In the previous Parliament the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration did a review of the Citizenship Act. There had been promises from the previous government to introduce a revamped immigration act. We know there are many issues within it that need our attention, particularly the revocation procedure which many of us feel makes new Canadians feel like second-class citizens because of the possibility of challenges to their citizenship that do not exist for those of us who were born in Canada. There is a whole other list dealing with the question of the citizenship oath which many people feel needs to be updated.
Why not have a more extensive agenda around citizenship and address some of these issues that have been promised for so long?
Hon. Monte Solberg: Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that this is a very specific plank of our platform that we ran on and we made a commitment about addressing it. This is where we are starting.
The other point I would make is that I am not aware that in the election campaign any of the parties proposed to make revocation of citizenship an election commitment or commit to doing that if they formed the government. That speaks volumes because we know that in the last number of years there have been several attempts to change the Citizenship Act. I think there were four in the last half a dozen years and they all failed. They all foundered precisely because there is a lot controversy about some of the aspects of changes to the Citizenship Act, especially on the issue of revocation.
While we are not opposed to have that discussion at some point, it is pretty clear there is nothing approaching a consensus on this issue. In a minority Parliament I am mindful of that. I think we should try to get the common sense things done that we can get done.
Mr. Bill Siksay (
As we have already heard, this is exactly the same bill as Bill C-76 that was introduced last November in the last Parliament. I want to commend the Conservative government for getting it on the agenda so soon. It is unfortunate that we did not get it on the agenda sooner in the last Parliament because it is a change in our citizenship law that many families have been awaiting for many years. It is one that has been proposed in the past, long before the Conservatives adopted it as their party policy. I wanted to correct the minister's assertion on that. This is something that has been around for many years and supported in many corners of the House. It is a good thing that it is finally on the agenda and hopefully we can expedite its passage so that adoptive foreign children have the same rights as children born to Canadians.
The bill would amend the Citizenship Act to allow a grant of citizenship to a child adopted by a Canadian. In this corner of the House we strongly support the bill. It would ensure that adoptive children are treated the same as biological children under the provisions of the Citizenship Act. In doing so, it will make citizenship automatic for adopted children as it is for children born to Canadians. Children who are eligible in this regard are eligible if the adoption took place after February 14, 1997, the date of the implementation of the current Citizenship Act.
This proposal has been supported by the courts. The federal court has said that the distinctions in law based on adoptive parentage violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and specifically section 15 on equality rights. The courts have said that the legislation needs to be updated and changed in light of the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the need was not there before, it clearly needs to be on our agenda now.
This points out what many adoptive parents and adoptive children have felt over the years, that they are somehow second-class citizens, that they and their families are somehow second-class because they were not afforded the same automatic citizenship that children born to Canadians were. I am glad we are finally getting around to righting that because when it comes to citizenship, there should be no distinctions. Everyone should feel like a first-class citizen and there should be no distinctions in categories of our citizenship. Any time someone feels that somehow their citizenship is less than someone else's, we need to look at that very carefully. This is one of those areas, so it is a good thing that we are moving to fix that.
Currently an adoptive child must be sponsored for permanent residence by their adoptive parent. This process would be eliminated, and we all know what a lengthy process that can be. Unfortunately, it has proven problematic for many families, so it is good to be able to remove that bureaucratic impediment to the full participation of adoptive children in
Under Bill C-14, the adoption must meet certain criteria, and four in particular: First, the adoption must be in the best interests of the child as defined by the Hague Convention on the protection of children in inter-country adoption. We wanted to ensure the provisions of the Hague Convention were upheld and the legislation does that.
The second thing is that a genuine relationship must be created between the parent and the child, which means the building of a family and the building of a parent and child relationship.
Third, it must have been done in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction where the adoption took place and the laws of the country of residence of the child. All the laws of both the province in
Fourth, it must not have been entered into for the purposes of acquiring status or privilege in relationship to citizenship or immigration. It cannot be an adoption of convenience, an adoption that is intended to do some kind of end run around our citizenship laws.
It is a good thing that all of those criteria are included in the bill because we want to ensure this is about recognizing families, recognizing adoptions and recognizing the importance of adoptions for Canadian families.
