Canadian immigration bill will lead to 'second class citizenship'

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A new immigration bill currently before the Canadian parliament will mean if it becomes law that new Canadian citizens have lesser rights than those born Canadian, according to opposition critics.

The bill would allow the Canadian government to strip new Canadian citizens of their citizenship under certain circumstances. They could lose their Canadian nationality if they have dual nationality and were to be convicted of a serious offence (for example a terrorist offence) whether in Canada or abroad.

Some lawyers complain that, because this cannot happen to those born Canadian, this would be discriminatory and create a class of second-class citizens.

No hearing

In addition, this revocation of citizenship could be carried out by civil servants without a hearing before a judge. A hearing would only be held in exceptional circumstances. There would be no appeal process against the decision to revoke citizenship.

Canadian constitutional lawyers have warned that the changes may well be contrary to Canada's constitution and could therefore be struck down by Canada's Supreme Court.

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, the immigration spokesperson (or 'critic' as 'shadow ministers' are called in Canada) for the opposition New Democratic Party said 'a lot of lawyers have argued against the constitutionality of this bill because there is no appeal process possible.

'There should not be two tiers of citizens'

'There should not be two tiers of citizens, where one citizen can have access to our judicial system and another one cannot because their parents are Egyptian, for example. That's a very dangerous path'.

Canadian constitutional lawyers also argue that the new law would allow Canadian citizens to be punished twice for the same offence, which would also be unconstitutional. They would be punished once by the court that convicted them and once by the Canadian government when it stripped them of their citizenship.

Mr Alexander has lashed out at lawyers who oppose the bill claiming that they are 'promoting the interests of convicted terrorists and serious criminals over the safety and security of Canadians'.

'Folly and hypocrisy'

He also accused opposition parties of 'folly and hypocrisy'. He told journalists that 'both the Liberals and the NDP (the two main opposition parties) remain offside with Canadians who recognize the immense value of Canadian citizenship and the importance of protecting its integrity'.

Immigration bill C-24, which, if it becomes law will be known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, was introduced by immigration minister Chris Alexander in February.

Among its other provisions, it will make it harder to become a Canadian citizen. Those with permanent residence visas would have to wait four years, rather than three, before applying for citizenship.

More time in the country

They would also have to spend a greater proportion of their time in the country before they could apply for citizenship.

They would be free to apply after four years if they had spent 183 days per year in Canada during those four years. If they were to leave it longer to apply, they would be required to spend 183 days per year in Canada in four of the six years before making their citizenship application.

Some campaigners argue that this stipulation would discriminate against hard-working migrants who travel abroad for work related reasons because they would be unlikely to meet the 183 day residence requirement.

Opposition will oppose

The Canadian opposition said it would vote against the bill because the government allowed only two hours debating such an important piece of legislation and also because they do not agree with the bill.

Miss Blanchette-Lamothe said 'all the experts at the committee hearings agreed that this bill is probably unconstitutional'.

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