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Monday, November 23, 2015

Canada, Syrian and other refugees

While a much larger country to the south struggles with every aspect of immigration policy, in Canada, the foundations that have been laid of the years are far clearer. We are a country that embraces immigration (though the implementation may be slower than many would wish, and the Harper years were actually an anti-immigration period for the country in terms of policy).

There is a crisis in Syria and Europe and the world is being asked to play a role in helping those desperately in need of a new home.

The Government of Canada has made the following commitments related to refugees from Syria and all refugees in general:

  • expand Canada’s intake of refugees from Syria by 25,000 through immediate government sponsorship, and also work with private sponsors to accept even more;
  • fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants;
  • invest at least an additional $100 million this fiscal year to increase – without reducing standards – refugee processing as well as sponsorship and settlement services capacity in Canada; and,
  • provide an immediate, new $100 million contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support the critical relief activities in Syria and the surrounding area.
I am looking forward to seeing how well they implement these lofty goals. I am pleased to say we have ended the Harper era of anti-immigration policy.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Canada Visa - CIC Issues Instructions to Allow for Religious Accommodation During Canadian Citizenship Oath

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has updated instructions related to the taking of the Oath of Citizenship as a result of a recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal.
The published instructions state:
Following the recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada v. Ishaq, operational instructions  related to the delivery of the Oath of Citizenship have been updated.
The operational policy requires applicants to remove their face covering when taking the Oath, but applicants who are unwilling to do so for  religious reasons must now be accommodated and allowed to recite the Oath of Citizenship privately, in front of a female judge or official who is  authorized to administer the Oath, before joining the public ceremony.
In mid-September, the Federal Court of Appeal had dismissed a government appeal over a ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies in what amounted to a major policy rebuke of the previous Conservative government, led by now former-Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The issue of face coverings while taking the Oath of Citizenship became a major point of contention during the recent Canadian federal election campaign, with the major opposition parties opposing the previous government’s stance on the issue.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Online citizenship test preparation classes from Catholic Crosscultural Services

The former Harper government stopped funding it (as they stopped funding lots of settlement programs...), but the Online Citizenship Preparation web site from Catholic Crosscultural Services is still available for your use. Let's hope the Grits pick the funding back up again.

Online Citizenship Preparation is a bilingual training that provides newcomers across Canada with an opportunity to prepare for the Canadian citizenship test and learn how to become an engaged citizen of Canada.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Canadian Immigration News - Changes to Canadian Immigration Likely After Liberals Win Election

Daytime in Canada again for immigraation and citizenship candidates? In this honeymoon period, let's look at what the new Liberal government is pledging regarding the immigration file.

(Excerpt from an article at

Canadian Citizenship
The previous government of Canada made a number of changes to requirements for individuals seeking naturalized Canadian citizenship, with opposition parties, as well as a large section of the Canadian public and potential applicants alike, vocally opposed to those changes.

Since the changes came into force in June, 2015, the physical residency requirement before an application may be made was increased to four years from three. In addition, time spent in Canada on a work or study permit is no longer counted. The Liberals have pledged to restore the residency time credit for foreign students and other temporary residents applying to become Canadian citizens.

Furthermore, the Liberals have stated their intention to Repeal bill C-24, also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. Among other measures, this legislation allows the government, through the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to strip dual citizens (as well as those who may qualify for citizenship of another country) of their citizenship in certain cases.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Don't let the door hit you on the way out - Canada says goodbye to the Harper government

As you can see, the way out is to the Right!

How many clichés can I site? It's morning in Canada. Our long national nightmare is over. History judges us all. Hope is better than fear. Hold on there - I sound like the NDP!

Last night, Canada said goodbye to Stephen Harper's Conservative party in a big way, voting in a Liberal majority government under Justin Trudeau that ran a campaign based on a view of federal government as being activist for citizens, job growth and infrastructure investment.

Across the country, the election was a referendum on Harper: A leader who over nearly 10 years consolidated power from Parliament and the cabinet into his own seat of power in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Harper was the sole spokesperson for his party - he muzzled MP's in an anti-democratic push to create a federal government with a single point of view - his own.

Harper tried to create a Canada that was non-inclusive, uninformed, complacent and ignorant of the actions of its own government, He did this through the defunding of Stats Canada, elimination of the long form census, defunding of science and research and the cutting of government services to the most needy.

In order to balance his budget and allowing himself to look fiscally responsible in the run up to this election, Harper's government failed to spend federal dollars in critical areas of their responsibility; slowing immigration, limiting access to government services and stalling the economy. Harper's policies and actions were always targeted to his base. He was the first Canadian Prime Minister to run a nearly continuous election campaign for 10 years. Everything he did seemed aimed at insuring his chances in the next election with his so-called "old stock" Canadians, whenever that election was.

