Liberals Miss Chance to Include Recognition of Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Citizenship Act Changes

March 2016

One of the most annoying things about the previous government was its tendency to give its legislation long, bewildering, and often oxymoronic titles. The ‘Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act’ was one of the most egregious examples, since it purported to protect women by preventing them from applying to come to Canada. 

Understandably, it is a relief to see that new government’s citizenship amendment legislation is simply called ‘An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act’.

However, they could have called it the ‘Reversing Changes Made to the Citizenship Act by the Former Government Act’, since this is what a lot of the new legislation is doing. 

The new legislation introduces the following changes:

Intent to Reside - The previous government implemented the requirement that the applicant must declare an ‘intent to reside in Canada’. It was never clear how people were supposed to prove this, what the consequence would be if they promptly left Canada to live abroad after becoming a citizen, and whether any consequence imposed would infringe the right to mobility all citizens have under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rightfully, this clause has been removed.

Banishment of Terrorists - The previous government had created the ability to remove citizenship from dual nationals convicted of certain criminal offences related to terrorism, because it was against Canada’s national interest. They used their version of the law to remove citizenship from Zakaria Amara, who is currently in jail for plotting terrorist acts in Canada. He will be getting his citizenship back under these new changes to the law.

This has led to severe criticism by some, and applause by others. As a mother of three teenagers, I know how tempting it is to want to kick someone out rather than provide them with proper supervision, guidance, and learning opportunities for personal change. Like a parent, a country shouldn’t just kick out people for behaving in ways that are socially unacceptable. Moreover, in terms of security, instead of sending terrorists back to countries where they could be ignored or even potentially financed to wage war against me, I’d rather have terrorists in Canadian jails, dealing with Canadian police agencies and parole officers.

This change makes it clear that the Liberals support the idea that citizenship cannot be revoked at political will. It is important to note, however, that the new citizenship legislation does not change the ability to remove citizenship from anyone who obtained it fraudulently, including anyone who failed to disclose prior criminal acts.

Residency Requirements – Previously, you had to live in Canada for 3 out of the last 4 years before you could apply to be a citizen, and you did not necessarily have to be physical present during that time. The Conservative government increased that to 4 out of 6 years with the requirement that applicants to be physically present in Canada at least 183 days during each of the 4 years. Now, it’s down to 3 out of 5 years immediately before the date of application, without the 183-day requirement per year. They are, however, keeping the requirement that these 3 years (total of 1,095 days) must be physically spent in Canada. They are not going back to the previous regime where you could become a citizen based on your ‘ties’ to Canada, even though you hadn’t spent much time in the country.

Credit for ‘Time Spent’ – Like the residency requirements, the credit given for time spent in Canada as a temporary resident (student, temporary worker, refugee claimant/protected person) that was previously abolished is now being restored. It will once again be a 50% credit, valued up to 1 year of residency equivalency. So, if you are an international student who became a permanent resident after working in Canada on a post-graduate work permit, you can apply for citizenship 2 years later, instead of 3. You wouldn’t be able to get a credit for more than 1 of the 3 required years.

Language Requirements/Knowledge Test

The previous government both lowered and increased the age at which applicants needed to show their knowledge of English or French, and of Canada’s history/political structure. Specifically, the range was changed from 18 to 54 years versus the new 14 to 64 years. Lowering the minimum age to 14 seemed incredibly silly to me – why make a high school student, who has been here in Canada for 4 years, pass a language/knowledge test, when they were already studying Canadian history and politics in school in either English or French? As well, increasing the maximum to 64 was very controversial, since it is well known that it is more difficult to learn another language fluently as you get older.  The age range has been put back to 18 to 54. I think this was a smart move.

Overall, the legislation has been praised by expert commentators as ‘carefully balanced’.  You can read the government’s summary of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ changes here.

However, I am disappointed that the government did not use this opportunity to make another very important change to the Citizenship Act. The Liberals have promised to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Call to Action report.  Item 94 in that report is the suggestion that the wording of the Citizenship Oath be changed to recognize the lawfulness of our indigenous heritage.  This was the recommendation for the new wording for the oath:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

As a final note, I’d like to make the important reminder that as of March 15, it is mandatory that all travellers to Canada (except those arriving at a land border from the US) must have:

  • A Canadian passport; or
  • A Canadian permanent resident card (not expired); or
  • A visa; or
  • An electronic travel authorization if you are from a visa-exempt country and you are not a US citizen. Please click here for more information about the eTA.

Don’t find yourself stuck at the airport after your March Break vacation!