Senator Woo - Citizenship Act - Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate

Citizenship Act

Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate

April 12, 2017


The Honourable Senator Yuen Pau Woo :

Colleagues, I would like to respond to Senator Eaton's amendment to Bill C-6, so ably delivered on her behalf from Senator Frum. I would like to thank Senator Eaton from the collegial way in which she shared with us the text of her amendment a few days earlier.

Senator Frum, I hope you will convey to our colleague our deepest sympathies in her time of loss and our admiration for her dedication to the work of the Senate, including on this amendment to Bill C-6.

I have listened carefully to the speech delivered on behalf of Senator Eaton by Senator Frum and I admire the conviction of her argument. However, I disagree strongly with her point of view and I would like to tell you why.

To recap, she has proposed that a permanent resident be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days during each of the four calendar years that are fully or partially within the six years immediately before the date of his or her application.

If this residency requirement sounds familiar to you, it is because it takes us back to the formulation of the previous Bill C-24 that was passed in 2014, and which Bill C-6 proposes to change.

Senator Eaton's amendments are clearly an attempt to thwart the stated intent of the government as articulated in its election platform on the question of residency requirements for citizenship. This point alone should be sufficient grounds for senators to defeat the amendment. However, given that Senator Eaton has made substantive arguments in favour of her amendment, I want to offer a substantive rebuttal to those arguments.

Let me start with the principles that guide my thinking on Bill C-6. I believe that immigration is an engine of growth as well as a source of intellectual and cultural enrichment for Canada. Our criteria for selection of immigrants should be based on the long-term needs of the country, focusing on experience, skills and talent, on the one hand, and family reunification on the other.

After selecting well-qualified immigrants and admitting them as permanent residents, our goal should be to move them towards full citizenship as quickly as possible.

I believe also that the demonstration of citizenship is not determined by simple litmus tests such as statements of values or physical presence in the geography of Canada. Citizens who live outside of Canada can be every bit as Canadian as their compatriots who live in the country. In a highly interconnected world, we should embrace and celebrate Canadians who venture outside of our borders rather than disparage them as lesser citizens.

Bill C-6 is a remedy to many problems that were created by changes to the Citizenship Act through the former Bill C-24. With respect to residency requirements, three defects stand out.

First is the provision of "intent to reside." Under the previous bill, that is to say Bill C-24, which is the current law, adult applicants must declare on their citizenship applications that they intend to continue to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. This provision has created concern among some new Canadians who fear their citizenship could be revoked if they move outside of Canada in the future. Bill C-6 would eliminate the requirement to declare a would-be citizen's intent to reside.

Second, the previous bill required applicants to be physically present in Canada for four years — that is, 1,460 days — within the six years immediately prior to applying for citizenship. Bill C-6, which we are debating, reduces the time required to be in Canada to three years within the five before applying for citizenship. Senator Eaton's amendment, on the other hand, preserves the status quo by requiring physical residency in four years out of six before an application is filed.

Third, the former Bill C-24 had a supplemental residency provision which required that applicants be physically present for 183 days in Canada during each of the four calendar years that are within the six immediately prior to applying for citizenship. Bill C-6 eliminates this provision, but Senator Eaton is trying to literally turn the clock back by requiring a supplemental provision for physical residency that is identical to that of Bill C-24, i.e., 183 days in each of the four years before applying.

Senator Eaton's amendment has the further defect of cancelling a key Bill C-6 provision, which is the restoration of half credits to temporary residents. The amendment negates the time spent in Canada by protected persons, international students and temporary foreign workers from being counted as half days toward their residency requirement.

Bill C-6 recognizes the value of time spent by these international students, temporary foreign workers and protected persons by granting a maximum credit of one year for every half day spent in Canada prior to an application.

If we were to restore the supplementary residency provision of 183 days for each of the four years in the six years, applicants seeking to count half days would not be able to do so because they would fall short by half a day.

Honourable senators, the choice of 183 days in Bill C-24 as a supplementary residency provision strikes me to have been calculated to thwart the aspirations of would-be citizenship applicants and seems to me to be a tad mean-spirited.

You get the underlying premise in these three defects of the old bill, and the amendments proposed by Senator Eaton: it is that being physically present in Canada makes a citizen more authentically Canadian than not being in the country. Now, this sentiment is sometimes expressed in more derisory terms: that Canadians, especially foreign-born Canadians who choose to live outside of Canada for professional, family or other reasons, are somehow disloyal to the country.

