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On Canada’s Proposed Bill C-24: The So-called ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act’

A new bill proposed by the Canadian government’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, has been getting a lot of press recently. (You can find the bill here and the current Act here). Bill C-24, called by its proponents the ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,’ is meant to do just that: Strengthen Canadian Citizenship. The changes it proposes to the extant Canadian Citizenship Act are legion, and vary in their significance. Certainly, the changes are not all bad. It calls, for example, for modifications that would allow so-called ‘lost Canadians’ a chance to become citizens. People who, for one reason or another, never received citizenship when they should have. It also introduces more consistently gender-neutral language, rather than favouring the masculine pronoun, and acknowledges common-law partnerships, where the current act only recognizes marriage. These are good things. But, the press hasn’t focused on these gains. This is because a series of changes proposed by the bill will also make Canadian citizenship harder to get and easier to lose. Like others, I’m opposed to the latter set of changes being proposed. However, unlike others, my dissent isn’t based on the introduction of what is being called a distinction between first and second-class citizens. Instead, it is based on the assumption, implicit in proposed bill and explicit in the rhetoric of its defense, that citizenship is a privilege and not a right.

 The Worrisome Changes:

First, the proposed bill will make it harder to become a citizen. The changes it calls for does this in four ways:

  1. By extending the time that it takes to become a citizen. This is achieved in two ways: First, the bill requires one more year of residency than the current requirements. The current Act requires that the applicant have lived 3 of the previous 4 years in Canada. The bill proposes requiring that the applicant have lived 4 of the previous 6 years in Canada. Second, it no longer permits time spent in the country before the acquisition of permanent resident status to count towards one’s residency requirement. On the current Act, each day spent in the country prior to receiving permanent resident status counts towards one half day of total residence required for citizenship. The bill would no longer permit this.
  2. By increasing the cost of applying for citizenship. The current cost is $100. The bill proposes to raise this to $300.
  3. By increasing the age range for which a demonstration of competence in English or French and some knowledge of Canadian history and values are necessary. Currently, only those who are between the ages of 18 and 54 have to demonstrate these capacities. The bill proposes changing the age range to 14 to 64.
  4. By adding the requirement that the applicant demonstrate the submission of income tax returns in the years prior to receiving citizenship. Many of those applying for citizenship will have been required to submit income tax returns anyway. However, it will now become necessary for them to demonstrate that submission (or prove they didn’t have to).

Second, the proposed bill will make it easier to lose citizenship. These changes will only affect those with dual citizenship. The government has made clear that no Canadian who is not a citizen of another country will lose his or her citizenship. The changes it calls for makes it easier for dual citizens who have Canadian citizenship to lose their Canadian citizenship in two ways. Citizenship will be revoked if:

  1. The person has been convicted of crimes such as: 1) terrorism, high treason, treason or spying or, 2) war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other human and international rights violations. The first set of crimes may lead to the revocation of citizenship by the Immigration Minister without a trial. That is, according to the proposed changes, whether or not the convicted person loses his or her citizenship would be up to the discretion of the Immigration Minister. Appeal of such decisions would not be permitted. The second set of crimes may lead to the revocation of citizenship if decided by a Federal Court.   
  2. It is known (with the provision of reasonable evidence) that the person is engaged in hostilities against Canada.

 What to Say About the Worrisome Changes:

The common response to the Worrisome Changes has been to state that they introduce a distinction between first and second-class Canadians and that such a distinction is bad. There are those for whom Canadian citizenship is a secure and meaningful status, and those for whom it may be revoked at the whim of the Immigration Minister. While rhetorically quite strong, I think the complaint is less well founded than its proponents believe. Canada already implements a legal distinction of the sort being decried by objectors to Bill C-24. That is the distinction between a permanent resident and a citizen. The inclusion of another tier (if that is indeed what the bill is proposing) would merely add finer degrees to a distinction that has already been made. It would not be creating a new kind of distinction between those who permanently reside in Canada [1]. This is important. There is already a distinction between: visitors; permanent residents (who possess many of the rights and obligations of citizens—for example, income tax contributions and benefits—but cannot vote); and full citizens. It is therefore unhelpful to point out that another distinction is wrong. We need an answer to the question: Why is this distinction wrong when the others are not?

