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A mother holds the hands of her daughter as they become new Canadians and take the Oath of Citizenship on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 17, 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Fewer newcomers from disadvantaged groups became Canadian citizens during a 10-year period that coincided with the previous Conservative government’s changes to the citizenship program, new Statistics Canada research shows.

The decrease was part an overall trend in declining citizenship rates among those who have been in Canada less than 10 years, despite the fact the actual citizenship rate in Canada is among the highest in the Western world, Statistics Canada said in the study released Wednesday.

The researchers found that between 1991 and 2016, the citizenship rate in Canada – the percentage of immigrants who become citizens – rose about five percentage points, but the increase was largely driven by people who had been in Canada for over a decade.

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But beginning in 1996 and until 2016, the citizenship rate for those who’d been in the country for less than 10 years began to fall.

Using adjusted income measurements, Statistics Canada found that for those with incomes below $10,000, the drop was 23.5 percentage points, compared to just three percentage points for those with incomes over $100,000.

In the same decade, the citizenship rate fell 22.5 percentage points among people with less than a high school education, compared with 13.8 percentage points among those with university degrees.

In the case of both income levels and education, the gaps widened between 2011 and 2016.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Conservative government of the day overhauled the citizenship program, hiking citizenship fees from $100 to $630 and implementing stricter language, residency and knowledge requirements.

The Statistics Canada research does not provide specific reasons for the decline in citizenship rates.

“Multiple policy changes were made throughout the 2006 to 2016 period,” Laurence Beaudoin-Corriveau, an agency spokesperson, said in an email. “It is difficult to pinpoint the effect of a particular policy change with the census data, which are collected every five years.”

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The Conservatives defended the decision to raise citizenship fees – they had not increased since 1995 – by arguing that the fee didn’t come close to covering the cost of actually processing the applications. They had foreseen that the rise could impact applications, noting at the time it might mean people wait longer in order to save the money required.

In their platform during the recent federal election, the Liberals took the opposite approach, promising to eliminate the fee beginning next year.

“The process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee,” the platform said.

The Liberals pegged the cost of removing the fee at $391 million over four years.

In 2017, they also eased other citizenship requirements, including residency obligations and the age range for being required to pass language and knowledge tests.

According to the latest numbers from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, 176,473 people became Canadian citizens in 2018, up from 106,373 the year before.

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