By TOM GODFREY
Leaders of some of Toronto’s ethnic groups met with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander last week to find out firsthand how changes to the Citizenship Act will affect their communities.
Community leaders held a roundtable discussion with Alexander and MP Bernard Trottier at Humber College to learn about Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, to be phased in next year.
Starting in 2015 all permanent residents seeking citizenship in Canada will have to be physically present in Canada for the last four of six years, rather than three years as is now required.
Permanent residents will also have to live in Canada for a minimum of 183 days in each of the last four years; and the age of those taking the language and knowledge test have been expanded from 18 to 54 to include those 16 to 64.
A statement of intent will also be sought from prospective citizens that they intend to live in Canada.
Ottawa hopes the changes will speed up the process of obtaining citizenship to 12 months, rather than the current three years.
“With our recent changes, we will see improved processing times and high numbers of new Canadians taking on the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship,” Alexander said in a release.
He said the changes will reduce a backlog of 320,000 cases awaiting processing by 2016.
Trottier said Bill C-24, which received Royal Assent last June, will streamline the processing of applications by officers, with a Citizenship Court Judge only used in difficult cases.
“We believe this will help clear a backlog of cases that now exists,” Trottier told Share. “Under the old model, obtaining citizenship was a three-step process that involved duplication of work.”
The price of obtaining citizenship will also increase from $100 to $300 and applicants are required to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible to apply.
“It was an informative meeting and we received a lot of feedback,” said Trottier, the MP for Etobicoke Lakeshore and chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet. “People were happy about the faster processing times and that we are cleaning up the backlog of cases.”
The reforms also give the minister the power to revoke citizenship of Canadians who are dual citizens and are found guilty of espionage, terrorism or treason; or those who have served in a foreign army or organization that has fought against Canadian forces.
Manuel Rodriguez, president of the Toronto Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said it was an informative meeting and many good questions were asked by leaders.
“All communities will be affected by these changes,” Rodriguez told Share. “He (Alexander) gave a very comprehensive summary of the Bill and the audience was very responsive.”
He said a pressing concern from the Tibetan community was: “Who is considered a terrorist?” Tibetans have been involved in an ongoing feud with the Chinese government for decades over their homeland.
Rodriguez said similar concerns were echoed by Hispanic leaders since the government members of some Latin American countries were former revolutionary movement fighters.
The revocation of Canadian citizenship has been one of the more controversial sections of the new reforms that have led to protests by the public.
Several Toronto lawyers have banded together to appeal the Bill and have filed an application in the Federal Court of Canada arguing Parliament reached beyond its jurisdiction in passing the controversial measures.
They are asking the court to declare the Act unconstitutional, citing citizenship protections ranging from the Magna Carta to the Constitution Act, 1867.
Those attending the discussion represented the Hispanic, Tibetan, Polish, Lithuanian, Slovenia, Ukrainian and other communities.
Canada has accepted a record 150,000 new citizens so far this year, according to government statistics.
Since 2006, Canada has welcomed over 1.3 million new Canadians, with some 333,860 citizenship applications being received last year alone, the highest volume ever.