Citizenship Act

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise in debate today on Bill C-6. As this is Canada’s House of Commons, I will do something very special to start off my remarks today, which I have not done before in this place. I am going to take the oath of citizenship.

I swear
That I will be faithful
And bear allegiance
To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second
Queen of Canada
Her Heirs and Successors
And that I will faithfully observe
The laws of Canada
And fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Most MPs in this House, and I am sure many of our new members on all sides, have taken part in citizenship ceremonies. I think my colleagues would agree that it is a most special occasion, because we see people who come to this country for remarkable opportunities, we see them with family and friends, and they swear or affirm that oath and become an official part of the family. By that point they have already become a vibrant part of their community.

I attend ceremonies, both outdoors and indoors, and on Canada Day. I write to all new citizens in my riding to congratulate them, welcome them, thank them, and urge them to become active members of the community and to really engage in what that citizenship provides, if they have not done so already. We have to keep that in mind. I have been to homes where that letter that I have written them as new citizens is displayed on the wall because they value that citizenship and hold it very close to their hearts.

This is an important debate that has been manipulated at times. It certainly creates passion. I will provide a precise discussion of the subjects in Bill C-6 and hope we can move some of the government members off their stand, which is actually not a principled stand on Bill C-6. I will explore why it is not principled with respect to revocation.

Bill C-6 does not just deal with the elimination of the narrow grounds of revocation that were extended to crimes against the state by the previous government; it also intends to repeal the intent-to-reside provisions. Some members have suggested that this would impact mobility rights under the charter. As a lawyer, I do not think that is the case at all.

The very basic expectation that all members of this House would have when they see people take that special oath that I did at the beginning of my remarks is that they are joining the family with the intent to be part of it. Why would we remove that provision? It makes no sense. We expect people to maintain their ties with whatever country they came from and use the tremendous wealth and opportunity we have as Canadians to go around the world exploring. Intent to reside has no conflict with any of that. In fact, we love the fact—and I have this in my own riding and the wider GTA—that people will then become ambassadors, advocates, or fundraisers for the countries they came from when they joined the Canadian family.

That in no way is hindered by suggesting that new citizens should intend to live in the country they are joining as a full citizen. Therefore, that one clearly makes no sense and has not been well articulated by the government either in its election or in the debate so far.

It would also reduce the number of days that someone would be physically present. This could be debated but is not as controversial. Certainly, the 183-day commitment is a tax-driven number, but it is changing from the old standard of 183 days per year and four out of six years to three out of five. There is less consternation associated with that principle, but it is in Bill C-6 as well. I have not heard a clear reason for a change to be made there; however, it is minor and so it will not be the subject of most of my remarks.

My final point is with respect to the change to language requirements, with the expectation of some competency in English and French for new citizens. The bill changes the target groups from 14 to 64 to 18 to 54. I have some concerns with that as well, particularly in an environment where we see people working longer in the workplace and with respect to the important role that immigration and our new citizens play in our economy by filling gaps, building businesses, and becoming job creators.

A few years ago, I nominated a friend of mine to be top Canadian immigrant of the year, and I think there might be a couple of members of this House who belong in that special awards ceremony given each year. My friend, Ihor Kozak, was serving in the Canadian Armed Forces within a decade of immigrating from Ukraine. I was amazed that he not only embraced the citizenship and opportunity that Canada represented, but coming from an area of the world that was still having problems with Russia, he wanted not just to be part of Canada but also to serve Canada.

I am amazed by immigrants in my riding, new citizens who have built businesses and are employing people, adding to the economy and taking leadership roles in service clubs and their church communities. I am constantly amazed by that. We should target that and make no bones about wanting people to come. We want them to participate fully in our economy, in our communities, in faith groups, in civic organizations, and run for Parliament, and many have. We should encourage that and should not shift it with the expectation that we are changing it.

However, most of my remarks will be preserved for that first element I talked about in my concern with Bill C-6. The Liberal government has suggested that Bill C-6 is a principled stand when it comes to revocation, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Unity of citizenship, I heard the member for Fredericton say. That is not true.

