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March 11, 2014 - No. 26

Harper Government's Unacceptable Changes to Citizenship Act

Bill-C-24 Attacks Modern Definitions of Citizenship and the Right to Conscience




Harper Government's Unacceptable Changes to Citizenship Act
Bill-C-24 Attacks Modern Definitions of Citizenship and the Right to Conscience - Philip Fernandez
High Ideals Hide Unscrupulous Agenda
Citizenship Bill Makes Canada Less Welcoming Towards Newcomers - Canadian Council for Refugees
Legal Primer: Under New Proposed Law, Citizenship Is Harder to Get and Easier to Lose - Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers


Harper Government's Unacceptable Changes to Citizenship Act

Bill-C-24 Attacks Modern Definitions of Citizenship and the Right to Conscience

On February 6, Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act was tabled in Parliament by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander. The aim of the bill according to the Harper Government is to "reinforce the message that Canadian citizenship is valued around the globe and comes with duties and rights, privileges and responsibilities."

While the Harper government declares the contrary, neither the Canadian Constitution nor the Citizenship Act provide a fundamental law defining the rights and duties of citizenship and enabling legislation to govern how the state deals with citizenship and guarantees the rights pertaining to it. The retrogressive changes contained in Bill C-24 highlight this absence which leaves the path open for violations of the fundamental rights of the people.

A Modern Conception of Citizenship

Canadians need a modern, democratic citizenship law within a modern constitution which enshrines the rights and duties of every citizen equally and guarantees those rights, whether they are born elsewhere or born in Canada. The current Citizenship Act and the proposed changes in Bill C-24 are a means by which permanent residents in Canada can become naturalized and acquire Canadian citizenship after jumping through various hoops, such as being proficient in one of the two "official languages," proving knowledge of Canada or taking the oath of citizenship -- none of which native-born Canadians are required to do. This alone sets up a two-tier system of citizenship.

A modern conception of citizenship cannot be based on considerations of nationality, race, language or religion because such considerations give rise to notions of first and second class citizens, hyphenated Canadians and so on. Neither can ideological or political considerations be a basis for granting or depriving citizenship to anyone; there should be no oath of any kind, the whole conception of which is based on medieval notions of "subjects" not citizens. Meeting the objective requirements of citizenship is enough commitment to the rights and duties which are common to all.

The process of acquiring citizenship other than by birth should not be subject to any conditions which do not also apply to those who are citizens by virtue of birth. The process of conferring citizenship should begin immediately after a person takes up residence in Canada. The present requirements based on residency, knowledge of an official language or the politics, history and geography of Canada, etc. should be discarded.

A modern definition of citizenship would prohibit all possibilities for positive or negative discrimination. No government official should have any prerogative to interfere on any grounds, or conversely, favour this or that section of the people. On the contrary, there should be a provision for the election of citizenship committees by the people themselves whose duty it should be to welcome new citizens to the country. Bill C-24 gives both the power to deprive citizenship on arbitrary discriminatory grounds and the power to accord it for political purposes. In this vein, Bill C-24 serves the Harper war government's militarization of Canadian society as it would give preferential treatment to permanent residents who serve in the armed forces. They would obtain citizenship faster than regular civilians and citizenship would be granted to their foreign-born children, which civilians are not entitled to. This is to put pressure on new immigrant youth to join the military and partake in Canada's illegal wars abroad in the name of freedom and democracy.

Citizenship is the condition which enables people to enjoy other rights as members of a body politic. The Citizenship Act and the proposals being put forward in Bill C-24 continues the Canadian state's policy of mixing up citizenship -- a condition of being a member of a body politic with equal rights -- with nationality, which is what nation someone belongs to. They are two different things. Citizenship should be conditioned on objective criteria of specific rights and duties laid out clearly and equally for everyone. It should not be conditioned on arbitrary political considerations such as "Canadian values" or be subject to revocation based on arbitrary criteria with the Minister having the final say.


The racist Bill C-49, brought forward by the Harper government in 2010, also attacked rights by singling out refugees and immigrants as potential criminals or terrorists. It was part of the trend of putting more and more arbitrary power in the hands of the Minister or closed tribunals to deem certain people undesirable, with little or no recourse to appeal.

