November 20, 2014
'Comedy of errors' lets woman become Canadian citizen despite abysmal results on citizenship tests
By Adrian Humphreys
The judge noted in writing that Ms. Afzal failed the tests and did not qualify but mistakenly checked the 'Granted' box on the decision form, court...
TORONTO - A would-be Canadian who received a grade of zero out of six on her citizenship language test and four out of 20 on the test's knowledge component was nonetheless granted a Canadian citizenship certificate.
A "series of administrative errors" put Haheen Afzal - despite her abysmal results on the tests - before a citizenship judge in Hamilton, Ont., swearing an oath to the Queen and being issued a citizenship certificate.
When the mistake was discovered, Ms. Afzal did not want to surrender her citizenship and fought to keep it.
The errant ceremony took place on Sept. 26, 2013, but the legal dispute - leading to its cancellation - was only recently resolved in the Federal Court of Canada.
Ms. Afzal failed the citizenship test twice before being awarded a citizenship certificate: the first time she scored 2/6 on language and 8/20 on knowledge. When she appeared before a citizenship judge and tried again, she scored even worse.
The citizenship judge noted in writing that Ms. Afzal failed the tests and did not qualify but mistakenly checked the "Granted" box on the decision form, court heard.
The next day, an official at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office acknowledged that the judge's decision had been "seen" and checked "Citizenship Granted" before sending the form along for processing.
A few days later, Ms. Afzal was asked to appear for a citizenship ceremony and she took the Oath of Citizenship.
After the ceremony a citizenship clerk finally noticed the mistake. He twice phoned Ms. Afzal and left messages.
The calls were not returned.
Two months later, CIC cancelled the certificate.
In court, her lawyer argued CIC bureaucrats did not have authority to cancel citizenship, only the Governor-in-Council, which acts on behalf of the Crown, has such power.
'It is unclear how often these mistakes happen. This situation merits a thorough investigation'
To accept that, Federal Court Justice Donald Rennie said in his ruling, would rise to the level of "absurdity."
Before someone can become a Canadian citizen, they are required to demonstrate linguistic competence in either of Canada's official languages and show an adequate knowledge of Canada's social, civic and political norms.
"These competencies must be established before citizenship can be granted," Judge Rennie ruled.
Based on those criteria, even though a citizenship certificate was issued, the pre-conditions to citizenship had never been met, he said. Therefore, citizenship was not so much being revoked as a certificate that had not been legally issued was being cancelled. And that was within the power of CIC bureaucrats.
"This interpretation also ensures that the privilege of Canadian citizenship is granted only as intended by Parliament," said Judge Rennie.
Neither Ms. Afzal nor her lawyer could be reached for comment Wednesday.The case reveals troubling problems with CIC officials, said Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer and analyst who is a former chair of the Ontario Bar Association's immigration section.
"One would expect that citizenship applicants would be vetted extensively for compliance with residency, security and knowledge testing," Mr. Karas said.
"It is amazing that such a vetting process appears to have been a comedy of errors in this case.
"One is left to wonder about the level of competence and care that some Citizenship and Immigration Canada employees may be demonstrating. ... It is unclear how often these mistakes happen. This situation merits a thorough investigation of internal policies and practices."
Sonia Lesage, a spokeswoman for CIC, defended the department. "These safeguards worked in this instance as we found the error and fixed it. The certificate was cancelled in November 2013 and the Federal Court upheld our process."