Ukrainian News | 19Apr2006 | Editorial

New Citizenship Act should be “no-brainer” for new government

The Conservative government is in a very good position to reverse a piece of discriminatory legislation that has made second-class citizens out of 6 million naturalized Canadians, implement a promise it made during the recent election campaign, and do so with the blessings of the vast majority of the House of Commons to boot.

We are referring the recommendations of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which would turn the current revocation of citizenship system into a judicial (as opposed to political) process, and make it consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Under the current Citizenship Act, citizenship can be revoked when a person obtained citizenship or permanent residence by false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances. Following a review in Federal Court -- where a judge must simply agree that it is more likely than not that the person improperly obtained citizenship -- the Federal Cabinet becomes responsible for making the revocation order.

The Standing Committee determined that the potential loss of citizenship is of such fundamental significance to the person concerned that fraud should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court, that the legal protections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- specifically sections 7 to 14 -- must apply, and there should be no special limits placed on the right to appeal. It tabled its proposals before parliament on June 7, 2005 and the report received unanimous concurrence from the House on June 16.

The report was the result of cross country consultations involving more than 130 witnesses during the previous parliamentary session. Evidence relating to previous citizenship studies in the 36th and 37th parliaments was also reviewed.

Introducing a new Citizenship Act, which would incorporate the recommendations of the committee, should be a “no-brainer” for the Conservative government. These proposals had the support of all of its members on the committee, all the NDP representatives, plus all the members of the Bloc Quebecois. It also had the support most of the then-governing Liberals including the Chair, Andrew Telegdi. The dissenting opinion came from Citizenship Minister Joe Volpe’s own parliamentary secretary, Hedy Fry, and reflected his own views on the subject, which may have had a lot more to do with loyalty to lobby groups than the principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Furthermore, during the election campaign, the Conservative Party indicated it would implement these recommendations.

In response to a questionnaire issued by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress the Conservative Party replied: “Conservative members of the CIC committee, including our Citizenship and Immigration critic, Diane Ablonczy, wholeheartedly supported this House of Commons report.”

A new Citizenship Act was being prepared and would have been introduced into the House of Commons had the government not fallen in November.

This makes it all the more imperative that it be introduced now. Yes, the government may have its five major priorities, but there are many problems beyond these that need to be addressed as well.

The current discriminatory citizenship revocation process is one of them. Reforming it has widespread support among all parties in the House of Commons, it has been endorsed by virtually every ethnocultural group in Canada and would correct a fundamental inequality that exists in Canada today.

New legislation should be introduced as soon as possible. Maybe it would be useful if some of the members of the governing caucus who are most familiar with this file, started prodding the government in the right direction.