Lebanese lawmaker fights ‘degrading’ citizenship law against women

Uphill struggle:

Nine months after being voted into the 128-seat Lebanese parliament as one of six female lawmakers, Paula Yacoubian is urging fellow legislators to help change discriminatory laws that are an “injustice” against women.

Yacoubian, 42, won her seat as a civil society candidate in May’s election, and prides herself on being the first woman in Lebanon’s parliament not aligned with any political party in the country’s sectarian political system.

The former journalist turned lawmaker’s biggest battle is gaining nationality rights for thousands of stateless children born to Lebanese women.

In Lebanon, women married to foreigners cannot pass their Lebanese nationality on to their husbands or children.

“There is so much injustice. You have thousands of kids in this country that have no rights – they are Lebanese, they grew up here, they speak only Arabic,” Yacoubian told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from her Beirut office.

“It is not only about women – it is about suffering families … They don’t have a piece of paper that says that you have a nationality – it is degrading.”

Stateless children cannot access public healthcare, have difficulty getting access to education, and when they are old enough, they cannot work without a permit, according to the law.

Additionally, women in some communities can’t inherit or own property regardless of who they marry.Lebanon is far behind other countries in the region, like Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, that have provided equal citizenship rights to men and women, activists who have worked on the issue said.

MORE PROTECTION FOR WOMEN

Beyond reform, Yacoubian said it is critical for additional laws to be passed in order to protect young women’s health and against forced marriage.

There is no minimum age for marriage in Lebanon. Religious communities can allow girls younger than 15 to marry, according to Human Rights Watch.

Yacoubian supports KAFA, a local campaign group calling on Lebanon to pass a law to make 18 the minimum age for marriage – with no exceptions.

“If there [are] any exceptions to be made it will not have the same impact. The message should be very clear – no marriage under 18,” she said.

Globally, 12 million girls marry before age 18 every year, according to Girls Not Brides, a coalition working to end child marriage.

KAFA said other Arab countries are a step ahead of Lebanon in setting 18 as the minimum marriage age, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Protecting women against violence also needs “a lot of work” in a country that passed a long-awaited law in 2014 against domestic violence, Yacoubian said.

But rights groups were outraged that authorities watered it down so much it fell short of criminalising marital rape.

A 2017 national study by ABAAD, a Lebanese women’s rights group, found that one in four women have been raped in Lebanon. Less than a quarter of those sexually assaulted reported it, the survey said.

TIME FOR DISRUPTION

With women in Lebanon gaining only two seats in parliament in May’s election for a total of six, Yacoubian said there needs to be a 33 percent quota to give women fair representation.

“It is their rights first to be represented – to have equal chances. And because this is the real representation of Lebanon … more than half of the country is women. They should be represented in a way that reflects how the society works.”

“I think in the long run it can be disruptive for this patriarchal system that humiliates women.”

Having women in lawmaking postitions will help boost women’s rights in a country where men don’t view women as their equals – something she has experienced herself in the workplace, Yacoubian said.

“I have MPs who treat me as if I am either a flower or something fragile … We don’t have a culture that understands that women are equal to men,” she said.

Many months after May’s election, Lebanese leaders are still at odds over how to parcel out cabinet positions among rival groups as mandated by a political system that shares government positions among Christian and Muslim sects.

Yacoubian called it a “mafia system” that is running the country based off of religion, money and power – dominated by men.

She said she will “keep fighting” for women’s rights and is hopeful legal changes will be made to protect women.

“I hope it will be soon because you will have less suffering, less problems. I am sure that one day this country will see a new horizon, a new light.”

USA: A Judge Blocked the Census From Asking About Citizenship. Here’s Why It Matters

One of the better analysis that I have seen:

A federal judge in New York has blocked the Trump Administration from adding a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census, marking a victory for critics who have said the question is unnecessary and is intended to decrease the number of immigrants and minorities counted in the decennial survey.

The ruling is just the first in a series of cases on the issue, which has significant implications for future elections, political representation at every level and federal funding decisions for the next decade. The Trump Administration is also facing five other lawsuits over the Census question, and the battle is expected to end up at the Supreme Court.

But U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s decision on Tuesday was an important moment. The suit’s plaintiffs — a collection of immigrant advocacy groups, states and local officials — argued that the Trump Administration tried to add the citizenship question to intentionally dissuade immigrants from responding to the survey. The U.S. Census, which is conducted every 10 years, has not included a question about citizenship since 1950. More detailed sampling surveys have done so, but those go out to far fewer households.

Furman ruled that the way Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added the question was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated administrative procedures.

“He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Furman wrote in his 227-page decision.

The judge also ruled that Ross’s explanation for the citizenship change — that the Justice Department said it was needed to help enforce the Voting Rights Act — was “pretextual.”

Ross initially offered voting rights enforcement as his official explanation, but documents released as part of the ongoing lawsuits revealed that he began pushing the issue on his own soon after becoming Commerce Secretary.

The Justice Department said it was disappointed in the ruling, while advocacy groups like the ACLU cheered the decision.

“This ruling is a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “The evidence at trial, including from the government’s own witness, exposed how adding a citizenship question would wreck the once-in-a-decade count of the nation’s population. The inevitable result would have been — and the administration’s clear intent was — to strip federal resources and political representation from those needing it most.”

