Due to opposition delaying tactics last evening (June 12, 2017) I was prevented from delivering my speech on Bill C-6: An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. The speech I was to deliver is reflective of my position on the Bill and the amendments proposed by the Senate. I am happy to report that most of the Senate amendments were accepted by the Government of Canada. The following is the text of my speech on this very important legislation.
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Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-6 – legislation that helps support newcomers to Canada as they attempt to build successful lives; reunite with their families, and contribute to the economic success of all Canadians.
If passed, Bill C-6 would repeal some of the changes made to the Citizenship Act in 2015 – changes which posed certain challenges to aspiring Canadian citizens – and would also allow applicants greater flexibility to meet citizenship requirements. Indeed, we all know that when newcomers become Canadian citizens, it is not only a sign that they have successfully integrated into our country, their citizenship also brings great benefits to all Canadians.
Canada has benefited greatly from the contributions that new citizens have made to our economy, our social cohesion, and to the cultural life of our country.
Bill C-6 is an expression of the Government of Canada’s commitments to help newcomers to build new and productive lives in this country, and to help them develop a strong sense of connection and belonging to Canada – their new home.
As we know, Members in the senate recently proposed amendments to Bill C-6. I join with my colleagues in thanking those members for their thoughtful work in coming up with these proposals.
One of the proposed amendments would change the citizenship revocation model to have the Federal Court as a decision-maker on most citizenship revocation cases where citizenship was acquired fraudulently.
However, I will focus my remarks today on the other two amendments, one of which proposes to change the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements to 59 years old.
I will offer my thoughts on that amendment in a few minutes, but I first wish to discuss the other amendment that makes it easier for minors to obtain Canadian citizenship. Specifically, this amendment would make it easier for minors to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent – without the need to apply to the Minister for a waiver of the age requirement.
Overall, the Government of Canada supports this amendment, which was derived in a spirit of compassion and with an eye to supporting the best interests of children, who are among the most vulnerable people in our society.
Under subsection 5(3) of the Citizenship Act, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship already has the discretion to waive certain requirements, including the age requirement, so that minors can apply for a regular grant of citizenship under subsection 5(1).
While this provision allows the Minister to take into account the specific circumstances of a young person, and it has been used to that effect, the amendment makes it easier for minors to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent. That is why the Government of Canada supports this amendment with a technical modification to ensure greater clarity around who can apply on behalf of the minor.
As I said, I would also like to discuss the amendment from the Senate that proposes to increase the upper age range for language and knowledge requirements to 59 years old.
Again, the proposed amendment follows thoughtful consideration and debate.
However, the Government of Canada does not support this proposed amendment as it runs contrary to the intent of Bill C-6 that I described earlier – namely to facilitate access to citizenship for eligible newcomers of all ages.
Reducing the age range for the citizenship knowledge and language requirements to ages 18-to-54 would help achieve this intent, particularly for older applicants who may face disadvantages when it comes to language acquisition and passing tests. The Government strongly believes that it is important to have adequate facility in English or French along with an understanding of Canada. That is why adults aged 18 to 54 – who make up the vast majority of all citizenship applicants – will still be required to pass a citizenship test and demonstrate official language proficiency.
That said, we believe that for younger and older applicants, these can be barriers to citizenship. That is why Bill C-6 returns the age range for language and knowledge requirements to 18-54 years old. In doing so, the Bill helps reduce potential barriers for applicants outside of this age range, allowing them to achieve Canadian citizenship faster, and to better contribute to our country. Of course, younger citizenship applicants will have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of our country and official languages the same way that all Canadian children do – through the education system.
Citizenship applicants 55 years and older will also continue to have opportunities to increase their official language abilities and to learn about Canada through a variety of available services designed to help with their integration into this country, and through their participation in Canadian society. Offering flexibility in this area will increase a newcomers’ sense of belonging and attachment to Canada, which is to the benefit of all Canadians.
Once again, I offer my sincere appreciation to Senate members for their hard work in proposing and refining these amendments. The Government of Canada shares this commitment to ensuring the settlement, integration and success of newcomers. Achieving citizenship is one of the strongest predictors of that success, and the passage of Bill C-6 into law would only make the citizenship process stronger.
Thank You, Mr. Speaker.