A particularly egregious aspect of this bill is its provision to strip Canadians of citizenship. Specifically, citizens who hold dual citizenship, if suspected or found to have threatened "Canada's national interests" could be deprived of their Canadian citizenship or possibly deported even if they were born here. Cloaked in the Harperite mantle of "law and order" and "anti-terrorism," these changes to the Citizenship Act are part of the Harper dictatorship's campaign to impose monopoly dictate and treat as potential or real criminals all those who fight for their rights at home and abroad, oppose wars of aggression, and support the struggles of the people for national and social liberation. At a time when the Harper dictatorship more and more attacks workers' struggles in defence of their working conditions in the name of "protecting Canada's economic security," the subjecting of citizenship to allegiance to "Canada's national interests" cannot be accepted.

Bill C-24 is medieval and an affront to the very rule of law. Its tabling by the Harper government underscores the need for the working class and people of Canada to renew the political arrangements in Canada and bring forth a new citizenship law which enshrines the rights and duties of all citizens and protects them from arbitrary actions of the state to deprive them of their rights. Canadians should take up a serious investigation and discussion of the contents of Bill C-24 and its implications, amongst their peers, collectives and defence organizations as an act of political empowerment.

In this issue, TML is presenting some information and views about Bill C-24, including materials from organizations involved in defending the rights of immigrants and refugees.

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High Ideals Hide Unscrupulous Agenda

The Harper dictatorship cites high ideals as the rationale for its legislation to change the Citizenship Act through Bill C-24, the Strengthening Citizenship Act.

Thomas Walkom, National Affairs correspondent for the Toronto Star in a February 7 item, elaborates on how Bill C-24 could be used to strip Canadians' citizenship. He writes:

"The federal government's new citizenship bill is a Trojan horse. It is presented as an attempt to reduce fraud and rationalize the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, both of which are sensible aims. But it would also give Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government unprecedented authority to strip Canadians -- including thousands born in this country -- of their citizenship." The item continues:

"Canadian citizenship law has historically been tougher on the foreign-born. In the 1920s, the government stripped hundreds of naturalized Canadians of their status because it believed them to be Communists. A 1947 law (since repealed) allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of any foreign-born Canadian convicted of treason. Current law lets the government strip naturalized Canadians of their citizenship only if they obtained their status fraudulently.

"But throughout history, the citizenship of Canadians born in this country has been irrevocable.

"No more. Bill C-24 would let the government unilaterally strip citizenship from any Canadian -- naturalized or native-born -- who has been convicted in any country of a terrorist offence and sentenced to at least five years in jail. Other crimes that could cost Canadians their citizenship would include treason and espionage.

"In all cases, the only caveat is that the person could not be left stateless. Decisions in these matters would be made by cabinet alone rather than a court. Government press releases say the new revocation measures would apply only to dual citizens -- that is, to Canadians who are also citizens of another country. Technically, this is true.

"What the press releases don't say is that thousands of Canadians born in this country may be dual citizens without realizing the fact. That's because, as the government's own foreign affairs department points out on its website, many countries automatically treat the children -- and even the grandchildren -- of their nationals as citizens, regardless of birthplace. Egypt, for instance, generally regards any children of Egyptian-born fathers as citizens of Egypt, no matter where they are born.

"Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman says the Conservative government may be able to use this fact to strip former child soldier and Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr of his Canadian citizenship. Khadr, who is serving an eight-year sentence after being convicted of terror-related offences by a U.S. military court of dubious legality, was born in Toronto. He has never been to Egypt. But his late father was born there. And with this bill, that puts him under the gun.

"Some might welcome a law aimed at Khadr. They should be careful what they wish for. Bill C-24 casts a wide net. The government does not have to prove someone is a dual national in order to revoke his citizenship. The target must prove he is not. Whether they know it or not, there are plenty of dual nationals here. Even the United States extends citizenship to Canadians with at least one American parent. [...]"

