Changes to citizenship policy mean-spirited

By Pat Watson Wednesday February 12 2014 in Opinion
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There are a good number of immigrants to this country who have never taken the step toward becoming a citizen. Of course it is a personal decision, but if one has been here for, let’s say, more than a decade, if one has bought property here, owns a house or condominium, if one has children and even grandchildren here, then it seems a poor strategy not to take the step of becoming a citizen.


But now, the right-wing Harper Conservatives are about to make it more difficult for that to happen. The three-year minimum residency required for citizenship application is being pushed to four years. The Canadian general knowledge test is also being made more stringent. And, almost four out of 10 who take the test fail.


Could you, for instance, name four rights Canadian citizens have? Could you name three legal rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If given a series of lists, could you identify which list is of three Members of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly? And what was the year of Canada’s confederation?


How many Canadian-born individuals, one wonders, would be able to answer these correctly?


Canada has had a telling history of push and pull when it comes to welcoming new peoples to this land. A cursory look at that history will show that while people from England were welcome, others from Europe had a more difficult time as the fledgling country came to terms with its need for more workers to maintain its claim on this vast land mass. So the Irish were given a cool welcome, as were Ukrainians, then Western Europeans. The Chinese were brought in as cheap labour to build the great rail line meant to unite the country from coast to coast, but once their work was done, they were not made to feel as welcome. So your cheap labour is welcome, but don’t take your stay for granted.


Cheap labour demands prompted the welcome of women from the Caribbean, beginning in 1955, to do domestic work. However, this was only after community activists like Donald Moore and Stanley Grizzle took their fight to Ottawa to bring the federal government of the day around to understanding that fairness in immigration policy had to be extended to people from the Caribbean.


The current federal government continues in that meanness of spirit regarding hoops one has to jump through to become a citizen. Besides, the cheap labour ploy remains today, with temporary foreign worker permits being prioritized.


The framing of updated citizenship policy gives the distinct impression that there is a teaming mass of evil people who want to come in and corrupt this pristine piece of earth; thus, the point of highlighting the revocation of citizenship in cases where it is acquired fraudulently. Fair enough. But a Canadian-born person convicted of treason or a terrorist offence in another country and give a sentence of at least five years, could be stripped of Canadian citizenship, provided the person has dual citizenship.


Moreover, federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has already signaled that the Harper Conservatives intends to take on the matter of ‘birth tourism’. Do you suppose if they could, this government would go a step further and create policy to prevent people born here whose parents are not citizens from becoming a citizen? It’s not as if that policy isn’t already in practice in other countries, for instance Greece.


No one living here wants this country to become a haven for criminals, but with a falling crime rate, it is fair to ask what this government is being so paranoid about? Or, is it that they just can’t see the good in Canada the way it really is because it doesn’t look the way they want it to?

A note on how easy it is to overlook Black contributions…


Here we are in Black History Month and in her column last Saturday looking at the advancement of equality in marital relations Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick gave full credit to the feminist movement of the 1960s but still managed to absent the driving force of the American Civil Rights Movement which was like a rising tide that lifted many boats in the struggle for equality.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose

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