OTTAWA – A Liberal bill that would make it easier for people to become Canadian citizens has passed the Senate, after over a year of back-and-forth in Parliament.
Bill C-6 was designed to repeal many of the previous Conservative government’s changes to how people become citizens — and how they can lose that status.
Among other things, the legislation repeals a provision that strips dual citizens of their Canadian status if convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.
But far more people lose their citizenship because it was obtained fraudulently and current law gives them no right to appeal, something not addressed in the Liberals’ original bill.
The Senate proposed adding such an appeal and the Liberals agreed to that and several other amendments late last week.
The bill went back to the Senate and after a brief debate, passed by a vote of 51-29.
Former immigration minister John McCallum introduced the bill in 2016, following through on a Liberal campaign promise that had in part spawned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s famous “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” line during the heated debates of the 2015 election.
The issue was the Conservatives’ citizenship law, which allowed for stripping citizenship from dual nationals convicted of certain serious crimes.
It has been applied to one person: Zakaria Amara, convicted for his role in a 2006 terror plot in Toronto and his citizenship is now likely to be reinstated.
The Liberals’ original bill makes two other changes: restoring the age range for language and knowledge requirements for citizenship to 18 to 54 from 14 to 64. One of the Senate amendments had sought to raise the upper age to 59 but the Liberals did not accept that.
The other change in the bill repeals a Conservative provision that required people to say they intended to reside in Canada as part of their citizenship application.
Among the notable Senate amendments was one allowing people a right to appeal if their citizenship were to be revoked because of fraud.
The Liberals accepted it, though their hand was forced a bit after a recent Federal Court ruling saying citizens deserved an independent hearing before their status was revoked.
The Opposition Conservatives have condemned that move, saying it risks encouraging people to lie on their application, because of the lengthy appeals process.
They say their process — which left decisions on revocation in the hands of the bureaucrats — was more efficient, and court appeals were still possible if the law was wrongly applied.