Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration hearings
on Bill C-18,the proposed Citizenship of Canada Act
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The Chair (Mr. Joe Fontana (London North Centre, Lib.)): We'll take as many members as we want who might want to attend the hearings. We just won't pay for their food or rooms, that's all--nor can we.
All right. I wonder if we can get back to our witness list.
I want to welcome the Canadian Labour Congress. Hassan is here, as well as David and Shelly. Again, the Canadian Labour Congress has given us some great insight into our previous bills, and I want to thank them again for taking the opportunity to come to talk to our committee with regard to the citizenship bill.
I know you have a submission. What I've told everyone, and I think it is the same drill that I told you before too, is can you just summarize what is in your submission so that we can ask questions. We are taking photocopies, obviously, for future reference and/or interesting night reading. So could you summarize the points and give us any suggestions? If you need to and want to submit amendments to the committee, of course, that would be most welcome. Hassan.
Mr. Hassan Yussuff (Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First let me thank the committee for the opportunity for us to come here and present to you on your deliberations.
Again, we value the work you're doing. I think the fact that the committee is going to travel somewhat to hear Canadian views is important. This is a very important issue to our country in the context of how citizenship is arrived at. The question of the provisions in the legislation and how people could lose or not retain their citizenship is of great concern.
We will be submitting a more detailed brief within the next two weeks, which will elaborate on specific sections of the legislation. However, we want to make an oral presentation here today and discuss broad human rights, rather than debate the finer legal points. I'm sure you're going to get a lot of lawyers arguing here about the terms or way in which the legislation is drafted.
Just quickly and briefly, we represent two and a half million workers and their familes across this country. Many of them are immigrants themselves, and subsequently will become citizens. Many of them are refugees who will also subsequently become citizens. It is, of course, an organization with membership from all walks of life and all parts of the world.
We know that Bill C-18 represents an earlier version of the Citizenship Act. Amendments brought to the House as Bill C-63 and Bill C-16 were discussed in the first and second session of the 36th Parliament. We also are aware that Bill C-16 died in the House, due to the elections. We have followed the public debate on the issue of citizenship, even though we did not submit a formal brief in response to the earlier bills.
The CLC is here today because we believe it is important now more than ever, because there is an attempt to create false classes or categories of citizenship.
The recent anti-terrorism responses by Canada and other countries, such as the United States, give us some great concern, particularly the actions by the U.S. undermining our citizens by deporting Canadians of Arab descent to Middle East countries, instead of sending them back home here to Canada.
The CLC is also concerned there are provisions in Bill C-18 that, in our view, undermine the principle of due process, which is held dearly by the Canadian labour movement.
As for equality and valuing all of our citizens, it is worth repeating that Canada was built by immigrants, and will continue to be built by immigrants. To take note, the last statistics confirm the changing face of Canada, in which case any new Canadian legislation should reflect this reality in spirit and content. I'm referring to the most recent data from Census Canada, which tells us about the shift in demographics. The two million Canadians who arrived in the last decade alone should give us some sense of what's happening in our country in terms of changes.
Clause 12 confirms the equality principle by saying that all citizens have equal rights and obligations, no matter how they acquired their citizenship. We think this is an important principle in the context of the legislation.
However, other clauses do not reflect the equality principle fully. In fact, some clauses elsewhere in the legislation contradict this principle. For example, some citizens do not have the right to fair process or due process under the law. Also, some citizens do not have the right to pass on citizenship to their children.
Because of globalization, more and more workers will be travelling to look for work or to visit their families outside Canada. They should not be punished through administrative barriers involving arbitrary residence requirements, which require them to prove their connection to Canada.
As for loss of citizenship, we are concerned that a baby born outside of Canada to a second-generation Canadian citizen who was also born outside Canada could lose their citizenship. We are also concerned that Canadian citizens born abroad could lose their citizenship if their own parents were born abroad. This provision could also affect Canadians who have lived in Canada most of their lives.
The three-year residency requirement is not a fair means of judging one's attachment to Canada. We can make some elaborations on this for the committee if it's raised.
Our first recommendation is to include a provision stating that a person is a Canadian citizen if born outside Canada to a person whose application to retain citizenship under clause 14 was accepted.