On the immigration and citizenship front, Harper chronically understaffed and underfunded the CIC, delaying the processing of immigration applications and increasing wait times for permanent residence and citizenship. More sinisterly, the PMO inserted itself politically in the work of the CIC, asking to review certain files for Syrian refugee claimants.

I am proud of Canadians. We finally stood up to say "enough". We finally showed this despot the door. We do believe in a Canada that is inclusive, not exclusive. We believe in a Canada that has a transparent, not opaque federal government. We believe in a Canada that supports the sciences and the arts. We believe in a Canada that invests in infrastructure. We believe in a Canada that supports the most needy with food, housing and healthcare.

Goodbye, Stephen Harper. The forthright American in me would like to say, with a very un-Canadian bluntness, you will not be missed. You were terrible for this country. You reaped what you have sown. Enjoy the harsh judgement of history as the most oppressive, anti-democratic PM in Canadian history. You've earned it.  


Monday, October 19, 2015

Get out to vote - the proof you need under the new Voter ID rules

(From the Globe and Mail) About 15 per cent of Canadians have no driver’s licence, and if you’re one of them, you’re probably dreading trying to cast a ballot on Monday. But there’s no need.

Months of controversy over new, stricter voter ID rules have sowed pessimism among voters, and with a new requirement to prove your address, it’s true that voters will need to plan ahead more than in the past.

But the good news is that most people will easily be able to come up with the right documents in just a few minutes. Acceptable ID includes prescription bottles, credit and debit cards, cellphone bills, bank statements and letters from schools – and you can show many of the bills, invoices and other documents on your phone without needing paper copies.

Polls open at 8:30 a.m. in the Maritimes and in Central Time, 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, and at 7:30 a.m. in Mountain and Pacific time zones, and in Saskatchewan. In each case they stay open for 12 hours.

If you're an immigrant and Canadian citizen, remember your responsibilities as a citizen and get out to vote today. Your vote matters!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Discover Canada - the official study guide for citizenship

If you are preparing for your Canadian citizenship test, then you likely already have a copy of Discover Canada. It is the government's official study guide for the citizenship test that everyone aged 14 to 64 must take.

The good news is that if information about Canadian history, political structure and society are  not in the guide, they wont be on the test. The bad news is that the guide itself is so poorly written and edited that you'll be hard pressed to organize the information into anything meaningful without rewriting the facts yourself.

Because it's really just fact after fact after fact after fact, strung together with little narrative to help you lodge it in your mind. And God help those whose first language isn't either English or French.

My suggestion: read the guide over and over again. Get a copy early and study, study, study. The government also offers some online testing tools for practice purposes, and I would suggest you take them often. The tests are multiple choice, just like the real test, so it's good preparation and will build your confidence.

I'll have more about preparing for the test, and resources you can take advantage of, but thought it was best to start at the beginning,

Get your copy of Discover Canada in multiple formats here

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The G & M: Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing

If this article in today's Globe and Mail doesn't confirm to voters in this year's federal election the Harper government as the anti-immigration, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee - ANTI-CANADIAN "leaders" that they are, I'm not sure what will.

I'll come out and say it: If you are an immigrant who has become a citizen of Canada and you use your right to vote to cast one for the Conservatives, you are betraying every single person who walks in the shoes you once did. I encourage you all to vote - but not for a party that has nothing in common with Canadian values of inclusion, compassion and generosity toward the disadvantaged.  

From the Globe and Mail:

The Prime Minister’s Office directed Canadian immigration officials to stop processing one of the most vulnerable classes of Syrian refugees this spring and declared that all UN-referred refugees would require approval from the Prime Minister, a decision that halted a critical aspect of Canada’s response to a global crisis.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Prime Minister intervened in a file normally handled by the Citizenship and Immigration department in the months before dramatic images of a dead toddler brought the refugee crisis to the fore. The processing stop, which was not disclosed to the public, was in place for at least several weeks. It is unclear when it was lifted. At the same time, an audit was ordered of all Syrian refugees referred by the United Nations in 2014 and 2015.

The Prime Minister’s Office asked Citizenship and Immigration for the files of some Syrian refugees so they could be vetted by the PMO – potentially placing political staff with little training in refugee matters in the middle of an already complex process.

PMO staff could have also had access to files that are considered protected, because they contain personal information, including a refugee’s health history and narrative of escape, raising questions about the privacy and security of that information and the basis on which it was being reviewed.

As a result of the halt, and the additional layers of scrutiny, families that had fled Syria and were judged by the United Nations refugee agency to be in need of resettlement had to wait longer to find refuge in Canada. It also meant there were fewer cases of UN-referred Syrians approved and ready for sponsorship when the public came forward in large numbers after the drowning death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi in August.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not directly respond to a request for comment, nor did it confirm Stephen Harper’s involvement.

