Canada: New Citizenship Bill Grants Unprecedented Government Power

Español Canadian citizenship has long been highly valued and sought after; but those esteemed qualities are set to take a significant hit with a new proposal from the federal government.

In proposing Canada’s first comprehensive overhaul of its citizenship laws in a generation, Stephen Harper’s conservative government is attempting to make Canadian citizenship more exclusive while minimizing its value, and rendering citizens vulnerable to abuse of power by the state.

Chris Alexander
Chris Alexander, Canada’s citizenship and immigration minister discusses the changes. Source: National Post.

The issue stems from a February 7 proposal that calls for legislative reforms to the Citizenship Act with Bill C-24. In unveiling the amendments, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander called citizenship “our most precious commodity,” while purporting that the changes are attempts to “strengthen the value of citizenship.”

While perhaps an admirable aim, the proposed changes would do the opposite of what Alexander suggests, and they would increase the government’s ability to hand-pick those who meet their ever-changing standards of cultural acceptance.

Breaking Down the Changes

Despite claims that the bill would make citizenship “faster and more efficient,” the legislation would triple the cost of applying and entail stricter English language standards. Not only would it require immigrants to reside in the country longer before qualifying for citizenship, but immigrants would have to vow — including with a signed a declaration — that they will reside in Canada thereafter. Time spent living in the country before obtaining residency status would no longer carry-over to citizenship applications, and taking jobs outside of Canada afterwards would leave an individual at risk of having his citizenship revoked.

The Bill C-24 amendments would also remove the right to appeal the revocation of citizenship. Currently, the appeal process is an automatic right; under the new provisions, the government would grant individuals merely the opportunity to apply to the Federal Court for permission to appeal.

The bill’s reworking is an apparent overreaction to recent investigations into residency fraud. Recent cases come to light revealing some who have maintained only a fictitious presence in Canada, and the new legislation takes aims at such individuals. But, in doing so, Harper’s government — like it has since taking office in 2006 — is set to condemn the many for the sins of the few.

A study released last July revealed only 12 citizenship revocations have been linked to fraud since the initial crackdown program was implemented in 2011. Counterintuitively, since first being elected almost eight years ago, the number of people granted citizenship under Harper has steadily declined, despite a significant increase in applications.

Addressing other citizenship amendments under Bill C-24, a study released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy in January showed these changes to be counter-productive to immigrant integration, and resorting back to “conformity to Anglophone norms and speak white ideology.”

Unprecedented Power

Speaking to this, the immigration minister reiterated that “[Canadian] Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege.” Which sheds light on a largely unspoken, and most concerning, allowance in the reform: for the first time in Canadian history, the government would be able to strip citizenship from Canadians who were born in Canada.

The government could revoke citizenship from anyone — naturalized or otherwise — if convicted in any country of a terrorist offense and sentenced to at least five years in jail. Other crimes carrying the same penalty include treason and espionage. Not permitted to render anyone stateless, this aspect naturally focuses on Canadians who maintain dual-citizenship. This in particular is especially concerning as many individuals are dual-citizens without realizing it, or wanting to be.

Many nations consider the offspring of their nationals as citizens, regardless of where they were born. With this is mind, many local pundits have pointed to the case of former child soldier Omar Khadr as an ulterior motive behind the bill’s amendment.

Khadr, pictured here as a 15-year-old, was transferred to Alberta after many years in Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr, who was born in Toronto, was convicted under dubious circumstances of terror-related offenses in 2010 by a US court for actions he committed in 2002, as a 15-year-old. After being detained in Guantanamo Bay since 2002, the now 27-year-old was transferred to a prison in Edmonton last year to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Though Khadr, whose father was Egyptian, has never been to Egypt, and doesn’t consider himself Egyptian, he maintains Egyptian citizenship; and the Canadian government may be able to use this to strip him of his Canadian citizenship.

While Khadr has come up in many discussions regarding the reform — and many have applauded his citizenship revocation — Canadians shouldn’t be so swift to support the measure. It represents an extremely slippery slope in granting this government, or any future one, the power to rescind citizenship based on loopholes provided by other governmental standards. Section 10 of the new bill also puts the burden on the targets to prove they are not dual-nationals, giving the government further autonomy for subjective declarations.

Moreover, and an aspect that has surprisingly not yet garnered much dialogue, being a Canadian citizen has been a fundamental right this country has granted to all born inside its borders since Canadian citizenship was first adopted in 1947. Poor behavior or legal convictions have not, and should never be, justification for the government to take this right away.

“Canadian citizenship is uniquely valuable in the world, a weighty privilege that bestows both duties and rights, opportunities and responsibilities.,” Alexander rationalized. But with the legislation due to be passed by the end of this year, it promotes the exact opposite.

Leaving many on effective permanent citizenship probation, the first reform of its kind in a generation would give the state control to design their own cultural pedigree, rendering current citizens as the victims and devaluing our previously prestigious citizenship.

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