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Liberals’ citizenship bill to proceed with some Senate amendments

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 31, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government is prepared to adopt some of the Senate's proposed amendments to its citizenship bill, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Friday.

Bill C-6 is designed to repeal many of the previous Conservative government's changes to how people become citizens — and how they can lose that status.

Among other things, the legislation would repeal a provision that strips dual citizens of their Canadian status if convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. It has been applied to one person: Zakaria Amara, convicted for his role in a 2006 terror plot in Toronto.

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Far more people lose their citizenship because it was obtained fraudulently, and the Senate wants to amend the bill in order to give those people a chance at a court hearing before their status is stripped away.

Hussen said the government will accept that proposal, albeit with some modifications of its own, including giving the minister the authority to make decisions when an individual requests it.

Hussen's hand was partially forced by a recent Federal Court decision that said people have a right to challenge the revocation of their citizenship, although predecessor John McCallum had earlier suggested he would support the amendment.

"This amendment recognizes the government's commitment to enhancing the citizenship revocation process to strengthen procedural fairness, while ensuring that the integrity of our citizenship program is maintained," Hussen said in a statement.

The government will also accept a Senate recommendation that would make it easier for children to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent.

But they are rejecting efforts to raise the upper age for citizenship language and knowledge requirements from 54 to 59, saying it's out of step with the goal of making citizenship easier to obtain. The current law requires those between the ages of 14 to 64 to pass those tests; the Liberals want it changed to 18 to 54.

Hussen thanked the Senate for its work making the bill "even stronger and for providing an example of productive collaboration on strengthening important legislation."

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The Senate has the choice of accepting the government's decision, rejecting it, or proposing further amendments of its own, which could further delay the legislation.

The bill was originally introduced by former immigration minister John McCallum in 2016 as a follow-through to a Liberal campaign promise to repeal elements of the Conservative law, which in their view created two tiers of citizenship.

The government is also seeking to shorten the length of time someone must be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship, and to allow time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident to count towards that requirement.

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