NUMBER 051 | 1st SESSION | 38th PARLIAMENT
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
The Chair (Hon. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.)): We will reconvene.
We have people from the New Brunswick Multicultural Council.
Welcome. Please do a seven-minute presentation. You notice we're not keeping very strictly to the time, but we do like to get questions in.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Mr. Chair, they both have presentations to make this morning, so --
Mr. George Maicher (Vice-President, New Brunswick Multicultural Council): Mr. Chair, we come from similar but different organizations. I'm presenting for the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and Asma is presenting for the Multicultural Council of New Brunswick. The Multicultural Council of New Brunswick is the overarching organization.
I'm talking about updating Canada's citizenship laws, issues to be addressed, and you would have received a copy of my brief to you. I would like to preface that in order to restate what our organization stands for. We are interested in human rights as well as in immigration issues, and we have been very successful in integrating newcomers into Canadian society. We employ over 22 people in our organization to do that and we have over 100 volunteers to help us do that.
I would like to say that while we see the need for maintaining strong security within Canada and support much of what is discussed in the relevant minutes of proceedings, we have a problem concerning some of the sections of the proposed legislation.
One of the problems we see is citizenship annulment and statelessness. It deals with the issue when Canadians move outside the country and children are born outside the country as Canadian citizens, because they are born the children of Canadian citizens. If those children then stay outside the country and have children, they might become stateless. They have to make an election when they are 28 years old. If they didn't actually happen to be in Canada at that time, at age 28, then they become stateless. We feel that Canada's goal should not be to turn Canadian citizens into stateless persons.
We should give the benefit of Canadian citizenship to those people who have been rooted in Canada, who have their parents, or grandparents, or great-great-grandparents, who have become Canadian citizens. Those kinds of things can happen to people, for example, who work as missionaries overseas. Those people spend all their life overseas. Their children are born... and statelessness can happen to them. We don't want to see an increase in stateless persons in the world and in the problems it creates. It infringes on the rights of some Canadians to pass on their citizenship to their children.
Another big problem, another issue -- and you have this in my brief -- is the proposed legislation that the Solicitor General of Canada may refer to the Federal Court any person he believes may have obtained citizenship through fraud or false presentation, or any individual found to be a subject of prohibition. We are very concerned that there is no appeal process or judicial review of the court's eventual decision. More importantly, it appears that a Federal Court judge, or even the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, can revoke citizenship of a naturalized Canadian without that person even being able to see the evidence against them. I don't think a prohibition like this is worthy of Canada. I think people have left their home countries to come to a society where the judicial process is open and public, and I think it's very important that it is open and public and that we do not see our fate being dealt with behind closed doors.
We have worked for 3,000 years -- and this started in the Greek city states -- to separate decision-making in a judicial way from decision-making in a political way. We in Canada, all of a sudden, feel we have to renege on that and make a judicial process political, where they give the power over people's lives to ministers of the Crown. I don't think we in Canada should be able to have a situation like that. I don't think we should allow that.
It's like something that was done in Nazi Germany, in Maoist China, in Stalinist Russia, or in Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Something is brought forward against you, but you don't know what it is. It's a Kafkaesque process; you don't know what to defend yourself against, and then people say you're denied citizenship or citizenship is taken away from you.
If there is wrongdoing, the Canadian courts are able to deal with that wrongdoing. Bring people forward into a public court and have them dealt with. If they're wrong, put them in jail or fine them, but do not deal with them behind closed doors.
Another thing I would like to see is that you not allow two-tier Canadian citizenship. The guys who were born in Harvey or in Woodstock -- the Macdonalds or the Turners, who have been here for 250 years -- can do whatever they would like to do. Nobody will say, you know what? We're going to take your citizenship away from you and we're going to send you back to where your great-great-great-grandparents came from.
No. We say, we're dealing with you through the courts; you have done wrong.
But all of a sudden, when somebody comes from Jamaica, we say, well, at the time you were born in Canada your parents were still Jamaican; now you are an 18-year-old and you're really giving us a lot of trouble, so we're going to send you back to Jamaica. I don't think that is acceptable. If there's a problem with a person, deal with it in court. We should not allow people to be put through a system where they have no recourse to the law, where people are not allowed to defend themselves.
