Toronto Sun | 09Jun2005 | Peter Worthington

Flawed Citizenship Act may be corrected

The single greatest flaw in Canada's Citizenship Act is on the brink of being corrected if a parliamentary committee's report is accepted, and if the government lasts long enough to enact legislation.

The all-party standing committee on citizenship and immigration, which has been touring Canada for a couple of years listening to various views, has made radical recommendations concerning revocation of citizenship -- which would apply to anyone the government seeks to deport, like aging Ukrainians who as teenagers were forced to work as Nazi auxiliaries in World War II.

Under the chairmanship of Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener-Waterloo), the committee agrees that false representation or fraud in acquiring citizenship, are grounds for revoking that citizenship, but it should not be done without guilt being proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," and the verdict subject to appeal.

As the act stands now, if a federal judge rules that someone "probably" withheld pertinent information on coming to Canada, that person can be stripped of citizenship and deported without appeal if the government so decides.

The standing committee recommends that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms must apply to those whose citizenship is being revoked.

In other words, revocation should be entirely a judicial matter and not a political decision, as is now the case.

A dissenting voice to the changes comes from Hedy Fry, a former multicultural minister demoted to parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration.

In a dissenting report, Dr. Fry says when a person is admitted to Canada as a citizen, the government assumes "on a balance of probabilities that the client is telling the truth."

She says, "applying a different standard when revoking citizenship would be inconsistent and hold the government to a different standard than the client."

She points out that revocation "is not prosecution of a crime," but a mechanism to address concealment of information "that had a bearing on admissibility to Canada."

Telegdi, who was born in Hungary, disagrees with Fry, who was born in Trinidad.

He says Dr. Fry has "confused the granting process with the revocation process."

Granting citizenship is not based on a "balance of probabilities," because the government assesses an application for citizenship outside the judicial process, and decides if it is true or false.

Once someone becomes a citizen he/she "acquires a very special status and revocation should be difficult" and only done in a court, says Telegdi, where a citizen is now at a considerable disadvantage against the "unlimited resources of government.

"A balance of probabilities test is very easy to achieve, and very easy to abuse," he says.

If the government chooses to strip a person of citizenship, it should be through criminal proceedings where the right of appeal applies.

As it stands now, a person accused of shoplifting has more rights than a person the government wants stripped of citizenship and deported.

There are several old Canadians who've had citizenship revoked and are slated for deportation, about whom the appeal court has criticized the government and echoed recommendations the committee wants.

In short, for those the government wants to strip of citizenship, criminal rules of evidence should apply, including right of appeal, and the trial judge should have the discretion to revoke citizenship and order deportation or apply some other penalty for giving false information.

Also, the committee feels no person should be deported who faces torture in his home country.

The previous minister (Judy Sgro) had promised to table new citizenship legislation by last February and Telegdi and the standing committee "are calling on the government to live up to its previous commitments.

If passed, every naturalized Canadian can breathe easier, because at the moment they are second-class compared to the rights of the native-born.