By Kimball Cariou - Reposted from People's Voice Newspaper
|Anti-C24 rally in early July 2014, Vancouver|
Passed in June by the House of Commons, Bill C‑24, the new "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (SCCA)," imposes new requirements to obtain citizenship, and makes it easier for the government to revoke it.
Human rights groups are planning a legal challenge to the SCCA, which effectively creates two classes of Canadian citizens, each with very different sets of rights. The Bill allows the federal government to strip the Canadian citizenship from dual nationals convicted of some offences. The law could apply in cases where Canadians are convicted in foreign courts, and even to people born in Canada if they also have citizenship elsewhere, such as through their parents.
Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say that giving the government the power to revoke people's citizenship is the same as banishing them into exile. They argue the legislation does not include enough safeguards to protect Canadians. Opposition MPs and other advocacy groups, including the Canadian Bar Association, have also objected to the bill.
The new revocation provisions are "divisive and buy into and promote false and xenophobic narratives about `true' Canadians and others, which equate foreignness with terrorism," says an analysis released by Amnesty International Canada.
The SCCA will also make it much more difficult, expensive and time‑consuming to become a Canadian citizen. Among other provisions, the costly language and knowledge tests which immigrants must pass is extended to include those aged 14‑64 (currently, only those aged 18‑55 take the test), and the citizenship application fee price is tripled. Immigration officers are given the authority to deny citizenship if an applicant even speculates that they may not reside in Canada in the future. The residency requirement during which an applicant must be in Canada as a Permanent Resident is lengthened from 3 to 4 years, and applicants are no longer allowed to count any time spent in Canada (as a student, a worker or a refugee) prior to obtaining permanent residency.
The right to appeal a negative decision is removed, along with the right to an oral hearing in front of a judge for those who are having their citizenship revoked. Citizenship can be removed from those who did not obtain citizenship by birth, if an official believes that the person never intended to live in Canada.
When C‑24 was introduced last February, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) warned that "In Canada, citizenship has always been secure. Whether native‑born or immigrant, once you are granted Canadian citizenship, you are secure. Under the current system, you cannot lose your citizenship unless you obtained it by fraud, and even then, a Federal Court judge must make that decision after a full court hearing. Under the current system, if you do not agree with the judge, you have a right of appeal. Under the new law, there will be several ways to lose your citizenship. As well, the decision as to whether you lose your citizenship will be made by a government bureaucrat who will inform you in writing with no opportunity for a live hearing to defend yourself."
The changes will impose particular hardships on older immigrants, who often have more difficulty passing the language tests. Children and grandparents without documents to prove their language ability will have to pay to take the language test. Currently, applicants wait 4‑6 years to become citizens due to government delays and inefficiency. With the new law, it could take eight to ten years in total to become a citizen from the date a person becomes a permanent resident.
The CARL says the new law divides Canadians into first class Canadians who hold no other citizenship, and second class "dual citizens" who can have their right to live in Canada taken away from them. Even those born in Canada are at risk, including those who may not know that they possess another citizenship. People who have a spouse, parent, or grandparent who is a citizen of another country may have a right to citizenship there without ever having applied for it. This allows the Immigration Minister to assert that they could possess or obtain another citizenship, making it easier to take away their Canadian citizenship, especially affecting those who study, work or reside in another country.
The changes could create a new class of naturalized Canadians who have fewer rights than those born in the country, according to Zool Suleman, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, speaking to the Georgia Straight weekly paper.
Suleman continued, "There has always been a gradation between a citizen, a resident, and someone who is here on a temporary basis. But I think what is happening now is a cleavage is opening up where more and more people are being left in this indeterminist status."
The Canadian Bar Association says some of the proposed changes are "likely unconstitutional". A 31‑page brief prepared by the CBA's national immigration law section states that the citizenship‑revocation process outlined in Bill C‑24 will "primarily be a paper one", wherein a hearing before a Federal Court judge will only be granted "in limited circumstances".
Lysane Blanchette‑Lamothe, NDP critic for citizenship and immigration, takes issue with provisions that allow for the revocation of citizenship without avenues for remediation. "A lot of lawyers have argued against the constitutionality of this bill because there is no appeal process possible," she told the Straight.
Blanchette‑Lamothe called attention to the potential for Bill C‑24 to create a different set of rules for citizens new to Canada. "There should not be two tiers of citizens, where one citizen can have access to our judicial system and another one cannot because their parents are Egyptian, for example," she said. "That's a very dangerous path."
(This article is from the July 1-31, 2014, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)