The proposed legislation as it currently stands states that any individual the cabinet fears has contravened the principles and values of democracy can have that citizenship revoked by cabinet. We do not disagree in principle with any legislation that will exclude hate-mongers and human rights abusers from obtaining Canadian citizenship. However, the only criterion the cabinet seems to be concerned about when evaluating a case is whether they believe the individual has demonstrated a serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society.
It is especially worrying that there are no definitions of these principles and values in the legislation. This stipulation in itself can be regarded as unworthy of a free society as it may stifle the expression of legitimate concerns by new immigrants. And I know exactly that there is self-censorship by immigrants right now, that immigrants don't want to speak out; they say soon, if they speak out, when they come to the border they won't be able to travel.
I think one of the noblest achievements we can have in our society is the ability to say what we want. I'm personally really offended by the fact that we in Canada have become really backwards in the way we allow people to express their opinion. People expressing their opinion means I'm going to piss you off; I'm going to say something you don't like. But that is what freedom of expression is.
As to freedom of expression in the past, we said, oh, there were Hardenberg and Richelieu and all the people in Europe -- I'm going to finish pretty soon -- but they didn't allow free expression of opinions. No, of course not, because it was saying something against them.
Anyway, I represent a multicultural association, and the people who deal with us did not come to Canada to see their fate established behind closed doors. They would like to have it done in a public and open forum.
Thanks very much.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
The reason we don't have the reports is that one is done in English but the other report is done in French, and you have to have them done in both before we distribute them. They will be distributed once we get them translated.
Mr. George Maicher: I think mine, though, had actually been submitted a long time ago.
The Chair: All right, but no matter. I was just saying that to the committee members.
Mrs. Asma Regragui (First Vice-President, New Brunswick, New Brunswick Multicultural Council): Thank you, honourable members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
I am here to speak to you today as the representative of New Brunswick Multicultural Council and also as a citizen. There is no need for me to give you an overview of the history of citizenship from the Code of Hammourabi to the Greek concept of philia or the 212 edict of Caracalla, there is no need for me to consider the French Revolution, or the Bill of Rights in Great Britain or the issues raised by marxisim or what we today refer to as the welfare state.
You are all aware of the fact that citizenship contains first of all a legal notion, as well as in idea of political legitimacy and a social link. I intend to focus mainly on the commitment undertaken by the government in respect of citizenship.
It seems to be that there is not enough civic education. People often talk about citizenship and education for citizenship for new arrivals but there is not enough emphasis given to it when we are talking about people who are born here. The concept of jus sanguinis is very important. Citizenship is not a privilege, it is a right that carries with it a great many responsibilities. It may well be the moment for the government to take a leadership role in citizenship education.
Not being a specialist in citizenship or a philosopher or sociologist, I am interested mainly in elementary education because citizenship is something that must begin at a very early age. It seems to me that it will be important for the government to encourage the provinces to have a multidisciplinary curriculum. It could be an introduction to philosophy because philosophy helps us to think and education should be provided in how to think and to debate while respecting each other's rights.
Citizenship, as Mr. Maicher has noted, is democracy. When it comes to freedom of expression, it is not nearly a matter of saying what one thinks but there are certain procedures, a procedural code that should be observed before people begin their discussions. It seems to me that recently Canada has seen growing and persistent individualism. It is not only a Canadian problem, it is a problem face by all countries of immigration. One of the reason we are talking about a new citizenship act today is that our societies are increasingly diversified.
Is that something that makes us afraid? That is the question, that is the issue we must face.
In European countries, that are certainly not seen as large immigration countries even though they do receive significant numbers of immigrants, in New Zealand, in United States, in Canada, what is the problem? What sort of country do we want? If we are a country of immigration, then we must remain open and we must help new arrivals to be integrated and to embrace the Charter of rights and freedoms. As I see it, that is essential.
The day when I became a Canadian, I embraced Canada for various reasons: freedom of speech, democratic values, human rights and the rule of law. Without all that, it is not possible to become Canadian. So I am sorry, but if somewhere I have a reservation about the Charter, than I cannot call myself a Canadian, I cannot speak out as a Canadian. That is very important.
