More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights: Rock and Axworthy

Former Ministers Alan Rock and Lloyd Axworthy argue in favour of the proposed expansion of voting rights for non-resident Canadians in Bill C-33 and repeal of the first generation limit to the transmission of  Canadian citizenship.

The main weaknesses in their arguments:

  • Reinforces a global, more instrumental concept of citizenship, without a meaningful connection to Canada;
  • C-33 only requires a citizen to have been born in Canada in order to have voting rights, irrespective of how little time spent in Canada;
  • Repealing the first generation limit means a further weakening of the meaningfulness of citizenship and connection to Canada, as again the second or subsequent generations could retain citizenship without having lived in Canada;
  • Immigrants wishing to become citizens to be physically present in Canada (four out of six years currently, three out of six as proposed in Bill C-6) and retention after the first generation should, at a minimum, require residency;
  • Like others, they exaggerate the number of Canadians with connections to Canada. Passport data shows about 630,000 active non-resident adult passport holders, not the 2 to 3 million cited. This is a minimal connection test (taxation data shows about 130,000);
  • The exemption to the first generation limit for public servants serving abroad recognizes the fact that they work directly for the government, rotate regularly back to Canada, and pay Canadian taxes. This is quite different from those who spend their entire life abroad, do not return regularly for more than short visits, and for the most part, don’t pay Canadian taxes; and,
  • Largely targeted towards globally mobile professionals, Ministers Rock and Axworthy’s proposal fails to consider the implications for the broader population, whether it be the many non-resident Canadians who simply live their lives abroad without making “important global contributions” or resident Canadians who may feel that granting citizenship without residence devalues the meaning of being Canadian. 

    Their proposal is largely targeted towards those globally mobile professionals without considering the implications to the broader population of non-resident Canadians.

Canada’s former Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, recently observed that in the 21st century, there are many good reasons why Canadians choose to live overseas, and that there is no reason to create barriers to their participation in democratic processes.

We agree, but would go further. Canadians living and working overseas face government barriers not only in participating in democratic processes, but also in passing along citizenship. These must be addressed.

The occasion for the comments made by Ms. Monsef – recently appointed Minister of Status of Women – was the introduction of legislation to repeal provisions of the federal Fair Elections Act. Adopted in 2014, this statute provides, amongst other things, that Canadians living overseas can vote only within five years of leaving Canada, and must have the stated intention of returning home.

In repealing this provision through Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the federal government will remove one important penalty for Canadians living and working overseas. However, it is overlooking a potentially even greater disincentive.

A little-known 2006 amendment to the Citizenship Act limits Canadian citizenship to just the first-generation of children born to or adopted by Canadians who live outside Canada. Thus, children born to or adopted by Canadian parents who are travelling, studying, or working abroad become citizens of Canada at birth or at the time of adoption, but their children are not entitled to Canadian citizenship if they are born outside Canada.

This is harmful for at least two reasons.

First, the amendment to the Citizenship Act strikes us as discriminatory, and out of step with the principle that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” as articulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The amendment effectively creates two classes of Canadians: those who can pass along citizenship to their children and those who cannot. Furthermore, the amendment discriminates in favour of federal employees and military personnel who serve outside Canada. Under the current legislation, they are explicitly exempted from the limits on citizenship imposed by the amendment.

Second, Canada is deeply interconnected economically, socially and culturally with communities and countries around the globe. Canadians have a long history of important global contributions in international finance, peacekeeping, United Nations’ service, and humanitarian action, to name a few. We should be encouraging Canadians to venture beyond our borders to contribute to the broader global community, whether this be as students, travellers, or professionals – now, more than ever. Unfortunately, the current provisions of the Citizenship Act may have the opposite effect, by deterring Canadians from going overseas to work.

To date, the government has sought to justify this provision based on “simplicity and transparency.” We respectfully submit that any administrative advantages are substantially outweighed both by the principles of fairness and equity required by Canadian law, and by the importance of maintaining Canada’s standing in, and contributions to, the community of nations.

In terms of scope of impact, it is worth considering that at any point in time, 2-3 million Canadians live, work, or travel overseas. If even 0.5 per cent of these people have children overseas, this would amount to 10,000-15,000 children whose rights are limited and whose options are narrowed by this legislation each year. These numbers underscore the urgency and importance of addressing this matter quickly.

