Government muzzles expert witnesses on major citizenship bill

“Do they think citizenship legislation is a joke?” said Melynda Jarratt, who was flown in to speak about Bill C-24, only to be shut out at the last minute. “I’ve always felt this was a transparent process of democracy in being invited to speak as an expert. Now, I feel insulted and it’s brought out the worst of how people perceive politicians in Ottawa."

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A visibly frustrated Champan wasn’t as diplomatic.

“I’m glad Canada was accepting of you, when you needed help,” he said to Conservative MPs Joe Daniel, Chungsen Leung and Devinder Shory – who are Canadian immigrants – as they left the committee room once the meeting adjourned.

“They wouldn't even look at me," Chapman said indignantly. "They're undermining the democratic process by ignoring the evidence of witnesses.” 

Conservative MPs Devinder Shory, Joe Daniel and Chungsen Leung leave Monday's Citizenship and Immigration Committee . ©2014 Jean Chartrand

The new bill also changes an individual’s ability to challenge the government in court, which experts say is disconcerting.

“There’s intent to shift power from the judiciary to the executive, and which undermines the constitutional role of the courts in Canada’s democratic systems” said lawyer Bill Kinsel.

Thousands of Canadians remain without citizenship, many of whom go most of their lives without knowing that they don’t have Canadian citizenship until they apply for passports, healthcare, driver’s licenses or old age pensions.

Also present that afternoon was Heather Harnois, 25, an Ontario-based mother of Ojibwa heritage. Despite her family's strong roots in Canada, the federal government does not recognize Harnois as either Canadian or aboriginal, due to rule that prevented Indian women from passing on status.

As a result, Harnois is unable to apply for a social insurance number or receive health care coverage. She has repeatedly asked for lawmakers to grant her Canadian citizenship, to no avail. Her case is similar to that of Donovan McGlaughlin, a half-Aboriginal Yukon resident of Susquehannock origin who has lived in Canada for over 40 years but has been denied citizenship due to lack of government documents.  Others denied citizenship in the past include children of Canadian soldiers, and Canadian veterans of the Second World War. 

"They're doing this all wrong," Chapman said. "The term 'Lost Canadians' comes up 20 times in the Legislative Summary of Bill C-24, yet they don't have one Lost Canadian to speak to the committee. They're not interested in the truth. This is bill number seven on this issue and they still can't get it right."

Chapman had also been calling Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Parliamentary Secretary Costas Menegakis repeatedly for a week, and said neither even acknowledged him. 

"I've called Menegakis at least 20 times," he said. "No response."  

Citizenship and Immigration Canada was reached for comment but did not provide a response in time for publication.  

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