Features / The Story of Us: How immigration Created Canada

Immigration in Canada: Come one, come all?

They come in the hundreds of thousands, and every community in Canada has them: Immigrants.

From across the globe, newcomers pour into Canada each year in search of a new life. In 2012 alone, more than 257,000 people were granted permanent resident status, and many of them aim to be citizens one day.

But this year, things could be changing.

If the federal government secures its planned changes to the Citizenship Act, it’s going to become more difficult to become Canadian, and that’s got some people worried.

“You’re either in the boat or you’re not in the boat,” said David Cohen of Toronto law firm Campbell Cohen, which operates the website Canadavisa.com.

He’s troubled by some of the proposed changes, especially the need to declare an intention to reside in Canada by anyone applying for citizenship.

“It means two classes of citizens,” he said, pointing out that people born in Canada don’t need to live here to maintain citizenship.

Cohen said it’s undeniable that the new legislation is needed. In recent years, the success of an immigration case could depend on which judge heard it, so there’s a need to make the rules more clear, he said.

But the bill is carrying concerns, he added, like the idea of revoking citizenship from people convicted of serious crimes like terrorism. Cohen said such issues should be heard by the courts, to ensure fairness and transparency.

At the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, executive director Debbie Douglas agreed.

“We do have an effective criminal justice system here in Canada,” she said. “Our response to issues of criminality should be through our criminal justice system.”

And many of the other changes have her, and other immigrant advocates, worried.

Higher application fees, for example, will cause “hardship,” she said, especially for people with large families.

Canada should be making it easier, not tougher, to become citizens, she said.

“Immigrants not only allow the country to keep its economic integrity,” she said. “Immigrants also bring a wealth of international experience.

“They enhance who we are as a nation.”

But Dan Murray, who’s a member of the executive of campaign group Immigration Watch Canada, said the rules should get even tougher.

He accused authorities of doing little to screen for fraud in citizenship and other immigration applications, saying either everyone should be checked or the number of newcomers should be cut to a level the government can check properly.

“Why are we bringing in so many people?” asked Murray, who lives in Vancouver.

There’s no economic need for large-scale immigration while Canadians are out of work, he said.

The academics differ.

Mohammas Qadeer, professor emeritus of urban and regional planning at Queen’s University in Toronto, said the current population isn’t reproducing fast enough.

Put simply, bringing in new citizens through immigration is preventing Canada from shrinking. More stringent rules only discourages people from coming.

“Immigration is a not a favour to the immigrants,” he said. “Immigration has become a necessity to maintain your population, to help the labour force and also to look after the elderly, bringing the young people who look after them.”

Citizenship Act proposed changes

It’s still Bill C-24 and hasn’t yet passed in the House of Commons, but these are some of the federal government plans that could be passed this year:

— The proposal: Permanent residents would face a longer wait before they can apply to be citizens: Four years of residency, instead of three.

— There would no longer be a “time credit” for the years spent in Canada before gaining permanent residence. So time here on a student or work visa, for example, won’t count towards the time you must wait to become a citizen. That could extend some waits by years.

— An application for citizenship would include a declaration of “intent to reside” in Canada, meaning the person plans to stay and not return to their home country.

— Language requirements — knowledge of English or French — will apply to 14- to 64-year-olds, instead of 15- to 54-year-olds.

— Citizenship could be revoked from people who have dual citizenship and are convicted of terrorism, treason or spying.

— The application process will be streamlined, speeding it up. The government wants to cut the 320,000-case backlog by 80 per cent.

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