As this was the first ruling in the cases against the citizenship question, evidence that came out during the trial could encourage those pursuing similar lawsuits, said William H. Frey, a demographer and expert on the Census at the Brookings Institution.

“This is good news for people who want to have a Census that represents America,” Frey told TIME. “You want to make sure that all groups are represented and it helps the proper apportionment of Congress, it helps federal spending that is allocated to different groups around the country.”

If immigrants and other minorities avoid responding to the census because of a question about citizenship, experts, including the Census Bureau itself, say it would likely result in a survey that significantly undercounts those populations.

The Census provides crucial data that is used for a wide variety of decisions, including how many representatives each state sends to Congress and how much federal money different areas receive for everything from highway funds to Medicaid. The data can also affect state representation and even the Electoral College, which is based on Congressional delegations.

The private sector often relies on Census numbers as well for decisions about where to open stores or where to base factories and other employment opportunities, Frey notes.

“The Constitution says that we need to count everyone in the United States and I think that as a scientist, as a demographer, as someone who has been doing this for a long time, the research is pretty unequivocal that that’s going to not be done if the citizenship question is on there,” he said.

Source: A Judge Blocked the Census From Asking About Citizenship. Here’s Why It Matters

This Ontario man has a warning for permanent residents: ‘Get your Canadian citizenship’

Good advice. Other advice, always travel with photocopies of key documents as having their numbers can simplify things.

The other interesting question is why Ruijter’s didn’t bother getting a Canadian passport despite living in Canada for so many years, given the requirement to renew PR cards every 5 years (may not have been requirement in the 1960s):

For almost 60 years, Cornelis Ruijter has lived as a permanent resident in Canada, having immigrated to the country with his 14 brothers and sisters in 1961.

The Barrie, Ont., man never bothered becoming a full Canadian citizen, but after a theft abroad left him stranded in Europe for five weeks, he has some advice for any other permanent residents.

“Get your Canadian citizenship and get your passport,” he said.

Until last year, when he travelled out of the country, Ruijter would bring his Netherlands passport and his permanent resident card, getting around without fail.

But on Nov. 27, while on a family trip in Italy, he says a thief stole both documents.

The identification card Ruijter received when entering the country in 1961. (Marilyn Ruyter)

According to the Canadian government’s website, permanent residents are required to have their permanent resident card or a permanent resident travel document to enter the country.

“Once that’s gone, you’re not getting back into Canada,” he said.

After returning to his native country of the Netherlands, tracking down the right offices and filling out the required paperwork, Ruijter arrived back in Toronto on Jan. 7.

Now, he wants to share his experience with other permanent residents who haven’t made their citizenship official.

After a theft abroad left Cornelis Ruijter without his Netherlands passport or his Canadian permanent resident’s card, he began a difficult process to get back to the country, and his family. 0:32

After a few calls, he realized it would take some time to replace them and left his family vacation to go to the Netherlands.

He found out he’d have to travel to Vienna to get a new permanent resident card, so instead he went through the steps to get a new Netherlands passport.

After showing his few remaining pieces of ID — his driver’s licence and his health card —  officials there processed a passport and had it to him within a week.

The passport then had to travel to Vienna to get a permanent resident stamp so Ruijter could re-enter Canada.

‘It can take months’

According to immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo, five weeks is a good news story for someone in Ruijter’s predicament.

“That’s as good as it gets,” he said.

“It can take months and months to get that documentation, so in his case, Netherlands acted quickly.”

Bellissimo said the loss of a permanent resident card can cause serious complications for travellers.

“When someone loses that card, they then have to move de facto to their original travel document, which would be the passport of a country they may not have lived in for 30, 40 years,” he said.

The reason for that, the lawyer said, is that authorities need time to confirm people are who they say they are if they don’t have formal documents.

Bellissimo has also seen cases of lost permanent resident cards in countries where it’s logistically much harder to get a replacement.

“Other countries … might not have the sophistication yet or the internal infrastructure to produce these documents in a timely way. He could’ve, if he was from another country, could’ve been sitting for many, many months; worst case scenario, years,” he said.

The lawyer’s advice if you’re eligible to become a Canadian citizen: Get your passport immediately.

“There’s still too many people that don’t access that right to apply for citizenship,” he said.

“Ultimately it gives you the ability to know that Canada is your permanent home, and in my view, especially with the trends in the world and what’s happening, there’s nothing more important than that for you and your family.”

‘We’re so lucky’

Back in Canada now, Ruijter and his siblings will be applying for citizenship right away.

“I plan on finishing that off and doing it,” he said. “It’s a warning for a lot of other people … if they ever lose that permanent resident card, they’ve got a problem.”

Ruijter’s wife, Marilyn Ruyter, is also relieved to have him home.

“We’re so lucky … Both of us have very large families, lots of friends, lots of contacts,” she said.

“I cannot imagine how somebody on their own could’ve done all this; it was extremely stressful.”

In the meantime, there are some perks to being back in Canada that Ruijter planned to enjoy immediately.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a Timmies … and a good Canadian beer.”

Source: This Ontario man has a warning for permanent residents: ‘Get your Canadian citizenship’

‘Bizarre, heavy-handed: Councils push back on changes to Australia Day citizenship ceremonies

Ongoing Australian debates, political positioning and virtue signalling continue to amaze me. That being said, we are seeing some similar pressures from Indigenous peoples here in Canada (Canada celebrates 150 but indigenous groups say history is being ‘skated over’):

The federal government has revised the citizenship code to make it compulsory for all councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day – but some councils say the Morrison government should have consulted rather than applying a “heavy-handed and odd” approach.

