When a Canadian is not a Canadian: Pardy on consular services

While Pardy is correct to note that policies have not kept up with increased mobility, he downplays the need to recognize that a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” does not necessarily apply abroad.

To my mind, a policy framework for consular services needs to distinguish between Canadian citizens only, dual nationals travelling to countries where dual nationality is recognized, dual nationals travelling to countries where dual nationality is not recognized, and Permanent Residents.

The first two categories are where providing consular services is a given and where this will be recognized in the other country.

Where dual nationality is not recognized, while Canada can try to provide consular services, the other country will likely be unhelpful given that the person entered as a national of that country, not Canada.

And I see no reason to provide consular services to Permanent Residents, as consular services are related to citizenship.

For people in such situations, our missions abroad can make representation on international human rights ground.

So while theoretically there are no limits to what Canada can do, there are in practice.

Of course, media, family and political pressure will undoubtedly favour wider, rather than narrower interpretations, but it is important, from both a policy and operational perspective, to understand the differences:

Unlike historical migrations to Canada that involved a one-way trip and the ending of familial and other connections, people born abroad but living in Canada now have more chance to stay connected with their homelands. Other migratory countries face a similar situation. It is a common aspect of modern migration with, for many, a former life only several air-hours away, or seconds for direct communications.

Unfortunately, affected governments have had trouble adjusting, and international law even more so, to these increasingly common aspects of international travel.

Many countries are not willing to accept Canada has a legitimate interest in ensuring such Canadians (or foreign-born residents) are treated in accordance with international norms and standards. Equally troubling is that many countries are unwilling to recognize the Canadian citizenship of those who hold it.

International law is weak to non-existent in this area. While there is an international convention on the provision of consular services, its weak provisions offer very little comfort in many of these situations.

Equally, there are no specific international agreements or understanding outside of broad international human rights law of the right of Canada and other migratory-destination countries to offer protection to persons who are not citizens.

Canada does not help itself in these matters. There is a reluctance to intervene in cases when a Canadian resident encounters serious difficulty in a foreign country. Usually in response, ministers and officials state: “There are limits to what any country can do for individuals who are not citizens of that country.” But they piously iterate that “the government continues to monitor the situation closely.”

In fact, there are no limits to what a country can try to do to assist such persons. Whether the other country will accept such efforts by Canada is an entirely separate issue; but not to try is an abdication of an appropriate responsibility.

Complicating assistance in such cases is the continuing existence of the historical convention of “Crown prerogative.” It provides discretion to the government for the denial of assistance to even Canadian citizens in difficulty overseas.

There were indications earlier this year that the Trudeau government might be willing to disavow the use of this discretion, but so far nothing specific has been announced.

The continued existence of this discretion undermines the ability of the government to provide consular services generally. It is particularly ironic that the discretion continues even though Canadians specifically pay for such services to the tune of approximately $100 million annually. This is a serious anomaly since the government collects monies for a service it admits to no compulsion to provide.

Source: The Hill Times

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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