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Politics Liberals introduce bill to repeal many Conservative citizenship changes

New Canadians are sworn in during a citizenship ceremony at Seneca College, Markham, ON, on Oct. 23, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Liberal government has introduced a bill that would repeal many parts of the former Conservative government's citizenship legislation, including a provision that revoked citizenship from dual Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

If passed, the bill would automatically reinstate citizenship for Zakaria Amara, a member of the so-called Toronto 18 who planned to bomb downtown Toronto and had his citizenship revoked last fall under the Conservatives' Bill C-24.

In last year's election, the Liberals promised to repeal the controversial Bill C-24, which gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage, and dual citizens who were members of an armed force of a country or members of an organized armed group that was engaged in a conflict with Canada.

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"When you say a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, that is a blanket statement that applies to all Canadians. You don't pick and choose the good Canadians and the bad Canadians," Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said in an interview with The Globe and Mail Thursday.

The Conservatives said the Liberal legislation sends the wrong message to Canadians.

"The first message that the government is sending in their mandate to Canadians is that our priority piece of legislation is to give the citizenship back to a man who was convicted of a plot to bomb downtown Toronto," Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Thursday.

The government still has the power to revoke citizenship from anyone who misrepresents who they are or are guilty of citizenship fraud. The Minister justified the provision to The Globe.

"I think those two things are different in kind. When you give false pretenses to become a citizen, the offence relates specifically to the citizenship," Mr. McCallum said. "The other is about if you commit a crime or you can name any other contingency … those things are not related to the process of becoming a citizen."

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the legislation does not address the Conservatives' contentious changes to the revocation process. Bill C-24 eliminated the right to a Federal Court hearing for individuals subject to revocation of citizenship when the revocation was based on fraud. Rather, the government sends letters informing the individual that their citizenship will be revoked, and that they have 60 days to respond in writing.

"The government is defending the Harper government's process of revocation in the face of challenge by civil liberties organizations and by many different individuals … and in the face of a determination by a federal court judge," Mr. Waldman said.

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On Jan. 19, the Federal Court granted a stay in a number of citizenship-revocation cases, arguing that the revocation process "violates the rights to liberty and security of the person in section 7 of the Charter."

The legislation will also reduce the time permanent residents must be physically present in Canada before qualifying for citizenship by a full year. Before C-24 became law, immigration applicants had to live in Canada for three out of four years. Following the changes, permanent residents had to live in Canada for four out of the last six years in order to apply for citizenship. Thursday's legislation requires citizenship applicants to be physically present in Canada for three out five years before their application date.

The proposed changes would also allow citizenship applicants to count each day they were physically present in Canada before becoming a permanent resident as a half-day toward meeting the physical presence requirement, for up to one year of credited time. Prior to Bill C-24, newcomers between the ages of 18 and 54 were required to meet language requirements in English or French and pass a Canadian knowledge test. When the bill became law, the age range expanded to 14 to 64, and interpreters were no longer allowed to help during testing. The proposed Liberal changes will bring the age range back to 18 to 54, but still not allow for interpreters.

The legislation also proposes to tighten certain areas of the Citizenship Act. The bill proposes that time spent under a conditional sentence in the community can no longer count towards the physical presence requirements for citizenship, and that those serving a conditional sentence order can no longer be granted citizenship. It would also create the authority to seize documents if there are reasonable grounds to believe they are fraudulent or being used fraudulently.

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