Another fact, and something which is much more significant, is that we compartmentalize people. We have our little intellectual ghettos, our cultural and denominational ghettos. We are going to have to break out of them because becoming a Canadian means we put on another hat. At the same time the citizenship education will have to be provided to Canadians who were born here. Being a Canadian citizen, as I said, is a responsibility.
In Canada we have two different notions of society. On the one hand, there is what is referred to as the liberal democratic concept where, because our rights are protected, we do not become particularly involved in the political process. On the other hand, there is the republican concept which takes a deliberative approach. It seems to me that recently Canadians will only begin to deliberate when their rights and freedoms are at stake, when there are international conflicts or when certain moral issues arise such as marriage between persons of the same sex, for example.
First of all we must realize where we are heading.
Secondly, we must also realize that in two or three decades, most Canadians will be of different ethnic origins and visible minorities. Now is the time for us to begin thinking about all of this.
I'd also like to bring up another idea. Citizenship is also economic. We are going to have to get rid of the glass ceiling or the cement ceiling because there are already young Canadian university graduates who are unable to obtain an interview when they don't have a Canadian name.
Lastly, I'd like to talk about citizenship restrictions on children born in Canada. How many children are born in Canada to non-resident parents? According to the Globe and Mail, there were 12,400 of them last week. I wonder what kind of crime a child committed when he is born in Canada and his parents are not Canadian residents. It seems to me that when a woman takes a plane to come here, the airlines should see that she is pregnant. Normally, airlines do not authorize a pregnant woman to travel if she is over six months.
Then there are all those persons waiting for refugee status. What are we doing with these people? If we start to restrict the notion of jus soli, we will be opening the door to discrimination and it would be unworthy of our country.
As Mr. Maicher noted, the decision to withdraw someone's citizenship should be made by the courts. There's no question of giving this power to the department but the courts will have to make a commitment to uphold the rule of law. Otherwise, as Mr. Maicher said, we will have a double standard.
Lastly, I would like to say something on the wording of the oath of allegiance. We have enough poets and writers in Canada who should be able to come up with a beautiful and well-written text in both official languages. One could write it in English and the other in French, so there would be no need for translation. That would ensure a certain authenticity.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We're hoping that we'll find poetry from one of our delegations as we go across the country. If you can think of anything, we'd love to hear it; feel free to submit.
We are going to start off with a round of questions, and we're going to be snappy about it so that we can all get our questions in.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, CPC): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to both of you for your presentations this morning.
I'm going to start off with you, George, with a quick question. I know you mentioned your concerns with the issue of statelessness. Since we've been having these hearings, concerns have been expressed that Canada did not sign on to the UN agreement on statelessness.
I don't know if you know about that, or if you have any issues there.
Mr. George Maicher: No, I don't.
Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Okay.
Statelessness is an issue of concern, it seems to me, and I'm glad you addressed it. No doubt we need to address it and see where we can be proactive in terms of ensuring that the people who are lost in the shuffle, so to speak, who are stateless, don't remain that way. We need to look at whatever we can do to help that, because obviously it's a concern.
I agree with you about your appeal process. We've been hearing that quite significantly in terms of someone's citizenship being challenged. It seems our appeal process needs to be put in place, because it's not working right now even though there is an ability to have it in the legislation. So I appreciate that.
Asma, I agree with you. My family and I arrived here as refugees. When I was growing up, my father always stressed that we had to take our freedom and our participation in democracy very seriously. They're very important things. We have to take part in democracy here in Canada. That is something that is missing from our education system. I think that we are going to have to change that in our education system for the sake of new Canadians. It is very important that citizenship not only be a privilege but a right. I agree on that.
You may perhaps have some ideas about how we can work with the provincial departments of Education to develop a system where citizenship has its place.
Mrs. Asma Regragui: In Quebec, on the south shore of Montreal, a pilot project was set up in an elementary school where there was a great deal of violence. Philosophy was included in the curriculum. When you and I talk about philosophy, we think of Plato, Socrates or Kant, but in the case of children, philosophy means discussing ideas while respecting each other. Since the introduction of this pilot project, there has been a great reduction in the violence because the children started thinking. In my opinion, as soon as four years old children are able to think, then we should begin their education.