It is also worth mentioning prior instances in which the Harper government acted arbitrarily to negate its responsibility to look after the well-being and safety of Canadian citizens based on its narrow, reactionary and Zionist outlook. Take for example the many Canadians of Lebanese origin who were stranded in Lebanon in 2006 by Israeli military aggression, known as Operation Summer Rains, and the Harper's government's unacceptable reluctance to evacuate them and attempts to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of their citizenship to justify itself.

Amidst the Harper government's open corruption during elections and other matters, it is well-known that its concern about fraud is itself fraudulent and entirely self-serving. Its concern about reducing bureaucracy equates in practice to the widescale destruction and privatization of the public sector in service of the private monopolies, amongst other wrecking. This "rationalization" simply wipes out civil servants who provide the services and those who need the services, as in the case of Veterans Affairs.

The Harper government is seeking to codify arbitrariness and its narrow anti-people anti-rights agenda through Bill C-24, whereby rights, which belong to people by virtue of their being, are turned into privileges to be bestowed or withdrawn at a whim, all in the name of high ideals.

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Citizenship Bill Makes Canada Less Welcoming Towards Newcomers

The Canadian Council for Refugees expressed its concern today over provisions in the citizenship bill (Bill C-24) tabled today that would strip citizenship from dual citizens in certain situations.

"Citizenship is a fundamental status -- not something that is 'deserved'. It is wrong to use citizenship rules to punish people for wrong-doing -- that's the role of the criminal system," said Loly Rico, President. "Treating dual citizens differently is discriminatory and violates the fundamental principle that all citizens are equal."

The CCR also opposes the proposal to make permanent residents wait longer before they can apply for citizenship. Extending the wait period undermines efforts to integrate newcomers.

Offering citizenship is a key way Canada embraces newcomers and encourages them to quickly become full participating members of our society. Traditionally this has been an area where Canada excelled.

However, recently there have been increasing barriers to citizenship, many of which have a particular impact on refugees who have suffered persecution and long years of deprivation. Existing barriers include new requirements regarding language competence, the extra and very onerous Residence Questionnaire now imposed on more applicants and long processing delays.

The announcement today adds new barriers that are of particular concern for refugees, including an increase in fees (up to $400 effective today) and extending language and knowledge test requirements to more applicants (14-64 years, from 18-54 years).

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Legal Primer: Under New Proposed Law, Citizenship Is Harder to Get and Easier to Lose

The federal government is trying to pass a law that will increase barriers to obtaining citizenship and take away rights from countless Canadians holding dual citizenship. On February 6, 2014 the federal government introduced Bill C-24, which is aimed at dismantling key aspects of Canadian citizenship as we know it. The law will make citizenship more difficult to get for everyone, and will potentially make it impossible for some of our most vulnerable permanent residents, grandparents, and low-income immigrants, to become Canadians. And, more than ever before, the law will make citizenship easier to revoke -- by replacing an in-person hearing before an independent judge with a review by an anonymous government bureaucrat who never sees or hears the citizen.

The law will divide Canadians into two classes of citizens: first class Canadians who hold no other citizenship, whose citizenship is protected forever; and second class Canadians -- dual citizens, who can have their right to live in Canada taken away from them by the federal government. Even those born in Canada are at risk of losing citizenship. In some cases, Canadians may not even be aware that they possess another citizenship. Someone born in Canada who has a spouse, parent, or grandparent from another country could be a citizen of that country without ever having applied for it. The proposed law would put them at risk of losing Canadian citizenship if the Minister asserts that they possess, could possess, or could obtain another citizenship. The burden would be on the Canadian citizen to prove otherwise to the Minister's satisfaction.

Citizenship Will Be Harder to Get

The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act will create unfair barriers to citizenship and make citizenship inaccessible to many. The proposed law will:

1. Grant government officials authority to deny citizenship on sheer speculation that an applicant does not intend to reside in Canada in the future;

2. Extend the formal residency requirement during which an applicant must live as a permanent resident in Canada from 3 to 4 years. This represents a hardship, since processing times for citizenship are extremely long. Applicants today wait 4-6 years to become citizens due to government delay and inefficiency, and may have to wait even longer under the new system;

3. Make it harder for students, workers, and refugees to become citizens by denying them the ability to count any of their time in Canada prior to becoming permanent residents when applying for citizenship;

4. Extend the costly language testing process to include applicants aged 14-64, rather than applicants aged 18-55, as under the current system. Under the new proposed law, children and grandparents would have to pass difficult language tests or risk never becoming citizens;

5. Dramatically increase the cost of applying for citizenship by tripling the application fee, which will be added to the new cost imposed on applicants a year ago when the government privatized language testing. As a result, the price of applying for citizenship will now cost 4 times more than it did in 2006;

6. Remove a right of appeal to the Federal Court for refused citizenship applicants -- continuing a theme of greater bureaucratic control over citizenship decision-making and less judicial oversight over the process.

