The Harper government's proposed changes to Canada's citizenship act represent the biggest overhaul of citizenship law in decades. While some of the proposals need to be changed, in all they improve current citizenship laws.
The biggest change that will affect anyone applying for Canadian citizenship is the proposal to increase the time that person must live in Canada before applying.
Currently, prospective Canadians must have lived in Canada for three out of four years immediately before applying. The proposed changes would require them to live here four of the previous six years. In addition, they would require prospective Canadians to file Canadian income taxes and declare an intention to reside in Canada. Finally, a provision that has allowed certain individuals to claim residency in Canada without being physically present is being eliminated.
For the most part, these changes are good. The longer an individual lives, works or studies in Canada, the greater connection that person will have to our country. Requiring prospective Canadians to be physically present in Canada for four out of six years and to file Canadian income taxes is not onerous, given what is granted to them -- citizenship. Citizenship bestows rights and protections many foreign nationals do not have. As Canadian citizens, they can vote and seek elected office, so it is important they participate in Canadian life before they become citizens.
The one concern is the declaration of intent to stay in Canada. While there is nothing wrong with wanting Canadians to live in Canada, there are many Canadians who contribute to Canada on the world stage. Canada has long recognized the importance of Canadian businesspeople, entertainers, athletes and workers overseas. We should not require them to live in Canada if their ability to contribute to our country can be best served abroad.
Also positive is the crackdown on citizenship fraud. The proposal to increase the potential fines and jail time for individuals obtaining citizenship through fraud is important. While care should be taken to ensure inadvertent, accidental or minor misrepresentations do not result in refusals of citizenship applications, individuals acting in a clearly fraudulent manner should suffer the consequences.
New provisions that would allow for the revocation and refusal of citizenship if a person has been convicted of treason, terrorism and spying are also welcome. As treason and spying are offences against Canada's interests, the proposal to allow citizenship to be revoked for these offences is reasonable. Since terrorism is not only an offence against Canadians but people in other parts of the world, having a process to strip away citizenship from these types of criminals is reasonable.
Having said that, it is important that individuals be convicted of these crimes in a Canadian court before their citizenship is taken away. Citizenship should not be revoked for minor offences. As long as the individual has first been presumed innocent, has had an opportunity to defend themselves and is then found guilty of treason, spying or terrorism beyond a reasonable doubt, revoking Canadian citizenship is reasonable.
The proposed change that would allow citizenship to be revoked or refused for a terrorism conviction outside of Canada is cause for concern. Should Canada revoke citizenship for an individual convicted of terrorism in Syria, Iran or North Korea? Should Canada revoke citizenship for an individual convicted of terrorism in the U.S., U.K. or Japan? As it is impossible to ensure an individual is provided with all the protections of Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unless that person is tried in Canada, citizenship revocation for a terrorism conviction should only occur if that person is convicted in Canada.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.