On June 19, 2017, the federal government passed Bill C-6, changing the rules for obtaining and keeping Canadian Citizenship. This bill has been a hot-button political issue, because it removes the citizenship system brought in by the previous Conservative government, in which dual citizens could have their citizenship revoked for some serious criminal offences. However, for most immigrants to Canada, the other changes contained in the bill will be more important. They will mean fewer hurdles on the pathway to Canadian citizenship and the opportunity to get Canadian citizenship a bit sooner.
Before the passing of Bill C-6, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship could revoke the citizenship of any dual citizen who was convicted of criminal offences relating treason, terrorism offences, or espionage. That ability to revoke citizenship was controversially introduced in 2014 by the prior Conservative government.
That ability to revoke citizenship for criminal charges was an important topic in the 2015 federal election. The Liberal Party and the Canadian Bar Association, which advocates on behalf many immigration lawyers in Canada, were concerned that it created a two-tier system in which dual citizens could be exiled from Canada. The removal of this power is an encouraging sign that in the future the rights given to every citizen of Canada will remain equal, whether they are dual citizens or not.
The other changes in Bill C-6 are important for permanent residents hoping to become citizens of Canada. For background, a permanent resident of Canada has the right to enter and remain in Canada permanently, as long as they follow certain conditions, including staying in Canada for at least two years in every five-year period. Permanent residents can lose their status by not being present in Canada for that period, or by committing a serious criminal offence. Once a person obtains citizenship, they can then only lose citizenship if they are found to have obtained citizenship through false representation, fraud, or if they knowingly hide material information in their citizenship application.
The biggest change for most permanent residents in Bill C-6 is that, starting in autumn 2017, all permanent residents will be eligible for citizenship sooner. The current rules require someone to be present in Canada for 1460 days (four years) out of the last six years as a permanent resident before they are eligible for citizenship. With the changes, permanent residents can become citizens if they have been present for 1095 days (three years) out of the past five years. Bill C-6 will also remove an additional requirement that a permanent resident be present for half the year for four out of the previous six years.
The other substantial change in calculating when a person can apply for citizenship is that the time a person spends in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person will count towards their requirements to get citizenship. Previously, only time spent as a permanent resident counted towards citizenship. With the changes, every day in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person will count as half a day towards citizenship, up to a maximum credit of 365 days.
These changes to the required days mean that permanent residents should be recalculating the day they can apply for citizenship, since it will now be sooner. We almost always recommend that persons apply for citizenship as soon as possible. Gaining citizenship protects a person against the nightmare possibilities of being deported because of a criminal charge, or because of an inability to show they have been in Canada for the required two years during the last five years.
There are also changes made that give more protection to new citizens, and make it harder for the government to revoke citizenship. Applicants are no longer required to intend to continue to live in Canada once granted citizenship. This requirement was hard to prove or disprove, and was simply a source of stress and confusion for citizenship applicants.
There is still an ability for citizenship to be removed in the cases of citizenship obtained through false representation, fraud, or if an applicant knowingly hides information which is important to their citizenship application. Before Bill C-6, most cases where citizenship was revoked were decided directly by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. However, in early 2018 this should change so that all attempts by the federal government to revoke citizenship will be overseen by a Federal Judge. This is a welcome change. Revocation of citizenship is one of the most serious proceedings that the government can bring against one of its citizens, and now there is more protection and oversight.
There are also some changes to the citizenship exam. Bill C-6 added a requirement that the government take into consideration reasonable measures to accommodate disabled applicants for citizenship. These needs should be brought to the attention of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada before a citizenship test. Also, the requirement to take a citizenship test will likely be limited to those between ages 18 to 54.
If you are a permanent resident planning to apply for citizenship, keep the following tips in mind. Make sure you are keeping records of any dates you are in and out of Canada as a permanent resident. Read the application forms and guides on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship website carefully, and if you are concerned please contact a lawyer for professional assistance. Also note that under Bill C-6, if you are age 18 to 54 you will have to prove a basic level of language ability in French or English.
McCuaig Desrochers LLP, a general practice law firm with Edmonton’s largest group of immigration lawyers (www.mccuaig.com). This article first appeared in the August 2017 edition of the Millwoods Mosaic – the Multicultural Voice of Southeast Edmonton and is intended to provide general information only and should not to be relied on as legal advice or opinion. We invite you to contact one of the members of our experienced immigration group for assistance.