on the case. “What you are doing with a refugee claim is you’re saying: ‘I cannot go back to my home country because I will be persecuted,’” he says. “Whether or not she was born in Iran is irrelevant. The only country for which she had citizenship was Afghanistan, and that is the country from which she feared persecution.” Showler says “there is not one chance in 1,000″ that Monsef’s immigration status is in jeopardy. “It’s very, very difficult to unwind citizenship status,” he continues. “You can do it, but almost always when it happens, it’s because somebody has committed a serious crime and there are reasons you want to get them out of the country. For something like this, there would be absolutely no reason for doing it.”

What if her mother did tell the IRB that Monsef was born in Iran?

For one thing, it would eliminate any chance, however remote, of the minister being stripped of her citizenship. It would mean Basir provided all relevant facts to the IRB, and that the board concluded all four claimants were genuine refugees. If that’s the case, however, it does raise yet another question.

If the Immigration and Refugee Board was told that Monsef was born in Iran, how could she not know?

Think back to the ensuing document trail. If the IRB was informed of her true birthplace, that same location would have been listed on her subsequent permanent residency forms, her citizenship application, etc. Under such a scenario, it seems implausible that Monsef would have remained oblivious to the truth all this time—or that the Privy Council Office, which conducts a “rigorous vetting process” for would-be cabinet ministers, would not have stumbled upon the evidence. It’s much more likely, as discussed above, that Monsef’s mother chose to hide from the IRB what she hid from her daughters: that they were born in Iran.

Source: Maryam Monsef’s personal revelations leave lingering questions               

 

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.