On February 6, 2014, the federal government tabled Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts to update eligibility requirements for Canadian citizenship, strengthen security and fraud provisions and amend provisions governing the processing of applications and the review of decisions. According to the government, the new measures should ensure new Canadians have a stronger connection and attachment to Canada.
To paraphrase the proposed law, here is what you technically need to know:
Steps to citizenship
Currently, the Citizenship Act requires applicants for Canadian citizenship to reside in Canada for three out of the past four years. However, the Act doesn’t include a definition of what residence is.
The proposed amendments would require applicants to be physically present in Canada for four years (1,460 days) in the six-year period prior to applying, and for at least 183 days per year (732 days) in the four years immediately prior to applying.
Another proposed change relates to the amount of time applicants spend in Canada before becoming permanent residents. Currently, each day that applicants spend in Canada before they become permanent residents counts as a half day of residence toward fulfilling their residency requirement for citizenship. Under the proposed measures, time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident would no longer meet citizenship residency requirements.
To prevent abuse, such as holding a Canadian passport out of convenience in order to benefit from generous taxpayer-funded benefits without contributing to Canadian society, permanent residents seeking citizenship would have to declare their intention to reside in Canada and make Canada their home before citizenship is granted.
In addition, proposed changes would require applicants to file Canadian income taxes, if required under the Income Tax Act, in order to be eligible for citizenship.
Furthermore, the proposed changes would expand the age group of citizenship applicants who are required to demonstrate language proficiency and take the knowledge test, from 18–54 to 14–64. According to the government, extensive research has consistently shown that the ability to communicate effectively in French or English is a key factor in the success of new Canadian citizens, and knowledge of Canadian history, norms and values as well as the responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship, in civic participation and economic success. However, the language and knowledge requirements may be waived on compassionate grounds.
Citizenship entitlements for certain individuals
- Citizenship for members of the Canadian Armed Forces: Bill C-24 would accelerate citizenship for permanent resident and individuals on exchanges who are serving Canada in the Canadian Armed Forces by reducing the qualifying period for citizenship by one year. This measure honours the important contributions of those who serve Canada.
- Citizenship by descent: The Citizenship Act was amended in 2009 to limit—with a few exceptions—citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada. That meant that children born to Canadian parents outside Canada would only be Canadian at birth if: one parent was born in Canada; or one parent became a Canadian citizen by immigrating to Canada and was later granted citizenship (also called naturalization). Bill C-24 proposes to extend the exception to the first generation limit to children of Crown servants. This amendment would ensure that children of Crown servants and members of the Canadian Armed Forces who were born or adopted abroad while one or both of their parents were serving a federal, provincial or territorial government abroad are not negatively affected by their parents’ service to Canada, and that they are able to pass on Canadian citizenship to any children they may have or adopt abroad.
- Citizenship to “lost Canadians”: There remains a small number of “lost Canadians,” the majority of whom were born before 1947 such as some first generation children born abroad to war brides and service men but who were not eligible for Canadian citizenship. The proposed legislation would address their situations by extending citizenship to most of the remaining “lost Canadians” who were born before the first Canadian Citizenship Act took effect in 1947 as well as to their children who were born outside Canada in the first generation. In practice, Bill C-24 would give Canadian citizenship to individuals who were born or naturalized in Canada as well as to those who were British subjects residing in Canada prior to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland), but who were not eligible for Canadian citizenship when the first Citizenship Act took effect. Retroactive citizenship for these “lost Canadians” would date to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland). The changes would also retroactively give Canadian citizenship to the children of these “lost Canadians” who were born abroad in the first generation.
- Adoptees: The language of the current Citizenship Act does not adequately reflect that international adoption requirements must be met with respect to international adoptions completed in Canada. Under the proposed rules, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) would require that these adoptions not be done in a way that circumvents The Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, where it applies, or other legal and procedural requirements for inter-country adoptions, such as laws of the adopted child’s country of origin before citizenship is granted.
Revocation of citizenship and streamlining revocation process
In an effort to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship, proposed amendments would enable the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens for membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, and deny citizenship to permanent residents for the same reasons.
It would also provide authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens and deny it to permanent residents who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence. This measure would underscore the government’s commitment to protecting the safety and security of Canadians and promoting Canadian interests and values.
