Bill protects citizenship of terrorists, traitors and spies
Persons convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage will no longer lose their citizenship under proposed changes to the Citizenship Act. The changes are part of a Liberal government bill, now at first reading in the Senate, that will reverse legislation passed in 2014 by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
Jail pending trial not excluded
The Liberal amendments (Bill C-6) also will reduce the period that applicants need to be physically present in Canada before qualifying for citizenship to three out of the past five years. The Conservatives raised it to four out of the last six years up from three of the past four under the previous legislation.
Under Bill C-6 time spent under a conditional sentence order will no longer count towards the necessary period of residence. Currently only time spent in jail or prison or on probation or parole (that is, while serving a sentence) is excluded. Under the proposed amendments, time in jail that is not part of a term of imprisonment, for example, time spent in custody awaiting trial, will count.
Other changes made by the Conservative government to the Citizenship Act are unaffected by the Liberal amendments:
- Persons convicted of an indictable offence will still have to wait four years before they can apply for citizenship. Bill C-24 lengthened this wait from three years.
- The four-year rule was applied also to a conviction registered abroad for an offence that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offence, even if you are pardoned or otherwise amnestied.
- You cannot become a citizen if you are charged with, or on trial for, or subject to an appeal relating to an offence committed outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence. The Minister of Immigration, however, can waive this restriction on compassionate grounds.
- You cannot obtain citizenship if you misrepresent or withhold relevant information that induces or could induce an error in the consideration of your application.
Seizure of documents
Bill C-6 will allow authorities to seize documents provided during the administration of the Citizenship Act if there are reasonable grounds to believe they were fraudulently or improperly obtained or used or to prevent such use.
No citizenship if serving sentence
Bill C-6 will prohibit anyone serving a conditional sentence order from being granted citizenship or taking the oath of citizenship. This is in addition to the existing prohibition on becoming a citizen while in jail or prison or while charged with, on trial for, or subject to an appeal of a conviction for an indictable offence.
NOTE: Hybrid offences, such as impaired driving or assault, are considered indictable until the Crown elects to proceed by summary conviction. Once the Crown has elected to proceed summarily, the prohibition does not apply.
Saved by Crown’s election
Syed Ahmed, an Iranian, was denied citizenship after he was charged with assaulting and threatening his wife. He appealed to the Federal Court in Toronto which held in 2009 that he was eligible for citizenship since the Crown had elected to proceed by summary conviction before the citizenship hearing. See Ahmed vs. Canada.
Charges stayed by the Crown
You will be ineligible for citizenship if you had an indictable criminal charge stayed by the Crown within a year of your citizenship hearing. Zei Zhan, a Chinese woman, was denied citizenship even though her drug charges had been stayed a few months before the hearing. The Federal Court in Ottawa dismissed her appeal in 2010, holding that she was deemed to still be facing charges because the Crown can recommence charges it has stayed for up to a year (after which they are deemed “never to have been commenced”). See Zhan v. Canada.
The court suggested that Ms. Zhan might have avoided this result by getting a letter from the Crown indicating that it had no intention of taking any further proceedings against her. If you are facing hybrid charges before your citizenship hearing and the Crown is prepared to stay them, try and get the Crown to elect summarily before entering the stay.