Strengthening Citizenship the Right Way

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By Jasbir Sandhu
Member of Parliament – Surrey North

 Jasbir Sandhu

Canada is a country that proudly recognizes and embraces diversity. As a nation, we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive community. As the basis of our multicultural identity, our citizenship and immigration system should enhance Canadian society, and all Canadians should be able to access the rights that accompany the title of “Canadian citizen”. As a naturalized citizen myself, I understand the opportunities that our nationality grants us and I am proud to be Canadian.

The government is proposing changes to the current system for citizenship through Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which is currently in front of the House of Commons for debate.  The bill does make several notable improvements, such as conferring long-overdue citizenship to the ‘Lost Canadians’ and implementing penalties for fraudulent immigration consultants.  Yet other provisions introduce troublesome roadblocks that will prolong naturalization and downgrade many Canadians to second-class citizens.

One of the critical missteps of the bill is the requirement that naturalized citizens must declare their “intent to reside”. This provision would require potential citizens to sign that they will live in Canada after they gain citizenship. Unfortunately this clause is written vaguely, leaving many concerned that it will impose unnecessary travel restrictions on Canadians. At this point, the legislation does not specifically define how long one must reside in Canada and what constitutes a violation. Canadian citizens who travel internationally, including to study or work abroad, could be considered as violating their “intent to reside” commitment. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration could then revoke their citizenship under the pretense of fraud. There would be no appeal, no hearing, and no recourse.

Even citizens born in Canada could have their citizenship revoked if they break the law in Canada or abroad.  This includes naturalized Canadians who retain citizenship in another country, as well as citizens born in Canada to foreign parents. For example, whereas a Canadian citizen is imprisoned for a certain crime, a dual national who commits the same offense could be exiled, possibly to a country they have never been to before.

I have major concerns about how permanent residents will be able to access citizenship in the first place. Years that applicants, such as international students and live in caregivers, spend in Canada before they are granted permanent residence will no longer count towards the residency requirement for citizenship. By refusing to count this time towards citizenship, Conservatives will delay the naturalization process for these targeted groups, while allowing more favoured groups to proceed at the standard rate.

It is true that the Canadian Citizenship Act needs to be improved; it is considered out dated and inefficient. However, the Strengthening Citizenship Act is a misnomer, because it does not offer effective solutions. It drives immigrants out with its discriminatory tones, rather than welcoming them in with open arms.  It strips naturalized citizens of their due rights, trapping them in a lower tier of society.

The main issue with Citizenship and Immigration Canada is the absurd backlogs. The standard processing times for a citizenship application to be processed is 24 months, yet I routinely see applications that take much longer in my office. This is unacceptable. However, rather than productively addressing the backlog, the Conservative solution appears to be creating longer wait times before a permanent resident could apply for citizenship.

If the goal is really to strengthen our citizenship and immigration system, then we must promote language education and healthy job markets, rather than erecting senseless barriers and stripping equal protections.  Strengthening Canadian citizenship is not about advancing this government’s political and ideological agenda.

Conservatives continue to fail Canadians by prioritizing their own goals rather than putting Canadians first. Along with my NDP colleagues, I will continue to fight for a fair, efficient, transparent and accountable immigration system.