Bill C-24—the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which passed its third reading on June 16, 2014, is already facing considerable scrutiny.
Of particular concern are the revocation clauses, which would provide the government to strip a Canadian of his or her citizenship, even if they were born in the country. This could result in the deportation of a person to a country they have never even been in.
This type of scenario was envisioned in the Maher Arar fiasco, where a Canadian was deported from New York with Canadian assistance to Syria and tortured there, in a country where he had renounced his citizenship but the country had not renounced him. In Syria, once you’re a Syrian, you are always a Syrian. Unfortunately for the Canadian government, it turned out the charges against Arar were trumped up.
Opposition to these measures have already started among the bar. Jim Bronskill of the Canadian Press states,
The Canadian Bar Association said the new law revives the medieval punishment of banishment.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has said it will also fight the citizenship measures in the courts.
The legislation violates equality rights under the Constitution by creating separate classes of Canadians, says Lorne Waldman, president of the association of more than 250 lawyers who represent refugees.
The association also argues the proposed revocation procedures lack fairness and that a provision forcing new citizens to swear they intend to reside in Canada — and risk losing their citizenship if they later go abroad — would mean some Canadians have mobility rights while others do not.
The arbitrariness of how this could be applied, and the feeble protections Canadian citizenship now provides, means that Canada may have difficulty in the future attracting economic investment and maintaining our immigration levels.
Canada has not maintained the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 since the 70’s, and is highly dependent on immigration to maintain our population grown. Between 2012-2013, net international migration was responsible for 2/3 of Canada’s population growth, but has still fallen below the rates for Luxembourg (+8.7 per cent), Ireland (+7.8 per cent) and Australia (+7.6 per cent). Population growth is an essential driver for maintaining the workforce and building an economy.
Additionally, the new laws have the effect of discouraging those Canadians who have the strongest international ties from engaging in trade and commerce internationally. We live in a globalized economy, and the success of our future in large part depends on the ability of our citizens to forge international trade relationships to attract foreign investment, purchase Canadian goods, and finding efficiencies in cross-border sourcing.
Canada leaves much to be desired when it comes to the settlement and retraining of our immigrants.
Immigrants to Canada get fewer jobs and earn less money for those jobs when they do get them. Paradoxically, the unemployment is higher for immigrants in Canada when they have a higher education. A 2011 RBC report found that if the observable skills of immigrants were properly recognized it would result in an increase of $30.7 billion and a 2.1 increase in our GDP.
Executive Director of The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, Margaret Eaton, stated,
Somehow in Canada, it’s a funny contradiction: We pride ourselves on being so open to newcomers, but unfortunately if someone is coming here and they haven’t had that piece of Canadian experience, it goes against them.
Bill C-24 only accentuates this skills deficit. In order to offset the high cost of living in many urban Canadian centers and the ability to find meaningful work, many newcomers to Canada painstakingly split their families so that most are raised here while some earn money abroad. The new changes will make this more difficult. Mourad Haroutunian explains in Al-Arabiyah,
Right now, in order to apply for Canadian citizenship, a person must be physically present in Canada for 1,095 days during the four years immediately preceding his or her application date. However, if the rest of Bill C-24—the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act—comes into force; permanent residents will have to stay in Canada for at least 1,460 days, including 183 days a year, during the six years before applying for Canadian citizenship.
Haroutunian describes how migrant families settle in Canada while one family member goes abroad to support them in a jurisdiction where their credentials and experiences are recognized. This money is sent, and spent, in Canada. Canadian citizenship gives these families with the stability they desire, and provides some small comfort for the absence of their loved ones, especially when these people are working abroad in countries which do not grant citizenship.
The alternative that the Federal government appears to be proposing is that these families will subside entirely off social assistance paid for by Canadian taxpayers.
But Canadian immigration is not premised by economic factors alone. Peter Goodspeed asks in The Star, “Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees?” He states:
Howard Adelman, a York University philosophy professor, … [had] just written an article on research into the reception German Jewish refugees received in Canada, the United States and Britain in the late 1930s.
Returning to Toronto for a weekend, Adelman began wading through six weeks of newspapers and was stunned to see the Vietnamese “boat people” crisis had exploded across the news during his absence.
Countries neighbouring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were swamped as tens of thousands of refugees fled the chaos of Communism.
“One couldn’t help wanting to do something and say, ‘Never again!’ ” Adelman recalls.
Canada ultimately settled 60,000 refugees from Indochina between 1979-1980. Only 26,000 of these were government assisted, with the remainder being privately sponsored.
These days Adelman is turning his attention to the 2 million Christians who used to live in Iraq, and the Syrian refugee crisis. There are currently over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon at this time. But it’s the Canadians in Lebanon who were airlifted in 2006 which many suspect is behind Bill C-24. The Federal government has difficulty reconciling the concept of Canadian citizenship – abroad (but strangely only for some demographics and not other).
Bill C-24 is a step backwards towards positioning Canada as an economic and cultural leader in the world. Canada is a country that was built by immigrants who treated the First Nations quite poorly. Although we have much more to go with our First Nations, it is also important that we treat the future immigrants to Canada better than we have in the past. The concept of a stronger citizenship underlining Bill C-24 not only weakens our economy, but it weakens our identity of who we are as Canadians.