Changes Proposed By Canadian Government Will Make Getting Citizenship More Difficult

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On February 6, 2014 Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander introduced into Parliament the first comprehensive changes to the Citizenship Act since 1977. Following Conservative government’s practice of giving political names to its legislation, Bill C-24, is titled “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.”



According to the Minister Alexander the Bill “will 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.” The cost of applying for Canadian Citizenship is also increasing to $400 from $200. This increase is effective immediately.



Citizenship and Immigration Minister Alexander in a prepared statement also said, “Our government is strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship. Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history. I am pleased to bring forward the first comprehensive and overdue reforms of the Citizenship Act in more than a generation."



One of the reported objectives for the new Citizenship legislation is to “streamline Canada’s citizenship program by reducing the decision-making process from three steps to one.” It is hoped that, by 2015–2016, this simplified process will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year. Currently it can take as long as three years or more to complete the process. There currently is a backlog of around 320,000 Applications.



QUALIFING PERIOD LENGTHENED



One of the objectives for the government is to ensure that “citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada.” Bill-C-24 will provide a clearer definition of the “residence” period to qualify for citizenship. Applicants will now need to be physically present in Canada for a total of four out of their last six years. Previously the required period of residence to qualify for Canadian Citizenship has been 3 years for over 30 years.



In addition, they would need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year for at least four of those six years. In addition Applicant’s must show proof that they have filed income taxes during that period.



In an effort to crack down on those who seek citizenship for the sole purpose of obtaining a passport, Citizenship Applicant’s will also have to sign a form assuring the government that they intend to reside in Canada, at least until they take the Citizenship oath. After becoming, Canadians they will have the right to mobility and thus cannot be prevented from leaving the country for extended periods of time like all Canadian Citizens.



The current Act requires 3 years residence in Canada accumulated over a 4 year period. The new Bill will also now require a physical presence in Canada at the time Citizenship is granted and not just for the qualifying period. This is a new restriction



There are a number of other changes in the proposed legislation for obtaining Canadian Citizenship. For example there is no credit given for time spent in Canada prior to landing, which is not the current practice. Presently up to one year credit can be used for calculating residence for Citizenship if the individual has been in Canada for two years prior to becoming a Permanent Resident of Canada.



The elimination of any credit for residency before gaining permanent residence has a disproportionate effect on Live In Caregivers who must complete a full two years working as live in caregivers before they are eligible to apply for permanent residence. This provision will also impact accepted Convention Refugees and Foreign Workers.



TESTS MADE HARDER



Applicants will also now be required to meet more stringent language requirements for speaking either English or French. The new Bill expands the requirement to English or French language and knowledge test requirements are extended to more applicants 14-64 years from the current 18-54 years.



Applicants will also have to pass a tougher Citizenship knowledge test



LOST CANADIANS



One of the proposed changes is to solve the problem of the so-called “lost Canadians.” The bill will open the door to the children of “war brides” and Canadian servicemen born out-of-wedlock before 1947 when Canada had no citizenship laws of its own.



This problem is to be solved by automatically extending citizenship to individuals who were born before 1947 to the children of an individual who qualified for Canadian Citizenship and was born outside of Canada. The new Act will also extend Canadian Citizenship to the children of these individuals born in the first generation outside Canada.



This new provision will allow children of individuals who qualified for Canadian Citizenship but were born outside of Canada before 1947 to become Canadian Citizens and will solve a recognized discriminatory practice.



The Conservative Government in their 2009 amendments to the Canadian Citizenship Act denied citizenship to the second generation born abroad. Children of Canadians who were born aboard were unable to pass on their Canadian Citizenship to their children if they were born outside of Canada. Accordingly Canada has created a group of “second class” Citizens and potentially a new set of “lost Canadians” and making some children born to Canadians abroad stateless.





INCREASED PENALTIES ON CITIZENSHIP FRAUD



The new Bill also includes stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation. A maximum fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison is being proposed up from the current $1,000 and one year in prison. The government is also streamlining the revocation process for fraudsters, allowing the Minister to make the decision to strip citizenship. Currently there is a three-step process that has hampered efforts to crack down on fraud.





The Bill also expands the grounds to bar an application for citizenship to include foreign criminality. The new Act also proposes to regulate the citizenship consultant profession.



PROVISION FOR REVOKING CITIZENSHIP



The new legislation reportedly “brings Canada in line with most of our peer countries, by providing that citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, and spying offences (depending on the sentence received), or who take up arms against Canada. Permanent residents who commit these acts will be barred from applying for citizenship.”



Critics point out that only Great Britain has enacted this legislative power and accuse the Canadian government of misrepresenting the facts in order to score cheap political points for pursuing an alleged law and order agenda. The charge is being made that this is largely a non-existent problem.



Critics also have said that Citizenship once earned is a right and not a privilege to be revoked at the whim of the government of the day. It is also suggested that this designation of “terrorism” is a highly subjective political definition that can be easily abused.



The United States does have legislation that allows the revocation of American Citizenship for those who break their oath not to reveal classified information. However, this power is rarely invoked.



Opponents of the changes have raised concerns that the rules about who acquires or loses citizenship should be clear and individuals should have access to a fair hearing. Critics also argue that revocation of Citizenship decisions should not be made on a discretionary basis by the Minister.



It is argued that the government should respect the principle that citizenship is a status from which rights derive, and is thus a fundamental human right. Citizenship “is not something that is “deserved” or that can be lost through bad behaviour.”



The Bill also fast tracks the Citizenship process of non-Citizens that serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. The proposed legislation also stipulates that children born to Canadian parents serving abroad as servants of the Crown are able to pass on Canadian Citizenship to children they have or adopt outside Canada.



HISTORY OF RACISM





Canada has a shameful history of discriminatory and racist Immigration and Citizenship policies. We are now marking the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru where Sikhs from India were denied permission to land in Canada. It is also nearing the 75th anniversary of the SS St Louis where over 900 Jewish refugees were refused entry to Canada in 1939 and sent back to Europe.



Changes to the Citizenship Act need work to undo the racist policies of the past by welcoming newcomers and helping then integrate into Canadian society. We also should bear in mind that the majority of new immigrants and refugees today are people who 75 or 100 years ago were deliberately excluded from Canada. Today’s Citizenship laws must not unfairly target people of colour or other religions in either policy or their effects.









About The Author




Edward C. Corrigan


Edward C. Corrigan is certified as a specialist by the Law Society of Upper Canada in Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Law. His office is located in London Ontario at 383 Richmond Street Suite 902, tel. 519-439-4015. He can be reached at corriganlaw@edcorrigan.ca.







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