April 28, 2017- In response to campaign promises to remove “unfair elements” from the current Citizenship Act, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-6 “An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act to amend the current Citizenship Act” in June 2016. The initial draft of Bill C-6 reduced the residency requirements to 3 out of 4 years, from 4 out of 6 years, limited the language test to applicants between the ages of 18 and 54, from the current ages of 14 and 64 and removed the intent to reside in Canada requirement as well as removing national security as a ground for revocation. Bill C-6 is currently in its Third Reading in the Senate.
The changes in Bill C-6 were meant reverse many of the stringent requirements put in place by the Conservative government’s “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” in May 2015. However, Bill C-6 left the revocation process for fraud and misrepresentation unchanged, much to the concern of several Senators and members of the Immigration bar. The process put in place by the Conservative government removed the decision making power from the Governor in Council and granted it to an Immigration Officer. In comparison to the previous revocation process which involved several levels of review and adjudication, the current revocation process is done completely through paper correspondence and receives only one level of review by an Immigration Officer with delegated authority from the Minister. Citizens suspected of committing fraud or misrepresentation are not afforded a hearing but rather are provided an opportunity to make written representations to defend the allegation. Once the reviewing Officer makes a decision, the individual is notified in writing whether their citizenship has been revoked. There is no further recourse available to the individual, such as an automatic appeal, rather, should an individual wish to challenge the decision to revoke citizenship, they may judicially review the decision at the Federal Court of Canada.
Recent statistics show the current system has made the revocation process much quicker. Since May 2015, approximately 235 Canadians were stripped of their citizenship, compared to approximately 167 revocations under the old system used from 1988 to May 2015. Critics of the current revocation process have stated that the new system’s efficiency has come at a serious cost as citizens are being denied due process. In fact, there is an ongoing legal challenge before the Federal Court of Canada regarding the constitutionality of the revocation process. As a point of comparison, permanent residents who are suspected of committing fraud or misrepresentation are afforded several opportunities to defend against the allegations, which include two levels of hearings before an independent administrative tribunal.
In response to concerns regarding the fairness of the current process, on March 9, 2017, Senators introduced an amendment to Bill C-6 to ensure more safeguards are in place to protect a citizen’s rights, which would include the right to a hearing before the Federal Court of Canada before a citizen has their citizenship revoked for fraud and misrepresentation. After some debate, the Senate ultimately voted in favour of the amendment, which is being hailed by members of the Immigration bar and civil liberties groups for restoring a citizen’s basic constitutional rights. We should expect more changes as additional amendments to other aspects of Bill C-6 have been proposed and continue to be debated at the Senate, which will resume on May 2, 2017. Should Bill C-6 pass Third Reading at the Senate, it will be sent back to the House of Commons for a final reading. Stay tuned for updates. For more information, please contact us.