November 24, 2014

Commentary | February 17, 2014
Using citizenship as a weapon

Last week, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander proposed a sweeping series of alarming changes to Canada’s immigration code. If passed, the omnibus Bill C-24 would make it more difficult to become a Canadian citizen. It would also make it possible for Canadians with dual citizenship to be stripped of their Canadian status if the government deems them unworthy of it.

The bill reflects a xenophobic ideology that has recently garnered growing acceptance in Canada and much of the Western world. It views citizenship as a government-wielded tool used to separate two classes of residents: those who are accorded basic rights, and those who are denied them. Those who live in Canada without status (citizenship or permanent residency) do not have access to a wide range of the most basic services, including access to health care and education.

Bill C-24 proposes an extension of the amount of time necessary to become a citizen: four out of six years after acquiring permanent resident status must be spent in Canada, as opposed to the three out of four currently required. Any time spent as a student in Canada would not count toward becoming a citizen. It would also allow the government to fast-track the citizenship applications of members of the Canadian Armed Forces. These provisions betray a partiality toward awarding citizenship to certain members of society while creating barriers for others.

In addition, Bill C-24 augments the breadth of double punishment to include Canadians with dual citizenship – up until now it has only targeted non-citizens. Double punishment is the policy of revoking status from and/or deporting people convicted of crimes; doubly punishing them with immigration-related sanctions in addition to their criminal sentence. The practice of double punishment disproportionately targets visible minorities, who are more likely to be convicted of a crime and deported as a result. Alexander is proposing that this already-abhorrent practice be applied to Canadian dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism and to permanent residents with criminal convictions in other countries. This risks specifically targeting refugees who may be fleeing to Canada precisely as a result of politically-motivated criminal convictions in their home countries.

The bill’s provisions limit the revocation of citizenship to Canadian dual citizens (because stripping citizenship from a Canadian without status elsewhere would leave them stateless). Yet in the particular case of Deepan Budlakoti, the government has already shown its willingness to allow one of its residents to become stateless, despite the ratification of the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness calling for the reduction or elimination of statelessness whenever possible.

The Canadian government’s actions in this case, and its patent disregard for the well-being of non-status people in Canada (including asylum-seekers), makes it naïve and erroneous to believe that the enactment of Bill C-24 – or, in Alexander’s words, “reinforc[ing] the value of Canadian citizenship” – would lead to anything more than further violations in kind.

Bill C-24 would hone the government’s capacity to use citizenship as a means of deciding what kind of person deserves basic rights. The idea that anyone, regardless of nationality, should be denied these rights is shameful.

—The McGill Daily Editorial Board

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