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The federal cabinet is turning over to the courts most of its power to strip a Canadian's citizenship under new legislation tabled yesterday, but it will gain new powers to refuse citizenship to those it considers hate mongers.

However, critics complained that in targeting hate mongers, the bill gives the cabinet overbroad power to refuse the granting of citizenship to those it finds display "flagrant and serious disregard" for Canadian values.

The bill, tabled by Immigration Minister Denis Coderre, revamps the criteria for becoming a Canadian citizen -- or losing that status. It also includes a new citizenship oath that requires a pledge of loyalty to Canada in addition to the existing pledge to the Queen.

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A key provision includes handing over the formal process for revoking citizenship, which in the past required a decision by the federal cabinet, to the Federal Court of Canada.

Mr. Coderre said that move was a response to criticisms that the old system for revoking citizenship, used against war criminals and those who obtained their citizenship fraudulently, did not provide for transparency and due process.

"It sends a message that citizenship is so important that it must be revoked by our judicial system," he said.

The move was hailed as a good idea by the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives, as well as Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, who resigned his post as parliamentary secretary to former immigration minister Elinor Caplan in 2000 to protest against what he called a "Draconian process."

Under the new bill, the Federal Court could revoke the citizenship of a war criminal or organized-crime mobster and at the same time order the person deported.

However, while the court would handle the formal revocation process, the immigration minister would retain discretionary power to annul the citizenship of someone who has been a citizen for less than five years if the person clearly used a false identity to obtain citizenship.

In addition, the cabinet could refuse the citizenship application of an immigrant if it feels the person demonstrated "flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society." There is no appeal, but the refused applicant could apply for citizenship again in five years.

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Officials said that section is aimed at refusing citizenship to those who foster hate or violence, and employs language already defined by the courts. But critics said it gives the cabinet broad discretionary power.

"I think that's very dangerous, because it's subjective," Canadian Alliance immigration critic Diane Ablonczy said.

The new citizenship legislation, similar to a 1999 bill that died when the 2000 election was called, also makes other significant changes to the citizenship process. They include the following:

Citizenship judges would be replaced by new citizenship commissioners. The commissioners would no longer decide on citizenship applications, which would in the future be decided by immigration officers through a streamlined process.

New citizens would be required to have lived -- physically -- in Canada for three of the past six years. Officials said the old legislation allowed the courts to make differing interpretations of the residency requirement.

It would be harder for foreign-born descendants of Canadians to claim citizenship.

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