Ottawa Citizen | 08Jun2005 | Simon Doyle

Volpe rejects bid to end cabinet role in citizenship

Minister rejects report's criticism of its ability to revoke citizenship

Federal Immigration Minister Joe Volpe rebuffed a report tabled yesterday by the Commons immigration committee that called on the government to remove potential political influence from the revocation of citizenship and strengthen its judicial process.

Currently, cabinet issues the final decision on whether to revoke a person's citizenship.

But in a near-unanimous report, the immigration and citizenship committee recommended removing cabinet from the equation, handing the process exclusively to the courts.

Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, chairman of the committee, said the process should be updated to make it compatible with the Charter of Rights, but Mr. Volpe said the current process is already fair.

I guess we have to disagree. Our act is Charter-compliant, Mr. Volpe said. Cabinet can revoke a person's citizenship if it is found to have been obtained by fraudulent means, such as lying about personal history.

When Canadians are notified their citizenship is being revoked, they may request that a federal judge review the decision.

But this review is based on a balance of probabilities, not the criminal court standard of providing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and there is no avenue for an appeal, said Mr. Telegdi, who, as a child, fled communist Hungary.

It's quite unbelievable that you would have more rights to defend yourself on a parking ticket, or ... on a shoplifting charge, than you would have to defend your rights to citizenship, Mr. Telegdi said.

Cabinet has absolutely no business being involved in revoking anybody's citizenship.

Mr. Volpe said the suggestion that cabinet may have potential political influence is nonsense.

It conjures up images of people scurrying around, peeking over their neighbours' shoulders and saying I'm going to get my local member, or somebody else, to revoke something that isn't theirs, Mr. Volpe said.

Nothing happens in secret in this place.

Under scrutiny for amendment since the 1980s, the current revocation process came into force as part of the 1977 Citizenship Act, before the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the committee report says.

A few years ago, two former members of Nazi death squads, Wasyl Odynsky and Helmut Oberlander, were found to have lied about their past when they immigrated to Canada, and were nearly deported as a result.

Mr. Oberlander's citizenship was later restored by a federal court, partly as a result of secret cabinet deliberations.

B'nai Brith Canada rejected the report yesterday in a release, saying moving the revocation process to the courts would only bog it down and make it more difficult to take away citizenship.

In 2000, when Mr. Telegdi was parliamentary secretary to then-immigration minister Elinor Caplan, he boldly opposed a bill tabled by his own minister because it would have given cabinet final say in revoking citizenship.

Canadians have the right to expect that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all of them, Mr. Telegdi said, whether you're born in Canada or you're born elsewhere.