On June 10, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-37, also known as the Strengthening the Value of Canadian Citizenship Act (“Bill C-37“).
The legislation will result in five changes if passed. These are:
- Regulate Citizenship Consultants
- Increases Penalties for Citizenship Fraud
- Strengthen Rules For Residence Requirement
- Expand Ban on Criminals Becoming Citizens
- Crown Exception to First Generation Limit
- Streamlining the Revocation Process
1) Regulate Citizenship Consultants
Citizenship consultants are not currently regulated or licensed. Bill C-37 will change this. The amendments will introduce a new s. 21.1 of the Citizenship Act, which will state:
21.1 (1) Every person commits an offense who knowingly represents or advises a person for consideration — or offers to do so — in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act.
The offense will be a hybrid offense. If the Crown elects to proceed by way of indictment, the maximum penalty would be a fine of $50,000 and/or two years imprisonment.
There will be exceptions for lawyers, members of a designated body, and other exceptions similar to those for immigration consultants. In fact, the language in Bill C-37 regarding the regulation of citizenship consultants largely mirrors that in Bill C-35, the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act.
2) Increases Penalties for Citizenship Fraud
The Citizenship Act makes it an offense to make a false representation, commit fraud, knowingly conceal or misrepresent information, obtain or use a certificate of naturalization/renunciation of another person, knowingly permit another to use that person’s certificate, or traffic certificates. The penalty for doing so is currently a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or imprisonment to a term of one year. A person who issues or alters a certificate, counterfeits a certificate, or attempts to cause a person to use an unlawfully issued certificate can face a penalty of a maximum of $5,000 and/or three years imprisonment.
Bill C-37 massively increases the penalties. The offense for pretty much the same actions will now be a hybrid offense. If the Crown decides to proceed by way of a summary offense, then the maximum penalty will be a fine not more than $50,000 and/or two years imprisonment. If the Crown decides to proceed by way of an indictment, then the maximum penalty is a fine of not more than $100,000 and/or imprisonment of five years.
3) Strengthen Rules For Residence Requirement
Currently, adult applicants must reside in Canada three out of the previous four years before applying for citizenship. However, “residence” is not defined in the Citizenship Act. There has been some jurisprudence that has suggested that it is possible to be resident without being physically present in Canada. The situation and the test for residency is thus not clear.
Bill C-37 will end the uncertainty, and make it a requirement that the individual be physically present in Canada during three out of the previous four years in order to apply for citizenship.
4) Expand Ban on Criminals Becoming Citizens
Currently, people are barred from citizenship if they have been charged or convicted of any indictable offense in Canada, or where they are serving a sentence in Canada. The amendments will expand the prohibition to people who have been charged or convicted for similar crimes abroad from obtaining citizenship.
This does not mean that a fifty-year old who was convicted of theft at the age of twenty and served a two year sentence would be barred from citizenship. The amendment states that the person will be barred if the conviction occurred during:
(a) the three-year period immediately before the date of the person’s application; or
(b) the period beginning on the date of the person’s application and ending on the date that he or she would otherwise be granted citizenship or take the oath of citizenship
5) Crown Exception to First Generation Limit
As of 2009, citizenship by descent became limited to the first generation born or adopted outside Canada. As such, people born outside of Canada to a Canadian citizen on or after April 17, 2009, are Canadians at birth only if one of their parents was born in Canada or became a Canadian citizen by immigrating to Canada.
Exceptions to the rule include children born to Canadian parents working outside of Canada as employees of the Canadian government or a Canadian province / territory, as well as in the armed forces. The amendments clarify and add consistency to this.
6) Streamlining Revocation
Since 1977, 63 people in total have had their citizenship revoked for reasons including fraud related to residence, criminality, war crimes and false identity.
The revocation process is currently time consuming, and involves three stages:
- The Minister issues a notice of intention to revoke citizenship.
- If the citizen objects then the matter is referred to Federal Court.
- If the Federal Court finds that revocation is justified, then the Minister approaches the Governor in Council for final approval of revocation.
The amendments eliminate step 3, and streamline the process to two steps.
The amendments themselves seem to make sense, although I question whether a strict, uniform, physical residence requirement without exceptions is necessary.
It’s the title of Bill C-37 that is questionable. The Strengthening the Value of Canadian Citizenship Act? Is it correct to say that any of these amendments increase the value of Canadian citizenship? I believe that the value of Canadian citizenship is determined by what it allows an individual to do as a citizen which is different from if that individual were a permanent resident or a foreign national. The value of Canadian citizenship is the ability to live in Canada, to be able to vote, work in certain areas of government, and the fact that one can take advantage of Canada’s economic, social, and political benefits without having to meet any residency requirements. Indeed, every single piece of federal legislation either increases or decreases the value of Canadian citizenship, because of the substantive changes to Canada’s tax system, health care system, etc., that either make the country more desirable or less desirable to live.
Given this, a more appropriate title would have been The Restricting Who Can be a Citizen and Enhancing the Process of Becoming One Act, or the Increasing the Opportunity Cost of Becoming a Canadian Citizenship Act or simply, Bill C-37, an Act to Amend the Citizenship Act.