Various Commentary on Citizenship Act Changes

Commentary on the Liberal government’s planned changes to citizenship (Bill C-6), from those advocating a more facultative approach (including myself) and former Minister Alexander:

“We are very pleased with the government’s decision to rescind the previous government’s Bill C-24 that made it far more difficult to obtain citizenship and far easier to lose,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants.

“We are particularly pleased that we are moving away from two-tier citizenship where dual citizens could have their citizenship revoked. We commend the Liberal government for taking this principled decision.”

The new citizenship bill also makes some new changes by extending immigration authorities’ power to seize documents suspected of fraud and barring those serving conditional sentences from seeking citizenship or counting the time toward the residency eligibility.

Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with the immigration department, said the proposed legislation surprisingly retained many of the provisions passed by the previous government to improve enforcement and integrity of the citizenship system while reducing unreasonable hurdles for would-be citizens.

“They are removing some of the worst abuses the Conservatives did, promoting its diversity and inclusive agenda, without changing the fundamental value of real and meaningful commitment to Canadian citizenship,” Griffith said.

“These proposed changes reflect, apart from revocation, relatively modest changes, in line with the Liberals’ public commitments, and that retain virtually all of the previous government’s integrity measures.”

While he is pleased with the proposed citizenship changes, veteran immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said those who face citizenship revocation on the grounds of misrepresentation are still not entitled to a hearing – a practice that is under a legal challenge in the federal court.

“Why are we keeping this Harper legacy?” Waldman asked.

Under the Harper government, the citizenship application backlog had ballooned with processing time significantly lengthened. New resources were brought in last year to reduce the wait time.

McCallum said new citizenship applications are now being processed in 12 months and the backlog is expected to be cleared by the end of this year.

In an email to The Canadian Press ahead of the announcement, former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander said the changes his government made were in keeping with Canadian values.

“Terrorism, espionage and treason are serious crimes, representing gross acts of disloyalty. They are far more serious violations than covering up minor crimes from one’s past — a common form of misrepresentation,” he said.

The Conservative bill was attacked as setting a dangerous precedent and even challenged, unsuccessfully, as unconstitutional.

In the National Post, John Ivison harshly criticizes the repeal of the revocation provisions (as well as pandering to ethnic voters):

It’s true, as Immigration Minister John McCallum pointed out, that this fulfils an election pledge, made to drive a wedge between the Tories and the ethnic communities that supported them in three elections.

The Conservatives signed their own death warrant by tightening up the family reunification criteria, raising the income threshold necessary for new immigrants to bring in parents and grandparents.

The Liberals campaigned hard on easing those restrictions and on their intention to revoke the Conservative citizenship bill, exploiting fears in ethnic communities that they could be stripped of their citizenship and deported if convicted of a crime.

…. the central failing of this bill. Dual nationals can now be convicted of terrorism, high treason or spying and retain their Canadian citizenship.

You can be supportive of civility, tolerance and inclusion and still believe this move is dangerous and misguided.

Loyalty is the measure of good citizenship.

When you betray that trust, you should forfeit the rights, privileges and duties of being a member of Canadian society.

Dual nationals convicted of terrorism, high treason or spying don’t deserve to keep Canadian citizenship

I am waiting for Ivison’s colleague, Chris Selley, to weigh in given his previous strong criticism of revocation (National Post | Chris Selley: Stripping jihadis’ citizenship feels good. But what good does it do?)

Tasha Kheiriddin in iPolitics starts from the same place but ends with a more nuanced criticism, making a distinction between those who became citizens as children, which should be treated no differently from Canadian-born, and those who became citizens as adults:

But the fear of losing one’s citizenship struck a deep chord with immigrants and native-born Canadians alike. Trudeau’s impassioned defence of citizenship was widely seen as a highlight of that debate — that rare sort of knockout punch pundits and audiences yearn for. The Liberals carried that punch from the debate to the doorstep, where it — coupled with their defence of the niqab and opposition to the Conservatives’ barbaric cultural practices tip line — helped cement the Liberals’ reputation as pro-New Canadian, and the Conservatives’ image as anti-immigrant.
This week, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced that the government would be reversing Bill C-24. “Canadian citizens are equal under the law, whether they were born in Canada or were naturalized in Canada or hold dual citizenship,” McCallum said in a statement. …

The bill also will restore Canadian citizenship to anyone stripped of it under Bill C-24. As a result, Amara will have his citizenship reinstated once the Liberals’ new bill becomes law.

Opponents of the Conservative law decried the creation of two different “classes” of citizens — those born in Canada and those who have dual nationalities. But those individuals are arguably already in two different classes — in fact, more than two, depending on how they obtained their citizenships. Some did so by birth, some due to a parent’s move to Canada, and some by their own choice as an adult. And the implications of revocation for each group can be very, very different.

In Amara’s case, he came to Canada as a 13-year-old. While he arguably took his oath as a child, nothing would have prevented him from renouncing his Jordanian citizenship as an adult. Maintaining it, however, gave him certain advantages, including freedom to live, work and travel in Jordan, where he was born. Those advantages are not available to other Canadians. Should they complain that they’re second-class citizens, because they don’t have the same privileges? Should he complain that he received unequal treatment, when he himself maintains an unequal status?

In the case of dual citizens born in Canada, who hold dual citizenship by virtue of their parents, the situation is somewhat different. Saad Gaya, also one of the Toronto 18, was deemed to have Pakistani citizenship retroactively, due to his parents’ possessing Pakistani nationality. Unlike Amara, Gaya had no connection to his parents’ country, and claimed that he didn’t even have said citizenship. Furthermore, as a child born here, he did not choose Canada. Because of this, he claimed that sending him to Pakistan would constitute “cruel and unusual treatment”.

A better version of the law would be one that allows the state to cancel the Canadian citizenship of a person convicted of treason who obtained that citizenship consciously and deliberately as an adult. This would deter those seeking citizenship for no other reason than to enable them to strike back at their adopted country, or who used their ability to move freely in Canada to facilitate terrorist acts.

While there is no doubt that withdrawal of citizenship should not be subject to the whim of the state, neither should citizenship be completely taken for granted. For citizenship to have value, it must not just be a passport of convenience — or worse, a cover for crime.

Dual nationals convicted of terrorism don’t deserve to keep Canadian citizenship

Comparatively little to no coverage or commentary in Quebec media, unless I missed it.

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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