Second reading of Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another ActPublished on 26 October 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-6. This bill’s provisions will amend elements of the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, Bill C-24.
Before examining the substance of the bill, I would like to start by discussing what it means to become a citizen of this country. For Canadians, citizenship means far more than the benefits that come from being a citizen. It means that Canada is their home, where they will be spending their futures.
Just like any homeowner, citizens tend to their country through their work and participation, making it flourish. Just as a better home ultimately gives its residents a better life, a better Canada provides Canadians with a better quality of life.
This is equally the case for Canadians who have earned the privilege of getting their citizenship. When Canada becomes their home, they join their fellow Canadians as equals and assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Honourable senators, their children, who are born here, earn the right to obtain citizenship. Thus, they ultimately work together to see their country flourish.
This was also the case for me as a refugee. When I came to Canada long ago, I knew my future would be here. Canada is my home. I knew that this would be my home, and I proudly took up the responsibilities and privileges that came with living in Canada.
I knew that this would also be the case for my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. My children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren would have the right to gain citizenship. I knew that even if they would share my dual citizenship, they too, would be able to join their fellow Canadians as equals as they take on their own duties and roles as citizens of Canada.
Since we see this country as our home and a permanent commitment, we are driven to look after it and contribute as part of the greater Canadian community. Unfortunately, recent changes to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, Bill C- 24, have been made in complete opposition to this idea of Canadian citizenship.
Two years ago, the former government passed Bill C-24, also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. Under Bill C-24, if a Canadian citizen without dual nationality commits a terrorist or criminal act in Canada, our government cannot affect their citizenship. However, if that same person was a dual national, the minister could move to revoke their citizenship. The bill also created several requirements for Canadians that either had serious practical concerns or held them to different standards than other Canadians.
These changes created two different classes of Canadian citizens. One is a Canadian citizen who is able to face justice before a court and is given an appropriate punishment for their actions. On the other hand, dual citizens face additional punishment with the revocation of their citizenship. By creating this unequal standard for children of new immigrants, while providing them with the knowledge that our laws can strip them of their citizenship, we are telling our dual citizens that they have not gained a home at all.
Amendments to the Citizenship Act, like those made by Bill C- 24, make some Canadians into tenants who can be removed from this country at the whim of the government. A tenant does not share a homeowner’s motivation to work toward seeing their country flourish. When a Canadian knows their time in the country could be cut short at the whim of the government, they cannot hold the same loyalty as a Canadian who knows this is their home forever.
Honourable senators, Canada works because we are all proud Canadians who want to build a great Canada together.
Furthermore, when a dual citizen is treated under a different set of standards and laws that puts them at a disadvantage compared to normal citizens, we cannot expect them to have the same drive to work for their country as a person with the whole set of rights Canada has to offer.
I discuss this view of citizenship because it motivates me to rise today in support of Bill C-6. With the passage of Bill C-24, Canada’s citizenship law has become unjust and sets a precedent stating that dual citizens alone can be expelled from this country at the whim of the government. I believe this is a bad precedent for Canada to set, and I support the government in their attempts to restore equality to our citizenship laws.
Bill C-6’s provisions will address the parts of strengthening Canada’s Citizenship Act that place Canadians under unequal standards. By bringing the Citizenship Act in line with the principles of the rule of law, Bill C-6 restores certainty in the fact that Canada is the future for all Canadians, whether they are mono-citizens or dual citizens.
I will begin by examining the element of Bill C-24 that plays the greatest part in creating two classes of Canadian citizens, and the solution Bill C-6 proposes. If passed, Bill C-6 will repeal the minister’s authority to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens who have been convicted of terrorism or other serious crimes.
Honourable senators, by supporting this provision, I am not condoning the actions of terrorists or criminals who have committed heinous crimes in Canada. My support for this bill is based on one principle central to Canada’s form of justice — the rule of law.
Before I became a senator, I practised law in British Columbia. Every day as a lawyer I witnessed a principle that is central to our idea of justice in Canada — the rule of law.
The rule of law states that every Canadian citizen is subject to the same laws and will face the same justice system when being charged with their crimes. Rather than leaving justice in the hands of government, all individuals are treated under the same fair system that treats all individuals equally and holds them to account for their actions.
Our laws embody the most basic social values we hold in Canada. We agree it is wrong to commit heinous crimes, like terrorism and other serious criminal acts, and therefore codify them in our laws. Canada also holds, as a core value, that all citizens are ruled by the law, rather than the decisions of government.
In recognition of this principle’s importance, the rule of law has been written into our Constitution. Most notably, section 15 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law . . . .” regardless of origin. This equality includes the administration of justice, where all individuals are subject to the same criminal laws, in the same manner.
