Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star

As the government prepares to table its revisions to the Citizenship Act, likely focussing on further improving the integrity and meaningfulness of citizenship, including making it harder to obtain, commentary by Natalie Brender on the realities of instrumental citizenship and passport, and how they should be part of the conversation.

One of the tensions all governments face is the balance between attracting the more dynamic and mobile economic immigrants through facilitating citizenship and making citizenship more difficult, which may make countries less “competitive” in attracting immigrants.

Is all this scheming and tit-for-tat a fair way for the business of citizenship to be run? Maybe not, but very little about passports and citizenship is fair in light of the dangers and protections they bring. It’s not fair that those in war-torn or dead-end countries who have the right cash and connections get to resettle abroad while their poorer compatriots are trapped in place. And which of us wouldn’t avail ourselves of any foreign passport we could if we lived in desperate conditions here in Canada?

These aren’t comfortable realities to face. Many politicians and citizens alike would rather change the topic by hewing to a loftier notion of citizenship as a marker of loyalty, shared values and a common fate. We’re lucky that a passport is more than just a tool in Canada, where it also symbolizes shared values and reciprocal obligations between government and citizens. That said, discussions and policy-setting must take into account more than just the high principles of citizenship. Most of the hardest questions are bound up with the geopolitical realities, economic pressures and human strivings that make a passport one of the most prized commodities existing today.

These thoughts suggest that realism and sympathy are in order as the government proceeds with its citizenship review in 2014. There’s not much danger that the new citizenship rules will constrain Ottawa’s ability to extend Canadian passports as a tool for serving pressing economic interests. But in its zeal to defend “the value of Canadian citizenship,” the Harper government may depict that value in ways that obscure broader global realities and blunt our sympathies. Acknowledging clearly the many ways in which a passport is indeed a tool, as well as a political emblem, will make for a healthier national conversation about citizenship policy.

Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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