Citizenship Will Be Easier to Take Away

The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act will create second-class citizens with fewer rights than other Canadians, whose citizenship will be more insecure. The new law will:

1. Replace the right to an oral hearing before an independent judge in most revocation proceedings with a written review by a bureaucrat acting under the direction of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration;

2. Put all naturalized citizens under the implicit threat of having their citizenship revoked, by making it possible for government officials to strip someone of citizenship if they believe that person never intended to live in Canada. This could happen if a naturalized Canadian decides to study, accept a job, or even move in with a romantic partner outside of Canada. In contrast, Canadian citizens by birth never have to worry that time spend away from Canada might put their citizenship status at risk;

3. Allow officials to take away a person's citizenship based on criminal convictions that occur outside of Canada, regardless whether the regime or judicial system under which the person was convicted is undemocratic or lacks the rule of law;

4. Bring back the ancient punishment of exile or banishment -- abandoned centuries ago -- by allowing government officials to strip citizenship from dual citizens based on certain convictions in Canada even though the citizen will already have been properly punished by the Canadian criminal justice system. This will include Canadians who were born in Canada.

The government's statements in support of this bill are shrouded by myths and misinformation. The circulation of these myths and misinformation is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the pernicious effects of this proposed legislation. Check out our citizenship myth-busting page [see below] for details as we correct the record and provide accurate information in the following areas:

1. Citizenship is not a licence the government can revoke for misbehavior

2. Citizenship stripping is not commonplace in other countries. Bill C-24 makes Canada an outlier among western states

3. It is the role of the criminal justice system, not elected officials, to punish people for wrongdoing

4. The new law does not just target criminal wrongdoers; it poses a serious threat to the rights of all Canadians

5. Citizenship is not a privilege; it is an interest fundamental to full membership in Canadian society

6. The new law greatly reduces due-process rights, replacing fair judicial process with Ministerial discretion

7. The new law diminishes the ties non-permanent residents have established in Canada

8. The new law does not adequately ensure citizens maintain strong ties to Canada

9. The new law does not strengthen or protect the value of Canadian citizenship; it diminishes it

Challenging Misinformation: Canadian Citizenship Law Explained

On February 6, 2014, the federal government tabled Bill C-24, introducing sweeping changes to Canada's citizenship laws. [...]

The government's statements in support of Bill C-24 are shrouded by myths and misinformation. The circulation of these myths and misinformation is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the pernicious effects of this proposed legislation. This page highlights some of the proposed law's key provisions to correct the record and provide accurate information.

1. Citizenship is not a licence the government can revoke for misbehavior

Bill C-24 proposes to give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the authority to strip dual nationals of Canadian citizenship in certain circumstances. Stripping a person of citizenship is an arbitrary and medieval practice that serves no valid purpose, and is inconsistent with basic notions of justice as outlined in Canadian law. The words of United States Chief Justice Earl Warren remain as true today as they were in 1958: "Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior . . . And the deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen's conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be."

2. Citizenship stripping is not commonplace in other countries. Bill C-24 makes Canada an outlier among western states

The federal government has falsely claimed that citizenship stripping is commonplace in other countries, and that the new law "brings Canada in line with most of our peer countries". In fact, the only western state to make use of this practice in the last few years is the United Kingdom, and it is an outlier whose use of it should serve as a cautionary tale. Citizenship stripping has been unconstitutional in the United States for over 50 years.

