Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes

Pagtakhan develops further the arguments he made during the C-6 hearings which, while interesting, would be more convincing if he were able to back his assertions with harder evidence and more granular data (one area I will be looking into more in my 2016 Census update Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote will be languages spoken):

The three main arguments for requiring new immigrants to pass a language test before becoming citizens are to ensure that they are employable in Canada, are able to integrate into Canadian society, and are able to settle and live here safely and comfortably.

Laudable goals unmet

While these are laudable goals, testing immigrants for language at the point they apply for citizenship misses one big thing — these immigrants have already been living here for years. As a result, testing for language at this stage will not help in achieving these goals.

Once people immigrate to Canada, they are legally entitled to work, study and live in Canada for the rest of their lives. At no point do they have to be retested for language to maintain their right to live in Canada. Many immigrants come to Canada and never apply for citizenship. If these immigrants are not required to take a language test before immigrating, they can live here without proving any language proficiency.

If knowledge of English or French is so important for employment, integration and settlement, why do we allow some immigrants into Canada without testing them for English or French? Furthermore, why do we let them to stay here without periodically testing them for language?

While periodically testing immigrants for language would probably infringe on their charter rights, there is another practical reason why we should not testing them for language after arrival in Canada — these immigrants will likely improve their English or French in Canada out of their own self-interest to be successful.

…The fact is that most people who live in Canada, whether they are immigrants or individuals born here, will learn English or French. English or French is the language used in virtually all schools and workplaces in Canada. The motivation to speak English or French will not come from a citizenship test requirement, it will come from a person’s need to be successful here. The money spent by new Canadians who pay for these tests and the money spent paying government officers to review these test results can be better spent elsewhere.

Source: Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes – Manitoba – CBC News

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.

Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says

Pagtakhan will be making these points at the C-6 hearings on April 19 (he also testified in 2014):

When Fahmy was first convicted on these charges, the Canadian government criticized the Egyptian court process as unfair and quickly assured Canadians and Fahmy that his citizenship would not be taken away. However, by quickly assuring Fahmy that he would not lose his citizenship, the government exposed one fatal flaw in its legislation — exactly what sort of foreign conviction would result in Canadian citizenship being revoked and how would the Canadian government decide who gets to retain citizenship?

Because it is impossible to ensure that Canadians tried abroad are provided with all the protections of Canadian law, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, citizenship revocation for terrorism should occur only if a citizen is convicted in Canada.

The other problem with the current law is that the minimum sentence that could lead to citizenship revocation is too short. Currently, a person sentenced to five years in jail for terrorism can have citizenship revoked. While five years in jail is not inconsequential, if a judge gives a convicted terrorist five years in jail as opposed to life in prison, this is because there is an assessment that the offence is less serious.

While the government should retain the ability to revoke citizenship in very select cases, revocation of citizenship should not occur automatically. Canadians should be given the ability to prove that they have changed their ways in order to retain their citizenship. One of the best examples of a person who became a statesman after being initially branded as a terrorist was former Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. Now, while most terrorists will not follow in the footsteps of Mandela, the opportunity to do so should be provided. Should terrorists not choose this path, revocation of citizenship should quickly follow.

Some of McCallum’s other proposed changes to citizenship laws are welcome — such as the proposal to eliminate the requirement that new citizens sign an intention to reside in Canada. While there is nothing wrong with wanting Canadians to live in Canada, many Canadians contribute to Canada on the world stage. As well, asking Canadians to reside in Canada when the government continues to work on free trade agreements that give preferential treatment to Canadian citizens who work abroad is hypocritical. We cannot negotiate free trade agreements that allow Canadian citizens to work abroad while telling these same citizens they must live here.

Finally, the proposal to allow temporary residents to count days they live in Canada before becoming permanent residents toward citizenship is good. Foreign nationals who study here and work here should get some credit for their contributions to society as foreign workers and foreign students. However, this time credit should not extend to tourists. While it is important to promote tourism, foreigners here merely for a vacation should not get credit toward Canadian citizenship.

Source: Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says – Manitoba – CBC News

C-24 Citizenship Act Hearing – 14 May

The abrupt end to Monday’s hearing was apparently caused by the Government’s not wanting to give the floor to Don Chapman on Lost Canadian issues. Not clear whether the other two speakers will be invited back. See Government muzzles expert witnesses on major citizenship bill.

Testimony at Wednesday’s meeting also ended early given in camera discussion of a NDP motion to extend hearings by three hours to hear more witnesses.

This hearing was largely dominated by witnesses supporting the Government to greater or lesser degrees.

Bal Gupta, Air India 182 Victims Families Association (no website) talked poignantly about his personal loss and those of the other families in the Air India terrorist attack. He supports the provision that provides one year’s credit towards citizenship for those serving in the Canadian Forces (but the Canadian Forces website states that one already has to be a Canadian citizen in order to apply – see here). He also supports the revocation provisions, particularly those on national security or treason grounds, as such crimes demonstrate “no loyalty to the Canadian democratic system” and there is a need to deter those who wish to take up citizenship “of convenience” to further their terror or criminal objectives. He noted CSIS evidence of dozens of Canadians travelling abroad for terrorism and that he hoped these provisions would “help free Canadians from terrorism.”

