Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act

in debate on Bill C-24

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, who did incredible work on this file. She made sure that we on this side of the House understood just what a tangle we were getting into with this change to the Citizenship Act, and provided the background so we knew, absolutely, what we had to push back against, which is a bill that would not serve the people of Canada.

    I would also like to thank my colleagues from Halifax and from Newton—North Delta for their arguments and for their very clear understanding of what this bill means.

    I have some real concerns as does the entire NDP caucus. These concerns stem from the fact that all of the Conservative legislation we have seen, which purport to make positive change, actually do precisely the opposite.

    This bill purports to improve the situation for those seeking help by becoming part of our Canadian community. It seems to me that it would actually, in many ways, hurt the very people and communities that governments are supposed to support. Governments that take their job seriously are supposed to protect them.

    I will give a rundown of the process of the bill. As members know, in February of this year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tabled Bill C-24. The purpose, apparently, was to introduce sweeping changes to Canada's citizenship laws. At that time, the minister stated that the bill represented the first comprehensive reforms of the Citizenship Act since 1977. He said that it would protect the value of Canadian citizenship for those who have it, while creating a faster and more efficient process for those applying to get it.

    That sounds absolutely wonderful, and we agree that Canadian citizenship has enormous value. The world recognizes the citizenship of Canada. I am sure that you go to citizenship court on a regular basis. Mr. Speaker. I certainly do. The pride, the joy and the incredible sense of happiness that we see among those new citizens tells everyone in that court just how important Canadian citizenship is. It has enormous value. This is why it is very troubling that the government would play politics with such an important issue.

     Some of the changes to the Citizenship Act are quite good and they are long overdue. They address the deficiencies in the current system, and we need to applaud that. It is important to say that, because we are not just naysayers. We are very diligent, and we recognize and are willing to say that some changes are good.

     For example, the implementation of stricter rules for fraudulent immigration consultants is good. There is a provision that would authorize the government to designate, by regulation, a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants and make it an offence for any person who had not been duly recognized by the regulatory body to offer immigration consultant services for a fee.

     I have seen in my riding of London—Fanshawe the terrible harm that these fraudsters can cause. It is very expensive. I have had people come into my office who have said that they have been waiting two or three years and have given this person all the money they have, which might be tens of thousands of dollars. When they go to find out where they are in the process, they find out nothing has been done.

     This kind of fraudulent behaviour leaves people desperate. They are people who came with great hopes and aspirations, who are left without any hope and very often without recourse. They feel very vulnerable. They are not Canadians in a country where maybe they will not believed. Maybe they will not be able to speak out against this fraudster.

    I am glad that immigration fraud will no longer be condoned. We actually pushed the government to crack down on these crooked immigration consultants, so we are very supportive of the anti-fraud measures.

     The provisions of expediting citizenship for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces is, again, very good. Bill C-24 would shorten the residency requirement from four years to three for permanent residents serving in the Canadian Forces during this period. That is a very important change to the Immigration Act. We need to understand that it applies to only a very few people.

     However, it is important to show gratitude. I just wish that same level of gratitude also applied to our veterans, the veterans who gave their service and their absolute dedication to our country. They seem to have been forgotten by the government.

     The provision for extending citizenship to lost Canadians is also good. The NDP was involved in this issue as far back as 2007. Therefore, in response to NDP pressure, the government introduced measures in 2009 to extend citizenship to most of these lost Canadians. Unfortunately, in the first go-around, the amendments did not apply to people born before 1947. Bill C-24 would close that loop. Unfortunately, it has taken five years. The government dragged its feet. However, at this point in time, I would say better late than never.

     Bill C-24 would also significantly increase fines for fraud from the current level of $1,000 to a maximum of $100,000. Under the bill, a maximum prison sentence would also be extended from 5 years to 14 years, depending on circumstances.

     As I said, I have had many people come to my office who have lost all that they had. Again, if the government is to address this kind of fraud, because it is extremely lucrative, to make it onerous on those who would commit fraud, that is very good.

     It would also increase the requirement from three out of four years, to four of six, and would clarify the requirement of physical residence in Canada prior to citizenship. One of the benefits of the bill is that it specifies how long individuals must physically be present in Canada before applying for citizenship.

     While I have outlined some of the things we think are very good and very positive, there is the other side. I mentioned that at the beginning of my remarks.

     Bill C-24 would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. Unfortunately, the government has a strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates power in the hands of ministers.

     As I said the last time I spoke to this bill, governments come and governments go, and there has to be a respect for the fact that no one individual will be in a position of power forever. To grant that individual this kind of power, even for a short period of time, frightens me.

     This is a very punitive government, as members will know. It lashes out against those who criticize it. We saw that at the beginning of its mandate. Women lost equality rights because the Status of Women department lost funding. First nations and first nations women have not been given the kind of supports they deserve. We have seen the deaths of far too many first nations women being swept away and not considered.

     KAIROS was an organization that criticized the government for its failure in terms of the environment and housing. Well, KAIROS was punished and was told that the funding it was expecting would not be forthcoming.

      The National Association of Women and the Law is an organization that reports on women's equality to the UN and on Canada's progress. When it reported that there had not been any progress for the last 30 years, NAWL had to be disposed of.

     I hope members would agree that the very idea of giving the minister the power to revoke or to allow citizenship is putting too much power in the hands of one person. We have courts of law. It is very important that we in this House and those in the government respect the authority of the courts and leave that determination to them.

 

Mrs. Sadia Groguhé (Saint-Lambert, NDP):  

  Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech.

 I would like to remind members that this bill was introduced in 2013 as a private member's bill and it contained the same provisions.

  To the NDP and all members in the House, citizenship is extremely valuable. We must acknowledge the importance attributed to citizenship. We need not give further proof of that.

   However, this bill would make it possible to revoke citizenship, which has given rise to major legal concerns. Furthermore, there is a real concentration of additional powers in the hands of the minister, including the power to revoke and grant citizenship.

 Could my colleague elaborate on that?

  Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, the revocation or granting of citizenship should not be based on incomplete evidence or the whim of anyone. It does not matter who the minister is. That individual does not have the expertise of legal advisers or people who practise citizenship law or the courts. He or she simply does not. To allow that individual to decide the fate of someone based on speculation or incomplete information is absolutely terrifying.

     We in the NDP were hoping that the minister would commit to working with us to bring some real improvements to the citizenship laws. We were hoping for wait times to be reduced, and in fact, they have increased significantly: 320,000 individuals are still waiting for their citizenship. This is not acceptable. We need to demand better.

  Mr. Devinder Shory (Calgary Northeast, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, the member opposite spent quite a bit of her time praising the bill. She discussed regulating citizenship consultants, fast-tracking the process for PRs serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, and tougher penalties for those who have obtained citizenship through fraud.

    Does the member opposite believe that those who gained Canadian citizenship through fraudulent means deserve a tough punishment, or was she just talking in front of the camera?

  Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member did not mean to insult me and question my integrity. I will say that it is important, and I did indicate what the minister got right.

     However, in the balance of things, they have to get more than just a few things right. They have to get it all right, because people's lives hang in the balance. The very fact that they have not reduced the wait times and that they have given incredible power over people, verging on the power of life and death, to a single individual or his or her department, is just not acceptable. We have courts. We have processes in this country. We should be following them.

      As wonderful as this place is, it is not without its weaknesses, and it is not perfect. Mistakes are made. I would like to see the mistakes in regard to this hurried and unamended bill corrected. I would like the Conservatives to have the integrity, the honesty, and maybe even a bit of courage to say that they were not exactly right with all the provisions and could have done better. They should have and need to do better.