If the government and the minister who introduced Bill C-6 want to be principled, they would end revocation. Revocation is not ended in Bill C-6. Some of the grounds for revocation are removed, but revocation of citizenship for a naturalized Canadian remains.

I will show how the narrow crimes-against-the-state provision that we added in the previous government perhaps should attract revocation more than fraud or misrepresentation, or at least equally so, in terms of the morally blameworthy standard, which is the underpinning of criminal law.

I am very proud of the last Conservative government’s record when it comes to immigration and new Canadians. We had 1.6 million new citizens over the course of that government. The year 2014 was a record year, with 263,000-plus new citizens joining the family, reciting that oath with which I started my remarks, which is very important. As well, we did not reduce immigration, despite a global recession, because we know how critical our new citizens are to our economy and to building opportunity for others. The Conservative government’s average of about 180,000 or so new citizens per year is much higher than the 164,000 or so under the previous Liberal government.

There is a lot of rhetoric with respect to Bill C-6, but I have have not heard much statistical support or even moral clarity for the direction the government is taking.

One thing all members of this House should recognize is that equality is not sameness. Not everyone is the same. In fact, we embrace diversity, and diversity is part of the equality all Canadians enjoy, but it is important to let the government know that there are citizens who have rights and responsibilities as Canadians and that there are citizens who have rights and responsibilities and obligations as other citizens as well. In fact, Canada has almost one million dual citizens. About 200,000 people who were born here have acquired citizenship in another country through a family member, and there are about 750,000 dual citizens who are naturalized Canadians and who retain their citizenship from their mother country or the country from which they came to Canada.

I have heard the Prime Minister say a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. If he wanted to do so, he could eliminate dual citizenship, because dual citizens in some cases have military service obligations, as is the case with Greece, and they may have tax obligations.

Therefore, there are rights and responsibilities as Canadians, but some Canadians have additional rights and responsibilities, and that has to be debated.

I embrace dual citizenship, but I dive into the issues. I do not just use it as a slogan. Let us recognize that for what it is. A lot of Canadians cherish the ability to have that dual structure, but let us not suggest that is the norm.

Fifty-two countries do not allow dual citizenship. If we are going to have an informed debate in the House of Commons on the issue of citizenship, this should be part of the debate. Many of those countries are Liberal democracies and allies and friends. Germany, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands do not permit dual citizenship, and India, Japan, South Korea, and China do not permit dual citizenship, so when new members of our family from any of those 52 countries become citizens in Canada, they lose their citizenship automatically.

I am not suggesting we go there, but let us have a debate. If we recognize that some Canadians have additional rights and responsibilities attached to their citizenship, then let us have that debate. Let us not suggest that what was done by the previous government somehow diminished Canadian citizenship. The previous government recognized the importance of Canadian citizenship and the duty of fidelity and loyalty and a shared commitment of country and state and the new member.

Revocation would still be permitted by the present Liberal government for fraud or misrepresentation, but not for the narrow grounds of crimes against the state. Since 1977 there have been 56 revocations. It is likely higher than that, because recent numbers have been hard to nail down. One of those was Mr. Amara, one of the Toronto 18 terrorists, who was convicted for plotting a terror attack. The others are primarily Nazi war criminals. In 2011, Branko Rogan’s citizenship was revoked, and that was supported by the Federal Court. Justice Mactavish recognized the inhumane acts he committed in the Bosnia conflict and his fraud when he came to Canada, and that led to revocation. What was the abusive act? Evidence was provided that he abused Muslim prisoners in Bileca, Bosnia. His citizenship was revoked. Why was his citizenship revoked? It was revoked for his fraud or misrepresentation in coming here and the court’s recognition of inhumane acts, which was why he committed fraud. The court made a moral determination based on his previous behaviour.

However, if somebody committed those same reprehensible, inhumane acts in this country, it would not be determined morally blameworthy enough under Bill C-6. That is, if someone commits fraud after being part of a genocide elsewhere, that individual would have his or her citizenship revoked, but if the individual promotes or creates that here through an act of terror or treason, that would not be considered morally blameworthy enough. That is an absurd position in law.

