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November 26, 1999
Canadian Citizenship Process To Be Simplified
A P Kamath
The knowledge of English or French will not be mandatory to become a citizen of Canada, if the two-decade-old Canadian Citizenship Act is overhauled. And Citizenship and Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan might do just that.
Caplan, who took over the cabinet position four months ago, has said that in reforming the act she would not stray far from what her predecessor Lucienne Robillard had planned.
Robillard had plans to relax the amount of time applicants would have to be physically present in Canada before being granted citizenship.
He wanted a requirement that immigrants physically spend three years in Canada in a five-year period before they can qualify for citizenship, but that was changed to three of the previous six years.
Meanwhile, Peter Cory, a retired supreme court judge, said immigration was a powerful force shaping the country, and the judicial system must have the courage to stand up for the rights of the "vulnerable and visible minorities".
Other proposals put forward by Robillard include elimination of appeals for criminals who are rejected for refugee status because of the serious nature of their crime.
Caplan said proven criminals are the department's top priority for deportation, followed by rejected refugee claimants. But she noted that Canada has no exit controls, and cannot be sure if a criminal stayed back.
"I have no sympathy for those who commit crimes outside Canada and want to come here, and I have no sympathy for foreign nationals who commit crimes in Canada," she said.
Judge Cory asked Canada to celebrate immigrants and their contributions.
"We must not be afraid of immigration," he told University of Windsor law students.
"Those immigrants have become the most loyal of Canadians."
Interpreting the law must be done with sensitivity towards people of other cultural backgrounds, he said, adding that racism is an evil that lawyers and judges must combat.
"All that stands between the accused and a lynch mob is the judge," he said.
Judge Cory, who retired last June, said courts are sometimes criticized for taking on the role of "activists". People should be aware court rulings are often made using old legal traditions viewed in a modern context, he said.
He told students they must be "fearless" in standing up for the rights of their clients and in speaking out against court rulings when necessary.
"The courts must always be open, and open to criticism. You must be fearless and criticize where it is appropriate," he said.
Canada is also planning to introduce a plan similar to the one in Britain, requiring applicants for visitor visas to post a bond so that they return to their respective countries after the visa expires.
Officials dealing with immigration say Canada is not attracting an adequate number of skilled, technical immigrants while the immigration system is disturbed by a significant number of visitors who stay back in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, several officials said a significant number of visitors from the Indian subcontinent, Taiwan and Russia stayed back.
Members of parliament often have pressure put on them by their constituents who want to bring in their friends or family members to Canada. Many of these would-be visitors have their visa applications rejected because immigration officials fear they will stay back or seek refugee status.
Currently Canadian missions do not demand any proof that visa applicants will return home after the visas are expired. At present, there is also no mechanism for legitimate visitors to prove to the government that they intend to respect the terms of the visa.
Caplan acknowledged that the immigration department has to streamline processing applications and it would set up a centralized processing center in Canada.
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