In addition, proposed amendments would deny citizenship to criminals charged with or convicted of serious crimes outside Canada as well as criminals serving a sentence outside Canada. Currently, the Citizenship Act bars applicants from citizenship when they have been charged with or convicted of any indictable offence in Canada, or if they are serving a sentence in Canada. Bill C-24 would deny citizenship to an individual while subject to a foreign criminal proceeding, or for a conviction and sentence outside Canada. A ministerial waiver would exist for exceptional cases to ensure that applicants facing unfounded charges would not be permanently barred.
Moreover, the changes would strengthen CIC’s ability to refuse citizenship to individuals who pose a security risk. This is intended to bring the Citizenship Act more closely in line with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Currently, refusal on security grounds is limited to cases where an applicant “will” engage in threat-related activities. Under the change, the governor-in-council could deny citizenship in cases where a person “has, is or may engage” in threat-related activity. Applicants would be barred from reapplying for citizenship for 10 years.
The government also proposes to streamline the citizenship revocation process. Currently, the process generally involves three steps: the CIC minister, the federal court (FC) and the governor-in-council (GIC). Under the proposed model, the GIC would no longer have a role, resulting in a faster, more efficient process.
Under the new model, the majority of the revocation cases involving allegations that an individual obtained citizenship by fraud—those related to residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility, or identity fraud—would be decided by the CIC minister. The minister’s decision could be judicially reviewed, with leave of the FC. Cases decided by the FC could be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) if the FC certifies a serious question of general importance. The FCA decision could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, with leave of that Court.
Exceptional revocation cases that raise complex issues of fact and law, such as those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as cases regarding security, other human or international rights violations and organized criminality, would instead be decided by the federal court. In these cases, the Minister of Public Safety could ask the court to make a finding of inadmissibility as well as a revocation order, allowing for a faster removal order.
Under the proposed changes, individuals who have had their citizenship revoked for fraud or misrepresentation would be barred from reapplying for 10 years—up from the current five years.
In practice, these measures should reduce the workload and result in a faster decision and faster removal in some cases, while still ensuring fairness and legal recourse.
Regulating citizenship consultants and increasing offences and penalties
To further prevent fraud, changes to the legislation include giving authority for the government to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters and to monitor and collect information concerning citizenship consultants.
There would also be authority to make regulations to specify what information applicants must include in their applications, including identifying their representative or consultant. Failure to provide this information could result in the return of their application. This would help CIC enforce the proposed new provisions relating to authorized representatives.
Amendments would also make it an offence for unauthorized individuals to knowingly represent or advise a person on a citizenship application or hearing for a fee. Penalties would include a fine of $100,000, or up to two years in prison, or both in the case of an indictable conviction. The penalty for a summary conviction would include a fine of up to $20,000, or up to six months in prison, or both.
The penalties in the current Act have not increased since 1977 and are ineffective in deterring individuals from committing citizenship-related offences, such as misrepresentation. Currently, an individual who commits citizenship fraud faces a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in prison. The proposed new penalty for an indictable fraud offence is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or five years in prison. The penalty for a summary offence would include a fine of up to $50,000 and/or two years in prison.
The proposed legislation would also add a provision to refuse citizenship to applicants who have made a material misrepresentation or withheld material facts, relating to a relevant matter, such as concerning whether they meet the eligibility requirements for a grant of citizenship. This provision is in line with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Under the change, applicants who are refused on this basis would be barred from reapplying for citizenship for five years.
Amendments would also make it an offence for an individual to counsel, induce, aid or abet anyone to directly or indirectly misrepresent or withhold material facts relating to a case. In such instances, penalties for an indictable conviction would include a fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison and—for a summary conviction—a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or two years in prison.
The government claims it has been working hard to maintain the integrity of Canada’s generous immigration system and to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship.
Citizenship application fees
If the bill is enacted, adults applying for citizenship would have to pay increased fees. For example the Right of Citizenship fee would increase from $100 to $300.
Changes are long overdue
The new streamlining rules will apply retroactively to those in the application backlog but these applicants will not be subject to the new residency requirements. The government expects that by 2015–16 this change will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year, and reduce the current backlog by more than 80 percent.
The legislative reforms under Bill C-24, The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act are the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977 and they come at a time when demand for citizenship is rising, people are inquiring about Canadian values and other countries are finding our rules for entry into Canada and are citizenship process lax.
In my opinion, the changes found in Bill C-24 are very welcome and addresses a host of long overdue issues relating to the acquisition of citizenship in Canada. The changes support the assertion that “citizenship is not a right; it is a privilege.” Or as Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney says, “Canadian citizenship is more than a legal status, more than a passport… We expect citizens to have an ongoing commitment, connection and loyalty to Canada.”