Second Class Citizens? Not in Canada!

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Bill C-24 to amend the Citizenship Act received Royal Assent and became law on 19 June 2014. These amendments were widely criticized as having created a two-tiered citizenship system. Particularly controversial were subsections 10(2) and 10(3) of the Citizenship Act which allowed for citizenship to be revoked from dual citizens convicted of treason or terrorism offences, depending on the sentence received, or who were part of an armed force of a country or organized group engaged in conflict with Canada. Moreover, in an interview with Andrew Lawton on 30 September 2015, when asked if he might strip dual citizens who have been convicted of other crimes, such as murder, rape, or crimes against children, of their Canadian citizenship, Harper replied “well, you know, obviously we can look at options in the future.”

Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heavily denounced the Harper Government’s two-tiered citizenship system throughout his 2015 election campaign and famously stated that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”. Recently, and three years after the passing of Bill C-24, the Trudeau Government’s Bill C-6 to repeal many of the Harper Government’s amendments received Royal Assent and became law on 19 June 2017.

The following chart explains the new amendments to the Citizenship Act and indicates when they are expected to come into force:

CHANGES EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY (AS OF 19 JUNE 2017)

Previous Citizenship Act

Citizenship Act with Bill C-6 Amendments

Citizenship could be revoked from dual citizens convicted of treason and terrorism offences, depending on the sentence received, or who were a part of an armed force of a country or organized group engaged in conflict with Canada. This provision has been repealed. Dual citizens who are convicted of these crimes will face the Canadian Criminal Justice System like all other Canadians who break the law.
Applicants were required to intend to continue to live in Canada once granted citizenship. This provision has been repealed.
The Minister had the discretion to waive certain requirements under subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act so a minor could obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent. The minimum age requirement for citizenship has been removed. Minors can now apply for citizenship without a Canadian parent.
No provision existed to prevent individuals serving a sentence in the community from being granted citizenship, taking the Oath of Citizenship or counting this time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship. Individuals serving a conditional sentence will not be granted citizenship, take the Oath of Citizenship, or be able to count this time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship.
The Minister has the discretion to grant citizenship to a person to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship, or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada. This provision continues, and statelessness has been added as a stand-alone ground that can be considered for a discretionary grant of citizenship.
Although the Department has reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of citizenship applicants, no explicit provision existed to accommodate persons with disabilities. There is now a requirement to take into consideration reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of a citizenship applicant who is a disabled person.

 

CHANGES EXPECTED TO TAKE EFFECT IN FALL 2017

Previous Citizenship Act

Citizenship Act with Bill C-6 Amendments

Applicants had to be physically present in Canada for four out of six years before applying for citizenship. Applicants must be physically present in Canada for three out of five years before applying for citizenship.
Applicants had to file Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for four out of six years. Applicants must file Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for three out of five years.
Applicants had to be physically present in Canada for 183 days in four out of the six years preceding their application. This provision has been repealed.
Time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident did not count towards the physical presence requirement for citizenship. Applicants may count each day they were physically present in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person before becoming a permanent resident as a half-day toward meeting the physical presence requirement for citizenship, up to a maximum credit of 365 days.
Applicants between 14 and 64 years of age had to meet the language and knowledge requirements for citizenship. Applicants between 18 and 54 years of age must meet the language and knowledge requirements for citizenship.

 

CHANGES EXPECTED TO TAKE EFFECT IN EARLY 2018

Previous Citizenship Act

Citizenship Act with Bill C-6 Amendments

The Minister was the decision-maker for most cases of citizenship revocation on the grounds of false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances. The Federal Court was the decision-maker for citizenship revocation cases involving false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances related to security, human or international right violations, and organized crime. The Federal Court is the decision-maker in all revocation cases, unless the individual requests that the Minister make the decision.
There was no clear authority for Citizenship Officers to seize fraudulent or suspected fraudulent documents provided under the Citizenship Act. Clear authority for Citizenship Officers to seize fraudulent or suspected fraudulent documents is provided under the Citizenship Act.

Important Reminder!

Section 22(6) of Harper’s Citizenship Act remains unchanged by Bill C-6This means that permanent residents are still required to maintain the conditions for citizenship under section 5(1) until taking the Oath of Citizenship. Essentially, applicants must, after submitting their application for citizenship and until taking the Oath:

  1. maintain their permanent resident status,
  2. not be charged or convicted with any criminal offences, and
  3. not have any removal orders issued against them.

Since this is now a statutory duty, Canadian officials are more diligent in ensuring that such requirements are met prior to allowing any applicant to take the Oath of Citizenship. Therefore, in order to ensure eventual citizenship status, it is imperative that applicants not take any chances and continue to fulfill the requirements of citizenship up until they take the Oath.

This will also mean that eligibility for citizenship determined by the physical presence rule of three out of the five years prior to the filing of the application (i.e. 60% of the time spent in Canada) is relaxed after the citizenship application is actually filed: and presence in Canada to comply with the residency obligation of only two out of five years (i.e. 40% of the time spent in Canada) is resumed.

What does this mean for permanent residents?

The Bill C-6 amendments to the Citizenship Act not only mean that permanent residents will have an easier, shorter and less onerous pathway to Canadian citizenship, but they also reflect the fundamental Canadian values of tolerance, openness and acceptance. Canada is a multicultural country that is built on diversity and inclusion, and, as stated by Prime Minister Trudeau in his 26 November 2015 speech in London, UK, “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.”

Feel free to contact us and we will be happy to help you navigate the pathway to Canadian citizenship.

Warren Creates is Head of our Immigration Law Group. He can be reached at wcreates@perlaw.ca or 613.566.2839. To view his bio, please click here.

Jacqueline Bonisteel is a lawyer in our Immigration Law Group. She can be reached at jbonisteel@perlaw.ca or 613.566.2845. To view her bio, please click here.

 

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