3. It is the role of the criminal justice system, not elected officials, to punish people for wrongdoing

The new law proposes to give elected officials the power to strip Canadian citizenship of people who commit unlawful acts. But it is not the job of elected officials to make these judgments. Canadian law already has established mechanisms by which to punish criminal wrongdoers. Unlike the Conservative government, CARL has full confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system's ability to effectively punish individuals who violate the law. We do not need to revive the medieval practice of banishment to achieve the goals of punishment, namely deterrence, retribution, denunciation, and rehabilitation. We now have the benefit of a modern judicial process that includes prosecution, trial before an independent judge and, in the event of conviction, a punishment that expresses society's condemnation with the full weight of the law.

4. The new law does not just target criminal wrongdoers; it poses a serious threat to the rights of all Canadians

The new law allows the Minister to revoke citizenship if he believes citizens did not have the intention to live in Canada when they applied for citizenship. This means that Canadian citizens could be stripped of their citizenship without a hearing, if they move to another country to be with a dying relative, to live with their children, or to pursue a business, academic, or other employment opportunity.

5. Citizenship is not a privilege; it is an interest fundamental to full membership in Canadian society

In support of the new law, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has stated that "citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege". This is inaccurate. Canada has pledged its commitment to the aspirational rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has a right to a nationality, and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality. Canadian courts have also long recognized that citizenship is foundational to one's membership in Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada, for example, has stated that it "could not imagine an interest more fundamental to full membership in Canadian society than Canadian citizenship". The Federal Court of Canada has similarly stated that citizenship "constitutes both a fundamental social institution and a basic aspect of full membership in Canadian society". The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has also held that the revocation of citizenship clearly triggers the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

6. The new law greatly reduces due-process rights, replacing fair judicial process with Ministerial discretion

Under Canada's current laws, citizenship can only be removed after a hearing before a judge. Under the new law, the Minister will, in most cases, make this decision without a hearing. Bill C-24 intends to remove the right of citizens to appeal to the courts. Instead, a person whose citizenship is revoked will have to apply to the Federal Court for permission to start an appeal. It is likely that in many cases, the Federal Court will be reluctant to disagree with the Minister's assessment of the evidence so the scope of any review by the Courts will be very limited.

7. The new law diminishes the ties non-permanent residents have established in Canada

The federal government has stated that the new law will "ensure citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada". Under the new law, a person who applies for citizenship will not be able to count time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident towards his/her citizenship application. There is no reason why time spent as a non-permanent resident should not count towards citizenship. If the idea behind imposing wait time for citizens is to ensure that citizenship applicants have lived in Canada, it should make no difference that the applicant was in Canada with some other form of status other than permanent residence status (for example, as a student). This proposed change would also adversely impact refugees, who often have to wait for years to obtain permanent residence in Canada.

8. The new law does not adequately ensure citizens maintain strong ties to Canada

The federal government has stated that the new law reinforces the value of Canadian citizenship. The new law introduces a requirement that persons who apply for citizenship must show intent to reside in Canada after they obtain citizenship. Of course, the government may legitimately encourage present and future Canadians to reside in Canada. But that's not what this provision does. Rather, it empowers government officials to speculate on an applicant's future intentions, and then potentially deny them citizenship on the basis of that conjecture. It also holds out the implicit threat that if a naturalized Canadian citizen takes up a job somewhere else (as many Canadians do), or forms a relationship with someone abroad (as many Canadians do), the government may move to strip him/her of citizenship for misrepresenting their intention to reside in Canada when they were granted citizenship. Whether the government acts on the threat is not the issue; it is enough that people will be made insecure and apprehensive by the possibility that a government official may arbitrarily decide to launch revocation proceedings against them if they leave Canada too soon, or remain away too long.

9. The new law does not strengthen or protect the value of Canadian citizenship; it diminishes it

The federal government has stated that the new law will protect the value of Canadian citizenship. This is patently untrue. The value of Canadian citizenship does not lie in cruelly depriving some citizens of their most basic rights, or in drawing distinctions that represent new Canadians as objects of suspicion and mistrust. Instead, the value of Canadian citizenship lies in a commitment to rights protection, equality, dignity, and multiculturalism, as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Canadians, we make our citizenship feeble if we give government ministers the power to extinguish it. The value of Canadian citizenship is diminished -- not enhanced -- by the new law proposed by the government.

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