There is also the contribution of history. I had the opportunity of teaching for a year in New Brunswick where, except for grade 7 and grade 8, history is not taught to our children. It seems to me that the teaching of history is very important.
There is also literature. Perhaps we do not have as many authors as Europe or our neighbours in the south but some of our authors are very talented. They deal precisely with this issue of belonging and identity.
Then of course there is the failure to deal with the problem of the first nations and the French fact. But if the matter is discussed and there are explanations about why there is this difference between the French fact and the English fact, children are able to understand the situation. After I arrived in New Brunswick, for a long time I heard that Acadians had not been persecuted because they were free to leave. That is wrong. Imagine, that is something that people said for generations.
So there should be a multidisciplinary curriculum including civic education. That does not mean picking up scraps of paper in the street. This is not what I mean by citizenship, I am talking about participating and being responsible for one's actions. When we talk to young people now, we realize that for them, citizenship is a right. It must be understood that this right carries responsibilities. That is how the issue should be broached.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Siksay, go ahead, please.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you both for your presentations this morning.
Mr. Maicher, I just want to say that I agree with you completely about revocation and the terrible reality of two classes of Canadian citizenship that presents, and I think we really do need to address that in the Citizenship Act without any further delay. The evidentiary standard that applies in the revocation process of balance of probabilities versus beyond a reasonable doubt is also unacceptable.
So I think we just need to get away from that and recognize one class of Canadian citizenship and get on with it, and the sooner the better.
You talked about the self-censorship that immigrants impose on themselves given that circumstance. I wonder if you wanted to talk a little bit more about that and how that manifests itself.
Mr. George Maicher: I can certainly talk about that. It manifests itself in very strong ways. In the past, if I were somewhere sitting in an airport and there was somebody who was definitely of Middle Eastern background, I would approach him. I would talk to him. Now I wouldn't because I might be seen talking to him who is talking to him or to her who is talking to him, who is talking to him, and she is in the book somewhere, and all of a sudden the chain is followed and they say, hey, this guy.... We've got to check him out because somehow does he go to ...? And people censor themselves by not talking to others.
People say, no, I'm not going to the mosque because at the mosque I might be seen just talking to somebody who might turn out to be somebody who is in the book of somebody, and they are looking somewhere for somebody. And I'm not giving money to any organization any more, even if I know the organization is beyond reproach, if that organization is dealing with issues in the Middle East, because it might turn out that some of that money is going somewhere I don't know, but since I have been giving money, then it falls back to me.
And people say, no, I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to give my opinion, and be careful. Don't say too much, you know. You don't want to get people upset, and you don't want to draw attention to yourself.
And you know what Canada is all about? A lot of the Canadians came to Canada in the past because really they had a big mouth in their home country and felt that it was better to come to Canada. And Canada accepted them with open arms in the past. Now it comes down to the fact that we are falling back on evidence from their home countries, and their home countries might have something against that person, that family. Maybe the father did something.
Again, we have self-censorship. We see self-censorship. And I don't think it is good to see self-censorship. You think maybe if you self-censor, people cannot express what they feel and then somehow it will be expressed differently, and I don't think that it's a terrible thing.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Thank you.
Madam Regragui, you mentioned the citizenship oath and the fact that you thought, or I think I understood you to say that, we didn't need a translation or an exact replica of it in either official language. I'm just wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that. It seems to me a little problematic if, in our official languages, people are taking an oath that maybe means something different in both of them.
We heard a little bit about that from one presenter who had a specific suggestion for us, but he pointed out -- and this is maybe a minor example -- that the word people and peuple mean different things in both languages. So there is a variation in how that's understood, particularly in Quebec, for instance.
So I wonder how you see that working out, if people are actually taking an oath that maybe means something different in both official languages.
Mrs. Asma Regragui: To get back to this notion of people...
I'll speak English now.
Quebec is a nation, whether we like it or not. It is a nation, but Quebec doesn't have citizenship; it is within Canada. So as long as Quebec is within Canada, I don't see Quebec citizenship; it will always be Canadian citizenship.