As for revocation of citizenship, if Bill C-18 is passed as it is, it will allow a Federal Court judge to revoke a former immigrant's citizenship through a certificate process without the citizen being permitted to see the evidence against him. The decision to revoke citizenship by a judge cannot be appealed or judicially reviewed. Clause 17 states that a former immigrant's citizenship can be revoked by a Federal Court judge by issuing a certificate. The evidence may not be disclosed to the individual who is affected. No appeal is permitted or no judicial review will be granted.
This is very much contrary to the equality principle the act talks about in clause 12. With this clause, there will be a group of citizens who will be denied the basic right to due process and a fair hearing.
On annulment of citizenship, Bill C-18 gives the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration new powers to annul and revoke citizenship. This may lead to Canadian citizens who have been granted citizenship after immigrating to Canada losing their citizenship without due process and without a right to a hearing.
On section 18, according to this clause the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will be given new powers to annul citizenship, within five years of an individual obtaining citizenship after they have immigrated to Canada, for using false identity documents. This is again without due process and without the right to a hearing. They are not entitled to see the full evidence -- only a summary of the grounds for the proposed order. The minister does not even have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, but only satisfied with the evidence.
This not only sets a low standard of justice, but the right of the affected individual is violated when the person is not granted the opportunity to defend himself or herself. Placing such an important decision outside the judicial process does not in any way guarantee that individual rights will be protected against false and malicious accusations.
Recommendation four is to amend the bill to provide that a decision of annulment be made by an independent decision-maker, with a right to a hearing and full due process, including the right to notice, to disclosure, and to counsel.
On refusing citizenship, clauses 21 and 22 grant broad powers to the cabinet to refuse citizenship on the basis that a person has demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the democratic principles and values underlying a free and democratic society. The powers granted to cabinet under clauses 21 and 22 of Bill C-18 are problematic because the interpretation of the principles and values is subjective. Again, there is no due process, since the decisions are made in cabinet behind closed doors.
The CLC is concerned that some people could be denied citizenship because they were convicted of trumped-up charges in a foreign country. Also, the lack of due process for adequate remedy, which is a principle of a free and democratic society, is of great concern. Our recommendation five is to delete clauses 21 and 22.
Clause 28 describes a long list of prohibitions for denying citizenship. Paragraphs 28(c) and 28(d) deal with charges and convictions outside Canada. This is of serious concern for refugees fleeing persecution, false prosecution, and unfair conviction. Sometimes the ruling party of a country trumps up charges against its political opponents and falsely convicts them of serious crimes. In Canada, we grant protection to such individuals and grant them refugee status. Therefore, it is quite contradictory to say that these people may be denied citizenship because of some trumped-up charges or false charges in their home countries.
In conclusion, I want to thank members of the standing committee for allowing us the opportunity to present here today. We hope you will make the necessary amendments to Bill C-18, in order to support the principle of due process and reaffirm the principle of equality for all our citizens irrespective of where they were born.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Hassan.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich: Thank you for joining us this morning. I have one question on your item three, loss of citizenship. You have some concerns about the three-year residency requirement. You say it's not a fair means of judging one's attachment to Canada. Would you care to explain that, please?
Mr. Hassan Yussuff: I know there are situations where, for instance, business-class immigrants come here, and because of the amount of money they need to obtain citizenship, they may just be transient in the country. They may not stay here, and may just pack up.
There are individuals with families in other countries who may, from time to time, have to go back to visit them. They may be out of the country for a period of time to look after their family because that family cannot emigrate to Canada.
There are situations where a lot of young people in our country these days, including new immigrants who have become new citizens, are travelling as a result of work. It could be to the United States or to other countries. Because they are actually out of the country for a period of time, it is not fair to deny them the opportunity and say they don't have an attachment to Canada. I think it's reasonable to suggest that a lot of Canadians, whether foreign-born or born here, are moving around with the global economy these days, and may be out of the country for quite some time. So I don't think that's a fair way to distinguish them.
Of course, I know there are incidents of abuse of the system that need to be addressed. Simply having an arbitrary three-year continuous residency rule ensures that some people will lose their citizenship for reasons we do not foresee or contemplate. There is no way for them to get an appeal process so they can say "I was out of the country because I took a job that would give me greater knowledge to strengthen the economy of this country". There is no requirement for that.
