Bill C-24: The Changing Nature of Canadian Citizenship

On February 6, 2014, Conservative Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander introduced before the House of Commons Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.[1] Bill C-24 proposes significant reforms to the currentCitizenship Act.[2] Under the proposed changes, a person will be granted citizenship if the Minister is satisfied that the following requirements are met:

  • Physical presence in Canada for at least 1,460 days out of 6 years prior to the application;[3]
  • Physical presence in Canada for 183 days in 4 calendar years out of 6 years prior to application;[4]
  • Filing of income taxes for 4 out of 6 years prior to application;[5] and
  • Intention to reside in Canada after becoming a citizen.[6]

These provisions are a marked departure for the current legislative regime.  Under the current legislation, a permanent resident must have resided in Canada for at least 3 out of 4 years preceding his application.[7] There is no requirement for a person to be physically present in Canada for any specified number of days per year, a need to file income taxes, or even to demonstrate an intention to reside in Canada.

The requirement of satisfying the Minister of one’s intention to reside in Canada after becoming a citizen is particularly alarming.  Lorne Waldman and Audrey Macklin explain:

The provision also holds out the implicit threat that if a naturalized Canadian citizen takes up a job somewhere else (as many Canadians do), or leaves Canada to study abroad (as many Canadians do), the government may move to strip the person of citizenship because they misrepresented their intention to reside in Canada when they were granted citizenship.[8]

Clearly, the “intent to reside” requirement poses the risk of unduly limiting naturalized Canadians’ liberty to travel, study or work in a manner in which Canadian-born citizens are not otherwise encumbered.  What is more, if not properly circumscribed, the requirement introduces an element of discretion in the granting of citizenship.

In addition, it is noteworthy that the new Bill introduces a more onerous scheme for gaining citizenship status in Canada while broadening the instances where an individual would see his citizenship revoked.  The revocation of citizenship in cases of fraud or false representation remains unchanged.  However, the proposed law would also strip a person of his citizenship in the following circumstances:

  • Where a person was convicted of crimes relating to national security (for example, treason, terrorism);[9]
  • Where a person has served as a member of an armed force, or and organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada;[10]
  • Where a person has committed acts of espionage, has violated human or international rights, and is or has engaged in organized criminality.[11]

While at first glance these provisions display a perhaps desirable and sensible tough stance on crime, their application would create a dichotomy between Canadians who hold their citizenship by descent [native-born Canadians], and those who obtained citizenship through naturalization [immigrants].  In so doing, where the criminal act alleged is the same, a naturalized Canadian would lose his citizenship, while a native-born Canadian would maintain the rights and privileges of citizenship so conferred to him by birth.  Hence, the heavy hand of the law would strike the former more severely than the latter. Waldman and Macklin contend:

As disturbing, the new law will allow the minister to revoke citizenship if a Canadian is convicted of terrorism offences. Why, for those convicted in Canada, is the punishment of the courts not sufficient? Banishment as a punishment was rejected by most civilized societies hundreds of years ago. And what about those convicted of a terrorism offence outside of Canada? The new provision would allow for revocation of citizenship based on convictions from undemocratic regimes where there is no due process. Surely that ought not to be acceptable.[12]

Ironically, these amendments are purportedly aimed at reinforcing “the value of Canadian citizenship”.[13] Nevertheless, their practical effect may erode the very meaning of Canadian citizenship.  In Lavoie v Canada[14], the Supreme Court of Canada turned its mind to the significance of citizenship in the Canadian landscape:

Canada’s citizenship policy has embodied two distinct objectives: to enhance the meaning of citizenship as a unifying bond for Canadians, and to encourage and facilitate naturalization by permanent residents. In my view, these objectives are non-controversial. In any liberal democracy, the concept of citizenship services important political, emotional and motivational purposes: if nothing else, it fosters a sense of unity and shared civic purpose among a diverse population: see W. Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (1995), at pp. 173-76.[15] [Emphasis added]

Arguably, to the extent that naturalized Canadians and native-born Canadians are subject to differential treatment, the proposed reforms would hinder the sense of social unity and inclusion inherent to the concept of Canadian citizenship.  Alas, far from strengthening the Citizenship Act, the proposed amendments may unintendedly fragment the foundation of our Canadian citizenship by creating a two-tier citizenship regime in which native-born Canadians lay at the summit of the social hierarchy.

 

[1] Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 2nd Sess, 41stLeg, 2014.

[2] Citizenship Act, RSC, 1985, c C-29.

[3] Bill C-24, supra note 1, ss 3(1)c)(i).

[4] Ibid, ss 3(1)c)(ii).

[5] Ibid, ss 3(1)c)(iii).

[6] Ibid, ss 3(c.1).

[7] Citizenship Act, supra note 2, ss 5(1)c).

[8] Lorne Waldman and Audrey Macklin, “Citizenship reforms a serious threat to rights of all Canadians” (10 Feb 2014) The Star, online:http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/02/10/citizenship_reforms_a_serious_threat_to_rights_of_all_canadians.html [Walman and Macklin]

[9] Bill C-24, supra note 1, s 10(2).

[10] Ibid, s 10.1(2).

[11] Ibid, s 10.1(1).

[12] Waldman and Macklin, supra note 8.

[13] Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “Backgrounder – Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act: Reinforcing the value of Canadian Citizenship”, online: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06a.asp.

[14] Lavoie v Canada, [2002] 1 SCR 769; 2002 SCC 23.

[15] Ibid, para 57.