Under changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code to be introduced in 2020, councils will also have to hold a second citizenship ceremony on September 17 – Australian Citizenship Day – and new citizens will have to abide by a strict dress code that bans boardshorts and thongs.

The revised code will be sent to councils this week, Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister David Coleman announced.

“Australian citizenship is an immense privilege and fundamental to our national identity,” Mr Coleman said.

“As part of this update, the government will require that citizenship ceremonies be held on Australia Day across the nation.

“New citizens should be given the opportunity to become an Australian on our national day – Australia Day is an incredibly important part of our national calendar.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government will “protect our national day and ensure it is respected”.

“We believe all councils who are granted the privilege of conducting citizenship ceremonies should be required to conduct a ceremony on Australia Day,” he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

In 2017, two Melbourne councils were stripped of the right to hold citizenship ceremonies after scrapping all Australia Day celebrations to recognise Indigenous sensitivities. Yarra City Council and neighbouring Darebin Council cited a groundswell of popular support for the move but were slapped down by the government.

Amid a growing push from some corners to change Australia’s national from January 26, several councils have already made plans to move or cancel traditional celebrations this year.

Victoria’s Darebin, Yarra and Moreland, Western Australia’s Fremantle and NSW’s Byron have already flagged a change of date, because January 26 is considered a day of mourning by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

City of Sydney Labor Councillor Linda Scott said councils had an obligation to listen to community sentiment.

“The job of local governments is to listen to their communities and represent their views,” she told SBS News.

“Councils should be able to set the day of their citizenship ceremonies in line with the views of their community.”

She said other councils had shifted citizenship ceremonies from January 26 because of extreme heat, a lack of new citizenship applications or because of cultural sensitivity.

Australian Local Government Association president Mayor David O’Loughlin said most councils likely won’t be opposed to the government’s proposed changes to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code but councils will have valid concerns.

“Most councils hold more than one citizenship ceremony a year, some as often as monthly – the Federal Government’s strong focus on drawing a link between Australia Day and citizenship ceremonies is bizarre,” he said.

“We do acknowledge that a small number of councils are in discussions with their communities about whether the 26th of January is the appropriate day to celebrate Australia Day.

“However, councils cannot move Australia Day – this is ultimately up to the Federal government – but it is our job to be responsive to our communities, including to their calls for prudence and advocacy.”

He said if the Morrison government had “bothered to consult” with council it would have found many Local Government Areas forgo citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day because of the heat.

“In some locations, it’s simply too hot for councils to hold ceremonies during the day, so they do it the evening before, just as the Federal Government does with its Australian of the Year Ceremony,” he said.

“Interestingly, the federal government has made no mention of any financial contribution towards the additional costs involved in running these ceremonies.”

More than 73,000 people have become Australian citizens on Australia Day in the past five years, according to government figures – despite there being no specific requirement for councils to hold ceremonies on January 26.

City of Darebin’s Mayor Susan Rennie told SBS News her council “will not be marking January 26 by holding any events on that day or surrounding days” for a second year running.

Ms Rennie said Darebin is “opposed to Australia’s national celebration being held on January 26 out of respect for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have told us that they experience a day of sadness, pain and disconnection”.

Source: ‘Bizarre, heavy-handed: Councils push back on changes to Australia Day citizenship ceremonies

Visible minorities form majority in 41 federal ridings, but experts say immigrants are politically diverse

Overview of some of the issues:
Abdikheir Ahmed vividly remembers casting his ballot for the first time in Winnipeg’s 2010 municipal election. Not only was he excited, he had an entourage.

“I brought my family. I brought my kids. I brought everyone,” Ahmed said. “It was the first time in my life that I voted.”

The 39-year-old Winnipeg resident arrived in Canada from Somalia as a refugee in 2003. It took several years before he could legally vote as a Canadian citizen, but he was eager to do so.

“I feel that I have a responsibility to decide the direction that this country goes in,” said Ahmed.

Now, he runs Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, an organization that helps immigrants and refugees get settled in that city. Visible minorities make up one-quarter of the population in Winnipeg, according to Statistics Canada, though not all are recent immigrants.

Volunteers with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg launch the ‘Got Citizenship? Go Vote!’ campaign in August 2018. (Submitted by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg)

It’s become conventional wisdom in Canadian politics that immigrant voters can have a powerful influence in elections.

According to Ahmed, immigrants — new or long-settled — are a potentially powerful block of voters.

“It actually makes sense to court the so-called immigrant vote because that is the determining factor, and it’s a growing population,” said Ahmed.

But as the battle begins for this year’s federal election, experts say no party has a monopoly on any particular ethnic group or religious minority.

Myth or reality?

Canada’s major parties have been competing for immigrant voters since the 1960s, according University of Toronto political science professor Phil Triadafilopoulos.

“The main sources of immigration were different then, but the dynamics were very similar. It’s an urban Canadian story,” said Triadafilopoulos.

In the 2019 federal election, ridings in Toronto and Vancouver are considered key battlegrounds that can make-or-break a party. Both have high Chinese and South Asian populations.

But they aren’t the only cities where politicians are courting ethnic voters.

