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Bill C-24: Harper’s latest anti-immigrant attack

By: 
Gurkirat Batth

July 23, 2014

According to Conservative MP and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, the recently passed Bill C-24 is designed to “protect and strengthen the great value of Canadian citizenship, and remind individuals that citizenship is not a right, it’s a privilege”. But a deep look and further analysis of this bill show that it makes it harder to acquire Canadian citizenship and easier to lose it, while increasing discrimination.
 
Harder to acquire
Bill C-24 imposes some major changes in requirements and conditions that will make it harder for people—especially non-English speaking, elderly and poor—to acquire citizenship in Canada, and the process will take longer.
 
The first requirement is that all applicants must pass a language test unless they can prove their language ability. In addition, all applicants will have to pass a Canada knowledge test. This is a barrier for many, as it will make it difficult for applicants who are relatively new to Canada and are not fluent in English or French. To add to this burden, those who have to write the language exam are expected to pay for the exam from their own pocket. Such testing is already conducted but is expected to be more rigorous if this bill is passed. In addition to that, these tests would be mandatory for anyone aged 18-64; while the current test is only mandatory for applicants added 18-55.
 
Secondly, Bill C-24 has proposed changes to the fees and the timing of the application process. If passed, the application fee for citizenship would triple from what they are right now, and the fees would be four times greater than what they were in 2006. This again will be a great barrier for marginalized groups to acquire citizenship. Currently it takes 4-6 years to get citizenship, which is attributed mostly to delays and inefficiency of the process. Under this new law, it will take 8-10 years to become a citizen from the time you become a Canadian resident.
 
Furthermore, this bill would increase the residency requirements for citizenship in Canada from three years to four. Any time that the applicant stayed in Canada as a student, foreign worker or a refugee would not be counted towards your residency requirement. This again would elongate the process of acquiring citizenship in Canada.
 
Lastly, under this new bill, applicants will not have the right to appeal the refusal of an application to a federal court. If rejected, the applicant will be entitled to a judicial review, but this process will neither be full or proper like an appeal to the federal court.
 
Easier to Lose
The Tories argue that this bill will solidify citizenship in Canada, but in reality such a bill would weaken citizenship significantly. To start off, this bill would give federal officials the power to revoke the citizenship of all naturalized citizen in Canada. If the federal officials believe that you never intended to live in Canada, they have the full right to revoke it. This bill has double standards, as it does not apply to Canadian born citizens. So, if a naturalized citizen goes to another country for business, academic or personal reasons, they would be at risk of losing their citizenship in Canada.
 
Secondly, this bill would give full power to government officials to revoke citizenship of any dual citizen if the citizen has been convicted of a crime in another country. They will not take into account if the country in which the citizen was convicted in is undemocratic, lacks a judicial system or the citizen had an unfair trial—like Mohamed Fahmy, who is imprisoned by Egypt’s military dictatorship. In addition, if convicted of a serious crime in Canada, an official can revoke citizenship even if you have already served your time for that crime in Canada.
 
Lastly, under current laws, to revoke your citizenship the government has to make an application to the federal court judge and you are then scheduled for an oral hearing to defend your rights to citizenship. But under that new bill, officials of Citizenship and Immigration Canada will have the power to revoke your citizenship and you may have no chance to speak to the official to defend your right to citizenship.
 
What does it all mean?
This is a clear attack on immigrants by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. This bill is discriminatory in the sense that it will create barriers for the poor and minorities to acquire citizenship in Canada. Increasing fees, stricter requirements, longer wait times and tougher language and knowledge exams are tools that can be used to deter residents to pursue citizenship in Canada.
 
On the other hand, this bill would give increased powers to immigration officials that would allow them to revoke citizenship of citizens. Canada has always been a haven to those who have fought for justice in their homeland and have been deemed criminals. This bill would ignore the conditions and the state of the countries and would allow the immigration official to revoke citizenship on improper convictions.
 
In addition, dual citizens and naturalized citizens are at risk of losing their citizenship if the official believes that you never intended to stay in Canada, yet this does not apply to Canadian Citizens. This is a clear case of inequality where there is a bias towards Canadian-born citizens, whereas citizenship should reduce inequality by treating all of the citizens with the same laws and regulations.
 
This is part of the austerity agenda, strengthening the powers of the state and using racism to divide and conquer—all to benefit the 1%. Canadian corporations already exploit 300,000 migrant workers through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, and there are another 500,000 undocumented people living precariously. Bill C-24 undermines the rights of the 863,000 dual nationals. As the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers state, there is nothing progressive about “cruelly depriving some citizens of their most basic rights, or in drawing distinctions that represent new Canadians as objects of suspicion and mistrust.” In making it more difficult for immigrants to access citizenship on which voting depends, C-24 follow Bill C-23 in further eroding the most basic democratic rights. Strengthening the Canadian state, it’s arbitrary borders and its abilities to dictate people’s rights based on citizenship status, also undermines indigenous sovereignty.
 
Working in Solidarity
Since the bill was proposed in February, and even after it was passed in June, there has been a great amount of backlash against it, with rallies across the country. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association have worked in solidarity and gathered more than 42,000 signatures on the online petition opposing this act. Numerous immigration experts, law professors as well as Amnesty International have spoken out against this bill. The Canadian Bar Association compared this new proposed law to the medieval punishment of banishment. The constitutional Rights Center have filed a notice of application in the federal court of Canada arguing that Parliament has reached beyond its jurisdictions this this controversial law. The work of these organizations must continue, and without solidarity and public support it will be difficult to defeat this bill.

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