Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will announce significant changes to the Citizenship Act in the coming days.
Mr. McCallum said Tuesday that the Liberals will soon follow through on their election pledge to repeal the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-24, which gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.
Asked when the changes will be unveiled, Mr. McCallum told The Globe and Mail to expect an announcement “in coming days, but not very many days.”
During last year’s election campaign, the Liberal platform committed to “repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”
Mr. McCallum said the government’s announcement will make it impossible to revoke citizenship.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Mr. McCallum said, repeating a line used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a heated election debate last September. “We would not revoke people’s citizenship. … That will certainly be a part of it [the announcement],” the Immigration Minister added.
Mr. McCallum said the government will also remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24.
“We believe that it’s better to make it easier rather than harder for people to become citizens.”
However, he did not say which specific barriers would be addressed.
One major point of contention in Bill C-24 was a provision stiffening language requirements for newcomers. Before the changes, those between the ages of 18 and 54 were required to meet language requirements in English or French and pass a Canadian knowledge test, for which they were allowed to seek the help of an interpreter. When the bill became law, the age range expanded to 14 to 64, and interpreters were no longer allowed to help.
The law also made would-be Canadians wait longer to apply for citizenship and imposed a $300 application fee for adult citizenship applicants, up from $100, which was increased by the department again on Jan. 1, 2015 to $530 to “more closely reflect the costs associated with processing citizenship applications.”
Mr. McCallum told reporters Tuesday that the government will table its annual immigration report before March 9.
The report was supposed to be tabled by Nov. 1, but the fall election delayed its release. Since the House of Commons was not sitting on Nov. 1, the law requires the government to table the report within 30 sitting days of Parliament returning.
Mr. McCallum said the report will outline targets for all classes of immigrants, including Syrian refugees. While the minister has previously said the government hopes to settle a total of 35,000 to 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, he said the exact number – “in that ballpark” – will be outlined in the immigration report. He added that the government is on track to reach its promise of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.
Furio De Angelis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Canada, said the government’s continued commitment to resettle Syrian refugees throughout 2016 is “very important,” especially ahead of a key UN conference on legal resettlement pathways for Syrian refugees, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in March.
“I’m sure that Canada will present its own model of legal pathways [at the conference]. It will be a role model and we hope that this will create similar programs in other countries,” Mr. De Angelis said in an interview with The Globe.
While Mr. De Angelis said domestic targets are “crucial,” he said it’s also important to not get bogged down in the numbers.
“When we are talking about needs in the humanitarian operations context … developments of targets sort of diminish because the needs are so large.”
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