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Canadian Citizenship Act receives a great deal of criticism

July 17th, 2014

25 June 2014

The long-awaited final reading of the Canadian Immigration Bill, also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, or C-24 has now received royal assent and is officially in effect. Criticism has been wide and vociferous, with many experts as well as those who will be affected having a lot to say about what the effect the bill will have for all of those wishing to become Canadian citizens in future.

Legal challenges to the bill and petitions with many thousands of signatures have already surfaced, with more on the way. Some local immigration charities and pressure groups have announced their intention to bring legal action against the government, and Amnesty International is expected to continue to voice their concerns on the matter.

Although the Bill has many clauses which will affect applicants for Canadian citizenship, the one which has attracted the most attention is the increased ability of the government to strip a foreign-born Canadian citizen of that status, in certain circumstances. Ever since Canadian citizenship became an entity over and above colonial level in 1947, there have been powers of revocation but these were fairly weak and not often used. These have now been strengthened and anyone who has lied on their application or misled regarding their intent to reside in Canada may see their citizenship revoked. Those who engage in a serious crime of espionage, terrorism, treason or fighting against the Canadian forces can also be stripped of citizenship. Although the government has been at pains to explain that this power will not be used lightly, it is seen by many as a backdoor way of removing people seen to be undesirable, though they may have done nothing overtly wrong.

The Bill has many clauses, as may be expected for such a major piece of legislation, and all have come in for criticism on some level. One item has a lot of potential impact on students who go to Canada to study and then wish to take out citizenship; previously, time spent studying before an application is made counted towards the residency requirement, meaning that students would have little or no time to wait after graduation before they could be full citizens. This is no longer the case and with limitations put on working options and access to healthcare while the period of residency is being accrued it is feared that students, who have gained important knowledge and will be assets to the country, will have no choice but to return to the country of their birth.

This will be a real ‘brain drain’ and will work in two ways; students will not be able to stay and in future, and they will not apply to Canadian further education institutions, resulting in a very real drop in the standard of graduates and qualified people in the workforce.

One of the main concerns of groups who represent the elderly and the vulnerable is that before the Bill became law, everyone between 18 and 55 had to pass language and education criteria – essentially everyone in the working population. This has now been extended to all applicants and dependents between 14 and 65, creating a real problem for anyone wishing to be joined by children or elderly relatives, both groups which may not have the requisite educational achievements, especially if they come from an emergent nation. The language requirements of Canada cover both English and French and although both are widely spoken, many people seeking to gain Canadian citizenship do not come from countries where they are predominant languages, and where there are educational shortfalls too, they can struggle to meet requirements.

Another change that has attracted a lot of criticism from legal groups is that before C-24 the decision as to who was given Canadian citizenship (with all other requirements met) was in the hands of a neutral judge. If the application was refused, the appeal was heard orally, again by a panel of judges who were deemed neutral by virtue of not being direct government employees. In the wake of the passing of C-24, the decision now rests with a government department, with a team of civil servants now assessing the applications. Any appeals are now decided on the strength of a written report, leading to fears that far fewer applications will be successful. It is estimated that there will be a large shortfall on numbers of ‘new’ Canadian citizens in the next few years, down from the average of 190,000 per year over the previous decade, because of this and all of the other clauses in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act 2014.