House of Commons
Monday, May 5, 2014
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am pleased to appear before the committee today to discuss Bill C-24.
I’d like to begin by echoing the consensus surrounding the need to update the Citizenship Act and thank the government for taking on this important initiative.
We look forward to immigrants enjoying the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship quickly, efficiently and with greater integrity under a reformed legal framework.
Canadian citizenship is one of the most valuable and highly respected commodities in the world, but it is far from being just a prestigious status one acquires. Citizenship in this country is an unparalleled package of balanced rights and responsibilities, based on a set of core values, designed to ensure dignity, freedom, and equality for all.
The story of Canada is largely the story of immigrants, a reality that Jewish communities across this country know well.
Despite the dark era of Canada’s “none is too many” immigration and refugee policy for Jews, we’ve been able to come here from all corners of the world over the last 200-plus years and contribute positively to the Canadian story, like so many other groups whom we join in appreciating the extraordinary opportunity and privilege inherent in being Canadian.
Immigrants to Canada are a source of cultural vitality and economic strength. Many of those who choose to come to Canada embrace our values because they know the reality of living in their absence.
Immigrants are among the proudest patriots and shapers of this country, and indeed the modernization of the Citizenship Act will benefit all Canadians as a result.
The vast majority of Canadian citizens appreciate the gift they have, but unfortunately, there are those who reject our core values and abuse the trust that underpins our social contract. We appreciate the steps taken by Bill C-24 to promote strong ties to Canada and buy-in to core Canadian values.
The introduction of more robust residency requirements, including physical presence to qualify for citizenship, is particularly well-received.
That, coupled with basic language and knowledge requirements, will go a long way toward facilitating integration and decreasing the marginalization of new immigrants.
In addition, it will go a long way towards preventing the importation of anti-Semitic views that, though marginalized in Canada, are unfortunately still prevalent in some parts of the world.
We also support the introduction of measures to ensure that those who apply for Canadian citizenship actually intend to maintain a meaningful connection to Canada after taking the oath. The “intent to reside” provisions are an important element in this regard and could have a significant impact on reducing the problem of citizens of convenience. There’s a problem with people taking advantage of Canadian citizenship, availing themselves of Canadian generosity but demonstrating absolutely no real connection or contribution to this country. Their citizenship is a matter of convenience, with no real intention to ever reside in Canada.
We acknowledge, however, that there may be a potential for abuse of this provision. There doesn’t appear to be any safeguard that would preclude a minister from commencing a revocation proceeding for someone who declared intent to reside, but then went abroad to study, work, or tend to an ill relative. It’s unlikely the minister would do so but it’s not an impossibility.
In our view, the problem of potential abuse could be dealt with by requiring the minister to seek a court declaration in cases of misrepresentation of intent to reside, similar to the requirement included for other cases of fraud. In addition to intent to reside, the proposed legislation will streamline the process for revoking citizenship from those who obtained Canadian citizenship while misrepresenting their involvement in violating human or international rights.
Given the arduous experience of trying to remove Nazi war criminals from Canada, for which the Canadian Jewish Congress, one of our predecessor organizations, fought for so long, this is a measure that the Jewish community is particularly glad to see included. The proposed changes will eliminate cabinet’s ability to overrule the court’s determination to remove someone who misrepresented their involvement in such heinous acts, which actually happened with Nazi war criminals, and consolidates the process to ensure that the criminals in question can be removed from Canada within a reasonable timeframe.
In a previous session of this committee’s study, an assertion was made that, rather than further protecting Jewish Canadians as I’ve suggested, the bill would actually make Jewish Canadians particularly vulnerable for having their citizenships revoked due to Israel’s Law of Return. This is not the case.
According to the UN 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a stateless person is defined as someone who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has clarified that the convention does not ask whether a person should or could be a national of a particular state based on its legislation, but rather whether the person is a national of another state. Israel does not consider Jews in Canada to be nationals of the state under the Law of Return; rather, they have a legal right to become naturalized as Israeli citizens through a voluntary immigration process subject to certain restrictions
For a Canadian Jew to be considered an Israeli national, they would first have to immigrate to that country and be certified as a new immigrant.
The possibility to become an Israeli citizen does not equate to dual nationality for Canadian Jews, according to the UN convention on statelessness, or according to Bill C-24. Were the minister to seek the revocation of a Jewish Canadian citizenship, the individual facing revocation, you’d only prove they are not a citizen of another state—be it Israel, the United States, the U.K., or anywhere else—in order to prevent the revocation due to Canada’s international obligations regarding statelessness. This is no different for Jews than for any other Canadian citizen. As long as Jewish Canadians are not dual citizens and do not commit one of the prescribed offences, there would be no ability for the minister to revoke their citizenship.
The bill provides recourse to revoke citizenship from Canadians with dual nationality who commit certain offences, such as treason, espionage, or taking up arms against Canadian Forces. These offences are inherently actions against the institution of citizenship and the state itself. Revocation of citizenship is a reasonable consequence of these actions, and it’s surprising that Canada is one of the only western democracies that does not have the ability to revoke citizenship from dual nationals in these types of instances.
There are other political crimes that are so heinous in nature that they attack the core values on which Canadian citizenship is based. Acts of terrorism are one example of this, for which revocation of citizenship is a reasonable consequence. We’re pleased to see it included in the bill within this context.
While we support the revocation of citizenship as a consequence of terrorism in principle, there are some details in the application of this provision that we believe could be improved.
We take the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and his officials at their word that foreign convictions of Canadian dual nationals for terrorism offences would be subject to a two-stage evaluation to determine that the foreign terrorism offence is equivalent to a terrorism offence under the Criminal Code here in Canada, and that the judicial process for convicting the offender is fair, transparent, and independent. This two-stage evaluation is crucial, yet the second step does not appear to be explicitly codified as a requirement for revocation in the bill.
Accordingly, there appears to be a potential for a future minister to forgo the second step of this critical process. This could lead to the unintended consequence of Canadian dual nationals having their citizenship revoked based on false allegations, politically motivated charges, and kangaroo court proceedings. Accordingly, we suggest that the bill be amended to codify an explicit requirement that equivalent evidentiary standards and due process are employed in a foreign conviction in order for that conviction to be grounds for the minister to revoke Canadian citizenship.
In addition, we suggest that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide should also be included as grounds for revoking citizenship. As in the case of terrorism, these are political crimes that are so heinous in nature, that they attack the core values on which Canadian citizenship is based.
The principle that applies to terrorism also applies to those cases.
Furthermore, just as a terrorist could benefit from Canadian citizenship to enjoy greater mobility to perpetrate attacks and evade justice, so too the utility of Canadian citizenship should be removed from those who perpetrate these crimes. That Canadian citizens who are dual nationals could have their citizenship revoked for lying about their involvement in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide before becoming citizens but not for committing them even while brandishing a Canadian passport is puzzling. The Jewish community has tragically been victimized by terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide all too often.
We appreciate consideration being given to our perspective on this important issue.