Certain very racist policies, like the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and tip line … woke up communities to actually say, ‘We cannot tolerate this in our country.’– Abdikheir Ahmed, Immigration Partnership Winnipeg

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, says data on immigration and ethno-cultural diversity from the 2016 census shows many Canadian communities now have a larger percentage of visible minority residents than in 2011.

Of 338 federal ridings in Parliament, 41 have populations where visible minorities form the majority, compared with 33 five years earlier.

“Parties, when they’re developing their electoral strategies, take that into account in terms of how they advocate policies and programs to attract them,” said Griffith.

What’s more difficult is pinning down whether immigrant voters have partisan preferences.

New Canadians could once be counted on to vote Liberal, ever since Pierre Trudeau opened the door to more immigration in the 1970s, but that unwavering endorsement became less pronounced over the past decade.

Griffith says recent polling data suggests some ethnic communities still lean toward certain parties. Sikh-Canadians, for example, have a “general tendency” to vote Liberal and NDP, while Conservatives enjoy more support among Chinese-Canadians.

But, Griffith cautions, “We should never make the assumption that all members of the community are identical and behave the same way, whether it be in the polling booth or in other aspects.”

Encouraging newcomers to vote

In Winnipeg, Ahmed says it shouldn’t even be assumed new immigrants will exercise their franchise. He’s working to mobilize visible minority and newcomers who have earned citizenship to vote in this year’s federal election.

“Many newcomers have never voted in their own countries or have engaged in electoral processes that are not transparent, so do not actually trust the process and don’t see the importance of voting in it,” said Ahmed.

To encourage refugees and immigrants to vote in last fall’s municipal election, Ahmed’s non-partisan group launched a electoral campaign with the slogan “Got Citizenship, Go Vote.”

Immigration Partnership Winnipeg developed posters and videos on how and where to vote that were translated into 12 different languages, and concentrated on ethno-cultural community organizations to get the message out.

Ahmed’s impression is that immigrants don’t vote in blocks, but he says ethnic communities will respond electorally if they feel targeted by an issue.

For example, when the federal Tories campaigned in 2015 on policies such as banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies or setting up a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, Ahmed says it spurred newcomers to vote against them.

“The messaging from the Conservative Party came across as anti-immigrant,” said Ahmed.

“Certain very racist policies like the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and tip line … woke up communities to actually say, ‘We cannot tolerate this in our country.'”

It’s a point echoed by Triadafilopoulos, who suggests large numbers of immigrant voters is one of the reasons Canada has not experienced the same kind of xenophobic populism sweeping Europe and the United States.

“The demographic and institutional facts [in Canada] just make it a losing proposition,” he said.

Source: Canadian politicians will court the ethnic vote, but will it benefit any one party?For years, the Liberals could count on votes from immigrant communities, but with visible minorities a majority in 41 federal ridings, experts say that newcomers are politically diverse — and offer no guarantees for any one party.Cross Country Checkup |3 hours ago|

Supreme Court rules voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional

Well, that settles it, even if I disagree with the decision (Opinion: What should the voting rights of Canadian expatriates be).

We will find out just how many of these previously disenfranchised citizens vote in the 2015 election (the chart above covers previous elections):

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional.

Two Canadians working in the United States, Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, challenged federal voting restrictions after being unable to vote in the federal election of 2011. At the time, the law said non-resident citizens could not vote if they had lived more than five years abroad.

In December, a Liberal bill extending voting rights to long-term expatriates received royal assent. But at stake in the Supreme Court ruling was whether those voting rights could be taken away by a future government.

Dr. Frank, who was born in Toronto and was a Canadian Forces member, and now teaches American Studies at the University of Virginia, explained in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday what it felt like not to be able to vote: “To watch democracy from the outside, it’s sort of like an injury, that acts up every once in a while.”

The court ruled 5-2 that the now-repealed law was unconstitutional. “The disenfranchisement of these citizens not only denies them a fundamental democratic right, but also comes at the expense of their sense of self-worth and their dignity,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote for four of the judges in the majority. (A fifth judge wrote concurring reasons.) “These deleterious effects far outweigh any speculative benefits that the measure might bring about.”​

Mr. Duong, who left Canada in 2001 and works at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., told The Globe on Thursday that he has a strong attachment to his native land. “I was born and raised in Canada; my parents still live in Canada. I’m a Canadian, and it’s my obligation to vote and participate in our democratic process.”

A lower-court judge had found the voting prohibition unconstitutional. But the Ontario Court of Appeal then ruled 2-1 that the law could stand, saying that non-residents do not live with the consequences of their votes on a daily basis. The dissenting judge said the restrictions had the effect of making non-resident Canadians second-class citizens. Dr. Frank and Mr. Duong appealed to the Supreme Court.

They are among 1.4 million Canadians who – as of 2009 – had been living abroad for more than five years.

The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms says without qualification that every Canadian citizen has the right to vote.

Canada has always had residency restrictions on voting. During the First World War, the restrictions were eased to allow soldiers to vote. Advance voting was established in 1920 for salespeople and sailors. In 1945, proxy voting was allowed for prisoners of war. In 1970, diplomats and other public servants living abroad, and their dependents, were allowed to vote remotely. And in 1993, the vote was extended to citizens who had lived abroad for fewer than five years.

