The Liberal government is moving to repeal parts of a controversial piece of legislation that allows Canadians to be stripped of their citizenship in certain situations.
Immigration Minister John McCallum tabled a new bill in the House of Commons on Thursday morning that will amend the Citizenship Act (previously amended under Bill C-24) in several ways.
For the most part, the changes loosen requirements for obtaining and retaining Canadian citizenship that had been tightened under the previous government.
The amendments include removing a provision in the Act which allows the government to strip dual citizens of their citizenship if they are convicted of certain crimes including terrorism, high treason or spying offences. The government’s ability to revoke citizenship when it was obtained through fraud or concealing important information will remain in the law.
One person has lost their citizenship since the new rules were introduced under the Conservatives, according to officials. That person, Toronto 18 terror plot mastermind Zakaria Amara, was convicted of terrorism and is serving time in a federal prison. He will see his citizenship restored under the new law as soon as it passes in the House and receives royal assent.
“It’s a question of principle,” McCallum said. “We think the criminal justice system and the prisons are enough to deal with criminals.”
But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the fact that the government’s first bill on the Order Paper would hand citizenship back to a convicted terrorist sends a terrible message.
“This bill is a win for Zakaria Amara and not many other Canadians,” she said.
Other changes include:
- Adults who apply for citizenship will no longer have to declare they intend to continue to reside in Canada if their application is successful.
- The amount of time a new arrival must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship will be reduced, from 1,460 days (four years) within six years before applying, to 1,095 days (three years) within five years before applying.
- Under the updated Citizenship Act, new arrivals will be able to count the time they were physically present in Canada before becoming a permanent resident toward the time they need to be here before applying for citizenship. Currently the clock only starts once they become permanent residents.
- The age range for citizenship applicants who need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of English or French before being approved as new citizens will shrink, from ages 14-64 to ages 18-54.
- People serving conditional sentences (served in the community under certain conditions) will no longer be permitted to count the time of their sentence toward the physical presence requirements, or apply for citizenship. These restrictions already apply to people in jail, on parole or under probation orders. Essentially, this change closes a loophole in the Act.
There had been several court challenges to the new revocation provisions introduced by the Tory government. Those legal battles will now become unnecessary.
The Liberals had promised to repeal certain elements of the Conservatives’ update to the Citizenship Act during the election campaign.