Mr. Bob Pennock (Etobicoke North) moved
that Bill C-254, an Act to amend the Citizenship Act (period of residence), be read the second time and referred to a legislative committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise before the House today to debate my Private Members' Bill, Bill C-254, which proposes to amend the Citizenship Act, period of residence. Presently, a non-Canadian spouse of a member of the Armed Forces or a public servant, either provincial or federal, who is serving his or her country abroad, must reside in Canada in order to be granted Canadian citizenship.
My Bill, while not a highly contentious issue, is of national significance to Canadians from all regions of the country, and of particular importance to the large number of individuals who, at any given time, are serving our country abroad.
The intent of Bill C-254 is to bring consistency and fairness back to the Citizenship Act, as it relates to the individuals I have already identified. There are a couple of areas that I feel lack consistency and cause essential problems for these individuals representing Canada overseas.
The first is that citizenship court judges have absolute discretion in interpreting what constitutes residency under the Act. This means that while some judges interpret residency to mean actual physical presence in Canada, others allow time spent abroad in any official capacity to count for the residency requirement.
The second area of inconsistency concerns taxation. Foreign born spouses are taxed as Canadian citizens, however they are not granted citizenship nor do they enjoy all the rights and privileges that go along with Canadian citizenship until they have fulfilled the residency requirements outlined in the current Act.
The difficulty in fulfilling these residency requirements is great, given the rotational nature of foreign employment assignments. Spouses of these Canadians who serve overseas on an on and off basis are never in Canada long enough to fulfil residency requirements of three consecutive years at any one time.
As such, each stay of less than three years in Canada is erased. Therefore, one cannot accumulate years of residence during successive stays in Canada and apply them towards residency requirements, even though they are serving the country of their spouse abroad.
October 16, 1987
The foreign service community is actively supporting this Bill and has suggested that the residency requirement of the Act is one of the major irritants of employment with the foreign service of Canada. They too would like to see the Citizenship Act amended to facilitate a fairer system for fulfilling residency requirements.
Spouses of diplomats, Armed Forces and other government personnel in other countries do not encounter the same difficulties fulfilling residency requirements as spouses of our personnel do in Canada.
Let me outline a few examples. Australia has a residency requirement of one year within two. However, the Minister responsible may waive the residency requirement. In France there is no residency requirement for foreign service spouses. In The Netherlands, foreign service spouses can acquire citizenship from abroad. In the United States, the residency requirement for foreign service spouses may be waived as a posting abroad is confirmed. These other countries recognize the importance of the service of these personnel and their spouses.
I think all Members of the House would agree that the spouses of all Canadians who are in the employ of our Armed Forces and External Affairs and Public Service abroad deserve better treatment.
Furthermore, the rotation of their assignments causes much hardship on their spouses' ability to meet the residency requirements. This makes it hard for us to keep some of our best and brightest people in these occupations to serve our country.
We as parliamentarians have a duty not to let the quality of these professional people in these occupations decline because of this minor problem that we have found in the existing Act.
I am sure all my colleagues on both sides of the House will agree that Bill C-254 is a non-partisan issue. It is an issue of fairness to those individuals v.. o are serving the Canadian public abroad.
While non-Canadian spouses are acting on the Canadian public's behalf overseas, and are taxed as Canadian citizens, they might well be denied citi xnship because of a lack of flexibility, consistency and understanding for such circumstances in the present Act.
Canadians should be proud of the quality of our representatives overseas. They are our best and brightest, and I would hate to think that someone may have to pass up a posting or leave the service altogether, therefore losing the benefit of their knowledge, in order to fulfil the requirements of a residency.
It is my sincere belief that Bill C-254 should be considered so that consistency can be brought back to the Citizenship Act and fairness restored to the treatment of Canadians and their spouses who serve this country abroad.
I want to thank members of the Opposition for their consideration in allowing this Bill to go to the legislative committee. I do not think much more would be gained by my prolonging the debate on this issue.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS-PUBLIC BILLS CITIZENSHIP ACT MEASURE TO AMEND