Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration hearings
on Bill C-18, the proposed Citizenship of Canada Act
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus](1325)
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral (Laval Centre, BQ)): Good afternoon, Mr. Walter. We will start with you.
For everyone's benefit, since people are sometimes too lazy to read what is in front of them, Mr. Walter is a member of the German Canadian Congress and also a newspaper publisher. I do not know whether the paper comes out monthly or weekly, but it is a German-language publication. Mr. Walter will be talking about Bill C-18.
Mr. Walter, you have the floor.[...]
Mr. Paul Walter (Member, German Canadian Congress, National): Good afternoon, Madame Chair and members of the committee.
First, I want to thank you for giving our organization the opportunity to express the views of our members on the proposed Bill C-18. My name is Paul Walter. I am a member of the German Canadian Congress and publisher of a German-language newspaper. The German Canadian Congress is an umbrella organization of German-Canadian clubs and associations in Canada. Across Canada, over ninety organizations are members of the German Canadian Congress. This afternoon, I am here before you to present the concerns of the members of this organization on Bill C-18.
We all know we are living in a changing world, and existing laws and regulations require review from time to time. We applaud the federal government for doing that with respect to the Immigration Act. The old—or, better said—existing laws have served our country for many years, but they also have some flaws when it comes to the rights of individual Canadian citizens, especially those who have acquired their Canadian citizenship by choice. We hope the new, proposed act will address these shortcomings.
I want to draw your attention to clause 12 of the act, which can be found at the end of part 1:
All citizens have the same rights, powers, privileges, obligations, duties, responsibilities and status without regard to the manner in which their citizenship was acquired.
What clause 12 says is very important, and we fully agree with it. It is the cornerstone, the foundation on which the new act should be and has to be based.
However, as we go forward to clause 16 of part 2 of the act, we find wording that is of great concern to our members. In subclauses 16(1) and 16(2), there is no clear explanation of what is considered fraud, false representation, or concealing material circumstances. Subclauses 16(3) and 16(4) are very vague, and they contain elements that do not require full judicial disclosure of evidence. They allow presumptions of guilt of fraud regarding the acquisition of Canadian citizenship, as a citizen can now be stripped of citizenship and be deported from Canada. This means a Canadian citizen can be treated the same way as someone who is only in Canada for a few weeks.
In subclause 16(6), the last subparagraph is especially worrisome. It states that the government
is not bound by any legal or technical rules of evidence...adduced in the proceedings that it considers credible or trustworthy in the circumstances.
There is no clear definition to guide a judge in his or her deliberations, and the result can be just a personal opinion.
Clause 17 in particular permits the government to engage in the same exercise as provided for in clause 16. It is a simplified procedure for the minister and the Solicitor General. By making a referral to the Federal Court by way of certificate, the entire procedure is expedited.
This clause refers to inadmissibility on security grounds, on grounds of violating human or international rights, or on grounds of organized criminality. What is meant by human or international rights or, indeed, security grounds, is left up to the imagination of the minister and/or the Federal Court. The procedure has nothing to do with natural justice, and it abrogates the relevant provisions of the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Charter.
A judge decides what is relevant and what is not, without the citizen appreciating the case against him. Again, anything and everything is admissible. The judge is not bound by Canadian rules of evidence or case law. But there has to be transparency in the proceedings, and the person whose citizenship is about to be revoked has to be given all of the information on all accusations against him or her, all information that is required to fully defend himself or herself against all accusations. A ruling by a judge to find the person guilty of wrongdoing on the balance of probabilities should never be enough to revoke someone's Canadian citizenship. The concept of being innocent unless proven guilty has to apply in all cases.
Several clauses in the proposed act, if not eliminated, would make the act even more draconian than Bill C-16, the Citizenship of Canada Act that was passed in the last Parliament but which died on the Order Paper with the calling of the 2000 election. Clause 56 is also troublesome, in that the new system in clause 16 will only apply to future cases and to current cases in which no substantive evidence has yet been taken when the bill becomes law. This is like abolishing capital punishment for future cases but hanging the few persons on death row, or providing that the Crown can appeal a case it loses tomorrow but not one it lost yesterday. Clause 56 should be amended by the committee, by the House, with proper wording, so as to secure the advantage of the new system in clause 16 for past and current cases, as well as for future cases, and so that the minister will accept such amended wording for clause 56.
We feel the proposed, new bill has some very good elements. However, there is still much work to be done to make the proposed citizenship act fair and one that allows all Canadians the legal rights of protection defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The old and new acts basically provide for two kinds of citizenship, thus splitting Canadians into two categories of people with different rights. That, of course, is not acceptable.
Again, madame la présidente—I have written “chairman”....
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral): It is Madeleine.
Mr. Paul Walter: It's okay? I'm sorry.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. In order to prevent Canada from becoming a haven for criminals and other undesirables, we urge the federal government to be more strict before allowing people to come to Canada, and to do a thorough background check before extending the privilege of Canadian citizenship to landed immigrants. However, once they are Canadian citizens, all people should have the same rights no matter whether they were born in Canada or became citizens by choice.
On behalf of the members of the German Canadian Congress, I am asking the committee to take note of our concerns. I urge the federal government to make the appropriate changes to protect the rights and citizenship of all Canadians.
The last item is identity cards, also called smart cards. On the question of identity cards, we are opposed to such cards for the following reason. The information on these cards can be used for purposes other than those for which they were designed. Input errors can put false information onto the cards. We all have heard the excuse, “The computer made a mistake.” Persons in a position of power can intentionally put false information onto these cards—information that can do great harm to a Canadian citizen. I think we do have enough information to identify a person. We have passports, drivers' licences, SIN cards, etc.
