In early February 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander tabled Bill C-24, which aims to amend the current Citizenship Act. The controversial bill has been gaining significant criticism and inspiring petitions and negative press as it passes through the House of Commons.
Bill C-24, also called the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, and its implications for permanent residents and Canadian citizens have been the subject of major media coverage across Canada. Chris Alexander in a statement at the time of the Bill C-24’s introduction said that the new law would “reinforce the value of citizenship and make the process quicker and easier for new Canadians who play by the rules.” A closer reading of the bill identifies a number of provisions that will actually make gaining Canadian citizenship more difficult for those who “play by the rules,” and will also make citizenship easier to lose.
Gaining citizenship under the new law will be more difficult for permanent residents, both due to the addition of new requirements and the lengthening of the eligibility period for time spent in Canada. For example, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act will require any permanent resident between the ages of 14 and 64 to prove adequate knowledge of English or French and to prove adequate knowledge of Canada and its customs, whereas under the current act only those between age 18 and 54 are expected to demonstrate these competencies.
Similarly, the new law will increase the amount of time that permanent residents in Canada are required to wait before being eligible for citizenship. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act changes the requirement for the length of physical presence in Canada, increasing from 1,095 days [3 years] out of the 4 years immediately preceding the application date to 1,460 days [4 years] out of the six immediately preceding the application date. While the increase in the amount of time spent in Canada required for citizenship eligibility will affect all permanent residents equally, other provisions in the new law put particular groups at a disadvantage. For example, the removal of a provision in the current act that allows each day spent in Canada without permanent residence status to count as a half day towards the physical presence requirement will particularly affect foreign students and temporary foreign workers. Any time spent in Canada on a study permit or as a temporary foreign worker will no longer count as time spent in Canada at all, which can significantly extend the wait time for Canadian citizenship for individuals in these situations.
New provisions in the act will also make Canadian citizenship easier to lose for naturalized citizens. In the current version of the Citizenship Act, the only way a Canadian citizen can lose their citizenship is in cases where their status was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation of material circumstances. This provision still stands in Bill C-24, but a number of new methods through which citizenship can be revoked are introduced. Under the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, citizenship can be lost if a person has been convicted of certain crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada, the National Defence Act, or the Security of Information Act, or of crimes abroad that would be equivalent to these offences. Serving as a member of the armed forces or in an armed group in a country that is engaged in armed conflict with Canada is also grounds for loss of citizenship. A requirement in Bill C-24 that individuals must “intend to continue to live in Canada” in order for citizenship to be granted has also been criticized because taking a job or studying abroad could lead to an immigration official making the decision that a person never intended to live in Canada, resulting in the revocation of citizenship. The real criticism surrounding these new provisions is based on the fact that the provisions only threaten dual citizens, with assertions that they create two classes of Canadian citizens with varying levels of security. Bill C-24 prevents the revocation of citizenship from a person if it would cause statelessness, exempting Canadians who hold no other citizenship from the effects of these provisions.
Of course, there are some aspects of Bill C-24 that have not been receiving negative press, but these positive developments are overshadowed by the criticism in the press. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act includes provisions to grant citizenship to “lost Canadians,” clarifies avenues for granting citizenship to adopted children, and recognizes common law partnerships, which the previous version of the Citizenship Act did not.
FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.