The fact that the rule of law embodies our most basic social values is why the changes to the Citizenship Act made by Bill C- 24 worry me so much.
When the government has the ability to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens for criminal or terrorist acts, while mono-citizens are instead tried before the court system, it is not acting in accordance with the principle of the rule of law. Effectively, it is against the core values that make Canada.
Bill C-24 has left a worrying legacy in Canada’s law. In an attempt to punish terrorists and criminals, it loses sight of justice and creates a different system for some Canadians fraught with legal concerns.
I want to be certain that my children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren will always be regarded as having equal status as other Canadians. By repealing the ability of the government to strip the citizenship of dual citizens and pushing for equality in the administration of law, Bill C-6 restores certainty in the fact that all Canadians will be treated equally under its laws.
To summarize, Bill C-6 does not forgive those guilty of the worst criminal and terrorist acts for their actions. Instead, it ensures that they face justice through the appropriate system and that an appropriate punishment is handed out.
Justice for criminal and terrorist acts has its place, and it is not by politicians in Parliament. It is in court, where all Canadians are tried under the same legal system.
With Bill C-6, our government has taken great steps to ensure that the Citizenship Act respects the rule of law, and attempts to ensure as much procedural fairness for applicants as possible.
Honourable senators, however, I caution: The bill still continues to allow for a Canadian citizen to have their citizenship taken away without any hearing or right to full disclosure of the case being made against them. Given that revocation may affect the life, liberty and security of the revoked citizen, a failure to provide a fair hearing may well be a breach of section 7 of the Charter.
If the government truly wishes to stay in accordance with the Charter and the principle of the rule of law that it embodies in the other sections of Bill C-6, it should consider addressing this unjust part of the Citizenship Act created by strengthening the Canadian Citizenship Act.
Honourable senators, I rise to support Bill C-6 because the bill represents a return to the important Canadian values that define us as a country. The rule of law and equality are for all individuals. We do not divide citizens; we unite citizens. However, my support for Bill C-6 goes beyond mere legal principles. I also welcome the message it will send to Canadians.
In Canada, we respect the rule of law and equality for all individuals, regardless of their origins. These principles bring about 250,000 new permanent residents to Canada every year. They know that while their past may be in the country they left behind their future will always be in Canada. These people know that they, along with their children, will be able to enjoy the fairness that is inherent in the Canadian system.
As I mentioned before, this fairness has an incredibly significant impact. The knowledge that Canada will always be the future for all Canadians will inspire them to join other Canadians in working to build our great country in the same way that a homeowner would improve their own home to improve their living conditions.
Honourable senators, you’ve heard me say this many times before. I believe that the House of Commons, the other place, is the place that caters to the majority. The Senate was created to protect the rights of the minorities. I believe that the House of Commons can often act as a scissor, and divide communities. I believe the Senate is a needle that sews up divisions. The Senate creates beautiful quilts with the work we do. In the Senate, we keep our country united. Stop the seeds of divisiveness even before they are planted or bear fruit. Why? Because that is why the Senate was created. We, the senators, are the guardians of the rights of minorities. Seeds of division fragment us; seeds of unity flourish.
Honourable senators, I have thought about whether I would share this story with you.
Two weeks ago, I was speaking to my granddaughter, who is three years old. In her house, her parents have no television, and they do not use many electronic devices. I picked her up from school — and children, when they learn some new information, they think they’re the first ones who know it — so they always ask you, “Do you know?” She asked me, “Do you know Donald Trump?” I said, “Yes.” She asked me, “Do you know what Donald Trump says?” I said that I did. She said, “Do you know that Donald Trump says that Muslims are not good?” I said, “No, he doesn’t say that.” She said, “Yes, yes, yes. My friend said you’re a Muslim, so you’re not good.”
This is from a three-year-old girl who has no TV in the house.
Senators, the seeds of divisiveness in the south are also being planted here. As a grandmother, I am crushed, because I’m a proud, practising Muslim. I know in my great country, nobody will say that to me.
I say to you that Bill C-6 is more than anything we can ever do. When I travel around the world, people say to me, “How does this work? Uganda threw you out. You became a refugee, and you come back to Africa as a senator? What do Canadians drink?”
I say to my fellow Africans that the wonderful thing about Canada is that the minute we land here, we are proud. When we get the privilege of becoming citizens, we build our country. Nobody treats us differently; we are the same. Yes, there are some issues that we have to figure out, but we are a great country.
So I ask you that when the three-year-old girl is told — not from our leaders, I’m glad to say — that Muslim is not something you are proud of, we in the Senate are the needles that will keep our communities together. So I ask you to think very carefully about your decision on Bill C-6. Thank you.