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Online citizenship oath would devalue ritual, opposition argues



(OTTAWA) The Conservative immigration critic says a proposal that would allow people to become Canadian citizens with the click of a mouse would “devalue” an otherwise unique moment for new Canadians.

“Citizenship by click is not citizenship,” said Calgary MP Tom Kmiec. (Liberals) really depreciate citizenship, purely for political reasons, in order to reduce their backlog. »

The federal government is seeking comments on a proposal to allow people to take the citizenship oath online, rather than attending a formal ceremony.

The department explains that the increase in in-person and paper-based application and processing, along with other factors such as COVID-19, “have contributed to the growing backlog of citizenship applications.” These factors have resulted in “processing times that go well beyond the published service standard of 12 months,” argues Ottawa.

Federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser first floated the idea in January 2022 as a way to speed up processing times. He then argued that this measure would make it possible to take the oath digitally, using a secure online solution, without the presence of an authorized person, “and to celebrate one’s citizenship at a later date”.

But the proposal, published in the Canada Gazette at the end of February, would instead allow someone to skip the ceremony altogether. Minister Fraser did not say why the proposal changed or who came up with the idea. But he said COVID-19 had created such a backlog that even virtual ceremonies couldn’t get through it quickly.

“Individuals who choose to self-certify online will still have the option of participating in a citizenship ceremony hosted by (the department) shortly after obtaining their citizenship,” Fraser said Friday, in his first public comments. on the proposed regulatory amendment.

The minister argued that those who have waited years for citizenship could be sworn in more quickly through the process, and he denied that the move would diminish the solemnity of the event.

He added that the online process could help people facing the potential expiration of their permanent resident status due to a lack of available ceremonies.

A memorable event

New Canadians at an attestation ceremony in Ottawa on Friday said taking the oath alongside their peers from around the world was an important step.

Joseph Ngoie, from Congo, stressed after taking the oath that he felt participating in the ceremony was “very important”, rather than “just going online and clicking”.

He added that he could feel the love and excitement in the voice of the celebrant, Citizenship Judge Rania Sfeir, as she declared him and 95 others Canadian.

MP Kmiec also maintains that these official ceremonies are very important for people who, like him, were not born in Canada. Coming from Poland, he still remembers his swearing-in ceremony in 1989 and he believes that tradition should not be sacrificed to deal with an administrative backlog.

“These are inexpensive events — mostly retired civil servants, serving judges and former judges preside over the actual ceremony,” he said. The way (the Liberals) act, it tells me that they are embarrassed by it, because I would be embarrassed by it too. »

Kmiec argued the backlog stems from Liberal incompetence in administering the programs, rather than the pandemic.

He also criticizes the long delay after newcomers take the oath, when they give up their permanent resident cards and wait for their citizenship certificate to be mailed in — a document that can be used to apply for a passport. “Process changes could be made to make people’s lives easier,” he believes.

Either way, former Canada’s 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 sneak it in.” “.

Mr. Griffith retired after a career in Immigration and Foreign Affairs. He believes that the wording of the proposal and the lack of consultation suggest that it is primarily aimed at reducing costs rather than making things more convenient for applicants.

“It’s driven by a desire to reduce or even eliminate ceremonies, virtual or physical. And that’s pretty self-explanatory, he argues. As a former bureaucrat, one gets the impression that the officials who had to write this may not have been very enthusiastic. »

Mr. Griffith recalls that the citizenship law of 1946 explicitly provides for swearing-in ceremonies, which instil the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, as Canada, after the Second World War, carved out an identity distinct from the United Kingdom.

“It really is an abuse of the process, because it goes against the spirit of the citizenship law as it was designed, he argued. This really goes against one of the fundamental objectives of citizenship. »

The comment period on the proposed change ends March 27. If approved, the amendments to the Citizenship Regulations would come into effect in early June. According to the government, the total cost of the modifications is estimated at 4.92 million over 10 years.

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