The federal Attorney-General’s office, in its Supreme Court filing, said the limit on expats’ right to vote is fair. “The legal responsibilities of long-term non-resident citizens under Canadian domestic law are much less than the responsibilities of resident Canadians,” it said. It added that similar limits on voting rights are common in other parliamentary systems derived from the British tradition.

Lawyers for Dr. Frank and Mr. Duong, in their written argument filed with the Supreme Court, said that Canadians who leave the country tend to do so for work-related reasons, but maintain their connection to Canada. “The inability to vote leaves them with no voice in the direction or well-being of the country, even though many of them have strong connections, including family in Canada, and wish to return.” Many of them have no right to vote anywhere, they said. They added that the voting restrictions harm the dignity and sense of belonging of expatriates.

The last major case on voting rights was in 2002, and it was one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial in the Charter era. The court ruled 5-4 that federal prisoners could not be denied the right to vote. “Denying citizen law-breakers the right to vote sends the message that those who commit serious breaches are no longer valued as members of the community, but instead are temporary outcasts from our system of rights and democracy,” then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the majority.

Source: Supreme Court rules voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional
Ironically, the same day as this decision, the Globe published yet another op-ed (think it is the fourth) arguing against limiting voting rights for longer-term expatriates without the author, Yasmin Rafiei, or the Globe, acknowledging that the government had already changed the legislation.
Hardly a demonstration of being connected to Canadian political discourse and developments:

One of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 federal-election campaign lines was, “A Canadian is a Canadian, is a Canadian.”

Unless you live outside of Canada, it seems.

This Friday, the Supreme Court will decide if the democratic franchise of Canadians living overseas should be subject to a five-year limit. A voting ban – which denies Canadians the right to vote in elections after five years living overseas – was legislated in 1993 under Jean Chrétien, enforced under Stephen Harper, and has not yet been overturned under Mr. Trudeau. His government sought to repeal the five-year limit in 2016 via Bill C-33, but in the two years since its introduction, the bill has only achieved a first reading. Its tepid progress in Parliament has ushered the case into the hands of the Supreme Court, where it rests today.

The voting ban raises a fundamental question: What makes a Canadian a Canadian?

It’s a question I contend with in my daily life outside my homeland. I was born and raised in Canada and had only ever studied and worked in Canada until last year. If I have a personal geography, it is tied to my parents, whose immigration to Edmonton from Iran involved embracing every aspect of their new country. My dad had me on skis as soon as I could walk; we hosted neighbourhood street hockey on our driveway; Edmonton’s river valley was, to my mother’s consternation, my second home.

I was raised in our city’s public schools, graduated from the University of Alberta and delivered the faculty address at graduation. However, it was in leaving Canada that I fully came to terms with my national identity.

In 2017, I received a scholarship to study at University of Oxford, where I regularly encounter my identity, as it is perceived outside our national borders. Abroad, my primary identifier is no longer the province I grew up in or where my parents come from, but my nationality as a Canadian. Limiting my right to vote indicates I’ve lost touch with this national identity when, in fact, I renegotiate it every day against its reflection, mirrored to me in my international colleagues’ perceptions of Canada.

I’m hardly alone. A 2010 report by the Asia Pacific Foundation estimated that 2.8 million Canadians live abroad. Comprising about 9 per cent of our national population, our expat community is proportionately larger than that of Australia, the United States, China or India. This group, both substantial in size and highly skilled, should not be treated as a demographic anomaly.

The court’s coming decision demands our collective attention. Our citizenship is enshrined in our constitutional right to vote – in our ability to decide, at election time, what we would like the future of our country to be. By stripping this right away after five years, our government makes a resounding judgment that expatriates are less Canadian because we live abroad.

Limiting voting rights also discourages valuable expatriates from returning to Canada. My departure was incited by educational opportunity: After two years studying politics at Oxford, I’ll spend four years studying medicine at Stanford University. Despite my time away, my right to vote enables me to decide the state of the home I plan on returning to. Under the current legislation, I will have effectively exchanged my graduate and doctoral degrees for that right.

The critique frequently levelled against extending voting rights is that expats have broken the social contract: We do not pay taxes (although most do). But at the heart of this critique rests a dangerous assumption: that constitutional rights ought only to be afforded to those who can pay for them. By this logic, should the impoverished not vote? Do we give the rich more votes? This thinking could set an odious precedent for further excisions of voting rights.

And it would be to Canada’s benefit to expand voting rights beyond geographic boundaries. My status abroad, for instance, facilitates my work on the Ebola virus and antimicrobial resistance, biosecurity threats that don’t know borders. I study and work alongside Canadian expats driven to resolve climate change, cyberattacks, and mass migration – issues demanding global co-operation. A postnational Canada that enables citizens to vote outside of its borders provides international depth to civic engagement – but also supports citizens living overseas and confronting global challenges.

Beliefs that Canada is a nation-state bounded by its geography do more harm than good. Being Canadian is not about where you live: It’s about contributing to, improving, and stewarding a community forward through challenges, domestic and abroad. Whatever Canada is in the future, it is ours together – and our voting rights need to reflect that.

Source: Why should Canadian expats suffer for suffrage?

Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan?