I think we can answer this question if we examine the assumption, implicit in the bill and explicit in the Immigration Minister’s support for it, that citizenship is a privilege and not a right. This strikes me as especially pernicious. This is what leads to the view that it is okay for a single (appointed, not elected) individual to determine a basic legal status of some individuals in certain cases without the possibility of appeal. Don’t get me wrong; it would be bad for there to be Canadians who are convicted of the crimes for which revocation of citizenship is a punishment. However, the badness of these acts should not be used as a reason to take away basic rights. To assert that Canadian citizenship is a privilege that can be taken away is not just to introduce insecurity in the status of those who possess dual citizenship. It makes a claim about the nature of citizenship in general.

Here is how I view the division that this bill would create between Canadians: There would be those for whom citizenship is a right, not to be taken away no matter the crime they have committed, and there would be others for whom citizenship is a privilege. The rhetoric of ‘privilege, not right’ would only be true of some Canadians. But this distinction can’t have any principled grounding, because renouncing the second citizenship one holds would be sufficient to turn Canadian citizenship into a right. Just as taking up citizenship in another country would be to turn Canadian citizenship into a privilege. Rather than strengthening Canadian citizenship, the changes this bill proposes would make it an ambiguous title; one that changes its nature depending on contingent circumstances of the person’s activity, even when that activity has nothing to do with Canada. The introduction of insecurity to dual citizens signals a greater disregard for the status of citizenship as a whole. For this reason, not because of the introduction of another tier of bundles of rights for Canadian residents, the proposed bill should be modified.

[1] I am aware of the move I have made here from Canadians to those who live permanently in Canada. I don’t believe anything rests on this change.

By Luke J. DaviesFollow Luke on Twitter!

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13 Comment on this post

  1. Marion Vermeersch

    Thank you for sharing this article, Luke. I also am concerned about this Bill and agree with your view about the two-tier citizenship I see being created. I would just like to comment on your reference to Lost Canadians. There are many of us, like myself, who actually had citizenship but it was revoked. Mine (and my brother’s, a Canadian Naval veteran) lost ours in 2003 – no notice, charges or way to appeal. We came to Canada in early 1946 with our mother, a War Bride, to join my father who had been discharged back home from military service in the Royal Canadian Artillery throughout WWII. Our entry to Canada came by way of the Order in Council P.C. 858, Feb. 9, 1945 which stated clearly that
    “every dependent who is permitted to enter Canada pursuant to this Order shall for purpose of Canadian immigration law be deemed to be a Canadian citizen if the member of the forces upon whom he is dependent is a Canadian citizen and shall be deemed to have Canadian domicile if the said member has Canadian domicile.”
    I soon learned I had lots of company without citizenship in 2003, as there had been thousands of War Brides and children who arrived after WWII. So I see this new legislation as codifying what they have already been doing – stripping citizenship (being children of war brides was only one of the excuses) without the judicial process accorded any criminal.
    I still have British citizenship, having been born there. If I did get my Canadian back, I would be a dual citizen again. My children were born in Canada (I have never left here.) and also have that British citizenship because of mine. So now they will be some sort of second-class citizens due to the discrimination against dual citizens in this Act.
    Surely we need more work done before this legislation is passed.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Marion.

      My understanding of the ‘Lost Canadians’ aspect of the bill was that it is actually trying to fix the inadequacies of the current bill. It’s goal is to give citizenship to those who didn’t receive it when they should have, or, like you, had it taken away without justification. So, while there may be ways in which they are trying to strip citizenship from some, this is not one of them.

      I would be grateful to hear if I have misunderstood this, but I thought it was a positive change being proposed.

