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Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks after unveiling changes to Canada's Citizenship Act in Toronto on Feb. 6, 2014. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks after unveiling changes to Canada's Citizenship Act in Toronto on Feb. 6, 2014. (FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa proposes sweeping new citizenship rules to crack down on fraud, better define national identity Add to ...

“It’s consistent with the government’s attitude to active members of the military,” Mr. Griffith said.“In Discover Canada, one of the ways the government suggested that people could contribute was in the military and police.”

What’s in Bill C-24

Anti-terrorism provisions

This is a major change carried forward from a private member’s bill that failed to pass last year. Critically, it applies only to dual citizens, as Canada isn’t able to leave someone stateless. The new bill would allow Canada to strip citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or spying abroad. Authorities could also revoke citizenship from dual citizens involved in an organized “armed conflict” within Canada, and deny citizenship to permanent residents who do the same.

Catherine Dauvergne, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who studies immigration, called this change “possibly the most dangerous” reform because it creates a two-tier system and “expresses a profound lack of trust in the Canadian justice system,” which would otherwise deal with criminal charges in domestic cases.

Shrinking role of the courtsThe Tories are shoving the courts aside in certain cases – not terrorism, but when Canada says a would-be citizen lies or commits fraud in an application. The old rules allowed the person facing that accusation to appeal to court, which could agree with the government or not. Under the new “streamlined” rules, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has unilateral power to strip citizenship from people he says committed fraud. The only recourse a person has is to make an argument to Mr. Alexander himself.

Only in extreme cases such as terrorism or espionage are the courts involved, and even then appeal rights are limited. The government acknowledged Thursday the minister can “decide on routine revocation cases,” and that the court “could” be involved in others. It raises fears among some. “They’re not routine cases, I’m dealing with them all the time,” says Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman. “This act represents a serious erosion in the due process rights of Canadian citizens when the government considers revocations of citizenship.”

Longer wait times to apply

The wait time for a resident to apply for citizenship is getting longer. Under the new rules, when passed, a resident will need to have lived at least four of six years in Canada, including at least half a year physically in the country for four of those six years. Previously, the requirement was that an applicant live three of four years in Canada, though with no minimum requirement to be physically present in those years, so long as they could somehow demonstrate they were living in the country.

The changes will also include a new question on a citizenship application form, asking applicants to declare an “intent to reside” in Canada as a citizen, with the government saying the purpose is to signal citizenship is meant for people who want to live in Canada. Departmental officials said no one will check if citizens actually do, but the Immigration Minister now has the power to revoke citizenship if people make “false representations” on their applications.

Faster processing

The current process takes three steps and includes a citizenship judge. The new one will take one step and require only a citizenship officer, with judges instead mostly presiding over citizenship ceremonies. The number of citizenship judges – 30 full-time-equivalent positions, currently – is expected to decline. The government is also adding a new $300 fee for adult applicants, who currently pay only 20 per cent of an application cost. A “right of citizenship” fee of $100 also remains in effect. Amid it all, the government hopes to cut down a backlog, currently between two and three years and including 320,000 cases, to one year by 2015-2016.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum has doubts about raising the fee at a time when wait times have soared, roughly doubling since 2008. “The question that sticks out at me like a sore thumb is the quadrupling of the fee and the doubling of the processing time,” he said.

Tougher language requirementsApplicants from ages 14 to 64 will now have to meet a language requirement in English or French, as well as a knowledge requirement in either language. Current rules apply only those aged 18 to 54, and the knowledge requirement could be done with the help of an interpreter. Interpreters now will not be allowed.

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