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Bill C-6: Citizenship Act - Third Reading

Honourable senators, I rise to propose an amendment to Bill C-6 on behalf of my dear colleague and friend, Senator Eaton. Of course, I do not need to elaborate on the sad reason why I am putting this amendment forward rather than the proposer herself. Despite the last four months being an exceptionally challenging time for Senator Eaton, as critic of Bill C-6 she has followed the debate on the bill with dedication and a deep concern. I know I speak on behalf of all senators in expressing our deepest sympathy to Senator Eaton on the sudden passing of her husband, Thor.

What I read to you are her words, which I wholeheartedly agree with, and which I am honoured to deliver on her behalf, given that I know she and her family are in everyone's hearts and prayers today.

On behalf of Senator Eaton, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Senator Omidvar for her work as the sponsor of Bill C-6. Although we do not agree on components of the bill, I acknowledge her interest and work on this bill.

As I reflect on the provisions in this legislation, I am mindful of the fact that we, as Parliamentarians, must ensure that the challenges regarding immigration and citizenship are dealt with in a responsible manner that will provide positive outcomes for immigrants and new citizens to Canada. We want them to succeed. In choosing citizenship, individuals must appreciate and understand the obligations that accompany becoming a citizen of Canada. To support a clear understanding of the obligations and privileges of Canadian citizenship, processes and mechanisms must be in place that encourage a desire to learn about and develop a sense of connection and community to their new environment.

Unfortunately, I believe that watering down these provisions, as Bill C-6 does, will weaken and work against successful outcomes. Among the many things Bill C-6 seeks to reverse, it reduces the number of days that a person must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship.

Bill C-6 proposes to change the current law, which requires that a permanent resident be physically present in Canada four out of six years before the date of application. Bill C-6 proposes that this be reduced to only three out of five years. And the government further proposes to weaken residency rules by completely eliminating the current requirement of being physically present for 183 days in Canada during each of the four to six years.

I was struck by the language used on the Government of Canada website in a backgrounder document on the proposed changes to the Citizenship Act which says:

The changes in the proposed legislation would provide greater flexibility for applicants trying to meet the requirements for citizenship, and help immigrants obtain citizenship faster.

Why doesn't the Government of Canada instead reinforce and foster the message that we are a welcoming country and that we are worth the wait? In addition to these weakened residency requirements, I have concerns about changes regarding the ages in demonstrating adequate knowledge of one of our official languages.

The changes proposed in the original legislation set the bar very low, requiring only basic ability in one of our official languages, between the ages of 18 to 54, as opposed to the current ages of 16 to 64. I applaud Senator Griffin's successful effort to amend the upper age limit to 60 years of age last week; however, this amendment does not go far enough.

The government's rationale is to unload the burden to provincial governments and school boards across the country, to manage young immigrants who do not have the ability to communicate in one of our official languages.

If the government believes that this can be successfully managed in our school system, where is the evidence? What consulting was done with these important stakeholders? And where is the evidence to support that it is better to remove basic language competency requirements for those between the ages of 55 to 64?

A majority of the population between ages 55 to 64 remain in the workforce. According to Statistics Canada, more than one third of the Canadian workforce is between the ages of 55 to 64.

Language skills are foundational to the ability of a person to succeed, to find employment, enjoy economic stability, to support their families and build a sense of belonging.

When the former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship was asked in a House of Commons committee last April what research was done on the impact of newcomers to Canada and what the impact on the economy is by exempting this group from requiring knowledge of language, the minister was vague. And when he was asked what consultation was done to show this was a better policy, the minister admitted there were no consultations on the economic impact. During Senate committee testimony by the current minister on March 1, he also failed to provide evidence to support this policy change.

The current law's basic language requirement for those aged 14 to 64 wasn't designed to make it more difficult or to keep people out. In fact, it was part of a package of measures to provide the best conditions for success.

These watered-down requirements in Bill C-6 do nothing to build knowledge, understanding or strengthen ties to our Canadian communities in advance of becoming a citizen.

Honourable senators, the amendment I am proposing focuses on residency requirements. Unfortunately, the proposals in Bill C-6 regarding residency requirements reduce the value placed on Canadian citizenship and serve to undermine the goals of learning, appreciating and building closer ties.

If Bill C-6 passes, Canada will have one of the shortest residency wait times in the world. And this is further compounded by eliminating the 183-days-per-year requirement under the current system for being physically present.

Among the Five Eyes countries, Canada will have the quickest road to citizenship. In Australia, the residency requirement is four years and requires an ability to speak and understand basic English. In the United States, their law requires residency for five years and some knowledge of the English language. In the United Kingdom, the residency requirement is also five years, with sufficient knowledge of one of the languages. In New Zealand, the residency requirement is five years, which also includes a language requirement.

As my colleagues know, there are many lists produced that show the top countries in the world in which to live. These are countries judged on indicators such as economic growth, quality of life, health, education, citizenship and personal well-being. Canada always ranks well on these numerous lists.

However, among the other countries that often rank highest on these lists as a desirable place to live, these countries maintain more stringent residency requirements.

For example, in order to apply for citizenship in The Netherlands, one must be a resident for five years and demonstrate proficiency in the Dutch language. Sweden, also five years. In Finland, one must be a resident for five years uninterrupted or seven years since the age of 15, with the last two years uninterrupted. The time can be shortened by one year if certain language requirements are met.

In Ireland, one must be a resident for five years out of the last nine years, including the year preceding the application. Iceland, seven years. Norway, seven years out of ten.

In Germany, one must be a permanent resident for eight years and have an ability to support oneself without social security or unemployment benefits and be proficient in the German language. Denmark requires residency for nine years. Austria requires residency for ten years, five years as a permanent resident and proficiency in the language.

Why is the Government of Canada proposing to have a fire sale on our immigration system, particularly when we've been given no clear reason for these changes?

Honourable senators, I know all us care deeply about this country. We want Canada to be safe and secure. We want new Canadians to succeed and enjoy the privileges and the opportunities this country has to offer. The government has a responsibility to enact rigorous laws that protect our citizens from threat and to ensure that all Canadians benefit from our open and pluralistic society.

The current law is not punitive regarding these requirements. These rules are designed to allow sufficient time to build a greater understanding that will support and encourage a stronger desire to stay, contribute and flourish here in Canada. The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that it manages these issues appropriately.

Sadly, I believe that Bill C-6 was created in a rush to reverse the previous government's legislative reforms, and in this rush it has lost sight of these broader considerations and impacts.

This motion today seeks to maintain the current residency requirements that a permanent resident must be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days during each of the four years of six years before applying for citizenship.

Therefore, honourable senators, I move:

That Bill C-6, as amended, be not now read a third time, but that it be further amended:

(a) in clause 1, on page 1, by deleting lines 17 and 18;

(b) by deleting clause 8, on page 4;

(c) in clause 14, on page 6, by replacing lines 6 to 8 with the following:

"14 Paragraph 5(1)c) of the Citizenship Act, as it read immediately before the day on which subsection 1(1) comes into force, applies"; and

(d) in clause 27, on page 9, by replacing line 1 with the following:

"27 (1) Subsections 1(1) and (7)".

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