Read the rest of this shocking article here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Globe and Mail - Fifty years in Canada, and now I feel like a second-class citizen

Sheema Khan writes:

“Too broken to write,” I told my editor, after the onslaught of Conservative announcements. The niqab was condemned. Citizenship was revoked for convicted terrorists with dual citizenship. Canadians were reminded of “barbaric cultural practices,” and the federal government’s preference for mainly non-Muslim Syrian refugees was reiterated. Make no mistake: This divisive strategy is meant to prey upon fear and prejudice.

Last May, I wrote that Canadian Muslims “are the low-hanging fruit in the politics of fear. Omar Khadr is exhibit A; Zunera Ishaq is exhibit B. With an October election, it won’t be surprising to see political machinations at our expense.” Yet the sheer brazenness of the Conservatives leaves one speechless; a 2.0 version of Quebec’s “charter of values” is being used to win votes on the backs of a vulnerable minority. The government’s open hostility has given licence to bigots to vent xenophobia. A pregnant Muslim woman is assaulted in Montreal. A niqab-wearing woman is attacked while shopping with her daughters in Toronto. Mosques are taking precautions. Identifiable Muslim women feel a little less safe, and Muslim youth face difficult questions about identity and acceptance.

Don’t expect Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to call for calm; this cynical strategy seems to be working. What does this say about us, and our commitment to a just society?

December will mark 50 years since I arrived from India as a toddler. In Montreal, I experienced the fear of terrorism during the 1970 FLQ crisis and horror after the massacre of 14 women one dark December evening in 1989. My first voting experience was momentous, for I helped to keep the country together in the 1980 Quebec referendum. I did the same during the nail-biter of 1995. Along the way, I never felt any discrimination, any sense of being second-class.

Read the rest of the article here

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Canadian Bar Association's position on Bill C.24's citizenship components

I took the following select sections from the paper published by The Canadian Bar Association, laying out their position on the controversial legislation. In "Bill C-24, Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act", the CBA states the following:

On the clause regarding the "Intent to reside in Canada if granted citizenship"
The CBA Section opposes requiring applicants to demonstrate an intent to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. First, by creating two tiers of citizenship ‒ natural born Canadians who could travel and live abroad without restriction and naturalized Canadians who would risk losing their status if they were ever to leave Canada ‒ the proposed requirement is likely unconstitutional. Second, the intent requirement will result in a significant drain on CIC resources for both assessment and enforcement, and will not clarify or simplify the criteria or processing of citizenship, contrary to the Bill’s objective.

On the clause regarding "Expanded grounds for revocation"
The proposed grounds for revoking citizenship are broad. The rationale for the list of offences subject to revocation appears to be connected to loyalty to Canada or certain Canadian ideals. However, it is not clear why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians. Once the precedent is established for banishing dual nationals, other forms of conduct may be added to the list.

One offence that would permit the Minister to revoke citizenship, under proposed s. 10(2)(b), is a terrorism offence under the Criminal Code or the Canadian equivalent for an offence committed outside of Canada, for which the citizen received at least a five-year sentence. In many countries, allegations of terrorism are used to punish political opponents, facilitated by low thresholds for convictions and harsh sentences. An analysis of whether the conviction is the equivalent of a terrorism offence in Canada is complex, and would be at the discretion of an individual officer.

Section 10.1 (2) makes membership in “an armed force of a country or as a member of an organized armed group and that country or group was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada” a ground for revoking citizenship. The wording is problematic. For example, it would not necessarily require knowledge of the nature of the group with which the person has associated. “Armed conflict with Canada” is not defined and it is unclear when it would apply.

It is also unclear whether membership includes those conscripted and those not on active duty. The CBA Section recommends deleting s. 10(2)(b) and s. 10.1(2). Alternatively, “or an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute a terrorism offence as defined in that section” should be deleted from s. 10(2)(b) and “armed conflict with Canada” and membership in an “organized armed group” should be more clearly defined in s. 10.1(2).

On the clause impacting the "Lack of hearing, equitable considerations"
Bill C-24 eliminates the right to a Federal Court hearing for those subject to revocation of citizenship, except in limited circumstances. In all other cases, the Minister will make the decision without being required to hold a formal hearing. The CBA Section believes that for a matter as serious as the revocation of citizenship, a formal hearing before an independent and impartial decision-maker must be maintained.

Another aspect of concern is the absence of consideration of equitable factors. Neither the Minister nor the Federal Court would be able to do so. The involvement of the Governor in Council, which can consider these factors under the Act, would be eliminated.

This stands in stark contrast to the procedural protections given to permanent residents in similar circumstances. The CBA Section is of the view that given the importance of citizenship, a statutory tribunal like the Immigration Appeal Division ought to have jurisdiction to consider not only the validity of the decision to terminate citizenship if ministerial revocation is maintained, but also whether there exist humanitarian and compassionate factors to warrant retention of permanent residence if not citizenship.