As the Government moves to restore voting rights to Canadians living overseas, it should also restore another fundamental birthright by allowing foreign-born descendants of Canadians who were themselves born outside our country to begin life with Canadian citizenship.

Source: More federal action needed to restore lost Canadian citizenship rights – The Globe and Mail

Canadians abroad have a right to vote too: Frank and O’Brien

The reply to Rob Vineberg and my earlier article (Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – Bill C-33 critique). As behind paywall, sharing full draft.

Weak on numbers, just relying on APF overall numbers (which include children and permanent residents) and not acknowledging the range of government data available that captures to a greater extent the degree of connection (summarized in our article).

And their reference to s.3 of the Charter avoids the key question: can s. 1 “reasonable limitations” be invoked to restrict voting of non-resident Canadians to some extent. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that restrictions can be justified and the appeal to the Supreme Court was suspended pending C-33.

Our brief to the House committee will counter these arguments, as well as being data rich, unlike Frank and O’Brien who skirt the numbers and connection issue:


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, March 8, 2017 12:00 AM

Bill C-33 recognizes the right to vote of Canadians living outside the country by removing the arbitrary limit for those abroad five years or more.

Contrary to the views in the recent Hill Times article “Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights,” by Andrew Griffith and Robert Vineberg, Canadians should view our citizens abroad as assets and ambassadors for our country, whose charter-enshrined right to vote must be protected.

The connections of and commitments to Canada of citizens living abroad should not be understated. In examining the right to vote of Canadians abroad, advocates have not used “a general estimate of over one million expatriates, without any assessment of the degree of connection that expatriates have with Canada.”

Rather, we have relied on comprehensive research by an independent think-tank (the Asia Pacific Foundation), which found that at the time of study, there were approximately 2.8 million Canadians abroad, the size of an average Canadian province. Approximately half of these Canadians have been abroad for five years or more and are of voting age, though some were not prohibited from voting by the five-year rule because of a number of exceptions to the prohibition.

Still, well over a million Canadians were prohibited from voting. There is no dispute that not all Canadians abroad will take up the right to vote. The evidence, though, is that many Canadians abroad have strong ties to and care deeply about Canada. Of Canadians abroad surveyed by the Asia Pacific Foundation, two-thirds had left Canada for work-related reasons, 94 per cent had visited Canada since moving abroad and 69 per cent planned to return to Canada in the near future. More than 60 per cent identified more closely with Canada than with their country of residence. Most were born in Canada and solely Canadian citizens. They currently have no right to vote anywhere.

Many non-residents pay taxes to Canada, including property taxes, taxes on Canadian source investment income and taxes on their pensions, among others. In 2009, non-resident individuals paid almost $900-million in taxes to Canada. That said, Canada long ago discarded the exclusionary notion of tying voting to property or wealth.

It also is not correct to say that Canadian citizens living abroad are not subject to or affected by Canadian laws. As a starting point, their very right to be abroad, on their Canadian passport, and their ability to obtain employment in another country, is based on Canadian laws and multilateral agreements (e.g. NAFTA). They are further affected by laws governing family members living in Canada. Importantly for the many who intend to return in the near future, they are affected by the short- and long-term direction the country is taking.

What is missing from an analysis that lays out a host of options for deciding which Canadians will be allowed to vote (those abroad for the first 10 years, those with a minimum residency requirement of three years or 25 years) is the critical point: the right to vote is not a matter of policy and it is not subject to popular sentiment. Rather, the right to vote is a fundamental democratic right enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our charter guarantees that, “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons….” The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and cannot be taken away at the whim of Parliament.

When Parliament tried to limit the right to vote for prisoners, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the limits as breaching the charter right. If we protect the right to vote of individuals convicted of the most heinous crimes, why would we disenfranchise citizens who are passionate about Canada, many of whom are abroad for employment reasons and intend to return? If Canadians abroad make the effort to vote from abroad, they care deeply about this country. These are Canadians we should embrace, not reject.

There is simply no air of reality to Griffith and Vineberg’s unsupported claim that restoring voting rights to Canadians abroad can or will devalue the voting rights for resident Canadians. When it comes to the sacred voting rights of all Canadians, alarmist policy proposals, which are little more than flawed solutions chasing imaginary problems, do not deserve serious consideration.

Bill C-33 should pass in its current form. It is drafted to recognize the right to vote of all Canadian citizens. Indeed, the government should take a further step and discontinue its opposition to the legal challenge to the five-year prohibition. Canadians abroad are entitled to a legal acknowledgment that all Canadian citizens are guaranteed the right to vote and are not at the mercy of each new government’s legislative choices.

