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Canadian Citizenship Law Changes Anticipated in 2015

On February 6, 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander introduced Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, for first reading in the House of Commons. It is expected that, after consultations, this bill will come into force in 2015-2016. This bill contains the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977. The major changes introduced in this bill are as follows:

  • Eliminating the role of the citizenship judge, allowing decisions to be made on applications by citizenship officials;
  • Increasing citizenship fees for grants of citizenship, resumptions and adult adoptions from $100 to $300;
  • Eliminating appeals and allowing judicial review of citizenship decisions by the Federal Court, which can then be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal;
  • Increasing the burden on applicants by:
    • Requiring applicants to demonstrate that they were physically present in Canada for four years (1,460 days) in a six-year period, and for at least 183 days per year in four of the six years;
    • Eliminating the ability of applicants to use time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident towards the residency requirement;
    • Requiring applicants to demonstrate their intention to reside in Canada before the application is approved;
    • Expanding the age group from 18-54 to 14-64 of citizenship applicants required to demonstrate language proficiency and take the knowledge test;
  • Extending citizenship retroactively to those “Lost Canadians” born before the first citizenship act was established in 1947 and to their children born outside of Canada in the first generation;
  • Increasing penalties for fraud from a fine of $1,000 and/or up to one year in prison to a fine of up to $100,000 and/or five years in prison;
  • Allowing for the revocation of Canadian citizenship from dual citizens for membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, or for conviction of terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences;
  • Allowing revocation decisions to be made solely by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration or, in exceptional cases, by the Federal Court; and
  • Denying citizenship to criminals charged with or convicted of serious crimes outside Canada or criminals serving a sentence outside Canada.

There are a number of concerns with certain aspects of this proposed legislation, including:

  • Erosion of judicial oversight of citizenship decisions through the elimination of appeals and the use of the more limited judicial review process;
  • Increased burdens on applicants wishing to become Canadian citizens, including a longer period of physical presence in Canada and an increased number of applicants required to provide language and Canadian knowledge evidence;
  • Broader authority to revoke citizenship with minimal judicial oversight;
  • Issues with determining the future intention of applicants to remain in Canada; and
  • Risk of revocation of citizenship on the basis of fraud for those who declare an intention to live in Canada and subsequently move overseas.