On June 19, 2014, the Canadian government celebrated the passage of Bill C-24: The Strengthening Citizenship Act. The recent reforms were announced by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in February 2014, and have since been subject to intense debate among Canadians, with many immigrant communities highly opposing it.
Bill C-24, which has now become law, claims to improve efficiency, reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship, crack down on citizenship fraud, and protect and promote Canadian interests and values. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the new law introduces a series of provisions to the Citizenship Act, marking the first major change in Canadian citizenship law since its inception. The new reforms include stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation, with a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison.
There is also an extension in the residency requirement, meaning that citizenship applicants will need to be physically present in Canada for four out of the last six years as opposed to three out of the last five. Citizenship applicants must also be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year for at least four of those six years of residency. In addition, the government will now ask for a statement of intent from would-be Canadians to make sure they actually plan on settling in Canada. The government also made changes to the knowledge and language requirements, as applicants aged from 14 to 64 years old will now be required to prove language proficiency. Currently, only those 18-55 years of age are required to take these tests. Perhaps the most striking of the reforms is the government’s power to bar any citizenship application from proceeding and strip any dual citizen of Canadian citizenship if convicted of terrorism, treason, or spying abroad.
There are many positive outcomes that are expected from this new law. Bill C-24 is expected to significantly reduce the current bureaucratic backlog in citizenship applications by speeding up the process, tackle the citizenship fraud, and decrease the number of “Canadians of Convenience,” people who possess Canadian citizenship, but have little or no connection to Canada. The new law will also reduce the number of Canadian citizens who have committed and/or have been convicted of terrorist activities abroad, and thus, secure peace and security at home.
The controversy of Bill C-24, however, comes with those who argue that it paves the way for immigrants to feel like second-class citizens, a notion that was previously unheard of in Canada. There are many who will fear working or even traveling abroad, while others find the idea of the government having the power to strip them of their Canadian citizenship quite disturbing. With many online petitions calling for the halt of Bill C-24, many are arguing that there is an “ugly, xenophobic side” to the new law, as it will undermine the essence of Canadian multiculturalism.
While this new law is commendable with respect to the crackdown on terrorist activities and blatant citizenship fraud, it is also controversial in other ways. Many immigrants may feel discouraged to settle in a country where the government has the power to strip them of their citizenship. So far, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has defended Bill-C24, saying that Canadian citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Does this new law indeed create two classes of Canadian citizens? As we observe its implementation within the next year, only time will tell.