Have been following some of the Indian media regarding this issue and found this commentary in Bloomberg of interest. Not sure how much this is being taken up in the Canadian South Asian media:

India is, and has been since independence in 1947, a liberal secular democracy. Its first generation of leaders resolutely refused to accept the argument of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah that the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent represented two different nations. Thus, while Pakistan became a Muslim homeland, India insisted it was a state for citizens of all creeds. Whatever else might have changed in the seven decades since, that much has remained true.

Till now. For the first time, India’s leaders have sought to redefine the country effectively as a home for South Asians that aren’t Muslims — and they’re enshrining the distinction into law. That’s the underlying message of a bill that was passed this week by the lower house of India’s Parliament, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a majority.

The new law amends the religion-blind Citizenship Act written in the early years of Indian independence “to facilitate acquisition of citizenship by six identified minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.” Calling them “persecuted migrants,” the government minister who introduced the amendment said “they have nowhere to go but India.”

Sadly, that may well be true. Many of India’s neighbors have a far worse record dealing with their religious minorities than India has with its own. And India must certainly welcome them.

Yet, in spite of its claims, India’s government is not in fact acting purely on humanitarian impulses. After all, at the moment the most persecuted minority on India’s borders are the Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar; being Muslim, they’re very obviously not welcome. Neither are the Shias and Ahmadis who are the focus of everyday violence in Pakistan — or, for that matter, the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh that have been threatened by machete-wielding extremists. As one commentator put it, the amendment could be summed up in one phrase: “No Muslims please, this is India.”

Not surprisingly, electoral politics — and the complex history of India’s eastern states — are also playing a role. The state of Assam has been convulsed in the past by violence supposedly directed at migrants from next-door Bangladesh, but in fact targeting anyone of Bengali ethnicity, regardless of national or religious background.

A decades-old accord set the date beyond which cross-border migration became illegal at 1971, the same year that Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now, the government is demanding people prove they or their parents arrived before then — an absurd process that, if carried to its logical end, would require India to set up internment camps for literally hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. (Some camps have alreadybeen built.) The government hopes, through the new citizenship rules, to ensure that no non-Muslims are caught up in this sweep of “foreigners.”

Assam’s sub-nationalists are furious: They don’t want to welcome any outsiders, Hindus included. Yet the government is facing a tight reelection later this year, and at least some BJP strategists appear to hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will serve as a wedge issue elsewhere in India — especially in nearby West Bengal state.

Personally, I doubt that will work; like Assam, West Bengal is one of those parts of India where ethnicity has traditionally counted for more than religion. In the religiously polarized north and west of India, however, the law might help the BJP mobilize a few million extra voters.

Surely even a few million votes aren’t worth allowing India to lose a seven-decade old argument and accept that Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” was correct after all? Is an election victory worth making India’s 170 million Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country?

I would argue that, for the BJP, it isn’t just about the votes. It’s precisely about changing what India has represented for 70 years. That’s why the party has repeatedly invoked the memory of Partition when discussing the new law. The BJP’s most popular leader in Assam called Assam’s Muslims “Jinnahs.”

Modi himself put things bluntly: The new law, he said, was meant as penance for errors committed at the time of Partition. Contrary to the official histories of India, many in the BJP don’t believe dividing the subcontinent in 1947 was a tragic error. Modi told a Muslim journalist in 2012: “You people find your mouth watering because you think by combining India, Pakistan and Bangladesh … the country would have a lot of Muslims.”

In India, disputes over decades-old history can still determine elections. But, the country has held together and stayed largely peaceful precisely because the muddled secular liberalism that united most of India’s founding generation was enshrined in its laws. If India abandons those principles, it will become a darker and more dangerous place.

Source: Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan?

Fiji casts fresh doubt on decision to strip terrorist Neil Prakash of Australian citizenship

Almost comical in the Australian government’s ineptitude. A reminder of the challenges in determining whether or not someone slated for revocation is actually a citizen, or entitled to the citizenship, of another country:

Fijian officials have rejected claims Australian-born terrorist Neil Prakash is a citizen of their country, leading the Federal Opposition to label Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as an embarrassment to the country.

Last month Mr Dutton revealed the Federal Government had revoked Prakash’s rights as an Australian citizen because of his affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

The Federal Government argued it could strip his citizenship because it had “clear advice” he had, or was entitled to, Fijian citizenship.

Prakash was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father and Cambodian mother. He is currently in jail in Turkey, awaiting trial on multiple terror charges.

Now Fiji’s Immigration Director Nemani Vuniwaqa has told the ABC there is no evidence of Prakash or his parents ever being Fijian citizens.

“[There are] no records of Mr Prakash being a Fiji citizen,” he said.

“We do not have any records of his immediate family either, unless if it was provided to the Department.”

Fijian law states the children of a former citizen can apply for citizenship, provided that one of their parents was still a citizen at the time of their birth.

In an indication of how Canberra has handled the matter, Mr Vuniwaqa said he had not received any communication from the Australian Government about Prakash’s case.

“I first received info from a local media source who quoted that Mr Prakash had been stripped off his Australian citizenship,” he said.

“There was no formal communication with regards to the plans by the Australian Government.”

The ABC understands the Federal Government communicated with the Fijian Foreign Ministry about the case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is making an official visit to Fiji next week, where the matter will likely be discussed.

Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann said Mr Dutton had badly mishandled the situation.

“Peter Dutton didn’t consult, or have his department consult with the Fijian Government before he announced that he was stripping this terrorist of citizenship.

