The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Senator Enverga, on debate.
Hon. Tobias C. Enverga, Jr.: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of the amendment to Bill C-6 which is before us. I want to thank our colleague Senator Victor Oh for introducing this well-thought-out amendment to protect those most vulnerable among us, our children, and to allow for them to fully take part in our society as citizens, regardless of the misfortunes they may have experienced in life.
I should probably add that I have many concerns about Bill C-6, but I will address those concerns when I speak to the main question.
However, I want to share with you that the urgency that the government leader seems to be in and his repeated public claims of opposition obstruction are not helpful to our upper house. This bill has undergone several changes since arriving here, and every amendment needs careful consideration. And the last time I checked, independent senators are in the lead when it comes to moving amendments to Bill C-6. Rushed legislation is usually not good legislation.
Honourable senators, it is clear that in a world that has too many troubled regions, it is our duty to help those who suffer. Many come to Canada as a result of conflict and despair in other parts of the globe to start a new life for themselves and their families. However, in some instances, which according to evidence from our own Social Affairs Committee and from the other place are far more frequent than some of us knew, the challenges faced by young people without parents or a legal guardian, or whose parent or legal guardian is unable or unwilling to undertake the process and/or pay for a citizenship application, are unfair to say the least.
This is especially true when the circumstances are beyond the control of the minor, which is often the case. Although I am aware of the complicated legal status that minors have, especially those termed “mature minors” during our proceedings on Bill C-14 last year, I want to remind honourable senators that according to section 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination . . . .
One of the prohibited grounds listed is that of age.
Honourable senators, citizenship is more than just a right to vote. It is more than having a right to receive consular services offered by an embassy or high commission. It is about belonging, about successful integration into a society, and about being part of a larger collective group. Some minors who will be affected by this bill are already vulnerable and at higher risk of entering a life of crime or other anti-social behaviours that are seen by those who are marginalized.
There are minors in our country who came here at such a young age that they do not know another life. They know only what it is to be Canadian and how it is to live in Canada, but it is not their country because, for reasons beyond their control, they cannot meet the age requirement or the requirement that a parent or guardian make an application on their behalf. With this amendment, it is possible for a minor, with more ease and without having to pay for legal representation, to proceed with a citizenship application independent of their legal guardian, yet not without an adult signing their application.
Honourable senators, the reasons why some persons choose not to apply for Canadian citizenship may vary, but whatever the reason may be, their children, as far as all other requirements are met, should not be held back because of this. They are going to be the future of our country and we owe those who wish to fully contribute before reaching the age of majority to do just that: participate on an equal footing and without the risk of deportation or removal orders that would ordinarily not be issued to citizens.
One can always argue that this is the responsibility of the parents, but when this responsibility is either neglected or cannot be fulfilled, we are left with individuals who are entitled to protection under our Charter but are not afforded that protection.
Honourable senators, we must always also remember that the minors who are likely affected by this amendment are already at a higher risk of ending up in the correctional system, or at least in some sort of legal proceeding against them for minor offences. As a permanent resident, one can be deported for smaller offences; not terrorism or treason, but minor offences like trafficking in a controlled substance. I do not condone such activity of course, but for someone who has spent the large majority of their life in Canada and knows no other life, it is a very harsh consequence to have to return to a country they do not know.
Honourable senators, I want to give you a brief example. I cannot state any names or details due to privacy considerations, but it is an example that illustrates how the current system can fail.
A couple from Somalia, who ended up fleeing the horrendous atrocities committed in their homeland, ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Their children did not qualify for Kenyan citizenship at birth due to Kenyan laws. Somalia, being a failed state to a large extent, is not able to issue documents needed to prove citizenship, which led to the children remaining stateless.
After the family was resettled in Canada, the parents separated. The mother, who has experienced more trauma than we can imagine, which led to a reduced ability for learning, has a very low literacy level, and she is unable to complete the necessary steps for her citizenship application. Her children had to apply to the responsible minister for a waiver of the age requirement in section 5(1) of the Citizenship Act on compassionate grounds. The application was successful, but it took over two years, and it is an expensive and difficult undertaking.
Honourable senators, I wish to remind you of the obligations that Canada has as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3 clearly states:
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.
3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
Also, Article 7 states that:
1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
2. States -Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
It is quite clear that both our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Convention on the Rights of the Child support the amendment introduced by Senator Oh, and I urge all honourable senators to support the amendment and ensure that Canada’s statutes reflect our commitment to those most vulnerable.