HALIFAX - Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander is challenging critics who suggest the federal government is making it more difficult for immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
Chris Alexander, in Halifax as part of a cross-country tour to promote proposed changes to the Citizenship Act, said Friday there's been an overwhelmingly positive response to the amendments tabled earlier this month.
"Every time we've made the criteria slightly more demanding for citizenship .... we have seen the number of permanent residents applying to be citizens go up," he told a news conference at an immigration museum on the Halifax waterfront.
"When you do these things to underline the meaning and value of citizenship, you make it more valuable."
The minister said a new provision that requires applicants to be present in Canada for a total of four out of their last six years is not an onerous demand. As well, the amendment says applicants must be in Canada for 183 days per year for at least four of those six years.
"It's not a dramatic change," Alexander said.
However, some critics have suggested that highly skilled immigrants who travel the world to find work will find it more difficult to meet such a test.
Alexander said most immigrants who typically apply for citizenship have already been in Canada for at least four years, which means the requirement won't be hard to meet. Besides, he said, the requirement used to be five years before it was dropped to three more recently.
More importantly, Alexander said, the amendments include key changes aimed at thwarting people who pay consultants to pretend they are living in Canada when they have no intention of ever setting foot in the country.
"Under these new provisions we won't be vulnerable to that," he added.
Alexander also suggested there has been confusion over amendments that deal with terrorism.
Under the proposed changes, citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals convicted of terrorism, high treason and spying offences or who take up arms against Canada. As well, permanent residents who commit these acts will be barred from applying for citizenship.
Alexander said the rule would only apply to those facing such charges in a Canadian court.
"We would not accept such convictions from a dictatorship or countries that don't have the rule of law," he said. "By doing this, we are only catching up with (most of) our allies in NATO."
He said the change would act as a deterrent to those with dual nationality who might think of "going off to Syria or elsewhere to ... fight with extremist groups."
Alexander said the changes are needed because the Citizenship Act hasn't been overhauled in 36 years.
He said the amendments are meant to strengthen the value of a Canadian passport and to improve the efficiency of how citizenship is acquired.
The minister said he hopes the changes will help cut a backlog of citizenship applications that has grown to 320,000 files.
On average, Canada admits about 250,000 immigrants every year and the Immigration Department plans to admit more than 261,000 in 2014.
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