“Peter Dutton is a shameless, self-serving media tart on this issue and what he’s done is embarrassed himself, has embarrassed the Prime Minister, embarrassed our country, and in a week’s time Prime Minister Morrison has to go to Fiji to sort out Peter Dutton’s mess.”

The Federal Government is standing by its decision.

“Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been very clear in his comments about Neil Prakash, he’s made it clear what the Government’s position is,” cabinet minister Paul Fletcher said.

“He’s also made it clear he’s not going to be providing a running commentary on this matter.”

Legal experts said if Prakash was not Fijian, the Australian government’s decision would be invalid.

“If he isn’t a citizen or a national of another country other than Australia then it’s beyond statutory authority,” Rayner Thwaites, a senior law lecturer from the University of Sydney said.

“It’s as if the citizenship deprivation hadn’t happened, it would not have effect.”

Source: Fiji casts fresh doubt on decision to strip terrorist Neil Prakash of Australian citizenship

Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports

Perhaps one of the more glaring examples of the corruption of citizenship by investment programs:

Sixty-two members of two of the richest families in Saudi Arabia became ‘Maltese and EU citizens’ last year after paying millions of euros to buy Malta passports, Times of Malta learnt.

According to the 2017 list of new Maltese citizens, published in The Government Gazette a few days ago, the Al-Muhaidibs and Al-Agils became fully-fledged Maltese citizens last year, even though most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil.

The Al-Muhaidibs and the Al-Agils are not only two of the wealthiest business clans in the Saudi kingdom, they are also mentioned by Forbes as among the wealthiest families on the planet.

The Al-Muhaidib Group was established in 1946 and mainly deals in building material and foodstuffs. Group chairman, Sulaiman Al-Muhaidib, who, according to Forbes, has a personal wealth exceeding €3 billion, acquired a Maltese passport last year together with 34 other family members, including his brothers, spouses and their families.

The Government Gazette list, which gives details on a  first name alphabetical order rather than the normal surname module, making it more difficult to distinguish passport buyers from purely new Maltese nationals, indicated that the Al-Agils, who control the Jarir Group business empire, worth over €1.5 billion, procured 27 Maltese passports.

The Jarir Group, which is listed on the Saudi stock exchange and trades in many areas, is controlled by brothers Mohammed, Abdulkarim, Abdulsalam, Abdullah and Naser, all appearing as new Maltese citizens.

Most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil

Very little information is given about Malta’s controversial cash for passports scheme, launched in 2014, despite the fact that those who pay large sums of money and buy/rent property on the island are entitled to a Maltese passport, citizenship and the right to vote.

The government has always resisted calls to publish the list of those acquiring Maltese passports through payment and, instead, publishes the names of the new ‘Maltese citizens’ together with hundreds of other names who acquire Maltese citizenship every year through a long legal process, normally through naturalisation.

Read: Henley boasts of cash-for-passports scheme in Malta

Various government spokesmen, including ministers and officials of Identity Malta, have repeatedly shot down calls to make the names of passport buyers’ public, arguing that would jeopardise the scheme’s popularity.

Identity Malta sources told Times of Malta that those buying Maltese passports would not usually be very interested in making such a fact known, especially to their own governments.

A major share of Malta’s passport buyers’ hail from Saudi Arabia as well as other gulf states and far eastern countries. People living in former Soviet republics have also been attracted by the so-called Individual Investor Programme.

More than acquiring Maltese passports, those who fork out €650,000 for every passport and another €25,000 for each dependent would be seeking freedom of movement within the EU since they would also attain EU citizenship as a result.

Although the EU does not look at these schemes positively, it has, so far, tolerated them. This is also due to its limited powers in this area because citizenship rights fall under the direct jurisdiction of member states.

Source: Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports

‘Birth Tourism’ Is Legal in Canada. A Lawmaker Calls it Unscrupulous.

Good overview of the issues involved and interesting details on the support birth tourism “industry,” My study cited (Hospital stats show birth tourism rising in major cities) and I am quoted along with others:

Melody Bai arrived in Vancouver from China in the late stages of pregnancy with one goal: to give birth to a Canadian baby.

Awaiting her was an elaborate ecosystem catering to pregnant women from China, including a spacious “baby house” where she spent four months, attended to by a Mandarin-speaking housekeeper.

Caregivers offered free breast massages to promote lactation, outings to the mall, lectures on childbirth with other Chinese mothers-to-be and excursions for high tea.

“It’s an investment in my child’s education,” Ms. Bai, a 28-year-old flight attendant, said by phone from Shanghai, months after returning to China with her newborn and passport in hand. “We chose Canada because of its better natural and social environment.”

Ms. Bai is part of a growing phenomenon in Canada known as birth tourism, which is not only generating political opposition, but mobilizing self-appointed vigilantes determined to stop it.

It is perfectly legal.

Under the principle of jus soli — the right of the soil — being born in Canada confers automatic citizenship. But as more pregnant women arrive each month to give birth, some Canadians are protesting that they are gaming the system, testing the limits of tolerance and debasing the notion of citizenship.

In Richmond, a city outside Vancouver where about 53 percent of its roughly 200,000 residents are ethnic Chinese, nonresident mothers account for one in five births at the Richmond Hospital, the largest number of nonresident births of any hospital in the country, according to a recent report.

