Costas Menegakis writes: Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act
Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has unveiled the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977. This legislation takes important steps to strengthen the requirements for citizenship, while creating a faster and more efficient process for those applying to get it. By 2015-2016, processing times will be shortened to less than one year and Canada’s citizenship backlog eliminated to allow for just-in-time processing of applications.
New decision-making model for citizenship applications
Obtaining citizenship is currently a three-step process that involves duplication of work: citizenship officers review the files and prepare them for a citizenship judge, who approves or rejects the application, returns it to the officer, who then grants citizenship on behalf of the Minister or recommends an appeal of the judge’s decision. The proposed amendments include a new single-step model to streamline the process, enabling citizenship officers to make decisions on citizenship applications. Citizenship judges would remain responsible for the important role of presiding over citizenship ceremonies and administering the oath of citizenship, which is the final step before citizenship is granted.
Reinforcing the Value of Canadian Citizenship
The Act will also ensure citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada by providing a clearer indication that the “residence” period to qualify for citizenship in fact requires a physical presence in Canada. Applicants will need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year for at least four of those six years. More applicants will now be required to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test, to ensure that new citizens are better prepared to fully participate in Canadian society. New provisions will also help individuals with strong ties to Canada, such as by automatically extending citizenship to additional “Lost Canadians” who were born before 1947, as well as to their children born in the first generation outside Canada.
Cracking Down on Citizenship Fraud
Proposed measures would help combat citizenship fraud and uphold the integrity of Canada’s citizenship program. The legislation includes stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation (a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison), and expands the grounds to bar an application for citizenship to include foreign criminality which will help improve program integrity. Changes to the legislation also include a new authority for the government to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters and to monitor and collect information concerning citizenship consultants. Amendments would also make it an offence for unauthorized individuals to knowingly represent or advise a person on a citizenship application or hearing for a fee.
Protecting and Promoting Canada’s Interests and Values
Finally, the legislation brings Canada in line with most of our peer countries, by providing that citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, and spying offences, or who take up arms against Canada. Permanent residents who commit these acts will be barred from applying for citizenship.
Canadian citizenship is more popular than ever. By promoting the full participation of new Canadians in our economy and society, we are ensuring Canada’s long-term prosperity as a pluralistic and diverse country – the greatest country on earth, and the envy of the world.
Costas Menegakis is the Member of Parliament for Richmond Hill and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. He can be contacted at 905.918.1880 or through his website at www.costasmenegakis.ca.
By Costas Menegakis, MP Richmond Hill