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Federal government passes law to end 'second-class citizenship'

by Nicholas Keung (feat. Andrew Griffith)

Toronto Star
June 22, 2017

Ottawa has passed citizenship changes that critics say strike the right balance between removing barriers for immigrants to become full Canadians and protecting the integrity of the system.

The changes are not a complete overhaul of the stringent citizenship regimen established by the Conservative government in 2014, though they relax the age requirement for language and knowledge tests, and the length of residency requirement.

While citizenship officers will keep their powers to strip citizenship from new Canadians in cases of fraud and misrepresentation, and individuals convicted of crimes will be barred from being granted citizenship, the Federal Court, instead of the immigration minister, will be the decision-maker in all revocation cases.

The Liberals also immediately repealed a law put in place their Tory predecessor that gave Ottawa the power to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens for crimes committed after citizenship has already been granted — something critics said created two distinct classes of citizens, those born here and abroad.

“We are thrilled that after more than three years of fighting, multiple lawsuits, and over a year of wrangling in Parliament, second-class citizenship has been put to an end,” said Josh Paterson of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. “The government has followed through on its promise to restore citizenship equality for all Canadians.”

The Senate was responsible for bringing two significant changes to Bill C-6 by forcing the Liberal government to hand over citizenship revocation decisions to the Federal Court — a change that is expected to take effect in early 2018 — and allow minors to independently apply for citizenship.

“Citizenship is one of the most powerful indicators of inclusion and belonging. When we facilitate citizenship for newcomers and protect the fundamental equality among all citizens by birth or naturalization, we are nation-building,” said Sen. Ratna Omidvar, independent senator from Ontario and the Senate sponsor of the bill.

“This is a significant law for all Canadians and for Canadians-in-the-making.”

As of today, citizenship applicants are also no longer required to sign a form stating they intend to remain in Canada after obtaining their citizenship.

Changes that will take effect this fall include: reducing the residency requirement to three out of five years from four out of six; shrinking the age group that must meet language and knowledge requirements to 18-54 years from 14-64 years; allowing refugees, foreign students and workers to count their temporary residence in Canada toward their citizenship residency obligation.

Andrew Griffith, retired director general of the Immigration Department, said the changes are long overdue and should have been passed last year if the opposition parties had not dragged the debate on.

“It’s good that the bill is through,” Griffith told the Star. “It delivered the Liberal government’s campaign commitment to facilitate citizenship, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. It has shifted the overall balance somewhat to facilitate (access to) citizenship.”

However, Griffith was disappointed that Ottawa has chosen not to deal with the exorbitant citizenship application fees — $630 for adults and $100 for minors — that some said have prevented eligible applicants, especially refugees, from becoming full-fledged Canadians.

“The issue that remains for me is the fee,” said Griffith. “If the government really believed in diversity and inclusion, they should ensure it is not an insurmountable financial barrier for people to become citizens.”


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