Salma Siddiqui, Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations (no website, press release Launch of Coalition for Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations), noted her immigrant background and how her families struggles and success were a shared experience of many immigrants to Canada. Canada needed immigrants not only to contribute to the economy but the broader development of the country. The coalition supports the increased residency and physical presence requirements as there have “unfortunately been far too many examples in the past of abuse.” Supporting the requirement to submit tax returns as part of the application process, she also advocated that Canadians living abroad file income tax returns, citing the example of the 2006 evacuation of Lebanese Canadians, many of whom had little or no connection to Canada. She picked up on Mr. Gupta’s point about Canadians travelling abroad to various terrorism hotspots and supported the government’s proposed revocation measures. She did not agree with the “knee jerk reaction” against stripping dual nationals of Canadian citizenship for terror or treason given that this is contrary to Canadian values and abusing the privilege of citizenship. Moreover, she argued for suspension of immigration from failed states, given widespread false identities that allowed criminals, hate mongers and others to enter Canada.

R. Reis Pagtakhan, Immigration Lawyer (bio here) started off by supporting the increase in residency to 4 years out of 6, given that increased time should increase connection to and understanding of Canada. Requiring income tax returns was logical. He was concerned regarding no longer counting pre-Permanent Residents time, as Canada has largely an employer-driven system, with most working as Temporary Foreign Workers, and half-time credit should be restored. He also noted that the flexibility within IRPA for counting certain days outside Canada as Canadian time should be applied (e.g., working full-time abroad for a Canadian business, along with dependents). He opposed the intent to reside provision, stating that many Canadians contribute to the “world stage.” Moreover, there was a contradiction between Canada negotiating free-trade agreements that provide preferential treatment for Canadians working abroad and this the intent to reside (“can’t do both”). On revocation, while he supported the general approach, this was only in the context that the person was tried and convicted in a Canadian court. If the Government persists, perhaps it could draw on a list of countries with which Canada has extradition treaties (e.g., he contrasted Syria and Iran with the US). For criminal convictions, it should not be for minor offences, and suggested that the five-year sentence of the Bill may be too short.

Jonathan Chodjai, Immigrant Québec, supported the increased residency requirements but opposed the removal of credit for time spent pre-Permanent Residents. No issues with tax returns. He also, like Pagtakhan, noted the need for more flexibility for absences from Canada for professional reasons. The planned reduction in processing time was welcome. On revocation, he had concern over the increased discretion of the Minister in the case of fraud, given that there may be room for political interference and that the criteria could be clearer. He did not address clearly the question of revocation for terror or treason, but stressed that he believed there should be equal treatment of  born and naturalized Canadians. In terms of criminal convictions abroad, these had to be equivalent to Canadian courts, and suggested that it should be on a reciprocal basis (e.g., if Canada accepts US judgments, US should accept Canadian judgements). He also supported the proposed fines for fraudulent consultants.

Questions of interest:

CPC/Menegakis and Shory probed Gupta and Siddiqui on what she was hearing from people on the Government’s approach. She noted the ongoing effects of 9/11 on increased suspicion of the Muslim community, how many went into depression, and how her religion had been “hijacked”. All political parties had to stop associating with those who “glorify terrorists.” She expressed here satisfaction on the Supreme Court ruling upholding the use of security certificates for terrorism cases. She also flagged abuse of the now suspended investor immigrant program, citing examples of citizens of convenience that had used the program.

NDP/Sandhu probed both Gupta and Siddiqui on charter compliance of the revocation provisions, and whether “laws should conform to the Charter.” Gupta noted that he was not a lawyer but while laws have to conform to the Charter, there was “too much political correctness,” some people only want rights, not duties, and his reading of the Bill is that nothing contradicted Charter rights. Siddiqui confirmed but was quickly cut-off before likely nuancing her reply. Sandhu also probed question of pre-Permanent Residents time; Siddiqui supported Government on no longer crediting this time.

Liberal/McCallam probed on situations of wrongful accusal and safeguards, citing Mandela as example where Canada would not agree with overseas courts. Gupta stated that Canadians would not condemn comparable situations and that wording of the Bill makes that clear. McCallam stated that all other lawyers disagreed with his interpretation. Siddiqui expressed confidence that “everything right will be done” and Gupta reminded McCallum that revocation in cases of terror or treason would be under the Federal Court, not the Minister.

There was some interesting back and forth on the legality of revocation with NDP/Sitsabaiesan, after she cited A Tale of Two Citizenships: Citizenship Revocation for ‘Traitors and Terrorists’. Siddiqui replied that academics don’t know everything, they are not experts living every day with these issues. Sitsabaiesan probed, “what to you mean living everyday?” Siddiqui stated that “taking the war on the street that we are” is as important as the experts, and that terrorists or sympathizers were not “penalized enough.”

In the second shorter session, Pagtakhan and Chodjai were probed on crediting pre-Permanent Residents time. Both supported, including full-time credit for spouses with conditional Permanent Residents status. On revocation, Pagtakhan reiterated his concern that only decisions by Canadian courts be considered, comparing a conviction for a restaurant bombing in North Korea to one in the US as being different situations.

Then some theatre. CPC/Menegakis asked for a ruling by the Chair on interrupting of witness testimony by NDP/Sitsabaiesan. In the end, the Committee ruled that Sitsabaiesan could use her time as she deemed fit.

Followed by the motion for additional testimony time and the in camera session.

Next week is a parliamentary break week. Will do a summary of what I have heard so far next week.