“Birth tourism may be legal, but it is unethical and unscrupulous,” said Joe Peschisolido, a Liberal member of Parliament in Richmond, who brought a petition against the practice to Ottawa, where the immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, said he would examine the issue.

The practice underlines how Canada, and British Columbia in particular, has become a favored haven for well-heeled Chinese seeking a refuge for wealth and kin away from authoritarian China.

The issue of birthright citizenship gained global attention in October after President Trump said he wanted to eliminate it, though it is enshrined in the American Constitution.

At least 30 other countries, including Canada, Mexico and Brazil, grant automatic birthright citizenship. Others like Britain and Australia have tightened their laws by requiring that at least one parent be a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth.

Indicating that immigration could be an issue in federal elections next year in Canada, the opposition Conservative party this summer endorsed a nonbinding motion calling for unconditional birthright citizenship to be abolished.

In the recent report, from the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the government department responsible for immigration, showed that the number of children born to nonresidents in Canada was at least five times as high as previously thought — close to 1,500 to 2,000 annually.

Mr. Griffith argues that Canada intended birthright citizenship for those who wanted to live in and contribute to the country. “Since those engaging in birth tourism have no or barely any real link to Canada,” he said, “the practice is challenging a very Canadian value of fair play.”

With its sprawling Chinese food markets, Chinese-language newspapers and large number of caregivers speaking Mandarin, Richmond has become ground zero for birth tourists from China.

About two dozen baby houses are in operation. Visits to about 15 addresses showed that some operate openly while others work under licenses as tour agencies or present themselves as holiday rentals. Some are in homes. Others are in apartments. Many are booked through agents and brokers in China.

In a visit to one, the Baoma Inn, a modern house across from a park, a woman in the late stages of pregnancy could be seen in a second-floor window. A young man who answered the door confirmed that the inn was a baby house before another angrily slammed the door.

But during a telephone call in Mandarin inquiring about the Inn’s services, a man said it offered a one-stop package including “guaranteed appointments” with “the No. 1 obstetrician in British Columbia,” who spoke Mandarin and had “a zero accident rate.”

Customers usually stay for three months, he said, including one month after the birth, to allow time to apply for a passport for the newborn and to recuperate, as is the Chinese custom.

He added that his agency had seven sales offices in China. The bill for a three-month stay at a two-bedroom apartment, not including meals and prenatal care, is about 25,000 Canadian dollars ($18,331).

“The women all go back to China,” he said. “They don’t enjoy any social benefits from the Canadian government and don’t need it.”

Bob Huang, who with his wife runs Anxin Labour Service, a birthing center in the nearby city of Burnaby, said he was frequently contacted by agents in China who wanted a 50 percent commission on every successful referral. He said he preferred to post his own ads on local Chinese classifieds websites.

Some Richmond residents say birth tourism is undermining the community’s social fabric.

Kerry Starchuk, a self-described “hockey mom” who spearheaded the petition championed by Mr. Peschisolido, documents baby houses in her neighborhood and passes the information on to the local news media and city officials.

On a recent morning, she received an anonymous tip on Facebook that as many as 20 pregnant “birth tourists” from China were being housed in a nearby modernist high rise.

Rushing to her minivan, she drove to a parking garage beneath a Chinese supermarket. She then hurried outside to case out a nearby building, suspiciously eyeing a pregnant Chinese woman walking by. After entering the building, Ms. Starchuk was foiled by a locked stairwell, adding the high rise to her list for another day.

Ms. Starchuk complains that birth tourists bump local mothers from maternity wards, a concern echoed by some local nurses, and get access to public services without paying taxes.

She also said the so-called “anchor babies” threatened to burden Canada by emigrating and studying here, and sponsoring their parents to become permanent residents.

Some first- and second-generation immigrants in Richmond say birth tourists have an unfair advantage by jumping the immigration queue.CreditAlana Paterson for The New York Times

The issue has become conflated with resentment in the Vancouver area against soaring housing prices, which some residents blame on an influx of wealthy Chinese.

But Ms. Bai, who had her baby in Vancouver in February, said that given the hefty price she had paid to give birth here — 60,000 Canadian dollars, including housing and hospitalization — she was subsidizing the Canadian health care system and contributing to the local economy.

“My child won’t be enjoying any Canadian health benefits, as we are living in China,” she said.

Since her son is Canadian, however, she and her husband, a pilot, could save about 150,000 Canadian dollars on tuition fees at an international school in Shanghai.

After gaining fluency in English and Western culture, her son could also later attend a Canadian university at the discounted local rate. Eventually, the entire family could emigrate to Canada.

Some first- and second-generation immigrants oppose birth tourists for jumping the queue.

“I don’t think it is fair to come here, give birth and leave,” said Wendy Liu, a Richmond resident of 11 years, adding that she had been repeatedly harassed after Ms. Starchuk mistakenly put her house on a list of birth tourism centers.

Birth tourism at Richmond Hospital recently came under the spotlight because of a so-called “million dollar baby.”

A nonresident, Yan Xia, gave birth there, racked up a bill of 312,595 Canadian dollars in maternity and neonatal care for her newborn because of complications, and then absconded without paying the bill, according to a civil claim the hospital filed at British Columbia’s Supreme Court in April, six years after Ms. Xia gave birth.

Including six years’ worth of interest, Ms. Xia’s bill would amount to about 1.2 million Canadian dollars.