Let me tell you a little story. The kind of story that is shared by so many Canadians it has become almost cliché. It is a story of two young people fleeing an Eastern European country (oh, let’s say Latvia) after the Second World War. They meet in England, fall in love, get married. While their first child is still a baby they board a ship bound for Canada. They settle in Toronto and have two more children. They work hard, save their money, pay taxes. They are proud of their heritage and participate in the sizable Latvian community in Toronto, but they are also proud to live in Canada and love their new home. All three children attend Canadian universities.
The first child, the one who was born in England, eventually moves to the Prairies, falls in love, gets married, and has kids.
And that is where I, and bill C-24 (the “Strengthen Canadian Citizenship Act”) come in. You see, because my mother was born in England, she, and her children, are eligible for British citizenship. Though I have been a dual citizen of both Canada and Great Britain since I was 15, I have always felt, first and foremost, that I am a Canadian. There is no other country on this planet that I would rather be a citizen of. It’s not that I think my country is the greatest nation on earth, or that the sun never sets on our gloriousness, or any other alarmingly patriotic claptrap. It’s that Canada is my home. There will never be another.
I know that my story, and my sentiments, are shared by many Canadians. A lot of us have parents who were born outside the country. The story of Canada as a safe haven and a land of opportunity for those fleeing persecution or war is as feel-good and heart-warming as its tale of the intrepid pioneers, carving out a life in Canada’s west, or its stout-hearted Maritimers, holding fast to their rocky shores and pulling their living out of the sea. It is, of course, excellent PR, a way to court both foreign investment and the immigrant vote (“Canada the Benevolent Multicultural Mosaic, now with Medicare!”). Though these tales are always incredibly oversimplified (First Nations people, for example, are conspicuously absent in these feel-good narratives, as are other inconvenient “bumps” in the story, such as the Chinese head tax, Japanese-Canadian internment during the Second World War, and Ukrainian-Canadian internment during the First), the gist is that Canada loves its immigrants, wouldn’t be what it is today without them, celebrates their various cultural heritages, and is grateful for their contribution to the country.
Or so I thought.
First introduced in Parliament in February of this year (and not yet passed by the House of Commons), several aspects of bill C-24 are giving the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers pause, and are leaving me feeling anxious, insulted, and second-class. If this bill passes into law, Canadian citizenship will be harder to obtain, but also, shockingly, easier to lose.
Currently, a Canadian can only lose their citizenship if they came by it through fraudulent means (if they lied on their citizenship application, for example). Those citizens who filed honest applications or who were born in Canada cannot lose their right to be Canadian. Under bill C-24, not only can naturalized Canadian citizens lose their Canadian citizenship if convicted of certain crimes (either here or elsewhere), any Canadian who is, or has the potential to be, a dual citizen can lose their citizenship as well.
Never, in my entire life, did it occur to me that a Canadian born in Canada could lose their right to be a Canadian. The thought makes me sick to my stomach. It’s just…wrong. It exposes some, but not all, Canadians to an additional punishment if convicted of the crimes outlined in the bill: banishment. Not only is banishment as a punishment antiquated and out of line with a modern justice system, it’s only a punishment for SOME people, i.e. people who were, are, or could be dual citizens.
According to a statement prepared by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers:
The new law divides Canadians into two classes of citizens: first class Canadians who hold no other citizenship, and second class Canadians – dual citizens, who can have their right to live in Canada taken away from them. Even if you are born in Canada, you are at risk of losing citizenship if you have dual citizenship or the possibility of dual citizenship. You may not even know that you possess another citizenship. If you have a spouse, parent, or grandparent who is a citizen of another country, you may have a right to citizenship without ever having applied for it. The proposed law would put you at risk of losing your Canadian citizenship if the Minister asserts that you possess or could obtain another citizenship. The burden would be on you to prove otherwise to the Minister’s satisfaction.
The new law will make it easier for the government to take away your citizenship in the following ways:
1. For all naturalized citizens, a federal government official can revoke your citizenship if he believes you never intended to live in Canada. This could happen if you decide to study in, accept a job in, or reside in another country. In contrast, Canadian citizens born in Canada cannot lose their citizenship by living outside of Canada.
2. For Canadians with potential dual citizenship, an official may remove your citizenship for a criminal conviction in another country, even if the other country is undemocratic or lacks the rule of law. The official may also remove your citizenship for certain serious criminal convictions in Canada, even if you have already served your sentence in Canada.
3. The power to remove your citizenship will be given to an official of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The decision may be made in writing with no opportunity for you to speak to the official. Under the current law [i.e. as it stands now, prior to the passing of C-24], to take away your citizenship, the government must make an application to a Federal Court judge where you will have an oral hearing to defend your right to citizenship.
