Editor’s note: The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has prepared the following summary of changes to the Citizenship Act proposed in Bill C-24, legislation introduced by the Conservative government in February.
On February 6, 2014 the federal government introduced Bill C-24, a law that changes the Citizenship Act of Canada. This new law changes core aspects of Canadian citizenship as we know it.
If passed, Bill C-24 will make it more difficult for new immigrants to get Canadian citizenship and easier for many Canadians to lose it, especially if they have dual citizenship. Most Canadians do not understand the ways in which Bill C-24 will undermine their fundamental right to be a citizen of Canada. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has provided a summary of the most important changes to the Citizenship Act. If you are concerned about the loss of citizenship rights for many Canadians, we urge you to contact your member of parliament before Bill C-24 is passed into law.
In Canada, citizenship has always been secure. Whether native-born or immigrant, once you are granted Canadian citizenship, you are secure. Under the current system, you cannot lose your citizenship unless you obtained it by fraud, and even then, a Federal Court judge must make that decision after a full court hearing. Under the current system, if you do not agree with the judge, you have a right of appeal. Under the new law, there will be several ways to lose your citizenship. As well, the decision as to whether you lose your citizenship will be made by a government bureaucrat who will inform you in writing with no opportunity for a live hearing to defend yourself.
Why will citizenship be harder to get?
New immigrants will have to wait longer before they can apply for citizenship. Older and younger people will now have to pass language and knowledge tests to qualify for citizenship. The citizenship application fees have been tripled. There will be no right of appeal for those who are refused.
1. Language and Canada knowledge tests: Under the new law, all applicants aged 14 to 64 will have to pass language and Canada knowledge tests in English or French. Currently only those age 18 to 55 have to prove their language and knowledge abilities. If Bill C-24 is passed, many older immigrants will have great difficulty passing the language tests. Also, any children and grandparents without documents to prove their language ability will have to pay for the language test.
2. Increased cost of applying for citizenship: The government imposed language testing fees last year. The application fee will now be tripled. As a result, the price of applying for citizenship will now cost 4 times more than it did in 2006.
3. Delay: Today, applicants wait 4-6 years to become citizens due to government delay and inefficiency. With the new law, you will have to wait 8 to 10 years in total to become a citizen from the date you become a permanent resident.
4. More difficult residency requirements: The new law will require people to live in Canada as permanent residents for at least 4 years before they can apply for citizenship. The current rule is 3 years. Under the new law, any time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident (as a student, a worker or a refugee) will no longer count toward the four years residency requirement.
5. No right of appeal to the courts: If your citizenship application is refused, you will no longer have a right of appeal to the Federal Court to challenge the refusal. There will be judicial review but that is not a full and proper appeal.
Why will citizenship be easier to lose?
The new law divides Canadians into two classes of citizens: first class Canadians who hold no other citizenship, and second class Canadians – dual citizens, who can have their right to live in Canada taken away from them. Even if you are born in Canada, you are at risk of losing citizenship if you have dual citizenship or the possibility of dual citizenship. You may not even know that you possess another citizenship. If you have a spouse, parent, or grandparent who is a citizen of another country, you may have a right to citizenship without ever having applied for it. The proposed law would put you at risk of losing your Canadian citizenship if the Minister asserts that you possess or could obtain another citizenship. The burden would be on you to prove otherwise to the Minister’s satisfaction.
The new law will make it easier for the government to take away your citizenship in the following ways:
1. For all naturalized citizens, a federal government official can revoke your citizenship if he believes you never intended to live in Canada. This could happen if you decide to study in, accept a job in, or reside in another country. In contrast, Canadian citizens born in Canada cannot lose their citizenship by living outside of Canada.
2. For Canadians with potential dual citizenship, an official may remove your citizenship for a criminal conviction in another country, even if the other country is undemocratic or lacks the rule of law. The official may also remove your citizenship for certain serious criminal convictions in Canada, even if you have already served your sentence in Canada.
3. The power to remove your citizenship will be given to an official of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The decision may be made in writing with no opportunity for you to speak to the official. Under the current law, to take away your citizenship, the government must make an application to a Federal Court judge where you will have an oral hearing to defend your right to citizenship.
If you wish to learn more about Bill C-24, you may click on the following links:
- The text of Bill C-24
- The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers analysis of the problems with Bill C-24
If you wish to express your concerns about Bill C-24, please contact your local member of parliament. The Bill has not yet been passed into law. Your local member of parliament can communicate your concerns to the government.