When I'm talking about writers and poets, it's just that whenever you translate something, it's not the same. I'm going to be a bit sexist here, but there was a writer who always said,
that a translation is like a woman: When she is beautiful, she is not faithful, and she is faithful, she is not beautiful.
It's very sexist, but it is the truth.
If you give the mandate to writers, or a group of writers and poets, they are going to be working together, and, as you know, nothing goes by the government if it is not proofread a million times, for commas and everything. So it's not impossible to do; we are a young country and we have a lot of potential.
I think it's fine that we put our mind to this.
The Chair: Mr. Temelkovski.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
George, you mentioned that the courts should be used, as opposed to having decisions made behind closed doors. I think we all agree on that, when it comes to checking on somebody's past, whether they told the right story or the entire story or half of the story, or which side of the story they told, when they were coming to the country.
Should there be any time limit to when we should be able to look back at their entry... or as long as it's done in the courts?
Mr. George Maicher: If there is fraud, it can be dealt with in the court. If there is crime, it can be dealt with in the court. I don't necessarily think there should be a time limit.
What I believe, though, is that Canada should stand by its decisions. If Canada is admitting somebody, we should have due diligence. If they say, “We admit you”, they admit you, warts and all. If it turns out that you lied, okay, we will deal with you as a Canadian citizen, as we deal with any Canadian citizen who has lied under oath or with any Canadian citizen who has committed a crime -- but we should do it openly and publicly. And don't do it as a political process, but do it as a criminal process if a criminal act has been committed.
For me, it's standing by your decision, so that if you have admitted somebody, stand by it. If you say you made a mistake...but Canada doesn't make a mistake in admitting people into Canada; they will say, “Now we will expel you”. If you are a Canadian citizen and they take citizenship away from you, it means Canada has made a mistake. No, we didn't make a mistake; we wanted to let you in, and we're going to deal with you now as a Canadian citizen.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: What I hear you saying is that once somebody obtains their citizenship, all the work has to be done prior to receiving that citizenship.
Mr. George Maicher: Exactly.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: And after that, there should be no questions?
Mr. George Maicher: Of course there can be questions, but those questions should be dealt with in court. If some crime has been committed, deal with it in the courts.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: So we agree that if somebody committed a crime somewhere 50 years ago, and we find out now, we should deal with it in the courts.
Mr. George Maicher: Exactly. If there is no statute of limitations, deal with it in Canada. There has to be the whole process of evidence, counter-evidence, defence, and all those kinds of things. You may not think the person should be here, but they are here because Canada thought they were a good candidate to be a Canadian. Stand by that decision.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: And they have proven their good citizenship for 50 years.
Mr. George Maicher: But even if they haven't, we should deal with them in court. If Canadian people turn to crime, that's how they're dealt with.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: So we understand that granting citizenship is one thing, and then if they committed a crime somewhere else and this has been disclosed, we should deal with them in the courts.
There has been a question of their passing this on to their children. Some people think that if I came into Canada on false pretenses, then my children should not be able to be in Canada.
Mr. George Maicher: I could see that, but of course those children were born in Canada. If the children live the life that we expect them to live, they can live happily ever after. They can become politically engaged, say what they think. If they turn to crime, we put them in court. Deal with them in court -- not behind closed doors where they won't even tell you what's wrong.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Temelkovski. We are going to try to work on getting you snappier.
He was referring to a proposal under C-63, which was going to extend the revocation process to apply to children. The reasoning was that but for the fraud of one of their parents, they would never have come here in the first place.
Mr. George Maicher: But how far are you going to go? To grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
The Chair: That's what got me shook up when I read it.
When I went to school in B.C., they used to give us a mark for citizenship. This disappeared in the 1960s. I remember I got an unsatisfactory in citizenship, and I was very upset when I found out why. It was because I was eating sunflower seeds in class. I had sunflowers in my compass set, and they gave me an unsatisfactory in citizenship. But there was quite an emphasis on citizenship in all the classes. That got lost, and I don't know why.
Lui, did you have that experience?
Mr. Lui Temelkovski: I had the experience of learning about citizenship, but not of getting an unsatisfactory mark.
The Chair: Thank you very much, and we will send you our report when it is done.
Thank you for being good citizens and making your views known.
We will suspend for a couple of minutes.