Source: Canadians abroad have a right to vote too – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

“What do you think of Bill C-33 and how do you think it will improve Canadian elections?” 

Interesting that neither any of the party spokespeople (“What do you think of Bill C-33 and how do you think it will improve Canadian elections?”) or the Minister (‘My job is to strengthen and safeguard the pillars of Canada’s democracy’: Gould) mention the provision to expand expatriate voting without restriction.

Confirms that this is boutique issue and not one of the selling points of the bill (see earlier piece by Rob Vineberg and me: Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights.

(all articles paywall protected)

Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – Bill C-33 critique

Rob Vineberg, former regional director general for the Prairies and the North at CIC (now IRCC) and I penned this op-ed against the proposed indefinite extension of expat voting rights in C-33 (we will be submitting a brief once the Bill goes to Committee).
This has generating the most comments of any of my articles, virtually all from Canadian expats who disagree with us on Twitter. Useful input as we finalize our brief to the Commons committee that will study the Bill (PROC).
As behind a paywall, full text below:

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould is in charge of shepherding Bill C-33, currently at second reading, through the House.  The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 12:00 AM

In responding to the Supreme Court challenge of the five-year limit of voting rights, the government has proposed in Bill C-33 to extend voting rights indefinitely to Canadians living abroad, no matter how short their residence in Canada.

This is more generous than the standard comparator countries of Australia and New Zealand, which require a formal renewable declaration or visits (six and three years respectively), the United Kingdom, which has a 15-year limit, and the United States, which requires filing of taxes.

In essence, any citizen who left Canada as a baby or small child would have unlimited voting rights. As such, the proposal disconnects voting from any experience living in Canada, being subject to Canadian laws, accessing Canadian public services, as well as paying Canadian taxes, and thus devalues the votes of Canadians who do reside in Canada and are subject to these day-to-day realities of Canadian life.

To date, the government has not articulated why it chose this unlimited approach, apart from resorting to the phrase “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” without acknowledging that this argument was made in the limited context of revocation of citizenship in cases of terrorism, and the need to treat Canadian-born and naturalized Canadians equally before the law.

Advocates of expanding voting rights over the current five years have argued that Canadians living abroad contribute to Canada and the world, and many retain an active connection with Canada, whether it is business, social, cultural, political, or academic. These Canadians’ global connections should be valued as an asset. The internet and social media make it easier for Canadians to remain in touch with Canada and Canadian issues. Non-resident Canadians pay income tax on their Canadian income and property tax on any property they may own in Canada. Their vote is unlikely to affect the overall electoral results.

This is argued using a general estimate of over one million expatriates, without any assessment of the degree of connection that expatriates have with Canada. However, using government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 140,000 in 2013 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand.

While one of us (Griffith) believes in a more restrictive approach and one us (Vineberg) believes in a more flexible approach, we recognize the government is committed to expand voting rights. We see three main options:

  1. Double the current limit to 10 years: This would align with two parliaments as well as passport validity. While it would not address the concerns of all expatriates, it would expand voting rights.
  2. Provide unlimited voting rights to expatriates who have lived 25 years or more in Canada: This recognizes the long-term connection and experience with Canadian life as well as the concerns of expatriate seniors who have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan and receive CPP and Old Age Security benefits.
  3. Modify the proposed approach with a minimum residency requirement of three years: This ensures a minimal connection to Canada, aligned to citizenship requirements, with only a valid Canadian passport being acceptable evidence of citizenship. However, this modified version of the provision in Bill C-33 does not fundamentally change our objection to again essentially unlimited voting rights.

In the latter options, this should be combined with the creation of two overseas constituencies to recognize that expatriate interests are different from resident Canadians and address any concerns that the expatriate vote could influence the results in particular ridings.

Notwithstanding what approach is chosen, administrative simplicity based on the current Elections Canada process should be maintained. Elections Canada should also be required to conduct an evaluation of the impact of any such change following the next election.

The government does not appear to have thought through the implications and options regarding expanding voting rights and appears to have listened only to advocates for expansion rather than a broader range of Canadians. We favour a combination of the first two options and hope that parliamentary review of Bill C-33 will result in changes that respect a balance between expanded expatriate voting rights and the interests of resident Canadians.

Source: Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – The Hill Times – The Hill Times