Ottawa’s crackdown on residency fraud is a timely reminder that a Canadian passport is something to be earned. You show your commitment to becoming a citizen of a new country by actually living there – not hedging your bets by spending almost all of your time back in your homeland.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s decision to revoke the citizenship of more than 3,000 people, and to investigate thousands more who may have misrepresented themselves in order to qualify to become Canadians, helps to restore integrity and value to the process.
And yet while enforcing residency requirements is key, the federal government should also consider clarifying the Citizenship Act.
The act stipulates that, to become a citizen, you must reside in Canada for three out of four years. But it does not make physical presence an explicit requirement. Citizenship judges are left to interpret that. And some judges grant citizenship to permanent residents who have shown their work, social connections, assets and family are in Canada, even if they have not actually spent the required number of years living here. This loophole has undoubtedly led to the kind of misrepresentation and abuse Mr. Kenney referred to yesterday, when he said, “We will not stand by and allow people to lie and cheat their way into becoming citizens.”
Permanent residents have also tried to game the system. According to Mr. Kenney, nearly 5,000 permanent residents who are known to be implicated in residence fraud have been flagged for additional scrutiny should they attempt to enter Canada or obtain citizenship.
The Canada Border Services Agency, which has worked on this file for more than a year with immigration officials and the RCMP, found that immigrant consultants are often involved in the misrepresentation. Some set up elaborate paper trails, while others provide fake addresses, charging clients as much as $25,000 for advice on how to skirt the system.
And yet many of these problems could surely be avoided if Ottawa toughened the Citizenship Act and disqualified all applicants who have not been physically living in Canada. This would clarify the expectations and remove the temptation to bend the rules.