One of the most consistent themes of the current Conservative government has been developing and promoting this country’s history and sense of self.
A week and a half ago, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander tabled a bill that will continue this development of national pride, one that will drastically alter the process by which a person can become a Canadian citizen.
The bill includes a variety of changes that will make it more difficult to become a Canadian citizen. Our country currently has some of the most lenient rules regarding citizenship, which has led to Canada being used by people who commit residency fraud, for which the RCMP is currently investigating more than 8,000 cases.
The new bill also addresses those who spend the minimum amount of time in Canada required to become a Canadian citizen, while spending the majority of their lives outside the country, unaware of our culture.
Canadian citizenship is a privilege that Canadians need to start taking more seriously.
The first of these changes will raise the residency requirement from the current three years to four, with time spent in the country before obtaining permanent residence status not counting towards the requirement.
Though this may upset some, the new residency requirement is still a full year less than both the United States and the United Kingdom. This new requirement will also allow for a greater integration into Canadian society and will serve, according to Alexander, as “a demonstration of one’s commitment to reside here and to participate.”
Another major change, and one that I cannot endorse enough, it the change to the language and knowledge test. Under the current system, applicants aged 18 to 54 must pass both a language and a knowledge test, and may take the knowledge test with an interpreter present.
The new legislation says anyone between the ages of 14 to 65 must pass both tests in either French or English without the use of an interpreter. It substantiates the idea that those who have been here long enough to fulfil the residency and citizenship requirements should be able to speak one of our official languages, something that has been in place in many other countries for quite some time.
This bill will also address the issue of the remaining Lost Canadians, extending them and their children retroactive citizenship. These are the descendants of Canadians born prior to Canada’s first citizenship law in 1947, who were ineligible under current laws for a variety of reasons. Many of them have always believed themselves to be Canadians, but officially had no status as Canadian citizens. This bill will finally fix that wrong.
This bill also carries some harsh penalties. The current penalty for residency fraud is a mere $1,000, not much of a deterrent. The new fines jump to $100,000 for immigrants falsely claiming to be living in Canada in order to maintain their status and thus qualify for citizenship.
This bill will also allow the Canadian government to strip citizenship from Canadians who commit acts of treason, engage in terrorism, or take up arms against Canada, so long as they are dual nationals. This portion has been heavily criticized, but it makes sense: if you are willing to take up arms against this country, you should not be among its citizenry.
Canadian citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege, and one that Canadians need to start taking more seriously. This bill is a solid step in the right direction, and shows the world that we as Canadians consider citizenship in our country to be a thing of great value.