Strengthening Canadian Citizenship?
As noted in my most recent blog, the Canadian government is proposing to amend the current Citizenship Act in a way that will fundamentally transform the meaning, scope and processing of Canadian citizenship. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (C-24) is the first major overhaul of citizenship legislation in Canada in 37 years.
Some of the important changes include:
- The requirement to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year in at least four of the six years preceding the submission of a citizenship application
- The requirement for naturalized citizens to intend to reside in Canada. The current law carries no such residency obligation.
- The requirement to submit proof of income tax filings, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act.
- The requirement for applicants aged 14 to 64 to demonstrate proficiency in at least one of Canada’s two official languages.
- The possibility of revoking Canadian citizenship from dual citizens, who were members of an armed conflict with Canada or from Canadians who are convicted of terrorism, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received.
- The proposed legislation covers a lot of ground and is complicated. It is in need of clarity and many of its sections will likely face court challenges such that final interpretation is years away.
In my opinion, at least two aspects of the new law ought to be reconsidered. The first concerns the notion that naturalized citizens must have the intent to reside in Canada at the time they apply for citizenship. The implication is that Canadians born in Canada are free to travel and reside wherever they wish, whereas naturalized Canadians risk revocation of citizenship status for misrepresentation in the event they live abroad after gaining Canadian citizenship. Aside from contravening mobility rights guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it establishes two classes of Canadian citizenship. That is not a good thing.
My second bone of contention has to do with the non-recognition of time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident . This change is particularly unfair to foreign workers and students, who became permanent residents in recent years but do not yet qualify for citizenship. Their journey to becoming fully Canadian will be considerably longer. These individuals have been paying their dues. They have worked hard on temporary work permits and study permits to prove their value to Canada before they earned permanent residence. They have formed ties in Canada, socialized and paid taxes. To remove the credit for time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident is wrong. At the very least, the new law should not be applied retroactively to anyone who has already applied for or achieved the status of a Canadian permanent resident.
This is not to say that there are no positive aspects to the proposed legislation. The government has stated that the changes will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year. As well, citizenship will be restored to individuals who had lost it or never received it due to outdated legislation. These “lost Canadians”, though few in number, will benefit from the new law.
Time will tell whether the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act lives up to its name.