  2. Marion Vermeersch

    Thanks for your reply, Luke – it is wonderful to know there are people out there who care about citizenship.
    Yes, it does sound, at first glance, that they are trying to do something to help Lost Canadians. However, mine (Children of War Brides) is, I understand, the only group to receive the restoration which was denied us but granted to most Lost Canadians in 2009. There are four other groups left which do not seem to be eligible. Other parts of the legislation may create more Lost Canadians in future.

    The government’s insistence that there were no citizens before 1947 means that all the soldiers of the wars prior to that date were never Canadian: this has been a key point to their denial of citizenship to our group. And how disrespectful to our veterans!

    Most concerning is the revocation of citizenship planned, which appears to discriminate against dual citizens. So, ultimately, as it is written, I think we might get citizenship back but it will be a “second tier” one as we are dual citizens – and vulnerable to loss of citizenship again in future at the whim of someone in power who may view us as a threat or, at least, undeserving of citizenship.

    I don’t think I would have believed this could happen in Canada if it had not happened to me!

  3. I read debate/contributions by honourable members of parliament on C-24 bill. Almost all of them talked on party lines with no real desire to think out of box and find solutions to the real problems.

    All talked in sugar coated language praising 0ne year benefit to defence forces personnel, almost negligible % in dot, dot dot and dot %.

    Nobody ever talked on dual citizenship in real terms. Why does Canada allow dual citizenship in the first place? If dual citizenship is seen as a challenge and a cause for a dual citizen resorting to anti-state or anti-humanity activities and the person holding dual citizenship can be stripped of his Canadian citizenship, why not abolish dual citizenship completely. One shall choose from the day one to either become full time Canadian citizen with 100% loyalty and allegiance to Canada or keep foreign citizenship and live forever as a resident within the permitted boundaries of residency requirements.

    Citizenship Frauds was mentioned by Conservative MPs time and again but ignoring in the first instance that there is a simple solution to both residency and citizenship frauds. However it seems political parties of all color and hues do not want to stop this but play dirty game of politics, seen to be appeasing either minorities or majorities-vote-bank politics.

    Give the option to Permanent Residents to produce their PR Card both at the time of exiting and entry Canada.

    Just the swiping of the PR card on Border Security Computer system will keep and update records of a person’s entry and exit, automatically calculating on a real time basis a person has been within Canada and meets on a daily basis the Residency/Citizenship requirement or not. The system can automatically compile and issue a Caution/Warning sign to Citizenship and Immigration Officer on a person losing his status in Canada on a daily/weekly basis and necessary steps taken to handle his case accordingly.

    But why will they do it? If there is normalcy and clear record keeping, how will the plethora of immigration lawyers make their living? How will unproductive- paper pusher civil servants will keep their jobs, how will politician play their dirty game of vote-banks-polarisation of Canadian society is being done by politicians.

    Another example, though not related to C-24 bill, is giving back Sales Tax, property tax refund every month/quarter and a plethora of other benefit cheques under Income Tax Act etc. How many trees are felled to issue those cheques? How much unnecessary mail Postman has to carry? How many unproductive civil servants are engaged to print, pack and mail those letters and cheques, how many productive hours citizens are wasting to trek to their bank to deposit, withdraw and encash? Why cannot tax free threshold increased to, say $24,000 a year and then progressive tax rates used? Why do we have qualified, some of them more qualified, experienced and knowledgeable than majority of MPs and even top executives in civil service, private sector landed immigrants working for poorly paid jobs, discriminated because of their accent and language proficiency (mainly spoken and most of landed professionals have better command over written English or French than native Canadians-second/third generation Canadians). This is a broken system (may be created and perpetuated deliberately or subtle way with interior motives of have and have-nots in the society, ruled and rulers in the society).

    Why are politicians paid salaries, if it is service, let them offer their services like any volunteer does-without remuneration? And after doing political service (attending parliament, attending to budget, policy decisions, administrative decisions etc.) go out and stand on a counter, work as a doctor, accountant, engineer and earn living like any other ordinary Canadian does?