Thank you so much for listening.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral): Thank you, Mr. Walter. Your concerns and apprehensions concerning Bill C-18 are similar to those expressed by many of our witnesses. So you are not alone. I feel confident that the committee will take your comments into account because all of us feel that the rule of law that exists here is a positive thing and not a negative one.
Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate this presentation, and I do take note that it is made on behalf of ninety organizations across the country. The issues you've raised are those that this committee has heard from a number of witnesses, and these were put with admirable brevity. That is very helpful, because we have it all in one document here.
In your brief, you mentioned the security issues, being strict about allowing people to come to Canada, doing background checks, and so forth. One of the arguments in favour of some of the measures in the bill that you have criticized is that they will lead to greater security or a greater ability on the part of the minister and the government to protect Canadian security, because they will allow, shall we say, expedited denial of citizenship and possible removal from Canada. There doesn't seem to be a lot of support for that argument, but I wonder if you see any merits in it.
Mr. Paul Walter: My personal concern, really, and I think the concern of our members.... For instance, take me as an example, if somebody were to accuse me of anything in my past before I came Canada.
When I came to Canada, I was 20 years old. I lived in England for three years, so I was 17 when I got to England. I was a youngster of 12 or 13 years when the war ended, so I was really a kid at that time. But although I was a kid, if somebody were to think that I may have been a criminal as a kid, and if they were to accuse me for whatever reason, then eventually I would lose my citizenship because somebody accused me without any proof. This is our main concern.
The concern is about a differentiation between immigrants who are just coming now and people who have been here 20, 30, 40, and 50 years. There should be some kind of a.... My God, if somebody never has done anything wrong.... If it has been proven that somebody really was a criminal, then bring him to court, but do not just simply leave it to political motives to have somebody's citizenship removed from him. This is where our big concern is.
With all the things going on lately, with terrorism and all that, obviously we have to implement measures to prevent people from coming into Canada if they have criminal intentions. I'm thinking, for example, of somebody who has been in the army. But I'll give you an example of a case. His name was Helmut Oberlander. When he was a young man of 17 or 18 years old, he was doing translation for the German army. I don't know all the details, but I know that for three or four years, he was interpreting for the German army at that time. He is now being accused of being a criminal because he was doing translations.
So you can see the concern for people like that. We don't have that many cases. Maybe there are three or four cases, but this is one of them. Mr. Oberlander is being stripped of his citizenship for no good reason. He has never even shot one bullet. He was just translating between the prisoners of war and the German army. The officials maybe would have said, “Well, what did he say now, then?” He would translate that. That is not a criminal act. At least, in my view, it's not a criminal act, yet they stripped him of his citizenship. That is a very sad situation.(1345)
Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: You're a man of some experience. You have lived in Germany, Britain, and Canada, as you say. You probably have travelled, I would expect. Do you know of any other country that would remove citizenship in such a fashion as the one we've been talking about in this bill, where within the bureaucracy or the officialdom of the department, there would be a determination made without reasons or recourse to appeal and someone's citizenship would be stripped? Would this happen in any other developed country that you're aware of, like Germany or Britain or any other one?
Mr. Paul Walter: I can tell you one thing. In Germany today, you can't even return somebody who arrives illegally in Germany. And that's not even talking about anybody being a citizen. Once you're a citizen, you're a citizen, and that's it. If you did something wrong, if you're found guilty of killing x amount of people wherever, like in Ukraine or Russia, then you should be put in front of a judge to prove you shot so many people. But if you're just a translator—this is what bothers me—like somebody here who is probably doing some translation from English to French or vice versa, for doing that you will eventually be a criminal. Please.
I know the United States is taking similar steps like those being taken here. I don't know all the details, but I do know for a fact that Germany and Austria....
Actually, I never lived in Germany. I lived in Austria. I was born in Yugoslavia, of German parents. But I do know that it's the same thing in Austria. I lived in Austria for four years before going to England. If somebody goes to Austria as a sort of landed immigrant, they can't send him back anymore. And we're not even talking about somebody being a citizen. Do you understand what I'm trying to get at?
I'm bringing the same name back. Mr. Oberlander — and there are a few others like him — should be brought to a criminal court, the same as any other criminal. If he is found guilty, go ahead and strip his citizenship then, but not before he's found guilty. This poor man is being stripped of his citizenship when all he was doing was translation between the German army and the Russian prisoners of war. It was actually in Ukraine that this happened. This individual is similar to me. I'm of German ancestry but was born in Yugoslavia. That fellow was born in Ukraine.(1350)
Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: Thank you.
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral): Mr. Walter, we understand that, in the case of Mr. Oberlander, you would consider it completely unfair, and I would tend to agree with you.
Mr. Pickard may have a question.
Mr. Jerry Pickard (Chatham—Kent Essex, Lib.): I hesitate to get into the Oberlander case. You realize that this legislation has not passed and has no relationship to the Oberlander case. The Oberlander case is one that has had a tremendous amount of press and a tremendous amount of attention over the last year or two. However, the Oberlander case and this bill...we're talking about a different bill. The Oberlander case is happening under present legislation, under present circumstances, so I don't see how the relationship can be drawn. Even though it's a negative case, I don't see a relationship there.
The other thing I wanted to focus more of my comments on was the blanket statement about identity cards. You dismissed identity cards as something you don't want. You used the connection to smart cards. There was a discussion about the smart card, but I do not believe what we're talking about is what was related to a smart card years back.