I just attended the annual Ottawa Immigration Law Conference. There, a trio of immigration law experts told attendees what was wrong with the Canadian government's new proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act.
However, you did not need to be at that conference to know that the proposed amendments are not being received well. Even the Globe and Mail, which endorsed the Harper Conservative party in the 2008 and 2011 elections, called the overhaul of the Act "flawed." Their editorial agreed with some of the changes, but called others "illogical gestures that seem to serve no other function than to play to the biases of a narrow part of the Conservative base."
Here are some of the things the new law would change:
- Fees for applying will increase to $300 (from $100), and adults will have to pay an additional "Right of Citizenship Fee" of $100.
- Citizenship applicants will have to "intend to reside in Canada."
- Right now, you can apply for citizenship after being in Canada for a total of three years in a four-year period. That would be increased to four years in a six-year period.
- Currently, there is no definition of "residence," which allowed some people to get Canadian citizenship even though they were not living in Canada. A new requirement would be imposed that would require actual physical presence in Canada for at least six months in each of the four years being claimed.
- You will no longer be allowed to claim a half-day credit for time spent in Canada prior to the granting of permanent residence.
- Applicants will have to stay in Canada during the processing of their citizenship application, which the government hopes will be less than one year, rather than the current wait of approximately two to three years.
- Citizenship applicants will have to show they filed Canadian income tax statements for the period of residency. This applies to any applicant aged 14 or older. (I have a 15 year old, and she has never filed income taxes!)
- The language test used to be required for adults up to age 54. Now, anyone aged 14 through 64 will have to take it.
- People will no longer be able to use an interpreter to take the "knowledge test."
- People who have foreign charges or convictions will not be able to apply for citizenship for four years. Right now, this restriction only applies to offences in Canada and the restriction is only for three years.
- Anyone who served as a member of an armed force or group that engaged in armed force against Canada can have their Canadian citizenship revoked, so long as they have citizenship in another country. Some legal experts have referred to this as the "Omar Khadr amendment."
- Canadian citizenship of dual citizens can also be revoked if they are convicted of certain offences, including treason or terrorism.
It is this last amendment that has caused the most furor. Canadians who commit crimes deserve to be punished for those crimes by a court of law. But to strip them of their Canadian citizenship? What does this say about the value of Canadian citizenship to all Canadians?
Nelson Mandela has honorary Canadian citizenship. As part of his struggle against apartheid, he advocated for an army-backed overthrow of the South African government. Will the Canadian government seek to revoke his honorary Canadian citizenship because he was convicted of treason?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversy. Send me an email!