Conservative MP Tom Kmiec rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, March 10, 2023.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Citizenship oath at the click of a mouse would cheapen tradition: Tory critic
Published 2:19 PDT, Fri March 17, 2023
The Conservative immigration critic says a proposal to allow people to become a Canadian citizen with the click of a mouse "cheapens" an otherwise special moment for newcomers.
"Citizenship by click is not citizenship," said Calgary MP Tom Kmiec.
"They're really cheapening citizenship purely for political motivation, to reduce their backlogs."
The federal government is seeking feedback on a plan to let people take the Oath of Citizenship online, rather than attend an officiated ceremony.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser first floated the idea in January 2022 as a way to speed up processing times, which would have someone "self-administer a digital oath by signed attestation, and celebrate their citizenship at a later date."
Yet the proposal published in the Canada Gazette late last month would instead allow someone to skip the ceremony entirely.
Fraser did not specify why the proposal had changed, nor who came up with the idea. But he said COVID-19 created a backlog that even virtual ceremonies can't quickly clear.
"For those people who choose to do an online self-attestation, they will still have an opportunity to participate in an IRCC-organized citizenship ceremony shortly after they complete their citizenship," Fraser said on Friday, in his first public comments on the proposed regulatory change.
Fraser added that those who have waited years for citizenship would be able to take their oath faster under that process, and he rejected claims it would cheapen the moment.
Kmiec said the ceremonies are a big deal for people like him who were not born Canadian. Kmiec, who immigrated from Poland, still recalls taking his oath in 1989, and said the tradition shouldn't be diminished as a way to deal with an administrative backlog.
"These are very low-cost events; these are mostly retired civil servants, serving judges and ex-judges who do the actual ceremony," he said.
"The way they've done this tells me that they're embarrassed by it, because I'd be embarrassed by it too."
Kmiec argued the backlog stems from Liberal incompetence in administering programs, rather than the pandemic. He is also critical of the lag after newcomers they take the oath, at which point they relinquish their permanent-residence card and await their citizenship certificate in the mail, which can be used to apply for a passport.
"There are some process changes they could do to actually make people's lives easier," he said.
In any case, Canada's former director-general of citizenship and multiculturalism, Andrew Griffith, said the department should have issued a press release about the proposed change instead of "trying to slip it by."
Griffith retired after a career with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Canada's foreign service, and said the phrasing in the regulatory proposal and the lack of public-opinion research suggests it's aimed at reducing costs rather than making things more convenient for applicants.
"It's driven by the desire to reduce, if not eliminate, ceremonies, virtual or physical. And it's pretty explicit," he said.
"One gets the impression as a former bureaucrat that maybe the officials who had to draft the stuff weren't really that keen."
Griffith noted that the 1946 Citizenship Act explicitly called for ceremonies that instil the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, as Canada carved out an identity separate from Britain following the Second World War.
"It's really an abuse of the process, because it goes against the grain of what the Citizenship Act was designed to do," he argued. "It really goes against one of the fundamental objectives of citizenship."
The comment period on the proposed change closes on March 27.
If approved, the changes to the citizenship regulations would come into effect at early as June, at a cost of about $5 million.
– Dylan Robertson and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press