Challenging changes to the Citizenship Act

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I have to say at this late hour: that was a very fine example of Conservative self-glorification at its best. I would like to thank both the minister and the hon. member for the wonderful job they did of patting each other on the back regarding the most dreadful bill that we have had before this House.

    Believe it or not, I can remember a day when the current government was in opposition, and those members would have been outraged that a bill, which was so important, had two hours of debate back in February and then today, for the 65th time, was put under a censure order so that we will just have debate tonight and then it moves on.

    This has become such a familiar pattern, but it really is very disturbing. I remember when Conservative members would have stood up in this House decrying the fact that the government of the day was doing this. Yet, here they are, worse than anybody has ever been.

    I feel honoured to represent Vancouver East, a riding where immigration and new citizenship are very honoured. It is something that has built our communities, whether the Chinese Canadian, Japanese Canadian or the Filipino Canadian community. There are people from all over the world. It is a working-class, hard-working riding. People have come from all over and built businesses. They have contributed to community services and have gone to school here.

    I feel very proud to be part of a community that is very much built on immigration. It is a place where people feel very proud about being a Canadian citizen. Therefore, this issue of citizenship and what it means is an important subject in Canada. We are basically a country of new Canadians. Other than first nations, we are all newcomers.

    Some of us have been here for generations and some folks are here for the very first time. I myself come from a first-generation immigrant family and so I very much value the notion of what it means to be a Canadian citizen, which is all the more reason to look at Bill C-24 and go through it.

    I—and my colleagues here tonight—am very concerned about the bill. Listening to the debate from the Conservative members, I feel as if we are in different worlds. Maybe we identify some of the same problems, but from two different worlds.

    In the Conservative world, everything is good or evil, and anyone who dares to speak about the rule of law or due process, somehow means that one is in favour terrorists or criminal behaviour. I mean, it is so juvenile it is sort of pathetic. One would want to see the level of debate in this House be a little more thoughtful, but that is what it has come down to.

    Of course, in the NDP, like anybody else, we are very concerned about terrorists and criminal acts, but the question that we are looking at tonight with Bill C-24 when we identify these problems is: how do we respond to them? How do we deal with them?

    When we look at the bill, the conclusion that I come to is that basically Conservatives hold themselves above the law because Bill C-24 lays out a process whereby there are extraordinary powers conferred upon a minister to revoke citizenship in certain instances based on suspicion, without any regard to due process, without any regard to independent tribunals or court process. So the government really does see itself as the final arbiter.

     We believe that is fundamentally wrong, which is why we feel so concerned about the bill. Not only is it being rushed through, but this premise in the bill of affixing problems that have been identified to the power that it confers on an individual is really suspicious. Again, it is a familiar pattern that we have seen on numerous occasions with different legislation.

    In the NDP, we do believe in the rule of law. We do believe in the legitimate role of Parliament to debate, investigate and to improve legislation. That is what we are here to do.

    That is what we are here to do. That is what we are elected to do by our constituents. Yet more and more we see legislation rushed through Parliament and committee, sometimes at all stages, through closure, censure, and time allocation. As I said earlier, for the 65th time we have seen it tonight, and it really does make a mockery of what debate and investigation of legislation should be in the House of Commons. I feel a sense of dismay tonight, even at this late hour. I am sure we are all tired, we have had a long, busy day, but there is a compelling argument that makes us want to take this on again and again, to respond to the absolutely irrational arguments that are being put forward on the government side.

    I heard the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration say earlier in the debate that NDP was fear-mongering. When we look at the bill and the powers that the minister would have, there is a sense of fear about what the consequences of this bill would be. When we look at the expert organizations in this field and the concerns they have expressed—and I certainly hope they will be heard in committee—surely there has to be a rational debate about whether this bill tips the balance and goes to an extreme in conferring such extraordinary powers on the minister to revoke citizenship.

    I do not want two-tiered citizenship in this country. There are other countries that have that kind of regime. That is something that Canada should stay away from. A Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen. If a person has gone through the process of becoming a citizen, that is good, and then citizenship becomes a right, along with responsibilities, and if there is wrongdoing, then we have provisions in this country—I think it is called the Criminal Code—that allow for a process to be enacted, for due process to happen, and for people to be prosecuted and jailed if necessary. We have that system in place, but in reading this bill, one would think that none of that existed.

    I find it really quite extraordinary that we are dealing with a bill that would allow, in this case, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to, in effect, act as prosecutor, judge, and enforcer. To me, that is simply wrong. We have separation of powers in this country for a very good reason. We have a balance of powers in terms of a legislature with regard to the execution and enforcement of the law. There is a reason we have those checks and balances. Therefore, the legislation before us is very disturbing.

    There is no question that there are issues in the bill that need to be dealt with, such as the issue of the lost Canadians. That is a long-standing issue that has needed to be addressed, and I am glad that it is being addressed, but it is being smothered in this bill by other provisions, particularly the revocation of citizenship, that I think is very offensive.

    It also raises the question as to why some of the real concerns we have about our immigration system are not being addressed. Many members tonight spoke about the issue of the backlog, the fact that there are over 300,000 people still waiting and that it takes an extraordinarily long time for applications to be processed. The Conservatives have promised and failed on so many occasions to rectify that problem. We have not seen it and it is not rectified in this bill.

    If we look at an issue like family reunification, which is very important in terms of citizenship and immigration, it is not dealt with at all; in fact, to the contrary. All of the measures we have seen from the government have actually narrowed family reunification and made it a lot more difficult.

    At the end of the day, Bill C-24 is a bad bill. There might be some good provisions in it, but, overall, the powers that it would confer upon the minister are unnecessary. They are not needed. They are powers that would cause problems in the long term.

    I am very proud of the fact that New Democrats have been standing tonight to debate this bill and exposing how fundamentally flawed this bill is. It will go to committee and we will do our utmost to ensure it hears witnesses and that there are amendments. I guess we would only hope that members of the House are willing to consider amendments to make sure this bill is improved.