The federal government’s attempt to reform the Citizenship Act is giving rise to charges of xenophobia, according to Amnesty International Canada. But that is not why international rights groups are taking this matter to court. Bill C-24, the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, which has already passed a third reading and is before the Senate, would create two classes of Canadian citizens since it would provide for revocation of Canadian citizenship of anyone holding dual-citizenship.
The chilling effect in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. 13 years ago has been felt worldwide. Canada, eager to co-operate with its neighbour, is no exception.
However, the Conservative government in Ottawa is taking this co-operation to lengths that would have terrible consequences for those who become naturalized Canadian citizens, and could affect those born here as well.
Citizenship and immigration advocates criticize the feds for this cynical policy, charging that the government is sending a message that people born in other countries who now make Canada their home are to be viewed as suspicious and unwelcome. We agree with their criticism.
This unease toward foreign-born nationals, particularly those perceived as “different”, mainly racial and religious minorities, has long been an undercurrent upheld by politicians throughout the history of this federation. The current government is therefore not setting a precedent, but rather building on a shameful past.
This is especially clear since with Bill C-24 the feds would seek to make adjustments to the citizenship act regarding acts of treason when there is already provision in place for such crimes.
On the other hand, if it is the case that there are persons seeking to become citizens by fraudulent methods, which is what the government claims is the real reason for this new bill, then there would be no argument that they should not be rewarded by becoming Canadians. But the implication of this bill is that there is rampant fraud among those seeking to become naturalized Canadians that must be stopped. In fact the cases of fraud are relatively low.
The other aspect of this new bill is how it highlights the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ limpness in protecting foreign-born nationals when they are held under questionable circumstances in other countries.
It is already well known, or should be, that the Canadian government provides little protection for citizens in trouble in other countries. The case of journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who this week was handed a seven-year sentence after Egypt laid charges related to terrorism – charges which, by the way, he and the others arrested with him vehemently deny, would highlight just what the current climate is in Ottawa when it comes to making this policy a reality.
With dual Canadian-Egyptian citizenship, Fahmy was bureau chief in Egypt for Al-Jazeera newspaper at the time he was arrested along with two other journalists. The Canadian government is being criticized for not responding quickly enough when Fahmy was first arrested six months ago.
Similarly, Canada’s neglect in the case of Omar Khadr, who has a special place in the history books as the last citizen from a western country to be released from the detention centre in Guantanamo, Cuba, adds to the picture of this government’s low priority in protecting its citizens abroad.
Then there is the case of Sudanese-Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik, who was cleared repeatedly by different governments as well as Canadian government agencies on suspicion of being associated with al-Qaida. Abdelrazik was refused his Canadian passport to return to Canada by this administration.
It was left to the Federal Court to force the government to grant this naturalized Canadian his right to return here after being held in prison in Sudan. Had this new bill been in place five years ago, someone like Abdelrazik might have just had his citizenship revoked.
Nevertheless, the same administration has shown a marked difference in trying to get White Canadians returned from incarceration in other jurisdictions and certainly with no threat of loss of citizenship. Brenda Martin, who had been held in a Mexican prison on charges of being involved in a $60 million fraud case, should stand in contrast to the lack of effort by Canada’s Foreign Affairs department on behalf of Fahmy, Abdelrazik and certainly Kahdr.
Citizenship in a country is a precious right, but this government seems determined to use it for political gain. We find that objectionable.