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.

PQ hits rough patch in secularism charter debate: Hébert and other commentary

Chantal Hébert on the Charter, and the impact of the brief by the Quebec Bar shredding the bill:

By all indications the PQ’s instinct is to continue to dismiss out of hand warnings that it is leading Quebec into a rights quagmire. But the evidence is that those warnings will not go away. The risk to the government is that as the debate drags on they may reverse the pro-charter momentum.

According to a Léger Marketing poll published by the Gazette this week, even as a majority of francophones support the PQ initiative, 54 per cent of them would like to have its constitutionality tested. And that was before the bar association came out swinging.

The pre-election walk in the park that the government hoped for when it launched a winter of charter debate is off to a rocky start.

PQ hits rough patch in secularism charter debate: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Don MacPherson of The Gazette on the PQ strategy:

Some voters might grow impatient with a party that seems preoccupied with a measure that they like, but which is not among their priorities.

They might conclude that the PQ is disconnected from them, and even that it is deliberately trying to distract them from other, more important issues.

No political strategy is risk-free, however, and the ban remains the PQ’s strongest plank for the next election. So the last thing it wants is for the CAQ to do what Drainville said he wants it to do.

Alain Dubuc in La Presse notes the difference between Francophone support for the Charter en principe, and the practical implementation implications (letting go government employees who do not comply with the Charter):

Sans vouloir caricaturer les partisans de cette charte, on a pu noter qu’on y retrouve un grand nombre de Québécois francophones vivant hors des grands centres urbains, encore attachés au catholicisme, qui manifestent une certaine crainte de l’immigration, encore plus quand elle est musulmane. C’est cette clientèle qui transforme ce débat en enjeu électoral. Le Parti québécois a misé, avec succès, sur un trait de caractère de la société québécoise francophone, minoritaire et très sensible à ce qu’elle perçoit comme des menaces à son identité.

Mais dans ce débat, il faut tenir compte d’un autre trait de l’âme canadienne-française: une société conviviale, peu violente, qui privilégie l’harmonie collective et la gentillesse dans les rapports interpersonnels. Il y a ici extrêmement peu de manifestations de racisme violent, pas de Ernst Zundel, pas de Front national, pas de Dieudonné, pas de Tea Party.

Ce trait de caractère, le dernier sondage Léger Marketing le mesure bien en demandant si un employé du public refusant de retirer un symbole religieux devrait perdre son emploi. À peine 35% des Québécois croient que oui et 51% s’y opposent. Chez les francophones, 40% sont faveur du congédiement et 49% sont contre.

L’arme de la gentillesse