The physical presence provisions of the former Bill C-24 feed and nurture these views, as do Senator Eaton's amendments, and they come on top of other policies that already discriminate against Canadians abroad, who, by the way, number as many as 2.8 million, which is a population that is greater than a number of our provinces.

Colleagues, even if you don't care two hoots about how foreign-born Canadians are viewed, think about the message that is being sent to native-born Canadians, especially young people: it is that spending time overseas for education purposes, to advance one's career or to pursue a professional goal makes one a lesser Canadian.

It is little wonder that so little emphasis is placed on international experience as part of the Canadian education process. In fact, only 3 per cent of Canadians in post-secondary institutions spend time overseas as part of their formal education, compared to 10 per cent in the United States and more than 33 per cent in Germany.

Likewise, so many of our Canadian companies discount the value of international experience in their hiring decisions, which is part of the reason why highly qualified immigrants have such difficulty seeking employment in their chosen professions.

Now, much has been made of recent immigrants to Canada who choose to return to their native countries, or to third countries, for business and other reasons. Indeed, I suspect that the former Bill C-24 was designed specifically to deter or minimize this practice. But if we are attracting the best and the brightest immigrants from around the world, we should expect that these folks are successful precisely because they are globally connected and therefore spend significant amounts of time abroad. And if we are attracting immigrants from regions of the world where growth rates are high and economic prospects especially bright — for example, countries in Asia — why would we want to circumscribe the overseas business and other professional opportunities available to new Canadians when we selected these individuals precisely because of their entrepreneurial and other talents to start with?

The same illogic applies in the case of barriers to citizenship acquisition that the previous bill — the status quo — put in place. The onerous physical residency requirements of C-24, along with escalating passport application fees, have become a deterrent to applying for citizenship. As Senator Eggleton has informed us, the number of landed immigrants acceding to citizenship has fallen, from 200,000 in 2014 to a forecasted 100,000 last year — a decline of 50 per cent. If the intent of the previous bill was to punish new immigrants who spent time outside of the country during the first six years of their status in Canada, that bill has been extremely successful.

But I would submit that it doesn't make sense, on the one hand, to attract highly qualified immigrants to our country and then place unreasonable barriers in the way of their accession to full citizenship. It certainly doesn't make sense from the perspective of the public purse, since a new Canadian — a landed immigrant — can access government services, including social welfare programs, in his or her capacity as a landed immigrant no less than if he or she were a citizen.

We are all familiar with the challenges that immigrants face in finding work in Canada consistent with their training and experience. Given the choice, would you rather a new Canadian stay in the country as an unemployed or underemployed person, or pursue a career overseas that rewards his or her skills and/or experience?

If anything, discouraging landed immigrants from becoming citizens is counterproductive because it diminishes their attachment to Canada without reducing their ability to access benefits in Canada. In my opinion, the correct approach should be to have a high bar for accepting landed immigrants and a low bar for citizenship. If we have selected immigrants who we believe will contribute to Canada, why would we want to make it difficult for them to accede to citizenship?

Now, I accept that some physical presence should be a condition of citizenship accession, but four years out of six is too much. The premise, colleagues, behind tougher residency requirements is a belief that being physically present in the geography of Canada is a superior expression of citizenship than being a Canadian abroad. There's a word for this view; it is parochialism and Canada, for all of our diversity and history of immigration, I believe, with due respect, suffers from parochialism. We need to encourage our young people to be more internationally minded, to be open to education, work and life opportunities outside of the country. And we need to celebrate Canadians abroad and develop policies and programs that foster their attachment to Canada, which will in turn result in cultural, diplomatic, and business benefits for the country.

Over the weekend, I was at an Iranian-Canadian community event in Vancouver celebrating the launch of the first-ever Farsi-language handbook of Canadian citizenship. I flipped to the page on the rights of citizens were the words and there, printed in bold English letters, were the words "mobility rights." I was asked how it could be that the current law, Bill C-24, requires would-be citizens to declare their intent to reside in Canada, only for these same individuals to have full mobility rights the minute they became citizens. I could not provide an answer.

In the coming months, I hope to have the opportunity to work with my honourable colleagues to make the public aware of the importance of Canadians abroad and to develop strategies to get Canadian citizens living overseas more involved in advancing the interests of all Canadians.

For the present, though, we have an opportunity to improve the Citizenship Act by passing C-6. To get there, we should reject this amendment and all other amendments that seek to dilute and divert the provisions of the bill. And we should move quickly, so that thousands of new Canadians can be added to our ranks in time for our one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, so that we can, by the way, sing together, "true patriot love. . . in all of us command." Thank You.