The bill also includes specific recognition of
The bill recognizes adult adoption if the adoptive parent acted as the person's parent before he or she was 18. We know that is also a crucial part of the legislation.
For all those reasons, we in the New Democratic Party support the bill.
I wish we would have had the opportunity to deal with this months ago. It is a shame that it came to the House so late in the last Parliament. It was almost an afterthought. It came in the dying days of the last House when so many promises had been made about citizenship. We heard, more often than not, on several occasions from ministers of the previous government, that there was an intent to go ahead with an overall revamping of the citizenship legislation, something that many of us felt was long overdue. We have not looked at our citizenship legislation since 1977.
We know the previous government tried to update the Citizenship Act three times with Bill C-63 in the 36th Parliament and, more recently, with Bill C-16 and Bill C-18. All of those died on the order paper because they were not given the appropriate priority nor the proper attention to working out the problems and dealing with the suggestions that were being made around them I should point out that both Bill C-16 and Bill C-18 would have addressed the issue of adoption and citizenship.
We could have dealt with this a long time ago if it had been given the appropriate priority by the Liberal government and if it had lived up to the priorities that it stated it had around citizenship legislation.
We are, again, looking at a very particular proposal around citizenship legislation with this bill. We need to move forward on that because families have waited too long.
It would be nice if the Conservatives' agenda were a bit broader than just this legislation but that is not to denigrate the importance of this legislation. Families and adoptive children are counting on it, but there are other citizenship issues that need to be addressed.
In the last Parliament, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration urged the government at that time to move on the issue of adoption in two reports, one in November 2004 and one in October 2005. Therefore, the government is well aware of the standing committee's enthusiasm for dealing with this matter.
There was no excuse for delaying the legislation in the past and there should be no excuse for delaying the legislation now. We need to get this to committee, get it back to the House as soon as we can so it can go through the process and families can take advantage of this proposal.
I want to make a few comments about the broader citizenship agenda that I asked the minister about earlier. We need to ensure we have this overall review of citizenship legislation. The act, as I mentioned, was passed back in 1977, and there are many aspects of it that demand our attention. I think crucial in that is the whole revocation process, the whole process where someone's citizenship can be revoked. This is another one of those areas where people feel like they are being treated as second-class citizens.
Many new Canadians have said that because their citizenship can be revoked, unlike the citizenship of someone born in
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, in a report to the House in the last Parliament, recommended that the charter should be fully applicable to the Citizenship Act. The committee recommended that the process for revoking citizenship should be a fully judicial--
Mr. Bill Siksay (
When I was last speaking, I mentioned that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration had been working hard on the question of a revised Citizenship Act, on the necessary revisions that are required to the Citizenship Act, which has not been looked at since 1977.
Some of the things we had been talking about pertained to the whole question of revocation of citizenship. I had mentioned that the process for revoking citizenship should be a full judicial process. That is something the standing committee in the last Parliament felt very strongly about. The standing committee felt that there should be no provision in law for an administrative power to annul citizenship and that to revoke citizenship, false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court. That was a very important standard that the standing committee wanted to hold up. It is something that is dramatically lacking in the current act.
That higher evidentiary standard is higher than the one that currently exists in the legislation. Right now it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the lower standard of the balance of probabilities, the civil standard. The committee felt very strongly that this needed to be raised to the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
The committee also talked of the need for a review of the residency requirements for citizenship and that refugees should be able to count their residency from the time they make their claim, not from the date of a positive finding of that claim. Those are very significant issues for many people in
We need to have a standardization of the residency requirement. We need to honour the time that refugees have spent in
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also said that we needed to ensure that criminal proceedings against an applicant outside
There was a concern about citizenship court judges. The standing committee felt very strongly that they should be maintained. There have been attempts in recent years to get rid of citizenship court judges. I am pleased to see that the government has appointed some new citizenship court judges in jurisdictions where their services were urgently required, but we need to maintain that important position. I think the standing committee last year was very moved by the dedication of citizenship court judges to their important work and felt that they made a very important contribution that should be maintained in any future Citizenship Act.
There was also the matter of the citizenship oath. There is some sentiment in
There were all kinds of issues that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration thought needed to be looked at in a review of the Citizenship Act.
