Changes to Canadian Citizenship Act Dilute the Meaning of Canadian Citizenship

Community News & Features Feb 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm

MultiFamBy Ethel Tungohan, PhD

Rather than prioritizing prospective Canadians’ integration into their communities and their participation in cultural, economic, and social life, the changes that are part of the bill “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship,” tabled by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on February 6, 2014, limits the definition of what it means to be Canadian by imposing unnecessarily punitive restrictions.

At issue are the following:

First, tremendous power is given to the Citizenship and Immigration minister by providing him/her the ability to strip Canadian citizenship from Canadians with dual nationality. While the bill emphasizes that this will only occur in “extreme cases”, such as when permanent residents provide fraudulent information in their immigration applications, when they are found to have served in foreign armies, or when they engage in treason and in terrorist activities, the legal precedent it sets is frightening. It is entirely possible for the Minister to say that applicants have ‘misrepresented’ themselves in immigration applications for a variety of reasons, investing in him the capacity to unilaterally decide who is or isn’t deserving of Canadian citizenship, thereby subverting due process. Under the new law, those who face the threat of deportation also cannot automatically appeal the decision, but would rather have to apply for the right to appeal the decision to the Federal court.

One can also easily imagine scenarios such as the one currently facing Deeplan Budlakoti, who is now stateless after being stripped of his Canadian citizenship and after India denied that he was an Indian citizen, to be more rampant. Even if people are found guilty of a crime, there is a criminal justice system in Canada that is equipped to handle their cases. Why introduce a measure that can easily be abused, introduces more legal complications, and enables the permanent expulsion of those who are already Canadian citizens?

Second, the bill not only increases the price to apply for citizenship from $100 to $300 but also requires that permanent residents be present in Canada in four out of six years as opposed to three years out of five. Doing so presents an unfair financial burden to permanent residents and extends their probationary period as citizens-in-waiting. It will take an extra year for permanent residents to avail of the perks of citizenship, such as the ability to vote in elections and also to apply for jobs that are available only for Canadian citizens. This provision lengthens permanent residents’ settlement period, presenting an additional barrier to their full integration into their communities and ironically defeats one of the bill’s major intentions.

Third, the time spent by foreign students, live-in caregivers, and temporary foreign workers living in Canada will not count as part of their residency requirements. These groups already live, work, and pay taxes in Canada. They have integrated within their community by attending church and going to community events. In other words, they are taking part in Canadian public life and have put in sufficient time to understand Canadian norms and values. This bill ignores the very real contributions these groups have already made to Canada.

Fourth, the bill mandates that permanent residents between the ages of 14 to 64 (as opposed to 18 to 54) pass language and knowledge tests before becoming Canadian citizens. While it is sensible to mandate that future Canadian citizens have the ability to communicate with fellow Canadians and have knowledge of Canada, lowering and raising the age required to take these tests imposes an unnecessary burden on children and seniors who most likely came to Canada as dependents (in other words, others filed applications on their behalf). Also, children between the ages of 14 and 17 are arguably more malleable. They can become fluent and more easily adapt to Canadian norms; asking them to take these tests thus seems counter-intuitive. On a different but related note, asking seniors to take tests that do not fairly measure their Canadianness also seems unfair. As Liberal immigration critic John McCallum notes, “New 60+ Canadians may speak flawed English but they are still loyal Canadians.”

In fact, the bill introduces crucial questions about what it means to be worthy of Canadian citizenship. Changes to the tests have garnered complaints from permanent residents, who feel that these tests give an unfair advantage to native English and French speakers and to those from Western liberal countries, thereby reneging on the promises made by the Canadian Multicuturalism Act. Crucially, they believe that these tests ignore the important contributions they have already made to Canadian life and simplistically equate Canadian identity with linguistic aptitude and select historical knowledge. To cite an oft-quoted saying, Canada’s strengths lie in its diversity, a fact that the tests ignore.

The Citizenship Act, in refusing to recognize permanent residents’ cultural, economic, and social contributions, ignores what it means to be Canadian.