Canada is facing a legal challenge to the new Citizenship Act brought into force this year, with attorneys and a civil liberties group claiming the Act creates a “two-tiered” system for citizenship.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and a naturalized Pakistani have mounted a collective legal challenge to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act of June 2014, calling for the expanded “grounds upon which a person may have their citizenship revoked” as well as the “intent to reside” provision to be struck down as unconstitutional.
One of the more contentious provisions introduced in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act are the powers granted to the government to revoke the citizenship of foreign-born individuals convicted of treason or terrorism-related offences. This is being contested by Pakistani-born Canadian national Asad Ansari, who faces the prospect of having his Canadian citizenship revoked on the basis of a terrorism-related conviction in 2010.
The claim states that “the revocation provisions establish two classes of citizens: mono-Canadian citizens (who are not subject to revocation) and dual or multi-citizens (who are subject to revocation). It treats those individuals who are not citizens of any other state preferentially to those persons who do hold a second citizenship, as the former are not at risk of losing Canadian citizenship and the benefits that flow from it.”
This distinction perpetuates historical disadvantage of Canadian citizens who originate from other countries, and is influenced by prejudicial reasoning respecting the ‘otherness’ or disloyalty of those who hold the citizenship of a foreign state. It renders dual citizens less secure in their Canadian citizenship than mono-citizens.
The plaintiffs have also challenged the “intent to reside” provision as unfairly requiring citizenship applicants to prove they intend to keep living in the country, whereas citizens born in Canada are free from this obligation.
The plaintiffs state “Naturalized Canadians have their mobility constrained by the risk that departure from Canada post-naturalization will be construed as evidence of past misrepresentation of an intent to reside in Canada”, adding that people applying for citizenship now must “prospectively disavow the mobility rights that all Canadian citizens enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In doing so, it creates a two-tiered system of citizenship that discriminates against individuals on the basis of national origin, as well as race and ethnicity.
The federal government argues that its proposed new Citizenship Act will “protect the value of citizenship.” One concern is that it may instead lead to making Canadian citizenship harder to get and easier to lose.
In a bid to introduce stricter residency requirements, the government is increasing the required period of permanent residency to four years from three. While this may not initially seem like a major change, it may lead to additional processing delays.
The following scenario is very likely to happen in the future: A foreign student completes her master’s degree in three years. She wishes to stay in Canada, and is a highly skilled immigrant, high in demand in Canada, but is not eligible to apply for permanent residence yet. First, she must find and sustain suitable employment for a year. Having done so, she applies for permanent resident status, which takes another year to process. She has now been in Canada for five years, but none of it counts toward the four-year permanent residency requirement. Under the old rules, she would have received partial credit for years lived in Canada as a temporary resident. Unfortunately, this no longer applies.
She is now a permanent resident, just at the starting line of the four years she must spend in Canada to apply for citizenship. Her Canadian employer asks her to work in one of its overseas offices. Unfortunately, under the new rules any time spent outside Canada will further delay her eligibility for citizenship and could even jeopardize her permanent residence. She therefore, refuses the career opportunity.
Four years later, she has fulfilled her permanent residence requirement and applies for citizenship. Existing delays due to staff shortages cause a delay of about two years before her application is processed. She’s been here for eleven years, six of them as a permanent resident. Only now can she call herself “Canadian” and vote for the representatives that collect her taxes and make decisions that affect her life.
Research indicates that the sooner people get citizenship, the sooner and more fully they invest themselves in their new society.
Along with making citizenship harder to obtain, Bill C-24 will make it easier to lose. The Act grants the federal minister of immigration authority to revoke the citizenship of those found guilty of major crimes, including terrorism. The problematic question this raises is whether the revocation of citizenship is the right tool for preventing terrorism or punishing criminals. Adding citizenship revocation as an extra prospective punishment for dual citizens is the same as creating a second class of citizenship.
Canadian citizenship is a solution, not a problem. Canada has traditionally had exceptionally high naturalization rates; nearly nine in 10 immigrants have become Canadian citizens. This pattern has been praised as strength of the Canadian immigration program: a sign that immigrants are invested in Canada and Canada is invested in the successful integration of its immigrants.
When immigrants become citizens they can vote, stand for office (and win: in 2011, 44 Canadian MPs were born outside the country), and generally become fully contributing, fully participating members of Canadian society. To turn citizenship from a tool of integration into a reward for good behaviour – to be revoked at the discretion of one minister on grounds of bad behaviour and without due process – is to undermine the meaning and value of citizenship for all Canadians.
In 2011, a study that investigated Canadians’ attitudes about citizenship found that citizenship is seen as an important step toward full integration into the Canadian economy and society. Canada does not reserve special rights for people who were born on its soil, or who hold only Canadian citizenship. Every Canadian is equal.
Source: The Globe And Mail