Professor Patti Tamara Lenard, U of Ottawa – Brief – May 7

Proposed Amendments to B-C24, Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act

Professor Patti Tamara Lenard,

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. My name is Patti Tamara Lenard, and I am assistant professor of Applied Ethics at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, at the University of Ottawa. I am also Coordinator of the University of Ottawa’s International Migration Network. My area of research and expertise is immigration policy, as well as the impact of immigration on democratic states.

The proposed Act to Strengthen Canadian Citizenship (Bill C-24) will create the image of immigrants as deserving of suspicion and mistrust, and additionally will ensure that naturalized immigrants are treated as second class citizens. The Government motivates the changes in the Act with the correct statement that “Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility…and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.” But, crucially, citizenship is also a right, and not simply a privilege, and once granted this right is intended to protect those who hold it, in perpetuity. The Act threatens the rights to which all Canadian citizens, whether immigrant or not, are entitled in virtue of their citizenship.

For lack of time, I will now describe only three particularly problematic elements of the Act.

1. The range of changes intended to make attaining Canadian citizenship more difficult

The Bill as it is currently written proposes several ways to make attaining citizenship in Canada more difficult, all of which are unnecessary and which collectively threaten to weaken the strong support that immigrants have for Canada. The proposed measures include requiring individuals aged 14-65 to speak one of the national languages (currently this requirement is for those 18-54), requiring that these individuals pass the Knowledge test without an interpreter (where previously one was permitted), and requiring the signing of a form indicating an “intent to reside” in Canada following naturalization. In addition to being impossible to assess, this “intent to reside” will have no effect other than adding to the bureaucracy associated with applying for Canadian citizenship.

As the government acknowledges, there is no evidence to suggest that immigrants to Canada under-value their citizenship. There is, further, no evidence to support the government’s claim that increasing these obstacles to citizenship will increase their commitment to Canadian values.

Indeed, we have a natural experiment in Europe that suggests precisely the opposite. In many European states, the residency requirements are considerably stricter than those proposed by the Canadian government (note 1). Yet, immigrants to Europe show no greater, and in fact according to most research lesser, loyalty to their new states than do Canadian immigrants. One frequently acknowledged reason for high rates of reported loyalty among immigrants to Canada is that our rules encourage quick acquisition of citizenship and rapid integration (note 2) – when immigrants are asked why they are loyal to Canadian values, this is on the list of reasons they offer.

Moreover, European states have gone down the path that Canada proposes to take, i.e., to make citizenship even harder to access. Just as it is in Canada, their stated goal is to strengthen the commitment to a particular set of values and norms. Yet, the effect of these changes is precisely the opposite – immigrants (whether naturalized or not) interpret these changes as criticism and as a lack of trust. They respond not with increased loyalty but with distrust of, and frustration with, their host community.

There is simply no need to make citizenship acquisition more difficult, in particular given that the evidence suggests that doing so will have precisely the opposite of its intended effect.

2. Revoking citizenship in cases of treason/spying/terrorism

The Act as it is currently written proposes to permit the right to revoke citizenship in cases where an individual, who possesses dual citizenship, engages in a range of “acts against Canada”, and where they (allegedly) fraudulently attain citizenship in Canada.

The government claims that this law would put Canada in line with what many other countries do. In fact, very few comparable states reserve the right to revoke citizenship in cases of terrorism/treason and so on – the UK is the clearest example of a state that does grant this right to the state. In the last few years, however, the United States and Australia have both considered and rejected implementing such a provision. And, of those states with such revocation laws (Malta,Lithuania,Cyprus,Estonia)–it is worth noting that they are in disuse. Rather, the recent trend is to repeal revocation laws, as Luxemburg did in 2008, or to consign them to an era of history in which totalitarian governments assumed the authority to make citizenship decisions with impunity (note 3).

As the government acknowledges, the law is limited by the requirement that people cannot be left stateless, as required by the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which Canada is a signatory. The revocation provisions in the Bill thus apply only to Canadians who are also dual citizens. The majority of dual citizens in Canada are naturalized Canadians, though at least 150 000 Canadians by birth are also dual citizens, including me. Yet, while this requirement formally protects Canada’s commitment to the 1961 Convention, it imposes an inequality between citizens who hold dual citizenship and those who do not. It effectively generates “a class of second class citizens” who are more vulnerable to the powers of the Canadian state. (note 4)

In particular, dual citizens and single-nationality citizens, subject to the same crime, will be subject to different penalties. Those with dual citizenships convicted of crimes will be subject to disproportionately severe sentences, since they include the revocation of a status justly acquired. If punishment in Canada for severe offenses is good enough for native-born citizens, it is good enough for dual citizens.

3. Consequences of discretionary revocation too severe

Finally, the Bill grants the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the discretion to revoke citizenship in too many cases. Currently, the Bill would give the Minister discretion to revoke citizenship in cases of fraud, but there is no requirement for a court to evaluate if fraud did, in fact, occur. If the revocation provisions are kept, every such decision must be considered by or appealable to a court, even in cases where citizenship is revoked under suspicion of fraudulent application, for at least two reasons. First, some forms of apparent misrepresentation are made for legitimate reasons, e.g., to escape genuine harm. Second, judicial proceedings provide the only mechanism by which to protect against the otherwise inevitable suspicion that the Minister is using “fraud” as a reason to revoke citizenship of people who are suspected of aiming to harm Canada, but where proof doesn’t exist.

The 1961 Convention states that the only conditions under which revocation can be just are where the affected individual is entitled to a trial, in which he or she can hear the evidence against her, and in which he or she can counter this evidence (note 5). The current Bill is thus in violation of this foundational international treaty.

The consequences of such citizenship revocations can be severe, regardless of the reason for revocation. In two recent cases, the UK denationalized citizens, Mohamed Sakr (who was a British citizen by birth) and Bilal al-Berjawi, who were subsequently killed by American forces in Somalia. Sakr’s lawyer reported that: “‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever.” All Canadian citizens deserve to have their rights, including rights to fair trials, protected by their government. Allowing the revocation of citizenship in order to permit an execution without a trial is a terrifying abdication of the responsibilities of the Government to its people. The right to revoke citizenship is fundamentally a corrupting power: the UK is now considering the even more drastic step of permitting citizenship revocation even where it would lead to statelessness.

We should avoid going down this road by removing this denationalizing power from the Bill entirely.

Thank you for your time.


  1. Sarah Wallace Goodman, “Naturalisation Policies in Europe: Exploring Patterns of Inclusion and Exclusion”, EUDO Citizenship Observatory, November 2010, p. 10.
  2. Irene Bloemraad, Becoming a Citizen: Incorporating Immigrants and Refugees in the United States and Canada (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006).
  3. The claims in this paragraph are substantiated with data from the EUDO Observatory on Citizenship database, available at:
  4. Mathew Gibney, “Should citizenship be conditional? Denationalisation and liberal principles”, Working Paper 75, Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre, July 2011, p. 14.1961
  5. Convention on the ReductionofStatelessness, Article 8.4. Here is the language of the Convention, “A Contracting State shall not exercise a power of deprivation permitted by paragraphs 2 or 3 of this article except in accordance with law, which shall provide for the person concerned the right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body.”

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