I have not heard my colleagues in the government articulate a rationale as to why inhumane acts abroad could lead to revocation but such terrible acts in Canada would not. We are talking about three narrow grounds. We are talking about charges under the Criminal Code, the National Defence Act, and our Official Secrets Act, or Security of Information Act as it is called now.

A lot of new members of our family take the oath, which I remind people says:

…I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Many of the people who take that oath would suggest that to commit crimes against the state they are now joining would be morally blameworthy enough to show that they have not lived up to their obligation. This is not window dressing. This is an oath administered in front of a judge, and it is to be a true oath. If there is malice or fraud in someone’s heart while that oath is being taken, then that oath should be nullified, in my view.

The last government extended revocation on the very narrow grounds of treason, espionage, and terrorism. Those are crimes against the state. We have heard about the slippery slope. People were misleading Canadians during the election by suggesting that if they committed some criminal act, it might be applicable, but these are narrow provisions, and I will tell the House how rare they are. Since Confederation, there have been eight cases of treason, six of them in World War I. Louis Riel was a tragedy in the early years of our country. That is how narrow the ground is that we are talking about.

Espionage is equally small, and it is hard to get numbers, but it is literally in the single digits. As for terrorism, there have been 22 convictions since the last Liberal government introduced the act following 9/11. Of those, with the amendments made by the Conservative government, there has been one revocation.

The ridiculousness of the slippery slope and the fear created by the government over this issue have been shameful. We are talking about narrow ground. More people have committed fraud over heinous acts abroad than have committed acts of terror or treason here. That has to be part of this debate.

I want to start hearing the same sort of rationale and approach, because this actually is not new to Canada. In fact, between 1947 and 1977, revocation under our Citizenship Act in its various forms has come and gone. Engaging with the enemy or serving in an enemy army was grounds for revocation in the past. Treason was grounds for many years and then was eliminated in 1967, in a time when treason and World War I and World War II seemed far-off notions. This was pre-terrorism and the global rise of terrorism.

Liberal governments of the past have revoked citizenship for fraud and for a variety of potential grounds. That is the right of the state because, as some scholars have described, citizenship is a right to have rights. We extend a whole range of rights before citizenship, which is great. It is part of our country and our charter. However, we have to recognize that with citizenship come rights and responsibilities.

Revocation is not a criminal sanction. It has been described by scholars as preservation of the conditions of membership. When we use that description, it sounds a lot like fraud or misrepresentation. If someone lies about their name and what their past might entail, that is equally as bad as lying about their intention to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, is it not?

I have not heard an argument here from the government. We are talking about a handful of cases since Confederation that might be extended by these narrow grounds. I am expecting more from the government, and I think our new citizens are expecting more.

If we think about the case of Mr. Rogan, the modern war criminal who created atrocious crimes against the Muslim population in Bosnia, it was right that we did not allow him to use fraud to gain citizenship by concealing his inhumane acts. At the same time, Canadians would expect that if someone came here with malice in their heart, made that oath, and at the same time or shortly thereafter was plotting crimes against their new state, that person was not being faithful to that oath and to our high standards of citizenship.

In the past we have also had constructive repudiation of citizenship. That is something the Liberal government has used in the past as well, whereby a known terror suspect abroad who is a dual citizen is just not brought home and will languish in a foreign jail in the country where he was caught. There has been a handful of these constructive repudiation cases, which I think amounts to the same thing.

What I would like to hear from the government is more than just electioneering. This is the citizenship of our country. A crime against the state and the narrow grounds that we extended revocation to is a crime against what we all pledge and what we all embody as Canadians with the freedom and remarkable opportunities we have.

If the government wanted to be principled, it would have eliminated revocation, but if revocation of citizenship is still there for fraud, for terrible acts conducted elsewhere, why would terrible acts conducted here, in violation of that citizenship oath, not be equally as morally blameworthy and subject to revocation?

I am hoping that in the rest of debate we will hear this, so that we can preserve how important and special Canadian citizenship truly is.

Stay in Touch with Erin

Sign up for email updates from Erin O'Toole to hear the latest from Ottawa and our riding.