The previous government kept telling us that it was on the verge of tabling legislation. It kept saying that it was almost ready to go and if we only gave it a little feedback, it would be ready to run with that legislation. Unfortunately we never saw it.
I suspect there is draft legislation hanging around in the department, perhaps even in a corner of the minister's office. I would encourage the new Conservative minister to look for it, to blow that pile of dust off of it, to see if it is something he can run with and introduce in the House. There are a number of citizenship issues that are very important and need attention, not just the important matter of adoption and the gaining of citizenship for adopted children.
Another issue that I feel very strongly about in the citizenship file is the whole question of the processing fee for citizenship applications. Unfortunately, the standing committee, in hearing testimony last year, heard of cases where people had to delay their application for citizenship because they could not afford the fee. That is a very serious situation. No one in
Last year the standing committee said very strongly that the application fee for initial applications for Canadian citizenship should be eliminated. I hope the current government will take that under advisement. No one in
Many issues in the Citizenship Act should be addressed and many would require a new Citizenship Act. I hope the Conservatives will expand their citizenship agenda beyond the relatively compact issue of adoption and citizenship and move on to a broader agenda around citizenship to update that important legislation.
I want to return to Bill C-14 and say that there was one area that the standing committee thought should be addressed with regard to a citizenship application for an adopted child and that was the case where it was refused. The standing committee, in its reports to the government and to the House last year, recommended that a full appeal on the facts and law should be permitted in federal court on any refusal of an application for citizenship for an adopted child. I know this is not part of the legislation. There is the opportunity to apply for leave to appeal at the federal court, but the standing committee believes that should be clearer and more direct in terms of a direct appeal to the federal court. That is one area where the legislation might be improved.
This is legislation that was long overdue. It would provide a measure of equity and fairness to adopted children and to their families and remove that spectre that many adoptive parents and their children have felt that they were somehow second-class citizens in
Ms. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ): Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the minister mentioned just how important family reunification is to him. He also said that he was motivated by humanitarian concerns.
I have a hard time understanding the minister's position, which would delay reunification for parents who are granted refugee status and protection. Children are always at risk, yet he is delaying parent-child reunions. Waiting periods have become unacceptably long.
I am sure you will understand my sympathy for people who are not given the right to appeal, especially for refugees for whom an appeal provision was included in the legislation, in the form of a refugee appeal division that has never been allowed to come into force.
The bill provides that it will come into force on a date to be fixed by order in council. The committee knows that the government is using this provision to avoid implementing the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada even though the legislation was passed by both houses and received royal assent.
Does my colleague think that the bill should come into force immediately? Does he also think that the current wording of this bill offers no guarantee that it will one day come into force? Given the history of immigration and citizenship issues, we are concerned about this.
Mr. Bill Siksay: Mr. Speaker, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges has raised an important point. I think all of us who have been working on questions of refugee rights in this Parliament have been very disappointed by the failure of the previous Liberal government and now the failure of the current government to implement the refugee appeal division. It is a legislated part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is a small measure but one that every refugee and immigrant serving agency in
It was a compromise when we debated that legislation in the House back in 2001. The government of the day wanted to move to see two-member immigration and refugee board panels reduced to one member. However, many concerns were raised about what would happen if a mistake were made in that circumstance, when there was no appeal on the merits of the actual case.
The compromise was to establish the refugee appeal division, which is a paper appeal. It would give a refugee claimant the opportunity to introduce new evidence, to introduce the facts of the case and to have the opportunity to see that case heard again and a real appeal heard. It is something that is absolutely necessary. We are concerned that those circumstance could arise again with this legislation.
The minister did mention this morning the situation of refugees in his more general remarks about immigration policy. I want to take this opportunity to mention that this morning I stood with a group of refugees and activists from the Parkdale neighbourhood in
This fee of $550 is extremely onerous for people who have very meagre means for the most part in
When we have people who have been found to be refugees and who have shown that their lives are in danger in their country of origin, there should be no excuse for delaying their permanent resident status in
I think it is important that the government give urgent and serious consideration to removing the requirement of that fee for these people. This is s very important and it demands the government's immediate attention.