There are people who abuse the system, and I know that for a fact. We allowed a large group of immigrants to come in from Hong Kong who didn't have any attachment to the country. They got their landed immigrant status and subsequently left.
There is a need for balance and a need to look at this clause to see how we can create that balance.
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Mr. Hassan Yussuff: I think there are two very important points. I said it in previous presentations before this committee on other matters on immigration and I'll say it again. We're going to do tremendous damage to our country both in the present and in the future, because, it is my assertion, we're creating two classes of citizens in our country. There is a perception that those Canadians who were not born here have citizenship of less value than that of those who were born here.
Given the fact there is such a strong reliance on immigration to continue to develop and grow this country, I think we end up sending mixed messages across the country and to new Canadians as to their worth. It's critical to insist that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is actually the highest test and that every piece of legislation in this land meet that test no matter what. Otherwise, you will have people sort of sitting and saying "Why would I want to become a citizen in a country where I could lose my citizenship on a whim, this when more importantly, if I had been born here, that would not even be the case?"
We draw attention of course to the recent situation where a Syrian Canadian was deported back to his country. His country is Canada, by the way. He was deported to a country that is not his country, and the fact is, there was not a big uproar. This is a fundamental challenge to our Canadian mosaic. Our legislation as it develops has to assert that we don't have two classes of citizens in this country, we only have one class: you're a Canadian, you're a Canadian, you're a Canadian.
Taking on citizenship is a serious responsibility; it's not a trivial one. I think, yes, people should meet the test. Once they meet the test, they should not be treated as if they are second-class individuals.
There have been two aspects in our legislation I've seen that more or less undermine what I would call a unique principle of citizenship in this unique country. That is that we are like all Canadians who are here--through immigration of course--who want to apply themselves and take up the challenge so we can build a society and so people actually feel "This is my home, this is the place I want to strive and develop, and I have a strong attachment to it". Then they won't have the thought, "Should I retain a connection to another place because there's a possibility I might lose...?"
Of course, you may not feel it, but Muslim and Arab Canadians especially are more under the gun lately because most of the legislation we're talking about has had the effect of putting a higher degree of magnification on them. They recognize that, well, we need to be concerned that we may lose our citizenship, so the question is, where do we go, and should we hedge our bets?
I think there is a need for this broader perspective in the legislation. Are we sending that message? Are we creating that kind of understanding among individuals in this country? If we don't challenge that and assert the true value of Canadian citizenship, we are going to leave a lot of vagueness and people are going to hedge their bets as to whether or not this is the place where they really want to plant their feet firmly. So, Judy, yes, I agree with you.
The other point in regard to the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights is that they have to be fundamental to this legislation. If they don't meet that test, then the legislation is obviously not worth the paper it's written on. I think you have to hold the legislation to a higher standard, not a lower standard.
The Chair: Hassan, I think you said it very well in terms of making sure that we don't create two classes of citizenship. Obviously, your input, particularly the way you have expressed it, is very, very important.
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Mr. Hassan Yussuff: It seems to me that once we grant citizenship, there's been a series of tests you had to meet in regard to your application. I think that in itself speaks to the importance of issuing citizenship, and I think when individuals meet that test, we should not have another provision to revoke people's citizenship unless we have strong evidence that can be subjected to the courts.
Mr. Hassan Yussuff: Well, I think it is important. We don't want to create stateless people in a society, because if they're not a citizen in this country, what country are they a citizen of? It depends, again, on what period of time. I think the three-year provision to obtaining citizenship should be a test. Anything beyond that, regardless of what we say here, is going to go to the courts anyway.
I think there should be a recognition that if you're going to take someone's citizenship away, there are anomalies to this. I mean, you could have somebody who's been in this country since they were a child. If we discover that something happened, would we send them back to their country? They didn't grow up there; they don't have the values of that country.
I think there's a responsibility for Canada to judge the person and treat him accordingly, but there has to be a timeframe. I understand the five-year thing. We're not saying you can't have it, just that the evidence must be subjected to the courts. You could maintain that as an end point, and after that, I think you'd treat people accordingly and prosecute them accordingly.
The Chair: As usual, Canadian Labour Congress, thank you very much for your great presentation.
I know you said a more detailed one is coming in two weeks, and we thank you very much for that. Again, keep up the great work.