There’s chirping going on among Canada’s immigrant and dual-national population. It’s not the kind of tranquil chirping one would hear from a sweet little Robin or Hummingbird, instead it’s the sound one hears before a Canadian Goose attacks. These two groups in Canada are starting to feel uneasy. Several recent actions by the Government have many in the immigrant community feeling that they are witnessing a massive shift in the way Canada treats its immigrants.
They have reason to be nervous. Historically, immigration policy in Canada has changed on a whim, leaving immigrants largely confused and immigration lawyers with tons of business. The most recent policy changes have exceeded any level of hostility toward immigrants and dual nationals seen in Canada since the early 1980s.
Making it Harder
The Citizenship Act in particular, first enacted by Parliament in 1946, which wholly disconnected Canadian citizenship from British nationality, has not undergone such immense changes since 1977. Bill C-24 went into effect earlier this year and under the guise of “protecting the value of citizenship” has created, at its simplest, two classes of Canadian citizens: those that hold only Canadian citizenship and dual-nationals. If a Canadian citizen holds dual citizenship, it has now become easier for the government to revoke their Canadian citizenship. The Bill has also made it harder to gain citizenship, requiring applicants to live in Canada 4 out of 6 years, and be physically present for 183 days per year within those 4 years.
In Canada, becoming a citizen has always been a tool largely for integration and is seen as such by many immigrants. Once you are a citizen you are a part of Canadian society and an active member. Michael Adams argued recently in the Globe and Mail however, that now citizenship is utilized as a “reward for good behavior,” and unfairly biased towards native-born citizens.
To be fair, there are legitimate reasons Canada needed to alter its immigration system and path to citizenship. Bill C-24 attempted to address those particular concerns. For example, some immigrants that applied for citizenship in the past had no intention of living in Canada. Therefore, by making it more difficult to gain citizenship through the residency requirements, that issue is somewhat addressed and reduces what is referred to as, “Canadians of convenience.” Also, the threat of domestic terrorism is a grave concern. Unfortunately, the belief is, factual or not, that immigrants are more likely to commit terrorist crimes. This is evident from the fact that the government justified its ability to revoke citizenship of dual nationals in order to combat “jihadi terrorism.”
Yes, terrorism is a legitimate fear; I don’t think anyone would argue against that. However, there are around 863,000 dual nationals in Canada. By implementing this thinking into the Citizenship Act, and dangerously into Canadian society, the government runs the risk of treating dual nationals as second-class citizens. This creates an environment of uneasiness and non-integration. Many will be left questioning, “Am I Canadian, or kind of Canadian?” Yes, those who commit crimes in Canada should be punished to the extent of the law, but should revoking citizenship be an additional punishment?
Citizenship and Loyalty
The big question, that no one seems to be asking, is what does having a citizenship really mean? When the Citizenship Act was first enacted, as mentioned previously, it was meant to truly crystallize what it meant to be Canadian. In reality, it formulated the identity and loyalty of Canadians to their country. In a national survey conducted in 2012 by The Environics Institute, CBCNews and Maytree, Canadians and people living in Canada were asked what makes a “good citizen?” The results can be seen below:
From the image above, Canadians and non-Canadians listed what they believe makes a good citizen. Most replied, “obey laws,” but there were many answers to the question among those surveyed. Perhaps a more important question in terms of this article, is why foreign-born residents choose to become Canadian citizens.
As evident above, many answered that they became citizens in order to “stay permanently” in Canada, while the third most popular choice was to “confirm that I am Canadian.” Does this mean loyalty or does it simply refer to the respondents desire to feel as a part of Canadian society? In Canada, should loyalty be a precondition to citizenship? Citizenship today may becoming more closely related to economic benefit and human rights, than nationality or loyalty.
Respondents were also asked if they believe Canadians should hold dual citizenship. The respondents’ answers are separated by age at the left of the image. In general, more respondents said, “yes” if they were below the age of 44. This may be an indication of the different individual experiences and ideologies of an older generation of Canadians. In the second image, the survey asked, “Why dual citizenship should not be allowed?” By a far margin, “lack of loyalty/commitment” was the most popular answer. This indicates that loyalty is an important part of citizenship for a portion of the Canadian population, and if you have dual-citizenship then you lack loyalty to Canada.
Of course, this survey is not without error but it is a good indication of where public opinion is regarding citizenship and the issue of dual nationals in Canada. It also raises the question however, what exactly is loyalty? An extremely ambiguous term in the context of citizenship.
Isolating Immigrants and Dual Nationals?
Security concerns are now infiltrating immigration policy and the meaning of being a “Canadian citizen.” The threats facing Canada regarding terrorism is relatively new in its current form, and therefore the government must find new ways to tackle them. However, the changes to the Citizenship Act may have the opposite effect, isolating large portions of Canadian society and dividing a nation that needs to be united, with arguments over loyalty and “being Canadian.” Immigrant populations and dual nationals will continue chirping until Bill-C24 makes it’s way to the Supreme Court.
Until then, don’t expect any silence.
Read the full Bill here.