    I have the vision, though too late in life, to make Canada an inclusive society, fair and equitable for all, with Uniform Civil Code, One common heritage, values, language….

  4. Hello
    thanks for the informative blog.
    I have been desperately trying to find out when this soon-to-become-law bill will come into effect, and whether people who have sent out applications before it’s signed and sealed will be affected. Looks like no news writers bother to paste that bit of background information to the end of their copy!
    many thanks

  5. Hi Deana,

    From my understanding, the bill hasn’t been voted on yet, so it isn’t possible to give a date at which its changes will take effect. There are still a number of groups trying to change the content of the bill before a vote is made (for reasons I’ve identified above).
    I’m afraid I don’t know what effect, if any, it will have on those who have already submitted applications. Though, I highly doubt that it could change the requirements of those who have already submitted an application.

  6. @Deana, Bill passed through second reading. Now it is before standing committee and then third reading….if passed goes to Governor General for signing. It will take some time as mentioned by Mr. Luke Davies.

    As a general rule, no law takes retrospective effect.

  7. Hello there,

    Thank you for you information. I have a question regarding the time spent outside Canada. I am a Canadaian but my common law partner is only a permement residence. I need to travel for a year to take care of my parents, how this will effect my partner when he applying the future for the citizenship if he travels with me for more than six months.

    Thank you

  8. The thing for me, is the way I view Canada. I am already in the process of immigrating to Canada to be a citizen of a country I’d be proud of. I would say the most important thing for me are human rights and justice. Those are couple of things that are damaged where I am coming from. My concern that this process might be damaged by the new bill. I am running from discrimination in my own country, don’t want to see it in my new one.

    However, I understand many of the concerns of Canada. I know of and heard of many people who have just immigrated to Canada to take the citizenship and leave and that is not good for Canada (my soon to be home). Let the law be something like, you need to spend 2 years in Canada every 10 years for an example. Make it solid law.

    Then giving the minister the right to revoke citizenship is a disaster, specially that I can not appeal his or her decision. I would say it is better that the minister would actually go to court to strip away someone’s citizenship. Or at least, to the minimum give the person the right to go to court to gain it back. Too much power for one person without very clear grounds for how the decision is made. This sounds too much like things that happen in dictatorships that I wouldn’t like Canada to be like.

    I am not afraid to lose citizenship, because I am neither intending to leave Canada nor that I have any tendency to criminal behavior. It is rather a matter of the picture of Canada in my eyes. I would still like to believe that this bill will not pass without serious amendment, because Canada cannot tolerate this.

  9. Thank you for this article ,however two issues you did not take into consideration
    1-Immigrants to canada already landed left their home country and considered Canada their new home according to certain law ,now with this new bill the Dividing Government wants us to meet a new requirement which if we knew from the begining some would have not taken this step .
    2-The Canadian Charter of rights Section 6 Mobility rights states clearly
    “6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. ”
    Now you will have two type of citizens
    1- with full mobility rights
    2-another Deprived of Mobility rights
    I think the minister himself would be deprived of his citizenship if the Aboriginals had their share of ruling Canada !!!

  10. Thank you for this article ,however two issues you did not take into consideration
    1-Immigrants to canada already landed left their home country and considered Canada their new home according to certain law ,now with this new bill the Dividing Government wants us to meet a new requirement which if we knew from the beginning some would have not taken this step .
    2-The Canadian Charter of rights Section 6 Mobility rights states clearly
    “6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. ”
    Now you will have two type of citizens
    1- with full mobility rights
    2-another Deprived of Mobility rights
    I think the minister himself would be deprived of his citizenship if the Aboriginals had their share of ruling Canada !!!

  11. This is a great blog. There is a lot of confusion about the new reforms in the Canadian immigrating law. Blogs like this should reach-out to more people, so that more and more people who are looking to have PR in Canada. Now the situation is that more people are inquiring about the new reforms and people rarely know about the correct law, and instead they contacted any immigration consultant like Matthew Jefferey, Toronto.

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