New Canadians – The Lucky Few
Under the current Citizenship Act, the minister can grant fast-tracked Canadian citizenship to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of exceptional value to Canada. The minister used this power to make instant Canadian citizens of certain athletes, who had a shot at making the recent Canadian Winter Olympic team. That gesture could not have sat well with the tens of thousands of Canadian landed immigrants, who have been waiting two or more years for their citizenship applications to be finalized. I understand that not many of our Olympians benefited from this preferential treatment, but that’s not really the point. The optics leave much to be desired. Moreover, compare our government’s favourable treatment of would-be Olympians to the lack of appreciation extended to Afghan interpreters who risked their lives by providing their services to Canadian Armed Forces in the field of action. Not only were these courageous individuals not offered citizenship, they had to threaten court action just to gain permanent residency.
Keeping with the Olympic spirit, if we are to be candid, our government’s handling of the citizenship portfolio in recent times has been less than medal-worthy. In 2012, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, 189,000 applicants were caught in the citizenship backlog compared to just 17,000 the year before. It may be true that the number of new citizenship applications increased by 94,000 in 2012, but at the same time the backlog grew by more than 160,000. So while the input of applications had gone up, the government’s output was stuck in first gear. The net result is that a huge number of Canadian landed immigrants live in a state of uncertainty, making it difficult for them to travel and impossible for them to vote. Hmm…
The government has defended its underwhelming performance by blaming the increase in processing times on its efforts to crack down on residency and citizenship fraud. However, as one of my colleagues pointed out, the government has taken a sledge hammer to a very small problem. The amount of paper work many applicants are now required to submit borders on the ridiculous. Having to provide three years of phone bills and credit card statements has become commonplace. No wonder applicants have begun turning to the Federal Court to force the government to process their applications.
Now the government proposes to amend the current Citizenship Act in a way that will fundamentally transform the meaning, scope and processing of Canadian citizenship. In my next blog, I will examine the new definition of Canadian citizenship and what it means for soon-to-be naturalized Canadians.