Speaking Notes - Notes for an Address by The Honourable Diane Finley, P.C., M.P. Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration “Main Estimates and Loss of Citizenship”

Ottawa, Ontario, May 29, 2007

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Introduction

Thank you, Mr. Chair, Honourable Members.

I have the honour of placing before the Committee my department’s Main Estimates for fiscal year 2007-2008, for which I seek the Committee’s approval.

I propose to cover only some of the major items in my remarks, and address any areas of particular interest to the Committee in the time allotted for questions.

Main Estimates

Overall, the Committee will note a decrease of $58.3 million in the Department’s operating expenditures.

This is due largely to the end of special, temporary funding during the last fiscal year to address short-term pressures — in particular a backlog in the processing of grants and proofs of citizenship.

This special funding helped to bring that backlog in citizenship grants and proofs down to a more manageable size.

During the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the number of applications for citizenship grants stood at nearly 175,000. Mr. Chair, I’m happy to report that as of March 2007, the number of applications has been reduced to fewer than 27,000. This is an 85 percent reduction from the 2004-2005 inventory.

We achieved another significant reduction in the number of applications for proof of citizenship. In March of this year, the inventory stood at 17,500. Just over a year ago, this number was 22,000.

Under Vote 5, Grants and Contributions, there is an increase of $20.5 million.

The major items here are a reduction of $114.6 million because of the transfer of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Initiative to Treasury Board Secretariat, and an overall increase of $135.1 million for immigration settlement programs.

In the 2006 Budget, we increased settlement funding by $307 million over two years. Settlement funding had remained at the same level for several years prior to this increase.

That means more support for language training, more support to help newcomers find a job, and more family support for those building a new life in Canada.

This is an unprecedented increase — one that our government is very proud of.

These are just a few of the major items. I understand that the Committee may wish clarification or explanation of any of the many other items in the Estimates. My officials and I would be happy to respond to any questions the committee may have in this regard.

“Lost Canadians” — Proposal

As the Committee is aware, we continue to work to resolve the question of so-called “lost Canadians.”

When I made my first appearance before this Committee in February of this year, I outlined for the members the steps my Department has been taking to address this challenge.

In fact, I would like to state for the record my appreciation for the efforts that my Department has been making under sometimes difficult circumstances to ensure that every single person whose citizenship is in question is treated with the utmost respect.

Despite widespread media coverage and 400,000 visits to our web site for information on citizenship, the number of cases of individuals in Canada whose citizenship status needs to be resolved is still limited. When I was last here, I mentioned there were about 450 such cases. As of May 24, that number was down to 285.

Recognizing the need to further inform the public, I have instructed my officials to increase their efforts to raise awareness of this important issue.

To this effect, we have launched a public information campaign directed at those who may have lost, or are at risk of losing, their citizenship, or wish to regain it. This campaign includes advertisements in major daily and regional newspapers.

These public notices include where and how to contact the department for help in any lost citizenship issues.

Since January 2007, we have received more than 45,000 calls at our call centre. Of these, about 2,100 — or around four percent — have been about citizenship. Mr. Chair, just over 2,000 of those callers have had their Canadian citizenship confirmed.

Similarly, in July, the first round of renewals for Permanent Resident cards will come due. In anticipation, we have already begun a public awareness campaign aimed at Permanent Residents, reminding them that these cards need to be renewed every five years for those traveling outside the country.

Like you, I have heard the stories, many of which have been told in touching detail before this Committee. I have seen the thoughtful proposals from witnesses who have offered their suggestions for resolving this situation.

Using the powers available to me as Minister under the Citizenship Act, I acted to resolve cases as quickly as possible. I have so far obtained approval through the Governor in Council for a special grant of citizenship to 49 individuals who did not meet the provisions within the current legislation for a regular citizenship grant, but whose circumstances called for special consideration.

During my appearance here in February, I also sought the Committee’s advice on what additional steps we could take to ensure that everyone who should be recognized as a citizen of this wonderful country is recognized as a Canadian.

It is with keen interest that I have followed your study of this issue and am pleased to announce that this fall, I will be tabling in the House, a bill proposing a series of amendments to the Citizenship Act. These amendments will address the most pressing circumstances that the committee has been considering.

In developing these proposals, we are seeking to meet several key objectives.

People need stability, simplicity and consistency in their citizenship status — features which were not always highlighted in the present and former Acts. Citizenship should normally be conferred by law, not by filling in an application, with the same rules applicable to everyone.

At the same time we must protect the value of Canadian citizenship by ensuring that our citizens have a real connection to this country. The legacy of Canadian citizenship should not continue to be passed on through endless generations living abroad. To do otherwise would be to sell our citizenship short and would not be fair to all those who have come to Canada and made it their home.

The following are the basic outlines of the proposal we are working on:

  • First, nothing in these proposals will take away citizenship from anyone who is now a citizen of Canada.  This is not about taking away citizenship from anyone who now has it but rather about correcting past problems and protecting citizenship for the future.
  • Second, anyone born in Canada on or after January 1, 1947, will have their citizenship confirmed even if they lost it under a provision of the 1947 Act. The only exceptions would be those born in Canada to an accredited foreign diplomat, or who have personally renounced their citizenship as an adult.
  • Third, anyone naturalized in Canada on or after January 1, 1947 will have their citizenship confirmed even if they lost it under a provision of the 1947 Act. The only exceptions would be those, as above, who renounced their citizenship as an adult or whose citizenship was revoked by the government because it was obtained by fraud.
  • Fourth, anyone born to a Canadian citizen abroad — mother or father, in or out-of-wedlock — on or after January 1, 1947, is a Canadian citizen and will have their citizenship confirmed if they are the first generation born abroad. But no further.

We believe that these proposals would resolve the issue of citizenship for most of those people whose status is currently in question. They would also eliminate onerous and confusing retention requirements and provide assurance that this situation will not be repeated in the future.

These proposals will resolve most but not all the situations that have arisen.

Those rare cases where the facts turn on circumstances of births outside Canada prior to January 1, 1947, and where citizenship is in doubt, would remain.

Given the variety of individual circumstances in these cases, I believe that we must continue the current approach — to judge each case on its merits and, as warranted, use the powers available to me as Minister to bestow special grants of citizenship under section 5(4) of the Citizenship Act. This would also be the case for unforeseen situations that we have not yet dealt with.

Conclusion

Mr. Chair, I know that time is running out, and I am looking forward to your questions.

In conclusion, let me reiterate what I have said to the Committee in the past.

The Government takes this issue very seriously.

Canadian citizenship is one of the most valuable things that we can possess. We need to do whatever we can to ensure it is conferred fairly and rationally, in a way that protects our country and our citizens.

The proposals that I put before you today are in no way intended to be the final word as they will need to be more fully fleshed out in a bill for Parliamentary review. I have outlined them today to make clear that the government feels that the Act needs to be amended to deal with the most pressing issues.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am now prepared to take questions.

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