This bill is just wrong, and cannot logically exist in a fair justice system. Let’s say both Joe Anglophone and I are convicted of espionage (I have no idea why or how I could ever be convicted of espionage but it’s an example). Joe Anglophone’s family settled in Ontario in the 1800s and any connections he may have to Mother Britain are so many generations back that he could not possibility apply for dual citizenship. I, of course, have a mother who was born in England and even if I hadn’t applied for British citizenship I would still have the potential. Under current law, both of us would receive the same sentence for the same crime (whatever the sentence for a conviction of espionage is, which I must say I do not know). Under bill C-24, Joe Anglophone would still receive the standard sentence for espionage, while I, as a person who has the potential for dual citizenship, would receive my espionage sentence AND be stripped of my right to be a Canadian. Joe Anglophone’s crime could even have been worse than mine, but as a dual-citizen only I would face banishment.
What Bill C-24 is saying is that there are two kinds of Canadians: Canadians who can’t ever be banished and Canadians who can. You don’t need to have done anything wrong to end up in the latter camp, vulnerable to a punishment your fellow Canadians are not. You just need to be an immigrant, the child of an immigrant, or the spouse of an immigrant. Canada’s multicultural mosaic in all its glory. Right.
I think I have outlined pretty thoroughly how bill C-24 is an insult to me and people like me (since that is the situation that is most immediate to me), but it’s not too hard to see how bill C-24 is also an incredible insult to many other people who call this country home.
- Bill C-24 is an insult to all naturalized Canadians. Becoming a citizen of Canada if you weren’t born here isn’t like getting your driver’s license. It takes literally YEARS of commitment. There are fees, applications, a citizenship test, language proficiency exams, and dizzying layers of bureaucracy. The people I know who have been sworn in after all of this work have said it was an incredibly proud moment for them. Unlike those of us who were born in Canada, naturalized Canadian citizens had to work hard for their citizenship and to be recognized as equal Canadians in the eyes of the government. Bill C-24 essentially tells these citizens that their sacrifices weren’t good enough and that this current government does NOT consider them to be “as Canadian” as those who have no possibility for other citizenship.
- Bill C-24 has an Anglophone and Francophone bias. Based on the different kinds of immigration embraced/allowed by the Canadian government in the last 50-60 years or so, it’s probably safe to say that today, most of Canada’s dual citizens are not Anglophone or Francophone. They may be of Eastern European descent, originally escaping Soviet and/or Nazi occupation. They may be Caribbean, their story a part of the West Indian Domestic Scheme of the 1950s, or perhaps the “liberalization” of immigration in the 60s and 70s. Canadian cities are home to a large variety of ethnic and religious communities (Asian, African, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Croatian, Latvian, etc.) and many many members of these communities are, or have the potential to be, dual citizens. Most of the “settlers” who don’t have to fear for their citizenship are the Original Whites–those of British or French origins whose family history stretches farther back into Canada’s colonial past.
- By splitting citizenship rights where it does, bill C-24 insults the primary rights of First Nations people. If you’re going to draw a line between “real” Canadians who don’t have ties to any other country and “other” Canadians who have foreign allegiances, it’s pretty obvious where that line should be drawn. If we’re going to give some Canadians more right to call this country home than others, clearly only First Nations people should qualify. The rest of us are settlers or the descendants of settlers. C-24’s bias towards French and British settlers (who have been here longer than many other immigrant groups) privileges Canada’s colonizers and inappropriately grants them equal status with First Nations people in this regard. It’s not that I don’t think “settlers” belong here, I obviously do, but my point is that if we are going to draw these seemingly arbitrary lines through the Canadian population, there is only one “fair” place to draw them, and that’s not where bill C-24 has placed them.
Okay. So the bill insults naturalized citizens, dual citizens, First Nations people, and is biased to privilege Canadians of Anglophone and Francophone ancestry. But what about those Canadians like Joe Anglophone, who will, under C-24, have more rights to their citizenship than I will? Does C-24 insult them too, or does it, as its short title would like to suggest, “strengthen” Canadian citizenship for these people?
Well, I would like to think that any Canadian who professes to love this country and what it stands for wouldn’t like the idea that their neighbours and friends could become second-tier citizens simply due to the circumstances of their or their parents’ birth. I would like to think that granting some “safe” citizenship in this way would cheapen citizenship’s value, since it would be an additional, more iron-clad class of status based not on merit but on birth. I would like to think that these Canadians would recognize that only a few generations separate them from dual citizens like me. I would like to think that bill C-24 insults their sense of fair play and their understanding of what it means to be Canadian. I would hope that they wouldn’t appreciate the government trying to divide its citizens, when it’s so obvious that what we need more of in this country is cooperation and understanding.
I’d like to think that even citizens whose Canadian status is not threatened by this bill would still feel that being Canadian means more than divisive politics. Because it means so much more to me, and that’s why I wrote to my MP to urge her to oppose bill C-24. I encourage you to do the same.