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Government to create longer wait to become Canadian, strip citizenship from terrorists

Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks after unveiling changes to Canada's Citizenship Act in Toronto on Thursday February 6, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks after unveiling changes to Canada’s Citizenship Act in Toronto on Thursday February 6, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The Conservative government has proposed sweeping changes to the Citizenship Act that include beefing up eligibility requirements for immigrants who want to become Canadians and stripping citizenship from terrorists and those who take up arms against Canada.

The changes are aimed at strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship and improving the efficiency of the process required to attain it, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told a news conference on Thursday.

“Canadians take as much or more pride in their citizenship than any other group of citizens around the world,” he said. “The rate of application is likely to go up in spite of the fact that we’re taking certain measures to reinforce the value of citizenship.”

He added that Canadians understand that citizenship should not be “simply a passport of convenience.”

The government has called the proposed overhaul the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977.

Under new legislation, citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are members of armed forces or groups engaged in armed conflict with Canada, and from those convicted of terrorism, high treason or spying.

The legislation will also deny citizenship to permanent residents who are involved in those activities.

Officials say those provisions will likely only apply to exceptional cases. Alexander was asked how the government would determine whether terrorism charges or convictions in other countries with dubious justice systems were legitimate.

“The government of Canada has very clear criteria for terrorism, terrorism entities, terrorist groups,” he said. “Committing an act of terrorism is a Criminal Code violation so that is the threshold that would have to be met.”

The new law will also require permanent residents to have a “physical presence” in Canada for four out of six years before applying for citizenship, compared to the previous requirement of three out of four years.

They will also need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days each year for at least four of those six years, and will have to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for citizenship.

“Our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and rich cultural traditions that are involved in becoming a citizen,” said Alexander.

While the residency requirements have increased, the government says its new laws will speed up processing times for citizenship applications. It plans to reduce its current decision-making process from three steps to one.

The current backlog sits at more than 320,000 citizenship applications, with processing times stretching to as much as 36 months. The government hopes its changes will mean that by 2015-16, successful applicants get their citizenship in less than a year.

More applicants will also have to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test to attain citizenship, with the government expanding its age range for those requirements to those aged 14-64, compared to the current range of those aged 18-54.

The new legislation would also bar permanent residents with foreign criminal charges and convictions from getting citizenship. Current laws only bar citizenship for those with certain domestic criminal charges and convictions.

In another change, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces will have a fast track to citizenship.

Meanwhile, the government plans to extend citizenship to the so-called “lost Canadians” who had been wrongfully denied it in the past.

The group of individuals who fell through the cracks in existing legislation include certain children of war brides born before 1947 when Canada had no citizenship laws of its own.

The bill detailing the Citizenship Act revamp was introduced in Parliament Thursday morning.

© The Canadian Press, 2014