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Amending government’s Citizenship Bill ‘necessary,’ says Sen. Omidvar, Senate sponsor of Bill C-6

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar is proposing a change to government legislation that would see citizenship revocation have a more independent process. Meanwhile, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen is defending the bill as drafted.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen at the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday, March 1. Mr. Hussen told the committee he believes the bill is sound as-is, but is open to considering amendments. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

PUBLISHED : Thursday, March 2, 2017 4:40 PM

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar, who was appointed last year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, says Senators are preparing to amend a key plank of the government’s mandate next week, the Citizenship Bill C-6, a move she calls “necessary” and says she’s received support from some Senate Liberals as well.

Sen. Omidvar, an international expert on migration who is sponsoring Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, in the Senate, told The Hill Times on Thursday that she’s nearing the completion of drafting an amendment that would put an end to Canadians being stripped of their citizenship without a hearing. Sen. Omidvar wants to remove a law brought in by the previous Conservative government which allows for the revocation of citizenship of anyone who the government deems to have been fraudulent or misrepresented themselves during the application process.

Currently, the provision is not part of Bill C-6, despite the fact that the legislation features other repeals of Conservative legislation. As it stands, Bill C-6 addresses promises made by the Liberals during the last election campaign to amend parts of the previous Conservative government’s Bill C-24 from the last Parliament.

Bill C-6 would amend the Citizenship Act to remove national security as grounds for citizenship revocation; remove the requirement that applicants for Canadian citizenship must intend to live in Canada after becoming a citizen; lower the number of days an applicant has to be physically present in Canada before becoming a permanent resident; and limit the ages for language requirements to be between 18 and 54.

  

The amendment would include the right of the individual whose citizenship is in question to appeal their case to the Federal Court, without leave, she said. “It would have a timeline attached to it, it would enable the appellant in this case to have access to full disclosure of documents that were used to reach the original decision. The individual would have the right to provide more evidence that may or may not have been available,” said Sen. Omidvar.

On Thursday, the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee passed the legislation without amendment, but warned that the proposed amendment was still coming.

Sen. Omidvar said she believes she will have enough Senate support for her amendment to pass when she brings Bill C-6 back up for debate in the Upper Chamber next week.

“Everyone feels an amendment is necessary, we are now arguing about its shape and size … but I’m confident that we will craft an amendment that is hopefully accepted, first by the Chamber, and then by the House,” she said.

  

The legislation has had a slow slog through the Senate. It’s been before the Upper Chamber since it passed the House of Commons without amendments on June 17, 2016, and was debated eight times at second reading between September and December 2016.

During the House Citizenship and Immigration Committee’s study of the bill, NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.), her party’s immigration critic, proposed a similar amendment to repeal the government’s power to revoke citizenship without hearings. It was ruled to be outside the scope of the bill by committee chair Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.). The bill ultimately passed the House without amendments.

However, Senate procedural rules are different, meaning the amendment being proposed isn’t likely to be deemed outside the scope of the legislation by the Senate, said Sen. Omidvar, adding that she views this as an opportunity.

Sen. Omidvar said she is waiting until third reading to introduce her proposal because the text of the amendment isn’t ready yet, and she didn’t want to slow the bill’s momentum in the Senate by delaying clause-by-clause consideration. Her proposal has been drafted by a law clerk, ensuring it is technically sound, and translated.

  

On March 1, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) testified on the bill before the Senate committee, and responded to a series of questions about the current state of the appeals process. Mr. Hussen said the government is committed to “procedural fairness,” and in his view, the process as it currently stands has a number of safeguards and is constitutionally sound.

Mr. Hussen said that while he recognizes the bill has been before the Senate for a long time, and wants to see it pass quickly, he will still examine proposals to change the bill “openly and with goodwill.”

As for the question of the possibility of the Senate passing the amendment, or any others that may be proposed by members of the Senate during the report and third reading stage of the legislation, Mr. Hussen chalked it up to being part of the “legislative process.”

“We hope that we can move on Bill C-6 quickly so that it goes to royal assent. We believe that Bill C-6 is a very good bill; it addresses a lot of the concerns that stakeholders and many potential Canadians have with some of the barriers that were put in place by C-24,” Mr. Hussen told reporters after the meeting.

Senator Ratna Omidvar (centre) is a relatively new Senator, appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) last year. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright.

Sen. Omidvar has the backing of Senate Liberals Art Eggleton and Mobina Jaffer, and during Mr. Hussen’s March 1 testimony, they both grilled the minister about why the repeal wasn’t originally included in the text of the bill.

“This is a good bill, but there is one pebble in our shoe, and that’s on the revocation not having an independent process,” said Ms. Jaffer. When she asked why it hadn’t been included, Mr. Hussen said the issue with the appeal mechanism “was not central” to the formation of Bill C-6, which he said was aimed at fulfilling other mandate promises.

Before the committee got into the nuts and bolts of clause-by-clause on the morning of March 2, Sen. Eggleton told the committee that he believes the bill needs Sen. Omidvar’s amendment to address a deficiency in the process, and that he was anticipating that discussion at third reading, which is set to take place sometime next week.

“I feel compelled to bring this amendment because citizenship is a foundation of all other rights in this country,” said Sen. Omidvar. She noted that although she hopes her Senate colleagues and the government will accept the amendment, she’s not ruling out the idea of introducing her own bill to address the concern if it’s not accepted. However, she added that passing it as an element of government legislation “is a far better way to go.”

Before entering the Senate, she was the chair of Lifeline Syria—a not-for-profit that assists in resettling Syrian refugees in the Toronto area—and was the founding executive director and adjunct professor of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University.

In addition to Mr. Hussen, the committee also heard from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association; the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic; the Canadian Bar Association; Barreau du Québec; the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs; as well as other professors and experts.

Bill C-6 was one of the pieces of legislation that independent Senator Grant Mitchell referenced as being delayed by Tory procedural tactics when he spoke with the CBC on the delay of Bill C-16, the government’s trans rights bill.

A Senate source, speaking on background, told The Hill Times that this week there have been signals that the government agenda is starting to move more smoothly through the Senate, but that there had been growing frustration over what were seen as Conservative Senators’ delay tactics, by asking for more time to debate bills. The source said it has been happening on bills that appear to have the numbers to pass, in the hope of defeating it by delaying it indefinitely.

The Hill Times