Proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act would reinforce the value of citizenship and strengthen the integrity of the system. Crooked citizenship consultants have facilitated hundreds of individuals in obtaining citizenship through fraudulent means. As of October 2013, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was investigating several large-scale cases of residence fraud involving more than 3,000 Canadian citizens and 5,000 permanent residents (PRs). There are also reports that nearly 2,000 individuals linked to these investigations have withdrawn their citizenship applications. The proposed measures in Bill C-24 would help combat citizenship fraud and uphold the integrity of Canada’s citizenship program.
Regulating citizenship consultants
Changes to the legislation include a new authority for the government to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters and to monitor and collect information concerning citizenship consultants. There would also be authority to make regulations to specify what information applicants must include in their applications, including identifying their representative or consultant. Failure to provide this information could result in the return of their application. This would help Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) enforce the proposed new provisions relating to authorized representatives.
Amendments would also make it an offence for unauthorized individuals to knowingly represent or advise a person on a citizenship application or hearing for a fee. Penalties would include a fine of $100,000 or up to two years in prison, or both in the case of an indictable conviction. The penalty for a summary conviction would include a fine of up to $20,000, or up to six months in prison, or both.
Increasing offences and penalties
The penalties in the current Act have not increased since 1977 and are ineffective in deterring individuals from committing citizenship-related offences, such as misrepresentation. Currently, an individual who commits citizenship fraud faces a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in prison. The proposed new penalty for an indictable fraud offence is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or five years in prison. The penalty for a summary offence would include a fine of up to $50,000 and/or two years in prison.
The proposed legislation would also add a provision to refuse citizenship to applicants who have made a material misrepresentation or withheld material facts, relating to a relevant matter, such as concerning whether they meet the eligibility requirements for a grant of citizenship. This provision is in line with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).Under the change, applicants who are refused on this basis would be barred from reapplying for citizenship for five years.
Amendments would also make it an offence for an individual to counsel, induce, aid or abet anyone to directly or indirectly misrepresent or withhold material facts relating to a case. In such instances, penalties for an indictable conviction would include a fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison and—for a summary conviction—a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or two years in prison.
The Government of Canada proposes to streamline the citizenship revocation process. Currently, the citizenship revocation process generally involves three steps: the CIC Minister, the Federal Court (FC) and the Governor in Council (GIC). Under the proposed model, the GIC would no longer have a role, resulting in a faster, more efficient process.
Under the new model, the majority of the revocation cases involving allegations that an individual obtained citizenship by fraud— those related to residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility, or identity fraud—would be decided by the CIC Minister. The Minister’s decision could be judicially reviewed, with leave of the FC. Cases decided by the FC could be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) if the FC certifies a serious question of general importance. The FCA decision could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, with leave of that Court.
More exceptional revocation cases which raise complex issues of fact and law, such as those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as cases regarding security, other human or international rights violations and organized criminality, would instead be decided by the FC. In these cases, the Minister of Public Safety could ask the FC to make a finding of inadmissibility as well as a revocation order, allowing for a faster removal order.
Under the proposed changes, individuals who have had their citizenship revoked for fraud or misrepresentation would be barred from reapplying for 10 years—up from the current bar of five years.
In practice, this would reduce the FC workload and result in a faster decision and faster removal in some cases, while still ensuring fairness and legal recourse.
Barring conditional permanent residents
Under the proposed changes, PRs with unfulfilled conditions attached to their permanent resident status would not be eligible for citizenship. In certain cases, PR status comes with conditions that must be met in order to maintain permanent resident status and failure to do so can lead to removal from Canada. There are currently no provisions in the Citizenship Act that prevent conditional PRs from applying for and obtaining citizenship if they otherwise meet the requirements. This poses the risk that a conditional PR resident may acquire citizenship even though they have not fulfilled the conditions attached to their PR status.
Unlike the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the Citizenship Act does not include explicit legislative authority to create regulations to support information collection and disclosure to CIC’s partners. Bill C-24 would provide the authority to create regulations to support the sharing of information with partners which could assist decision makers at CIC in determining whether applicants meet requirements, thereby improving service to applicants. It could also help CIC conduct investigations where fraud or misrepresentation is an issue.